My conscious mind may still be at a loss about what to do with my life, but the universe and my subconscious are conspiring to wake me out of indecision.
Since my return “home”, I’ve not taken any concrete action, just falling into the blissful (for now) inertia of working in the bookstore and enjoying days off that – for the first time after years of study – are truly my own. Lots of time is spent on the couch, reading, watching TV, farting around online. Vague ideas are floating around my head about getting in touch with organizations about volunteering/training, but nothing has yet found purchase.
Enter the birds. The week after I left the US, PAWS took in more than 100 seabirds affected by a massive algal bloom off the coast of Oregon. Although I can’t be there to help, I’ve been following the fates of these birds and the folks working their asses off to rehab them and return them to the wild as well as I can from half a world away. (Happy news: the first group of birds ready to go back to the wild – 11 Common murres – were released in Edmonds yesterday!) And while my interest in developments there come in great deal out of concern for the birds, there’s more than a little wistfulness involved, wishing I could be there to help.
Soon after my return here, I noticed a Jackdaw hanging around my ‘hood that seems to have an injured wing. The wing droops and does seem to impede his (or her) flying ability to an extent.
Several days in a row, I tried to catch the bird so I could get it to someone who could help it, only to discover that despite the injury, he was not as incapacitated as I thought. Although not able to take flight, he was still fast enough and adept enough to get off the ground and out of my reach by flapping away into the greenery and hopping from branch to branch. I had to let go the idea of “rescuing” this bird, who despite an injury seems to be surviving quite well (I still see it in the neighborhood).
Then, last night, walking home from the tram stop after work, I was mulling about birds and the various ways I could possibly work with them when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark clump huddled up against the houses. I could very easily have overlooked it as in the dark it looked like a bit of plastic that had blown there in the breeze. But something nudged it into my consciousness and told me to turn around and look, and there was a little rock pigeon, looking warily at me, hugging the bricks. I came closer, and the bird didn’t move, just looked scared. I hustled home, dropped off my bag and my Thai take-away, and grabbed a box I had actually prepared for the Jackdaw I hadn’t rescued last week. Hurried back out to where the pigeon was, and easily picked it up and put it in the box. (It flapped a bit but was really easy to grab – not a good sign.)
Back home, I put the box with the bird in it in my darkened bedroom, closed the door, and called the Dierenambulance (the animal ambulance). The (none-too-pleasant) dispatcher seemed to think that I had needlessly plucked a healthy, but sleeping pigeon from the street and argued with me before agreeing to send someone. I stuck with my gut feeling that there was something wrong with the bird, and while never wishing injury on an animal, really hoped that she was wrong and that I had done more good than harm by taking pidgie home with me. An hour and a half later, the (MUCH nicer) ambulance personnel showed up and checked out the bird. Not only was it really thin and missing wing feathers, it had puncture wounds on its back and wings (likely from a cat attack). They confirmed my feeling that I had done the right thing and had helped the bird by picking it up and calling them. I gave them a donation (they run on donations) and they left to bring pidgie to a vet who could treat him.
After they left, I felt really choked up. Not because the bird was hurt (I saw a lot of animals with much worse injuries this summer), not because I was worried about it (I knew it was in the hands of people who would do the best they could), but because it felt so good to be able to do something concrete to help an animal again.
I still haven’t broken out of my lazy-day inertia (honestly, I think I deserve some laziness after the last few years), but all these birds keep tickling my consciousness. It’s like the universe is throwing pebbles at my window.
Now that I’m back at home and things are getting back to “normal”, my brain has started the inevitable life stock-taking that I expected would happen upon my return. This summer was like stepping out of my normal life, but now I need to figure out where all those experiences fit into my world. And in doing so, it’s making me reevaluate what “normal” really is, and what I want it to be.
I’ve been back at work for two days now (today will be my third day back) and I gotta say, I’m bored. Not that I expected working at the bookstore to be as thrill-a-minute as working at a busy wildlife hospital, but that’s not what’s really bothering me. Sure, I still enjoy my colleagues, I still enjoy being around books, and it’s still nice helping customers find what they need. It’s all very pleasant. But right now, it all feels so meaningless. Rude customers and customers who get angry because we can’t get the book they’re looking for… well, even more meaningless. Seriously? This is what you get your panties in a wad about? Life is bigger than an out-of-print title.
The work I was doing this summer at PAWS may not always have been fun, it may not always have been pleasant, but it did always feel like it had meaning. I felt useful. Not to sneeze at the importance of books in people’s lives and in the world, but it’s not exactly like I’m helping to eradicate illiteracy or getting books to people who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I’m selling them to people who have the luxury to quibble about the price of importing books from overseas. It’s not enough. Now that I’ve had a taste of doing something meaningful, I want more. I just need to figure out what form that’s going to take in my life. Paid work? Volunteer work? Who knows. I trust that I’ll figure it out some way somehow.
As a sidebar to these thoughts, PAWS just got in a deluge of over 100 seabirds stranded by an algal bloom off the coast. I can’t even begin to express how much I wish I could be there to help. For now I can just follow developments from my frantic contacts over there and offer moral support. But my hands are itching to do more.
It’s not just physically draining, although this is some of the most physically arduous work I’ve ever done; other facets of this experience can and do get to me, making me just plumb tired of it all some days. Here are some things I’m tired of:
I’m tired of having to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn.
I’m tired of spending all day cleaning poo.
I’m tired of worrying about zoonotic diseases.
I’m tired of coming home feeling not just dirty, but toxic.
I’m tired of worrying about what has touched my clothing.
I’m tired of working 10 hours with only a half hour break.
I’m tired of worrying if I’m hurting an animal more than I’m helping it.
I’m tired of worrying about making a mistake and killing something.
I’m tired of worrying about why an animal’s not improving.
I’m tired of coming in and wondering if an animal that was there yesterday but is gone today has been released or euthanized.
There’s lots of good stuff too, and I know that this post just seems to focus on the negative. Most of the people who work there are great (both staff and volunteers). I love knowing I’m helping the animals and being able to work with them so closely. Watching seven baby opossums crawl all over each other to get to their dish food, or getting to hold a Common Murre or a Cooper’s Hawk while someone feeds/treats it makes you forget the poo for a while. And releases make it all worthwhile. But some days, the other stuff drags me down a bit, and I long for the simplicity of bookselling, where there are no lives at stake and the most dangerous thing I might face is a customer with halitosis. So does this mean I’m not cut out for rehab (at least on a professional level)? I’m not making any decisions right now, but maybe so. I may be too much of a worrier (Hi, mom! ;)) to do this kind of work on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop exploring ways to work with animals, either on a volunteer or paid basis. It just means there might be other areas that I would enjoy more, or that aren’t as draining on me psychically. (And looking forward to exploring those possiblities.) But I’m really glad I’m having this experience, even if it ends up teaching me that this is not the road for me to take. If I hadn’t taken this detour, I’d never find out.
It’s kind of an accident that my first post on this blog is being written within minutes of the Summer solstice, but it’s certainly not inappropriate. Lots of things are happening in my life right now, and I started this blog as a way to document some of them. Just days ago, I finished (re)writing my thesis, and in less than two weeks, I’ll be graduating, bringing nine years of being a “mature” (sic) student to an end. In exactly three weeks, I’ll be flying to the Pacific Northwest for an internship at the PAWS Wildlife Center, an internship, may I add, that has nothing to do with what I just spent close to a decade studying. To some people in my life, this makes perfect sense. To others (Hi mom!), it’s a waste of an education and a danger to my future career as an archaeologist and an academic.
Whatever. It’s something I have to do. I’ve wanted to work helping animals since I was a child, and this crossroads seemed like the perfect time to test those waters before getting mired in a career. Who knows what comes after that? I don’t believe this has to be an either/or question. I don’t believe in closing doors, nor do I think that’s what I’m doing. It’s never too late to do something you love, and the bones’ll be there when I’m ready for them.
I’ve always thought of myself as a late bloomer. Finally, at the age of mumblemumble, it feels like my life is starting to blossom.