words and images by mk swanson
Reasons for Things

Reasons for Things

This morning, I was driving up the new bridge on 46 when I saw a black and white duck that had been hit by a car. I realized it was still alive, and I could vaguely sense that its friends were flying around it, just overhead. I passed it, stabbed on the flashers and backed up, hoping that the other drivers would see me in time to prevent total chaos. I just couldn’t leave a fellow traveller to die the death of a hundred cars.

I jumped out of the Mini and threw up the hatch. As I ran back, the other birds circled me. When I got to him, he looked up at me. I saw intense yellow eyes and a black and white stripped head that ended in a hooked beak. No duck: this was a full-grown osprey. I reached down, gloveless, without hesitation, which I think shows that I was suffering from adrenaline poisoning.

He didn’t look frightened or angry; he looked affronted. Such an indignity to be gathered up, legs dangling, and tossed into the back of a tiny car.

I drove on, simultaneously dialing the Birds of Prey Center. He flapped his mighty five foot wingspan and was practically driving the car. I pushed his wing gently out of the way, cajoling him, “Back seat. Back seat!” The leading edge of his wing was soft, feathered in short downlike fronds. After a minute, he settled behind the passenger seat and spent the rest of the 45 minute drive staring at me. He never made a sound, except the soft flap of a wing.

At the center, I opened the passenger door: he was on his back, legs useless, but wings spread threateningly. I folded one wing, then the other, and lifted. He was heavy and warm. Thin blood dripped from his right wing. He bit down on my leather glove. I slipped my hand out so he could hold on to it.

The ladies at the center told me he will not live. Two badly broken legs and internal injuries will take him permanently from the sky and from me.

The reasons for things escape me.


  1. Thank you for helping him. Some days, it's all anyone can ask for. Just help me.

    The other day, though, I was whizzing down Howell Branch and saw Ms. Turtle hunkered down in the middle of the road thinking her shell was going to protect her from the hundreds of steel-shelled ones speeding by her.

    I stopped as soon as I could, wheeled around a u-turn, and zoomed back to her. But by the time I could get back, another car had stopped, and the couple had her out of the road and up into a safe, deep yard headed back towards the woods.

    It's good when it's not just me. Not just you.

    jme/ancoses (vericoses?)

  2. I was thinking about the other birds that circled you, the wounded animal's friends, worried about the fallen one, but unsure what they could do without jeopardizing their own delicate wings.
    When you go down that road again, tell me if they are flying overhead.

  3. Thanks for your considerate responses! I've been thinking over why this happens.
    I can't imagine whether a trip in my car is less traumatic for the osprey, but I know that it's better for my heart to help.
    I also think that it may prepare me in some way for the other losses in life I have no control over.
    It both tenderizes and tempers my heart. Odd, how love can be at once hard and fierce, and soft and gentle.

  4. My heart is filled with admiration for your bravery and sadness for the outcome, but don't be surprised if you begin to encounter other members of the species frequently now that you have officially become one of their own. You may even see one tip his wing to you.

  5. Crossing the bridge now, I look for them. They are always there, industriously building nests and searching for fish.
    Looking for symbolic meaning, I learned that an osprey may represent a beacon, helping me find my way. It can also indicate that I need to leave a familiar element, or to dive into my unconscious for answers.
    I felt that the osprey saw me for what I was, without sentimentality, but also without being cynical. I would like to see myself as clearly as that.

  6. Tabitha and Susan and Jamie and Jill,

    I took all your wonderful thoughts and deep insights with me into my future and found them helpful in my encounter with a dying bee. Because of you, I thought of the bee as an encounter with the divine, and it has put me back in touch with that in me. Thank you!

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