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This Bird Has Flown

Updated: Dec 14, 2019


I'm back in Vancouver now, where the crows come when I whistle and otherwise have lives of their own. I realise I didn't write an update about the toucan, and people have been asking, so.... in short I think she's still alive and she's out there in the wild somewhere. For about a week mid-October she disappeared and I was sure she was dead and I agonized over all that I had done wrong for her, or all I was unable to do: I couldn't teach her to fend for herself, I couldn't protect her from the many predators and harrassers - the rogue band of aracaris, for example, who would chase her mercilessly for who knows why. I became acutely aware of 'nature' as 'culture' - that each corner of the rainforest is inhabited and patrolled by someone, that the forest is a place of intense politics and negotiations, and that to just 'release' someone 'into the wild', as if she would just be wild and free was the height of romantic folly. She needed her people. She needed a group. She needed wherewithall and comefrom and I, we, as humans, simply could not provide her with that. It seemed so complex, so imperfect (ah, life).


But then by chance, when I was convinced she was dead and gone - that beautiful life cut short - I happened upon her image on FACEBOOK -- the profile picture of a woman who is a friend of friends but whom I'd never met or seen before. There, in a photograph, on my damn computer screen, was our toucan, clearly in somebody's kitchen. Hard to describe the energy that began instantly coursing through my body. Fear, thrill, joy, rage, trembling excitement.... who was this woman? Where was she? Why did she have 'our' toucan?


Again, long story short, my partner (who knows her), contacted the woman and, yes - indeed - the toucan had found her way, over five miles away, to the house of a kind and loving person who was touched and surprised that such a magnificent bird should just descend from the woods to greet her. So she brought the toucan in for a while, kept her in an aviary she happened to have, but as soon as she realised the toucan was healthy and could fly, she once more set her free. We had a long exchange on Facebook, this woman and I, and it was loving and joyful with the mutual appreciation of this incredible animal.


The next morning I scanned the trees around our home, looking closely for a flash of black-and-yellow with scarlet red and the humorous twinkling eye of our girl.... and there, in a flash, she appeared. This time, instead of swooping over to say hello or to land on the plank I had set up to feed her papaya, she just stayed in a nearby tree. She perched on a low branch (where no wild toucan would ever think to perch), and watched our staff meeting for awhile. Hello! I thought to her. I love you! So wonderful to see you! I have no idea what she thought to us back, but she stayed there awhile, watching, considering, and (from my mind) twinkling her eye, and then flew off. I never saw her again.


This was all happening around the week of my birthday (45!!). My mum didn't know the toucan had gone missing, but drew me this very appropriate card .... I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me. ... a song that ends of course, with 'this bird has flown'.


I still feel so heart-wrenched when I think of the toucan that, when I scroll through my photos and see that flash of black and yellow, I keep scrolling very quickly. I am unwilling, it seems, to touch upon that nerve of tender love and loss that she brings up in me - that sense of muddling through a world that was so complex and so foreign, to learn everything I could about toucans in a mad crash course to care for that comical little fledgling and give her the best chance at life. And maybe I did everything right, and maybe I did everything wrong. It certainly was, perhaps above all else, a crash course in loving something and then setting them free, knowing or hoping that your love for them flies too, arcing through the world.

Here is the drawing by my mum. And I'll post too, the piece of writing I made around the funny business of trying to name (or not name) this beautiful bird. Love to all.


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© 2015 by Saskia Wolsak