COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
I had pet birds when I was young. Parakeets, canaries, a mynah bird with a limited vocabulary (mostly “what’s up?” “banana” — which he loved — and “hi, Joe” — no, nobody in my family was named Joe). I wouldn’t keep a bird in a cage now, unless it was one with a permanent injury. Birds were meant to fly, and taking that away from them, no matter how much you love them and how well you feed them and care for their every need, is — I have come to realize — theft, if not cruel and unusual punishment.
But I’m still an ornithophile. I adore these creatures who cruise the sky. So now, I enjoy “my” birds in the wild. The heron who walks the lake shore behind my house every day, the swallows who return every spring to make their home under the eaves on our patio and produce two broods of babies per season, the cardinals who feed each other seeds in my garden, the hummingbirds who visit my honeysuckle bush, the amazing mighty pelicans who pass through each year on their way to somewhere else, the eagles I visit in Alaska.
I love them all and I am in awe and envy of their ability to ride the thermals up into the clouds, to dart and swoop like tiny fighter planes, to catch a mosquito in mid-air or to gang up on a predator and dive-bomb it until it leaves the premises. It makes me smile to watch them fly.
I’m fascinated by so many different species that vary so much in size, color, shape, and nature, but with one thing in common to most (not quite all): the magic of flight. Only a small percentage of birds are permanently “grounded” — penguins, emus, cassowaries, rheas, and of course ostriches.
We humans, bereft of wings but blessed with intelligence and imagination, nonetheless learned to construct machines to enable us to fly. Long before that, we built mighty ships to sail the seas — all to better satisfy the wanderlust that is strongly embedded in human evolutionary history and that, according to some scientists, may be literally in our DNA.
Some of us love travel more than others, but agoraphobics aside, almost everyone dreams of temporarily (or permanently) escaping the comfort of home and routine and going off on an adventure now and then. Some of us act on those desires and some never do, but even if you don’t, just knowing that you CAN is important, I believe, to maintaining mental health and life satisfaction.
Now, almost overnight, the big, wide world that was once our oyster has shrunk to a tiny fraction of its former self. “They” — the governments and “experts” who wield the legal clubs that control us — have put us neatly into boxes, cells, cages, whatever you want to call the prisons that our homes have become. Some of those boxes are admittedly bigger and nicer than others, but the fancy gold-plated bird cage, pretty as it might be, still eventually kills that intangible thing that makes a bird a bird.
The powers that be have decreed that we “stay home and stay safe.” In so doing, whether deliberately or not, they are systematically snuffing out the essence of what makes us as human beings unique: the urge to explore, the need to roam far from home not just in search of food or to mate, but to see different sights, to learn new things, to interact with new people, to expand our horizons and be all we can be.
Our zookeepers would reduce us to cowering, fearful creatures hesitant to venture beyond our walled fortresses, afraid to come close — much less offer a handshake or a hug — to a stranger, so obsessed with the possibility of dying that we can no longer live but merely exist. All the while following practices that lower our immune systems and make us more vulnerable to disease than ever. All the while missing out on loved ones’ graduations and weddings and birthdays and not even being allowed to say goodbye and pay our respects when one passes away. All the while knowing, somewhere down deep in the recesses of our minds even if we won’t admit it to others or to ourselves, that none of this makes sense.
I know there are many among us who choose to be ostriches. To bury their heads in the sand and not look at what’s happening to our country, to our world, to our lives. I understand the reason why: it’s scary.
But ostriches are land-bound birds; their wings are useless to lift them into the skies, too small and weak to carry the weight of their bodies — a bit like the weight of government dependency that has kept a significant portion of our population from rising up the ladder of success — and now that same government has, overnight, brought into captivity millions more who heretofore WERE flying on their own. Now they’re grounded, now unable to feed themselves but being fattened up with taxpayer money so that they’ll never be able to get off the ground again.
I don’t want to be an ostrich. No — I refuse to be an ostrich.
Ostriches aren’t bad, or evil, but to say they’re not very smart is an understatement. In fact, despite their large size (a male weighs 250 to 350 lbs), their brains weigh approximately 29.37 grams, which is less than 2 ounces. The brain of an average 150 lb human is around 3 lbs.
I choose to be a raven. Along with crows, parrots, macaws, and cockatoos, they’re known as one of the most intelligent birds in the world and their brains are among the largest of any bird species.
Ravens are problem-solvers; they can figure out complicated puzzles and they work together to accomplish what they want to do. They’re adaptable; they can live in a variety of habitats, from snow to desert to mountains to forests. They’re self-sufficient; they take care of themselves and their own. They plan for future events (something many humans don’t seem to have done, based on the current situation). Thanks to their size, gregariousness and defensive abilities, they have few natural predators. They tend to mate for life and they are fierce protectors of their families.
Oh, and perhaps most important of all, ravens fly. On the ground they walk confidently, sometimes with a swagger. In flight they’re graceful and agile, and often perform aerobatics, such as sudden rolls, wing-tucked dives, and playing with objects by dropping and catching them in midair.
Unlike some of their intelligent cousins, though, they’ve been smart enough to avoid becoming popular pets. Perhaps it’s because of their reputation in mythology as harbingers of bad luck, or the fact that in some other cultures, they’re worshipped as deities. Or maybe it’s just because they demand a lot of attention, get bored easily, and (like me) aren’t happy being held captive even if it’s done out of love.
I want to be a raven, not an ostrich. I want the freedom that I learned from childhood was the best thing about my country. I want to fly — even if it means taking a risk — not bury my head in the sand and hope for the best. I want to hunt and gather and build my own nest and raise my babies as I see fit, not sit around waiting for government handouts.
Are we, the people, going to let the power-hungry, enabled by the fearful, turn us into terrified big birds with tiny brains who run around in circles and never soar the skies?
Quoth the raven: Nevermore.