The dogs and I came around to the open space of the concrete foundation. The dry lot. That was its name and a description at the same time. The area was now a combination of increased darkness and piled tree trunks. Both were a result of a storm two years ago. The wind had knocked out the power for the yard light that we didn’t replace and barreled through trees, we couldn’t replace, at least not without the aid of time.
The purple-gray light hovered. My dogs saw the cat. I saw the black feathered shape. The cat watched both. I yelled and scuffed at the cat’s paws. It only slightly stepped back, interested, but not convinced, I held any real power to disrupt the situation. For a handful of seconds, I did. For what happened next, I knew I didn’t.
I neared the bird. The black held a glisten and was too thin across skin scratched red. I wanted the puckered blood to be the result of a coming-of-age fall. However, the circle of trees seemed too far away from the stretch of cement for that to be the most likely story. The cat had already been playing, taunting, tormenting. I had to at least disrupt the situation. Perhaps the wounds were not too deep. Perhaps the cat would lose interest. But then, what could happen next? This question held a deep distinction from another. What would happen next?
My body felt the tension of two directions. One was my dog looking to finish his nightly ritual and another was my hope of a happy ending. The two tugs knotted, tight, in the reality of the late spring darkness. Accustomed to my father’s reminders about animal disease attaching itself to my actions, I tugged a paper towel from my sweatshirt pocket. I carefully cupped my hand. The fledgling did not move. I kept my touch as light, aware of the effects of both fear and injuries. The cat watched. It followed but didn’t. Would it really forget? Was that the solution? Only partly. I could not care for the bird until it was grown. Nor should I care for it until it was grown. If I protected it for the night, the cat would still be there in the morning. Perhaps one night was all the fledgling had left. I explored the trees nearby hoping to see any indication of a nest I could reach. What to do? Do something. Not enough, maybe. Maybe, enough.
I considered the undergrowth, thinking I could nestle the bird there. Except, the cat could easily access any of those areas and the adult birds would not press into such thick brush without motive. I settled on a tiny opening in a tree. It was seemingly familiar and hidden to provide comfort to the bird and boredom for the cat’s pursuit. If the wounds were too severe, which I feared they were, then death would be a slow release instead of a heart stopping one.
I returned inside to my warm bed, glancing more than once at the animals I was able to keep safe, consistently, with me. I Googled what to do with a baby bird. In the sharper light of the cellphone’s screen, I attempted to read. There were some food options and directions to put the fledglings in a box. All options ended with calling an organization, signaling that I had been correct. I was ill equipped to intervene in the natural order of things. I laid in my bed, hoping for hope while attempting to push the nightmare away. Was I lying softly while the creature to which I had given a momentary solution slowly suffered? But, what really could happen?
That was the question I used to ask in my days in development work. It was the question that haunted me. It was the question the natural world around this farmhouse continued to ask me even after I returned from development work abroad. Except, it wasn’t. Between feral cats and birdfeeders, the framework was our own invisible system that was not natural at all. It was, as an article I read recently, described, not enough to postpone outcomes when we do not attempt to address the causes.
“Without a sustained focus on the systemic causes of children’s vulnerability, the field of children’s rights is guaranteed to fall short of its vision for the full freedom, safety, and dignity of children around the world, said Bangura.”
From inside the screen door the next morning, I could see the feathered body. Its head was stretched outward to reveal all its features I could not see last night. My dog waited while I removed two large leaves from a plant pressing up through the concrete steps. I gathered the bird as gently as I had last night and carried it to a covered crook of the lilac bush.
“At the heart of the children’s rights field is a profound paradox,” said Bangura. “For generations, it has largely avoided investing either in children’s power or in the justice work required to make many children’s rights real. CRIF offers a chance for funders to innovate and experiment with a new way forward—beginning with a focus on the intersection of racial justice and children’s rights, and expanding to focus on additional root causes as we grow together.”
I shot an angry glare at the cat from the night before, but the message was meant for myself. As if to reinforce it, I strode to the opening in the tree. It was empty. Would it have really been better if this had been another body instead of the one I had attempted to save?