When I was a young child, at the end of the street where I lived there was a pond which was inhabited by ducks and swans. I have happy memories of feeding bread to the waterfowl at that pond. When I was a young man in the army, there was a pond in the middle of Fort Richie, Maryland, which was populated by ducks. Of all my memories of being in the U.S. Army, some of the happiest are of feeding bread to the ducks of that pond.
In 1972, I was stationed at the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco. Just outside the base was the Palace of Fine Arts which had a pond where swans swam. I remember many nights of sitting atop the columns at that park, watching the swans.
I have a mental image which I consider to be the most beautiful sight I have ever beheld. Ten years ago I attended an animal protection conference in Orlando with a woman I loved. Just outside the hotel was a pond with ducks. She and I took some bread down to the pond and fed the ducks. I left her there for a few minutes while I went to a nearby store to buy another loaf of bread. When I returned she was sitting at the edge of the pond with baby ducks surrounding her, eating out of her hands. Words really can’t describe how I felt at that moment, but I will remember and cherish that memory forever.
There are other memories I have of birds: the day a pigeon flew down from the sky and perched on my shoulder for a minute and we looked into each other’s eyes. There is the memory of the chicken doomed to be our family’s dinner whose head was twisted off by my grandmother. I remember how the bird ran around the backyard, flapping her wings and bleeding before she died. I still imagine her silent screams. At six years old I actually experienced the reality of the phrase “like a chicken with its head cut off.” It was surely a stepping stone along my path.
Birds are amazing creatures. I really don’t understand how most people take them for granted. There are birds who are incredible mimics, recreating the sounds of other birds, of cameras clicking, of trucks penetrating the wilderness, the sounds of chainsaws destroying the forests around them.
The intelligence of crows is still being investigated. They seem to have incredible problem-solving abilities we haven’t been able to rate on our arbitrary scale of who is the most worthy creature to be respected after us.
Birds inspired Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine inventions; they inspired the Wright Brothers to conquer the air; they inspired humans to travel to the moon, Pluto and beyond. They inspired us to learn how to fly. And yet, humans think nothing of keeping them in cages where they can’t even spread their wings. They think nothing of dipping their fried wings in barbecue sauce. I will never understand the disconnect humans have from the other beings with whom we share this world. I know why the caged bird sings: she’s crying for help. She wants to fly again.
Greg Lawson, VLCE, is a National Park Service ranger and vice president of the Vegetarian Society of El Paso. He has hosted a vegan oriented radio show, Animal Concerns of Texas, for 13 years on KTEP, National Public Radio for the Southwest.