A few years ago
I poured out my mornings experiences as a volunteer at the local wildlife
rehabilitation center: my desperate efforts to persuade a tiny mule deer fawn, stressed
from being chased by dogs, to take formula from a bottle and force-feeding three nestling
ravens, survivors of a brood of five whose nest was tossed from a third-story ledge by an
irritated janitor. All this in addition to four hundred baby songbirds that greeted my
7:00 a.m. arrival with loud demands to be fed.
Into the silence that followed my recital
dropped a question: "Why bother?" I felt checked, shocked. I chose not to deal
with the question but it wouldnt go away. It flashed into my mind at odd moments.
Why do I bother to care for these animals?
More recently, having moved to a small
high-desert community, I have taken on the sole care of injured and orphaned wildlife that
comes my way. I shared with my writing group some of the seasons experiences
(thirteen hours a day, seven days a week) and this time the question was: "Why do you
Can anyone know how they have arrived at a
particular place and time in their life? Can I trace the steps, the choices, which took me
along unknown paths? Can I know why I chose one road over another?
I know how I came to be at the wildlife center.
A friend told me about the place. I called, volunteered, and a few weeks later began
working a four-hour, once-a-week shift. The question remains. Why did I choose to help
injured, orphaned and sick wild animals?
Eighteen months earlier, my mother suffered a
heart attack followed closely by a stroke. Fortuitously I was able to care for her during
her recovery. I put my life on hold (or so it seemed then) and with my two cats, Tigger
and Fuji, headed for my mothers home. I was to be there for nearly four months.
In the first weeks, I visited her in the
hospital and the rehabilitation facility. When she came home, Mother was physically able
but suffering from an unusual form of apraxia in which the minds "switching
mechanism", that translates thought into words, had short-circuited. Communication
was exceedingly difficult; she would complain about being too hot when she meant too cold;
ask for Christmas when she wanted milk; and say he when she meant she.
Caring for my mother was a challenge that
brought rich rewards. I had the chance to give back to her the love and support which she
had so steadfastly given me all my life. I had the privilege to be with a warm, caring
woman who made many friends with her wisdom and understanding. Despite her fear and
confusion caused by the illness, my mother still cared about others and expressed her love
in many different ways. With courage and determination she struggled through physical and
speech therapy, proud and excited when she successfully completed a task or lesson.
I was filled with love and admiration for this
woman, my mother, and grateful for the opportunity to be there, to help. It was a
full-time job. Occasionally, my sister or nephew would come for a few hours and I would be
free to walk on the beach, go to the gym, or visit friends.
During those welcome outings, I noticed
something happening in my heart. Animals, wild or domestic, would stand out on the
landscape, drawing my attention and filling me with what I could only describe as a
glowing warmth or vibration. A bread-catching circus of greedy, acrobatic gulls or a brief
exchange with a friendly dog would lift me up and lighten responsibilities. My cats
sustained me with unconditional love and warm, soft bodies curled against me in the night.
Mother died in early March following a second
stroke. Having been given permission to go by me and my younger sister, Judy, her spirit
left her body. I was with her as she let go of physical ties to those whose need of her
had held her. The hours of her dying were the deepest, most beautiful experience of my
life. Struggling to stay present and keep my heart open, I watched as a loving woman gave
up her gift of being present for others. I saw her spirit leave her body and I knew, in
the deepest fibres of my being, that we are not our bodies, that spirit lives even as the
flesh dies. Later in her house, the joy of this experience manifested in song that welled
from me without effort, alternating with grief at the loss of Mothers physical
In the months that followed, I grieved
consciously, allowing myself to experience every feeling that came, striving to stay open.
I did not grieve for my mother, only for myself, for I had lost mother and best friend.
Sunlit trees and grasses moved me from tears to joy and always the animals sang in my
Tracking back along my path, I see that I came
to the wildlife center seeking expression of my heartıs song, Does this explain ten years
of commitment to nurturing and healing orphaned and injured wild animals? Why did the
animals call to me? Why did my heart move in response? Why did I bother about
baby robins and sick gulls?
The world of spirit had opened to me and I
explored a realm which had always been present but unseen. I was drawn to other explorers
of the spirit; I found a handful of teachers: Tom Brown Jr., Richard Moss, Ram Dass, and
others, who illuminated sections of the landscape. In one transcendent moment, I saw and
experienced my connection with the whole; with the earth and all living things. I read
Kinship With All Life and attempted to free myself of unconscious programming and to
relate to animals as equals. There were many other inspirations: words, events, people and
experiences which literally put spirit into me, breathed life into my physical being.
In my rehab work, I began to see how I and
others create an arbitrary hierarchy of worth: a red-tailed hawk is more exciting than a
herring gull, thus somehow more valuable; hummingbirds are more brilliantly-colored than
finches, more precious; mammals are obviously better than reptiles; reptiles are more
intelligent than insects.
If we all, finch and gull, snake and worm, lion
and ant, are a part of the whole, if we are connected to all things, if each is an
expression of the Great Spirit or Creator, how can any one of us be more important, more
valuable than any other? Isnt every being an expression of the life force, of love,
and inherently deserving of respect and compassion? I came to believe the words of Chief
Seattle: "The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth . . .we did not
weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it."
To live this belief, to integrate it into my
daily life became my challenge and my path. I sought to honor a spider as I honor an
eagle; to respect and love the grass upon which I walk, the air and water that sustain me.
I chose to kill no other life form unless consciously, with due consideration and only for
necessity. I redefined necessity. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, I prayed ". . .
that all living beings realize that they are all brothers and sisters, all nourished from
the same source of life . . . that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each
My world became immense for I was no longer
confined to membership in the human species; I was a part of everything and everything was
part of me. How grateful I was to the animals who had whispered in my heart, who awakened
in me consciousness of our connection, our oneness; to my mother who showed me that our
spirits live although our bodies die. My work with wildlife took on a new dimension,
became an exercise in love and compassion. Along with Albert Schweitzer I asked:
"Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of
In caring for my brother animals, I receive
more than I give. "Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee . . . ask now the
beasts and they shall teach thee." These words from the Book of Job are echoed in the
words of Chief Seattle, Buddha, and the Veda.
I am being taught the language of the earth,
the language of life common to all. No longer a stranger in a strange land, I feel at home
wherever I stand upon the earth. I am never alone; the songs of birds and rivers fill my
ears, the grass caresses my feet and the wind, my cheek. All around me each being fulfills
its purpose, true to its nature, weaving a thread into the glorious web of life, and I
learn to see and appreciate every strand.
I am grateful that, without understanding, I
heeded a call and learned skills for healing my brothers. Why bother? Why care? I
understand now why these questions cut across the fabric of my life with the shock of a
blade. In them lies an assumption that the fawn and the ravens are separate from me, an
assumption I no longer live.
"Do unto others as you would have them do
unto you" is a powerful expression of the love that unites us all, connects us all,
the love from which all life springs. Joyfully, I reach out and gather up the orphaned
robin or the great horned owl struck by a car and I do all I can to help and heal, for
when I look into their eyes I see myself. I rejoice to watch a kestrel or a hummingbird
return to their place in the web, whole and free once more.
My constant prayer is that I may regard all
beings with the eye of a friend and that all beings regard one another with the eye of a
friend, for we are simply different manifestations of the Spirit which enlivens the
universe. Finally, I know with my heart, mind and spirit, my answer. "Why bother? Why
do it?" I care for my animal brothers because we are all connected ". . . like
the blood which unites one family", and because that which connects us is love.