Burying a thrush

Just a small story about a thing I do now and then.

For whatever reason–and it isn’t poisons, as I use those sparingly on the property–birds come to our place to die. Some, sadly, hit glass despite my efforts to reduce that incidence. Others, it seems, simply come here to pass on.

The varied thrush, a slate-and-old gold-colored bird, winters in our area. Most winters, at some point, I find that one has not survived the winter. Today was such a day. I came home from work (I do some technical writing) and spotted the little body, claws up, clearly deceased.

I have always liked birds. My wife refers to me as her Raven Man, based on Alaskan legends of Raven as a trickster and protector. And interestingly, wherever she travels in Washington or nearby, she finds ravens watching her. Sometimes they are flying along with her, like a combat air patrol. But I was an avid bird enthusiast as far back as my single-digit years. I want this place to be popular with birds, and to be visited by many. So when a bird dies, it is a bit hard for me. There is only one thing I can do: a dignified little funeral.

For reasons of health precaution, I get a shovel and a big maple leaf, which I use to push the fallen avian onto the shovel as gently as possible. Then I take him or her around to where the hollyhocks sprout in the late summer, lay the body on something, and dig a small hole. When it’s over a foot deep, I nudge the deceased onto the shovel and lay him or her in the grave as gently as I can arrange. I then say a few words, making a holy gesture and bidding the bird farewell. I tell him or her that I hope that the passing was of old age, and that he or she had a good mate, many chicks, plenty to eat and lots of happy days flying and singing. I hope that the bird is now in a place where migrations are short and not painful, where predators do not exist and where there are sunny days to flock, make music and hunt for delicious fruit. I usually tear up.

And then, for there is nothing else to do, as gently as possible, I fill in the little grave, pat it down firmly, make a holy gesture once again, and walk away.

Farewell, little thrush.

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