Requiem For A Duck

Texas. March 24, 2014. Twenty-five years after Alaska’s Exxon-Valdez disaster, on the threshold of migration, and 160,000 gallons of crude spill from a ruined tanker into Galveston Bay.

Eight miles.

Eight miles is all that separates black tar from the marshes of Bolivar—from thousands of resident waterfowl and waders who find shelter there to raise their young, from countless thousands of migrants who seek them out for replenishment and rest on their long journeys north.

Eight miles from where you made your home.

Even now, there are good people working tirelessly to save your kin, to clean oil from feathers, provide haven and relief. There are many others trying to contain the oil, direct it away from this critical habitat, reduce the impact, minimize the damage, lower the toll. Still others are working to raise awareness, to shift our nation’s priorities, challenge the status quo and change the way things are done.

And yet it’s not enough.

Wildlife rescuers were there in Prince William Sound in 1985. They were there in the Pribilofs in 1996. They were there in South Africa in 2000. They were there in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

And still it goes on.

And for that, I’m truly sorry. I’m sorry that we don’t learn from our mistakes. I’m sorry that we are too short-sighted to see the larger consequences of our ways. I’m sorry we don’t appreciate the wonders of the world around us, and that we don’t care enough to preserve them. I’m sorry for the wake of destruction we leave in our passing. I’m sorry we were too late to save you, that we will never meet, and that the last thing we’ll know about you is how you died.

I’m sorry.

When will we learn?

Prelude: Awakening

Red-winged Blackbird

Spring! At long last, winter begins to loosen its icy grip and allow hints of warmth and life to break through its frozen edges. There’s a collective sigh, a release of long-held breath as we all stretch towards the first glimpses of vernal sunshine, working three months’ chill from our bones and reassembling the pieces of our frayed sanity. And though the capricious New England climate often presents us with April snow, it’s the last gasp of a vanishing season, sound and fury signifying nothing, winter’s swan song fading into the overture of spring.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

People mark the changeover from winter in different ways: some follow the calendar, others look for the crocuses’ first tentative aboveground explorations, still others await the emergence of slumbering hibernators. For me, the onset of spring is heralded by the distinctive call and flashy epaulettes of the Red-winged Blackbird, Mother Nature’s midwife at spring’s birth. Over the last week, the neighborhood’s resounded with their insistent “conk-a-ree,” and our yard has been graced by several of these wonderful birds. Others have come with them: Robins are back in force, and Cedar Waxwings, too, with their paraffin-dipped feathers. Turkey Vultures soar overhead on upswept wings, and Grackles, reflecting purple and green from an impossibly glossy black, have returned to feast at our feeders. All bear the promise of warmth and renewal, and presage the arrival of yet more. This is but the vanguard of a feathered flood: warblers, orioles, and tanagers; Chipping Sparrows and Broad-winged Hawks; Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers; plovers, terns, and sandpipers—all headed our way, and each one refreshing our spirits and reawakening in us the joy of being gloriously, wonderfully alive.

American Robin

American Robin

This… this is what life’s all about. Now let’s get out there and celebrate it.