Columns 2017

Adapting to changing circumstances

Some weeks seem worse than others. This past week was particularly troublesome. We saw a local politician claiming women in Alaska got pregnant to get free trips to Anchorage for abortions. We saw our national representative vote for a healthcare bill that would make rape a pre-existing condition but still mandate insurance coverage of Viagra. And we watched our state senate continue to hide out in Juneau in an attempt to never return to their constituents to face their wrath.

What I do when I find the world crashing in on my head in a really bad way is to turn to the only critters I know will always be there for me – my birds and my dogs.

I’m guessing that most people reading this column understand what I mean about the comfort dogs provide. That kind of love and devotion knows no boundaries, political or otherwise. But a lot of people look at me with questions in their eyes when I tell them that birds can provide the same love and comfort. You just have to give them a little more time to curl into your heart. But once there, they will always bring a smile to the worst of days.

I realized how great the gap in understanding about birds was when I was holding my now departed but still dearly loved parrot Abdul. He was sitting on my chest, head pressed down into me while I stroked his head. His eyes were closed in perfect bliss. My friend who was siting with me, and who has known my bird passion for years, expressed amazement that they could be so warm and cuddly. I expressed amazement that after all these years of knowing me, she’d be amazed at Abdul’s love.

Working with wild birds, as opposed to companion birds, is a whole different thing. You don’t cuddle them. They don’t like it and have multiple ways of telling you that, from sinking their talons into your arm to using their beak to rearrange your face. But this very wildness, this refusal to become what we want, this single minded goal of always remaining who they are is, for me, part of their fascination.

Being true to ourselves is sometimes very hard in a world that constantly hits us with expectations we may or may not be able to achieve. Wild birds don’t have that problem. They know who they are and have little to no desire to meet others’ expectations of them. All of which makes the education birds shown at schools and other events by Bird TLC volunteers even more amazing. They are not subservient to their presenters; rather they are partners in the program. These wild birds, none of whom are releasable due to an injury or other problem, have accepted their new role in life and adapted to our human needs in handling them. Yet, except for a silly crow or two, they manage to maintain their dignity through it all.

We humans would do well to study and emulate some of these wild birds. They are true to their nature but able to adapt as needed to changing circumstances. As ocean levels rise, the storm of the century occurs every year and the earth heats up more rapidly than nature can handle, we might have to learn, as these birds have, how to live in very different circumstances than those with which we are most familiar. They have learned to tolerate humans handling them, humans staring at them, humans feeding them and humans being their companions. In the not too distant future, we may have to learn how to cope with summers of 120 degree heat, winters with fifty feet of snow, years of drought followed by years of torrential downpours and fires that devastate whole ecosystems. I have to wonder if we humans will adapt as successfully as our Bird TLC education birds.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to meet some of these amazing survivors, these ambassadors from a world we can only glimpse as they soar above our heads while living closer to the heavens than we ever can, come to the Bird TLC fundraiser this Saturday at the Capt. Cook Hotel starting at 5:30. It’s in honor of our recently departed founder, Dr. James Scott. All the birds will be there, from eagles to hawks to owls and back again. Watch these amazing creatures handle themselves with dignity and grace in a situation so foreign to them that it might as well be occurring on Mars. They show us adaptation skills we may need in the not too distant future.