When I moved from Barrow to Anchorage, one of the first things I did was become a volunteer at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center (Bird TLC). I did it because all my life I have felt a special love and affinity towards birds.
I remember as a child dreaming that I was Supergirl. After my mother would put the lights out in my room at night, I would lull myself to sleep dreaming that I was leaping out of the little window in my bedroom. My super powers allowed me to zoom straight up thereby missing the wall that was three foot on the other side of that window. I would spend the night flying through the sky, never touching ground. It wasn’t necessary in my dream for me to do any great deeds. The whole point of the dream was the flying.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life envying birds their ability to shake the bonds of earth and gravity and soar above us. I love watching them fly and seeing the sheer joy of their flight. And so I knew that volunteering at Bird TLC was for me because I would be helping sick and injured birds return to the heavens where they belonged.
Recently, as if to make this whole experience even more joyful, I was given the privilege of releasing a healed eagle to the wild. There is no way to describe the feeling of holding an eagle that you once cared for when it was too sick to care for itself and then throwing your arms up and letting it go and watching it climb to the top of the trees to once again become lord of all it surveys. It was probably as close to flying as I will ever get because my soul soared with that eagle.
If I had one sadness on the day I released the eagle, it was that the man who had come to represent for me the heart and soul of Bird TLC was not there to share it.
I met him on one of my first days at the Center. He was standing at a large tub washing eagle mats. This is probably the least fun job there. Eagles confined to a small space still answer nature’s call as often as they would otherwise except it’s all contained in that small space. Washing those mats takes love.
This man caught my attention because he was so tall that he had moved the platform that we all used to get up to the tub and was just standing there able to reach in with no trouble. I asked who he was and was told his name was Ferg. He came in whenever he was needed to help, whether it was picking up birds, transporting birds, caring for birds or cleaning their messes.
For many people, I imagine the first sight of Ferg would give pause for thought. At about 6’5” and as solid as they come, he would certainly make you think twice about being anything but extremely polite and courteous to him at all times. He was the only man I ever saw who actually intimidated the eagles. Whereas the rest of us would have to carefully enter the holding pens to pick them up, carefully put a blanket over them and ever so carefully grab for their legs, all the time making sure we had a quick exit available if needed, Ferg just walked into the pen. The eagle would look up, know he’d met his match and not struggle at all.
I watched this giant of a man handle the biggest eagles and the smallest chickadees with tenderness and care. I looked forward to the days he’d show up during my shift to sing a silly Christmas carol to me, his way of teasing me for my bah humbug attitude towards the holidays. In talking to other volunteers, I’ve come to find out that I wasn’t the only one who would occasionally wander by the Center in the hope he’d be there so we could just chat a bit. A chat with Ferg just made the day seem lighter.
For a variety of reasons, Ferg isn’t at the center anymore. I’m not sure this column makes clear just how impressed I always was by his tenderness and kindness to god’s smallest and most helpless creatures while he was there. I hope it does because I didn’t get to say goodbye to Ferg before he left. If I had, I would have told him he was the gentlest giant in body, soul and spirit I’d ever met.