Not going to be an ornithologist

I was going to–and will still, in a minute–write about not majoring in biology. Then I logged in here, and I saw that I have 43 followers. Probably that is not many, but still… I’m pretty surprised. Seriously.

Well, I’ve adequately expressed my surprise; now back to biology.

When I went to make my first ‘academic plan’ or whatever the tentative schedule is that we GI-billers must keep on file, I said I intended to major in general biology. And I did intend to. It makes sense in many ways. Lots of fields, let alone jobs, are based in biology. Probably a lot of biology knowledge would be useful in case of some sort of apocalyptic situation. I am super interested in health, fitness, preventing illness, animals, gardening, and other stuff involving living things. I think I might even be the youngest bird watcher in the world (I’m 25).

But death makes me sad.  Not all of it, of course, but enough of it that I can’t see myself working with endangered species, giving mice cancer, or collecting specimens.

The whole specimen thing is what got me thinking of this again today (I figured out bio wasn’t for me months ago). NPR has an article up about some folks’ article saying that collecting specimens of wild animals is maybe not always the best thing to do. I’m not writing to weigh in on that debate, although, as a former Girl Scout, I don’t take anything out of its place myself… Except a pretty rock once in a while, for the bird bath. Anyway, the article had a picture with it of some birds pinned down.

Hm. How do I express myself on this? Death for scientific progress, and potentially conservation, is still just… Not my cup of tea. I dunno.  I’m really not that much of a softy or anything, and I do eat meat (though I admit I was a vegetarian for about eight years), but there is something about dead birds in particular that just stirs me terribly. I have several images in my mind of experiences with birds, but the most haunting is the goldfinch memory. Last year, for a few months, my husband and I had a goldfinch feeder hanging from our balcony. We could get about eight or nine lesser goldfinches on there at once, and they became one of my favorite animals in the world. They’re so small, so pretty, and have such a lovely call. Also, I love the way they fly; it’s like they launch themselves like little arrows, and land only wherever they catch a grip. It’s just a plus that feeding them is less messy than feeding, say, house finches.

Anyway, one day, I got home around 4 pm, and I think I was even in a good mood. I’d gotten an A on a math or Japanese exam or something. But my husband had a sad look, and he took me to the glass door to see a goldfinch that was somehow stuck at the bottom of the door. K. said it had just happened, and he was glad I was home because he didn’t know what to do. The bird had flown into the door.

Well, I carefully got outside (because I couldn’t slide the door much, the bird being stuck in the track somewhat). I released the bird from where it was stuck… I think it was just that these birds have hook like feet… and it was just frozen. But it was alive. I could see it looking around as it lay in my hand. Did it move? Was its heart beating hard and fast? I don’t know because my own heartbeat had gotten louder. At first, I put the bird down in a planter, hoping it would fly away on its own. But it was cold and very windy that day, so I picked up the tiny creature again, feeling like a dangerous, giant, unsophisticated thing myself, and I placed it instead on the soil of a potted plant I had nearby. The level of soil was low enough compared to the rim of the pot that I thought this would provide better shelter. Of course I went inside to consult Google, hoping that other people recommended the course of action I had intuitively taken. They did, but I had doubts. I felt extremely sad, and I cried much  harder over this than I had over other things that most people would consider much more significant. I guess, in my Eden, harmless little birds are immortal. I felt bad because it was my door that hurt the bird. It appeared to me one of its feet might be broken. What do I do? I felt bad picking up the creature, looking at it, putting it down, picking it up again. Maybe it was too stunned then to even have been afraid of me. How should I know? The few moments that I had held the bird are like a very long time in my memory, because the feelings were so strong. I felt powerful in a terrible way.

I think I was thinking about my next step, once I paused crying, and looked out the glass door again. I didn’t see the bird in the pot anymore though. I went out to see, and indeed, it must’ve managed to fly away. Of course my dark imagination would speculate that the bird would just starve because its foot was broken, or this or that. I don’t know what happened ultimately. I don’t even know the typical lifespan of a goldfinch anyway. But I knew that even when these sort of stories have happy endings, they are too much for me. I hate pain and death and fear in creatures like this. Of course we must all hate these things in all of creation, mustn’t we? But maybe it’s just more poignant to me with birds because of what they can symbolize. Untainted nature. Innocent existence. Beauty. Freedom. Absence of ego. The marvelous, intricacy of all that God has made: those specially shaped feet, those tiny feathers, the deep black beak, the always moving eyes — not to mention every little bone and organ and cell and organic compound…

Even to help these creatures, I couldn’t hurt one. I couldn’t look at a single dead one without feeling sad. This whatever it is isn’t the only reason, nor, I realize, is it exactly a “reason,” why I don’t want to study biology beyond what I already have.

I have more thoughts and feelings on this sort of thing, you know, involving conservation, creation, and so on. But it’s so complex. I just wanted to take a few minutes to write down what happened with the goldfinch. I think it may even be an insight into love. What is a little bird to me, that I should be so moved thinking of it, many months after I even saw it? What is man, O Lord, that you should look at him? It is something I have been thinking lately, too, about the fundamental goodness of humanity, and about Christ. It is easy enough to say, “I do not deserve this,” or “I am unworthy,” or “I have sinned,” or even, “I cannot stop sinning.” It is easy to feel inadequate, guilty, and other things. It is true that we do not gain redemption ourselves, but only by the grace of God. It is true that Christ died for our sins. But it is also true that God loved us before he saved us; he loved us — loves us — even in our most disgusting, miserable, evil-doing states. It makes no sense, but that is love, I think. And I think the fact that God loves me and provides for my eternal salvation even when I am the worst, confirms that I am “good,” like he said in Genesis. I am not only the sum of my good and bad works. We are all creatures loved by God. Why? Well, why do I love the little goldfinch? I don’t know, but I feel it.


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