“O to be self–balanced for contingencies, to confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do.” –Walt Whitman
Just Bobby and me, doing the speed limit northbound out of Thomasville, on up the road to Faunsdale then Greensboro. It’s easy on this stretch of Alabama highway to feel what’s outside the car, with miles passing around easy curves and over hills and down some straightaways where all you see is the road up ahead cutting through green, everywhere fields and trees, cows idling in pastures and gliding wings way up in the blue. No billboards.
I had a podcast in my ear, an interview with the author of a New York Times bestselling book just out called The Universal Christ. Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar, was telling a story about feeling the frazzle of a hard day working in the fields of the Lord, a weary slump against the kitchen counter back in his cottage. And he described then lifting his chin, holding up his head for a tired view out the window over the sink. And there on the power line sat a pair of mourning doves. His glance became a gaze, a drift in consciousness to more than seeing, to beholding the birds from within a sort of meditative trance. And to a deepening awareness of their perfect oneness with the creator, lacking all theology, the doves embracing only the naked now without any awareness of a previous moment or a possible next moment.
And Father Rohr confessed to a oneing with the spirit of his seeing that soothed and healed him, a gift from the doves out his window.
By this time, I was slipping through Moundville and decided to shut off the podcast, and consider for the remaining few miles to Tuscaloosa what I’d been listening to. The author’s experience with the doves put me in mind of my own recent encounters of almost six weeks with a family of five Red-shouldered hawks around the Roughdraft Cabin and Waterhole Branch.
When I pulled into my sister’s driveway in Tuscaloosa, I was in a sort of National Geographic state of mind. And, keeping to the theme, when I joined Sandra and my nephew Robbie on the back patio, we were immediately confronted with the sound of some creature trapped within the tall hollow aluminum column holding up the roof beam. The sudden drumming of a body against the walls of the column startled all three of us.
My sister said it could be the chipmunk that had been hanging out on her patio, that maybe it had climbed up and ran across the beam and fell into the column. A rat or squirrel were also possible victims.
Whatever was in there had found a narrow opening at the top of the column and fallen inside and down to the concrete floor. It had zero chance of climbing out of the 9-foot column. Talk went around of the creature dying inside and smelling up the patio for days of 90-plus heat.
I suggested that in a couple of days the body could be retrieved with a fishing line and a treble hook by snagging it, reeling it up and out through the opening at the top. Sandra and Robbie made faces. Neither did I like the sound of such an operation.
The next day I decided I’d try to learn what animal was trapped, and climbed a step ladder only to learn there wasn’t room at the ceiling to tilt my head and get a view down the column. I tried my cell phone camera, and only got a picture of the top four or five feet down inside the column. So I went to my car and got a powerful LED flashlight and used it to shine to the bottom while taking shots. Still no luck. Then Robbie and I double-teamed the task, me on the flashlight, him on his Samsung Galaxy.
The twenty-third shot revealed a dove sitting, resting, on the concrete floor at the bottom of the column. This was near dark yesterday.
I thought of Father Rohr’s doves and my hawk friends. I thought of the sparrow that landed on my head while I was doing Tai Chi last summer (I’ll tell that story in another posting here), and I decided I must try to rescue the dove, especially since two doves had visited Bobby and me earlier in the day, pacing, cooing, all along the top of my sister’s privacy fence while we sat on the patio.
I asked my sister could I run down to Lowe’s and get a 3-inch hole saw for my drill motor, which I had in my car, and cut an opening at the bottom for the dove. She said no holes in the column. That left only the option to jack up the beam and slip out the column from underneath and then tilt it over.
We both wondered would the bird be okay. It hadn’t made a sound for hours. Even after tapping on the wall of the column. Only silence. It was not very encouraging.
Sandra alerted her friend who, on his way to work this morning around six, dropped off some boards and a hydraulic jack, nails, a handsaw and a hammer.
I woke up to an email from Joe Formichella back at Waterhole Branch to give me news of the young hawk I’d named Gabriel, who is due with his siblings to leave the nest any day: “Was just now sitting in the studio looking at Gabriel standing atop the awning of your patio, Son. I think he was hoping you’d rise early this morning, wanting to bid you adieu or something. Not terribly patient, those kids. He turned and flew off into the sunrise.” That email I took as an omen, it inspired me, and gave me strong hope for the dove. I emailed Joe back to tell him of the imminent effort to save a dove. He got right back to me with, “Something I’ve never been able to figure out [with me and the hawks]: whether you’re following a Karmic trail, or it’s following you…” We’ll see, I reckon.
I got to work. I made up a leg with two 2x4s. Then sawed a 2×6 pad and nailed it on the top of the leg so it wouldn’t crush the metal siding encasing the beam when I jacked on it. I balanced the leg on top of the jack and directly underneath the beam. I got my sister to hold it upright while I managed the jack handle.
When the beam began to break free and lift up off the column, there was a sound of wood cracking, and Sandra was scared I was tearing apart her house. I reassured her and told her we only need an inch of clearance. And within a minute the column stood free.
I invited Bobby to go inside and watch through the window in the French door. In case the bird was alive and unable to fly, I didn’t want Bobby to pounce on it. Nor did I want him underfoot.
I slid the column a couple of inches across the concrete, and stopped to listen for the dove. Not a sound. Okay, I said, let’s see what we’ve got here. I bear-hugged the column and gently moved if from underneath the beam, got it clear of the ceiling and tilted it back.
The dove fluttered and made a fuss and flew up, up and away!
I put things back in order with the patio. I thought the entire day about the dove, could hear in my mind’s ear the beating of her wings as she flew hard and fast to get away from the nightmare, for a contingency against which she was not self-balanced, for an outcome she did not gently wait upon.
Then this evening, from Joe, another update on Gabriel, this hawk who last week gifted me with one of its wingfeathers: “And, so you know, Gabe came back at the end of the day, about 4:30, landed on the railing of the walkway from the deck, checked your cabin, saw the door closed, figured you weren’t back yet, flew off… Of course, while I can’t possibly know what [the hawk] figured, those were his actions. No lie. I expect I’ll see him again early tomorrow morning, checking on you. Ever heard of a hawk pining away for his human neighbor?”
I have not. But I have heard of a man who grabs his dog and clothes and gets himself back down to Waterhole Branch in hopes of seeing one last time a hawk who is his animal spirit, no matter where in Baldwin County he stakes a territory.
Some might think I’m nuts, but Father Rohr would understand.