June 22, 2009

A Simple Act of Kindness

Suburbitat: A Suburban Naturalist’s Journal: A Simple Act of Kindness

Yesterday I was walking into town. Actually, I was going to the Fort Collins Shambhala Meditation Center, to practice meditation, in order to be a more aware and compassionate person. 

I like to look around when I walk. I look up in trees, into gardens and ditches and often I see amazing things. Once I saw a pair of screech owls, just above eye level, in an oak tree.

What other people don’t seem to see often amazes me. This spring an osprey landed in a tree above my house.  I saw it fly in and tip-toed around my yard so as not to frighten it off but it was totally unperturbed. It was probably just migrating back to the area after a winter on the Gulf Coast. 

Perhaps it was due to exhaustion or simply that it was familiar and comfortble with the activities of human beings  but the osprey stayed all night in that tree, above the street, in front of my house. People drove by, they came and went, parked their cars and went into their houses and no-one seemed to notice this amazing, large, white bird.      

On my way  to town yesterday I noticed some sparrows on a rooftop. This was not amazing but one bird seemed to be hanging from the roof in a peculiar way. I stopped to watch it. Now and then the bird would flutter and then hang limply as if it were stuck. Another bird (possibly the mother bird) hovered nearby as if trying to help, or perhaps just dismayed or confused. 

It’s a tough time of year for birds. Young birds fly into cars and do other goofy stuff. Adult birds chase each other around and often smash into windows and cats prowl everywhere, stalking their dopey and unsuspecting prey but I had never seen anything like this before.   

Realizing that the bird was stuck and likely to die an agonizing death, I knocked on the door of the house to see if anyone was home.  No one was home so I went to the neighbor’s who also weren’t home, or at least were not answering .

Finally I saw a mother with young children across the street and went to asked her if they had a ladder.  She got her husband, David, and together we carried the ladder across the road. We put the ladder up against the house and David climbed it (after checking again to make sure that no-one was home)

Up near the bird, David said that the bird’s entire head was actually stuck in a space under the shingles and after pulling up on the shingles the bird quickly flew away across the street.  David’s two small boys watched and cheered him on. It was father’s day’s, so this all worked out great, with David getting to play “Super Dad” and all.

 We carried the ladder back across the street. I thanked David for his help and walked on feeling somehow cheered by this simple, seemingly inconsequential event.

In the face catastrophic suffering, extinction and global environmental problems does one simple act of kindness really make any difference? Well, it certainly does from one small sparrow’s point of view.

Jim Tolstrup is the Executive Director of the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland CO. HPEC works with developers, businesses and homeowners to promote the restoration and conservation of Colorado’s unique native biodiversity in the suburban environments where we live work and play www.suburbitat.org

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