Nurturing New Life on Death Row
Going out for a run the other day, I ran into two beautiful birds. They were on our recreation yard. Someone told me they’re Canadian geese.
They have fat bodies, covered with grey feathers, long-skinny black legs and wide-webbed feet, long elegant necks and curved beaks, solid black except for a ribbon of white curving around the neck, under the beak and behind the eyes. They are lovely birds. I gave them a respectable berth as I made my laps, checking them out.
I was pleased to see they were still there when I went out today. They’re nesting. The female has made a nest. Though clearly made with great care to keep her eggs, I can’t tell what it’s made of exactly. She just sits there on those eggs all day, refusing to move.
The male struts around the yard, on patrol. It’s more his yard than ours really: he’s there all day and night; we only get the one hour a day. Guys gave her a bowl, which we keep filled with water, and keep her supplied with loads of bread.
Sometimes other birds will swoop in to snatch a piece; she’ll allow it, but if they venture in too close, she’ll snap her beak at them.
He’s fearless too. Rather than flinching when someone gets in his comfort zone, he’ll chase them. He has a bow-legged but determined gait, and attached to that long neck, he has quite a reach when he snaps his beak.
He’s strolled right in the middle of corn-hole games, reaching up with his beak at the bags as they’re tossed through the air. He’s held up play on the volleyball court. He won’t step on the basketball court though. Smart bird – that’s where all the drama usually starts.
I noticed the female keeps her mouth open, panting. I could see the pink of her tongue, and her beak is always wet. Then it dawned on me that it is really hot and she’s without shade.
The male has his own water pail off in the corner, but she isn’t moving without her babies except to stand periodically, to check and turn her eggs. However, when anyone nears, she’ll plop back down, and use her beak to re-tuck the nesting beneath her. I was amazed at her protective motherly instinct, and her willingness to make any sacrifice for her babies.
I’m proud of the way guys are taking care of the birds, even down to picking up the droppings.
There were no discussions or meetings; everyone just knew instinctively to care for the birds.
Being forced to live in an unnatural setting that devalues life, the birds have given us a chance to behave in life-affirming ways.
Having no contact with our families for such a long time — for some of us, it’s been more than twenty years since we’ve had any meaningful human contact — the instinct to care still comes naturally. It is really good to see, and to know. Some of us are barely hospitable with each other, yet we’re all attentive and accommodating to the birds.
I’m expecting a visit from my mom this week. She’s coming via train. She’s 70-years old, and it’ll be her first time traveling alone — so, I’m worried. I’d much prefer she not have to travel by herself, but I’m excited about the visit. I’ve not seen her in years, and miss her terribly.
I feel pangs of shame too; shame she has to travel such a long distance to visit her wayward son, shame, because I’m supposed to be taking care of her…
I remember how she’d implore my younger brother and I to be careful and to do the right things. She said, “I’ll do anything for you, but if they get you in the system, I won’t be able to do anything…” But our heads were hard as rocks, and we dove head-first into trouble.
Now she has to take trains just to visit us, still making sacrifices. My heart will melt just seeing her face.
I’m excited about going outside tomorrow too. I hope the eggs will hatch. It will be nice to see a family together.