Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

(This was all written out for yesterday but due to some lovely changes to my blog, the blog wasn't ready for an entry till my programmer swung by again)

 

When you get up in the morning and go about your business, it’s never clear what’s going to happen. I starting cleaning out the trunk of my car at about 11 or so and that's when I saw him. He was part robin, part fuzzy baby and no tail to be seen. Half a robin. He jumped up to me, cheeping, contemplating and staring. Very clearly he was asking, "Are you my mommy? Just feed me!" but there was a sweetness there too. He came right up to my toes, cheeping at me.

I did what anyone would do: I rushed to the Internet and found the number for the local Forest Preserve's Nature Center. I called and a guy told me that fledglings get out of the nest and fly around on the ground. They still need their parents to feed them but since birds are very auditory and visual, the parents would find their baby. So I left the birdie. The parents would come.

They never did. The short hours passed and he stayed in one place, not moving. Fledglings need to be fed every twenty minutes. It was now two o'clock and he looked like a tiny statue. He was doing what all animals do when the time comes…he was preparing to die and wasn't going to make a fuss anymore.

That was it. Screw the Red Oak Nature Center guy. Screw them all. Someone, somewhere took care of ailing wild birds. So I hopped back to the Internet and found the Fox Valley Wildlife Center. Why the Red Oak Nature Center never gave me this number, I shall never know. Anyway, I called them and after what seemed forever (45 min.) they called me back. Bring him into Elburn, they would see what could be done. I found a box, Jeff and I bundled him in and I sped off. I plowed into rush hour, hitting every light on Randall Road and trying not to swear like a sailor. It took another 45 minutes to get out there to Elburn. Worse and worse. This little guy was going down and I prayed and I prayed even more that he wouldn't die in the car. Dear God, not in rush hour, do not let this baby robin die in this car. The implications for what that could mean seemed too terrible (they still do).

I got him there still barely alive and the lady whisked him off, telling me he had a 50/50 chance. I gave them some money and went home with a terrible headache and a number to call tomorrow to see if he had made it.

(That was the action of the day; this is what the evening writing brought)

I guess the truth is that I didn’t let that baby bird die. He might be dead but I gave it my best shot and instead on dwelling that I lessened his chances for life by trusting someone at the Nature Center, I’m seeing I persisted and saw that he got to the right place in the end which was the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. I did take care of him and simply didn’t let him pass away back into the earth. And if he passes, he does. I prayed for him and his little soul and I feel that was good. Animals aren’t like us. It was terrible to see him starve and grow fainter and fainter but it wouldn’t have lasted very long and then he would have been gone- a very short life and short death. As it was, I gave him a possible retaliation of life to become a jaunty robin who does jaunty robin worm things. We’ll see tomorrow if he was able to hang onto being here. And instead of grinding myself into the dust that I didn’t question the Nature Center sooner when he was cheeping and hopping around and being friendly, I have the calm belief that I did aid him. I had to see that his parents wouldn’t come and they never did. I know now, of course, how to deal with a fledgling and how many hours they have from not being fed till when they start dying and where to take them in-between those small short hours. He has a little number and tomorrow I’ll call that forest preserve house in Elburn and see the status of his little number. I hope, of course, for life. I’m really hoping for life and I know that I worked towards it and not to death.

 

And now today, I just got the call back an hour ago from the Wildlife Center. He's doing just fine. Since he's wild and a baby animal, he could still die but he's hanging in there and it looks like he'll make it. They're going to be hand feeding him for awhile!

I just want to say how amazing the Wildlife Center is. That anyone would care about wild animals and tend to them is an enormous gift. I would encourage everyone to find your Wildlife Center and make a donation, be it food, money or weeds! Ours is entirely dependent on donations and seem to need a bit of everything. I'm sure it's the same with other places. They are incredible, hard-working places.

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Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.

The Tale of Genji: A Timeless Novel of Messy Relationships

“Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams.”

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

I read through The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu over the course of the summer and autumn, and I finally finished last week. I’d read it in the early morning with my first cup of tea and cat in my lap. The cat becomes upset and depressed if I don’t hold her for a little while in the morning so it was a good fit to settle in and read as much as I could from the 1200 page novel before moving into the rest of the day, accompanied by one happy cat. Now when I get up, blearily make myself a pot of tea and settle down, it’s a strange sensation not to reach out for the massive, multi-generational novel.

Set during the 11th century in Ancient Japan, The Tale of Genji spans three generations and is loaded with all sorts of characters, locations, and religious observances. It deals with the relationships between people, nature, the arts, and the gods. Emotions are celebrated in waka poetry, seasonal changes are closely noted and cherished, religious observations of Buddhism and Shintoism dominate daily life, and people’s lives change due to the current Emperor in power. At the center is the story of Hikaru Genji (Shining Genji) and later on in the novel, his descendants. Despite having a father as Emperor, his mother was a low-ranking consort and as such, he has commoner status– but for all that, lives a wealthy, fabulous life. Added on top of this is his intense, near-otherworldly beauty and grace, acknowledged by both men and women. Loaded with money and charm, he seduces and sleeps with many. Hundreds of pages are devoted to his thoughts and feelings on his lovers (to whom he sends piles of poetry and presents) and in turn, the thoughts and feelings of his lovers are revealed privately to the reader. Nearly every woman who comes in contact with him (and a few men) has deeply conflicted feelings about Genji and his behavior.

Noble women’s lives in the Heian Era are so delicately arranged that any mere whim of Genji’s can affect their futures deeply. The women live entirely at home, tucked into the deep recesses of their houses. They rarely even stand—though if a noblewoman does get up and walk, life is about to get spicy. To express their sadness and depression over Genji’s cavalier behavior, they watch the seasons change through a veil of tears, lie face down on the floor, refuse to talk to him, or can’t stop sending him messages. Whatever their behavior, they ultimately have accept his treatment of them. It is not an easy path to walk. They find consolation in the surrounding world: by reading, writing, playing music, observing the seasons, flowers, and birds, caring for their children, and talking to other women.

Seasons, religious observances, and rulers flow by and the main characters change too, from Genji and all the people surrounding him, to his grandsons and the women they love. There is a possibility that different author wrote the story of the grandsons, Kaoru and Niou. The style is different, somewhat smoother, and the characters’ thoughts and motives are revealed in more depth. I like to think that it was Shikibu’s work, a return to her great story after many decades of refining her craft.

“The world know it not; but you, Autumn, I confess it: your wind at night-fall stabs deep into my heart.”
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

The final third of the book centers on a succession of autumns, and a melancholy light flickers through the last few hundred pages. Genji is remembered but in passing—little of him is left except for his great house and his descendants. Kaoru, Niou, and three sisters that they love are on center stage. Genji’s grandchildren live in much the same way he did and though their personalities are different, their lives are just as fleeting and as frail. People make many of the same choices as the previous generation; the circle of life wheels around and around as the seasons flash by. The story has no neat conclusion: the book ends abruptly with protagonists still navigating their lives and affairs. I imagine Kaoru, Niou, and Ukifume out there in another dimension or time, wrestling with their lives, emotions, and circumstances, trying to make do with the choices available to them.

The Tale of Genji is an immersion into another life and era; it is an ancient gift that has survived for nearly a millennium. It is a book of shadows and barriers, a world that exists in lamplight.

“In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.”

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

It is miracle that so massive a book, copied out by hand year after year, decade after decade, century after century, then at last into print, should survive into the modern era. Due to its venerable age and old language, many translations of The Tale of Genji have been written: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s in Japanese and Edward Seidensticker’s in English are among the most well-known. I read Royall Tyler’s translation, occasionally dipping into Arthur Waley’s and Seidensticker’s earlier ones. What comes through strongly, regardless of the translation, is how incredibly easy The Tale of Genji is to read despite being nearly 1000 years old. Part of this is Shikibu’s very modern skill of weaving plot points in and out of characters’ motivations and thoughts. Shifting narrative perspectives and stream of consciousness prose both play a part; but an even bigger contributor to the story’s strength is its centering of relationships. If readers love anything, it’s hot, messy love affairs, tangled family and friendships, and all the accompanying emotions that go with them. Genji, full of tumult, even ghosts and possessions, is ultimately about human nature and all the triumphs, frailties, and failures that come with it.