A Grateful Response
© Jane A. Simington, PHD
One Canadian Thanksgiving weekend some years ago, my dog Buddy, and I walked farther and lingered longer than was usual. Mesmerized by the magic and beauty of the season, the colors and fragrances were too delectable to turn from easily. The scent of overripe cranberries, wafting from a nearby grove, prompted memories of other Thanksgiving weekends. The tartness of those savory wild berries had enhanced the festive bird during many celebration times in my youth. Taste and smell memories of cranberry jelly spread thickly on warm homemade buns stimulated my gastric juices, reminding me that lunch had been hours ago.
Movement on the path ahead, where no movement should be, drew me from my reverie and from its source. Although the dimness of the twilight made it impossible for me to determine the circumstances, I realized that something black and white was struggling in a frantic effort to free itself from some entanglement. Inner twinges, not of fear but of urgency, jostled me forward. The nylon webbing from a once-round bale of straw had imprisoned a young magpie.
Sensing my approach, the frantic bird escalated its attempts to gain freedom, only to entangle itself even further in the mass of green fibers. Kneeling, I examined the fragile wings, legs, and claws. How I wished for scissors or anything sharp or knife-like. Checking my pockets I noted with gratefulness that, although I did not have any such object, I did have gloves. They would not be of help in removing the webbing, but they would certainly protect my hands from the magpie’s beak and claws.
As a child, when I helped my father relocate the mature hens to make room for new chicks, he would encourage me to cover their eyes as I carried them from one pen to another. I recalled how this had often put them in a sleep-like state. Trusting that if this procedure had worked for the hens, it just might work now, I reached with a glove-covered hand and secured the head of the captive bird. It was then but a simple maneuver to slide the other glove over the magpie, hooding its eyes. Whispering, I assured the frightened creature I would do all I could to free it from its prison. The reassurance and the glove-hood trick worked their magic! In seconds the frantic bird calmed, and although I could no longer see its face or eyes, its stillness and lack of movement indicated that the procedure had produced a sedating effect.
There was much to do and time was of the essence. I needed to take full advantage of the remaining light, for whereas at dusk this task was going to be difficult at best, in darkness it would be impossible.
As I feverishly set to work, it became obvious that, in its struggle to free itself, the young magpie had become more entrapped with each movement. Its razor-like claws had badly frayed the twine, causing its legs to be tightly bound in a gnarled mass of twisted fibers. Methodically, I unraveled the web, one frayed thread at a time. The last flush of lavender was barely visible along the western horizon when the final ragged string dropped from the young bird’s claws.
For the first time since I had discovered this captive, I remembered Buddy. He was a hunting dog. Why had he not paid attention to what was unfolding in this straw pile? The dim light, his failing eyesight, and his chance to linger in the gopher mound had certainly been in the bird’s favor. Yet now, and as though my thoughts had aroused his curiosity, he appeared. His approach quickly brought the dazed bird to full alert. What if its wings, its legs were broken? What if it could not fly? I had been so intent on the task at hand, so focused on freeing the magpie from its captivity, that I had not paused to wonder about the effects that the tight bindings and its own struggles might have had. Recognizing that magpies need to fly to stay alive, I questioned whether I had spent all this time freeing a magpie that could not survive.
My doubts were short lived. Free from the glove and its bindings, the alarmed bird, wobbling into a hop-like gait, quickly gained enough flying ability to land safely on a nearby fence post. Relieved and satisfied, I turned homeward. I went only a few steps when the young magpie circled above me three or four times before flying off into the darkness. I knew I had been given an expression of gratitude.
Since all birds are considered to be symbolic messengers from the Spirit world, I accepted that I was receiving a soul lesson. From the magpie I learned to be more aware of gestures of appreciation and to recognize that appreciation and gratitude can be expressed in both verbal and nonverbal ways. May this time of Thanksgiving be a time of both giving and receiving appreciation and gratitude.