The Oystercatcher, who silently cried out for help B
ack in the early nineties’ I went through one of Life’s rough patches.
As happens, often enough, with all rough patches is that you think your world has ended. Finito La Musica
. Nothing will ever be right again. It’s all over. Life, in the meaningful, traditional, stable sense, is finished. Ahead, only the bleak and the hopeless. Behind, only the barren memories of betrayal, hurt, deceit and disappointment. Then... something happens. It can be a small thing, that sets you off, thinking on a more positive note. But out of that ‘Eureka’ moment, out of that forgotten seed, sometimes you get an unexpected growth. A blossoming of a whole new awareness. The slow, but steady realization that, yes, one door has indeed closed. With a loud, slamming noise. Hard in your face. Painful. Massively unfair and unjust. How-ever...
Now that you have the time to glance around, guess what... lots more doors to try. Interesting doors. New horizons. New frontiers to explore. And somehow I learned –eventually- (for I am a slow learner) that Life is a constant cycle of Birth, Death and re-Birth of Awareness
. That experience counts. That one whole part of the secret is to “go and get your ticket’s worth”. Like a ticket to the cinema, or a ticket for a bus ride, we all have a ticket to ride
the amazing up drafts and down plunges of Life.
Oddly, in the midst of my rough patch, when I was very much down, both in the emotional and spiritual sense, an Oystercatcher came calling on me. Most unexpectedly.
Now Oystercatchers are wading birds. They are lively, and lots of fun to watch. They hunt on the shore edge, through puddles in rocky cracks, and mess about in the surf. On the rocky little island off the North coast of Scotland, where I was staying, there are hundreds and hundreds of them. Sometimes they gather in large numbers, swooping and swirling, and kicking up quite a ruckus. As their name implies, their diet includes oysters, mussels, and small fish. Further inland, they’ll go after worms. They vary in color from all black to black and brown, to black on top and white underneath. This particular one, who I shall call Horatio, was black on top, and bright white underneath and on his body.
I first saw Horatio standing forlornly beside the road, near to the cottage I was staying in. He was still there when I passed by some hours later. He had barely moved. Towards the evening, well, blow me down, he was STILL there. That was most unusual. Oystercatchers have busy schedules, places to see, puddles to explore, dinner engagements to keep. They also have the social meet ups to attend, where everybody swoops around, makes lots of noise, and generally has a blast. What was he doing standing sadly by the road? I stopped the car, and was struck by his misery. I know that sounds hard to believe, but there was an unutterable lack of vitality about him. A broken spirit. A free bird bereft of any will to be. Free.
Slowly, I got out. He looked at me, wearily. He didn’t fly away, or even move away. What’s wrong with you, dude? Not having a good day?
I beamed the question, silently, with kindness, puzzled by this highly abnormal behavior. In reply, he just looked at me. Slowly, I moved closer. He didn’t retreat. I found myself talking to him, the way I have talked to all kinds of animals, ranging from horses to dogs. In a low, quiet voice. I’m sure, whatever else, I didn’t sound threatening. But birds are frightened of humans... and farmers have been known to shoot at them... any second now, he should fly off quickly.
But Horatio stood his ground, eying me with what seemed to me an intense sadness. Even as I quietly approached, slowly, slowly, I became increasingly aware that something was very wrong.
It was only when I was less than ten feet away, that I spotted the wire, wrapped tightly around one leg. I could see it was wound tight, all the way up the leg to his under belly. Really tight, cutting off the circulation. And all of a sudden, I sensed pain
. Massive, soul destroying pain. And suddenly I started to understand. Horatio was losing the will to live. He didn’t care anymore. The approach of a strange creature on two legs, tall and unknown, was normally a serious threat, guaranteed to provoke a flight reflex… But in the circumstances, it was just the final straw on a day from hell.Or was there something else?
Now I was standing in front of him, barely three feet away, still talking softly. I was a little worried about his formidable bill. I didn’t fancy the risk of displeasing the poor fellow, to where he would have a stab at me with his oyster-and-mussel shattering personal tool. But Horatio seemed past all fight. He just stood there, hunched up pitifully, resigned to my presence. Slowly, slowly, I bent down, and lifted him up. He barely struggled. Did he sense I didn’t wish to hurt him?
I looked at the wire. It was bad. Wound round and round, multiple times. How could that have happened? I needed another person. There was no way I could hold Horatio comfortably, to reduce his stress, and work on the wire. I headed to a neighbor’s house. The lady of the house saw me coming, and opened the front door instantly. Concern, pity, and a desire to help, were written all over her kind face.
“Bring him through to the kitchen”, was all she said.
In her kitchen, with me holding poor Horatio, Elizabeth carefully worked on the problem. We both winced every time another coil was forced free, and Horatio kicked feebly in my arms. Eventually she produced a set of cutters, and we continued to carefully pry the wire loose. Throughout his ordeal, Horatio, inside the strange nest of even more strange creatures, hardly budged. Only when there was a sudden jerk, caused by a segment of wire springing slack, did he wince, as if in grave pain.
“He might die”, Elizabeth said. “He’s weak, and he may not have eaten for days. He can’t have hunted like that...” Her sorrow was palpable.
Eventually, Horatio’s leg was free of the torture device around his leg. Limp and spent, he lay in my arms.
“What shall we do...?” I asked, sadly. The nearest vet was a long way away. A ferry ride, and a drive. And the last boat had already left the island. There would not be another ferry until the following morning. By then, the stress of captivity, as with his general condition, might have proved to be fatal.
I decided to carry him down to the rocky beach, release him, and see what happened. If he was obviously unable to survive alone, I could re-think our strategy from there.
It was a long walk, and Horatio seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. I walked over rocks and past puddles, to the water’s edge. He was home now, even if he was too tired to react to it. His head was bobbing around now, taking it all in.
Eventually, I stood him down, gently, and stepped back a few steps. He turned around and looked at me.
“Come on, lad, you’re on your own now... action...!”
He stared at me, thoughtfully. I worried that he was too weak, too far gone.
“Attaboy, young fellow! Meal-time! Din-dins! Go get yourself a nice mussel, eh?”
He looked around at the rocks and the sea. Then he looked at me. I held my breath. And suddenly, amazingly, he spread his wings, and flew straight up into the sky. It staggered me, the sudden elegance, the instant control, the fluidity of the transformation from a shuddering, forlorn, pain wracked cripple to a free denizen of the Skies. I stood there, with my mouth open, watching him swoop, and turn, and glide, and bank over hard, and rocket across the sky.Wow...
After a few minutes, he landed on a rock near me, looked at me calmly, and then strolled down to a small pool. Soon he was fishing, and busy looking for a tasty morsel. It seemed the right time to quietly depart. The last I saw of Horatio, he was up to his knees, wading through a rocky pool, with supper on his mind. It was as if, for all the world’s cares, nothing had ever happened...
* * * * *
I’ve often thought of Horatio. And when the oystercatchers would be at it, playing, kicking up a shindig, or quietly laughing at all the strange two legged creatures below... I’ve often wondered, if old Horatio was up there as well, having a good time, and looking forward to his next meal of fresh oyster.
And I would wonder if he looked down upon flightless Man, tethered down by his own lead baggage, and felt a little sorry for him.
The allegorical element didn’t escape me either. The element of rising again. Picking yourself up after hard times. Pain. Needless suffering. To fly again. To greater heights than ever before. The appreciation of the purity of Light, made possible, enabled, augmented, strengthened...
by the Multiple Black of Blind, Uncaring Night.