October 21, 2010I found a dead bird today, a magpie. Where I grew up, in rural Alberta, magpies were reviled. They were infamous for stealing dog food and being able to ‘smell a gun from a mile away’. I listened to many conversations about the best way to kill them (usually involving poison and the aforementioned dog food) and how horrible they were. Frankly, I thought it was the people doing the plotting that were horrible, not the birds. I love birds. Even magpies.

I know magpies aren’t angelic, I’ve seen them swarming to pick on a weaker bird, or squirrel, and I’ve heard stories about them ganging up on cats, but I guess that sort of falls under the whole ‘circle of life’ or ‘nature is cruel’ thing. I think they are beautiful. Their black and white feathers, their silhouette when they fly overhead. They are super-smart, and I freaking LOVE how they talk with two voices at the same time. Someday I’ll write a story with that in it, someday.

Not today. Today my story is about one particular magpie that won’t ever speak again, in any number of voices.

I left my house, intent on dealing with some mundane errands. I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself because a had a bit of a headache and the scale this morning said I’d gained 1/2 a pound overnight. I left my yard and started walking down the sidewalk toward the mall, and I saw it. A feathery bundle laying still on the sidewalk. Right in the middle of the sidewalk. It was unmistakably a magpie, even from a distance, it’s coloring and shape told me that much. I couldn’t tell if it was alive or dead, there was a light breeze and it was ruffling its feathers just enough to sustain the possibility of breath. I was frozen in place for a moment, trying to figure out what could have happened — because it was just laying there. There were no scattered feathers, no other birds or animals, no sign of any struggle, just a bird, obviously dead or dying, laying in the middle of the sidewalk.

When I finally walked toward it, I hoped it was dead. If it was suffering I knew I wouldn’t be able to find it within myself to kill it, nor did I have the faintest clue who to call. There was something about it’s posture that told me if it wasn’t dead it soon would be, so I didn’t think even if I -did- call someone they’d be able to help. So I wanted it to be dead. And I felt bad for that, but dead > suffering without hope.

All those thoughts swept through me in the time it took to reach the magpie, all those and several theories about what could have killed it.

Because it was very definitely dead. I realised that before I’d reached it. When I did get to it and look down, it looked beautiful. He had no wounds, no blood, his body wasn’t twisted or unnatural looking. Snow had fallen on him (from the trees above him, I presume) and then melted, leaving tiny droplets of water that sparkled on his feathers. Looking at him, my heart ached, and yet, I had the thought ‘I should photograph him, he looks gorgeous.’ I dismissed that thought as soon as it occured to me, but really, he was that lovely, even in death.

I took off my glove and reached for him, then stopped and put my glove back on. I don’t know why I’d taken it off in the first place, because his feathers looked so soft? Because I wanted to brush the water droplets off him? I don’t know, but a childhood of repeatedly being told ‘Don’t touch that, it’s dirty and it’ll make you sick’ put my glove back on before I picked him up. But I did pick him up. What choice did I have? I couldn’t leave him laying there. Couldn’t make him someone else’s problem, or leave him for a neighbourhood kid or cat to discover.

I brought him home, and then, swallowing back tears the whole time, wandered around my yard, trying to figure out what to do with him. I couldn’t bury him, the ground is frozen and covered with snow, plus I had errands to run before Danica got home from school. I couldn’t just throw him in the garbage because… well, I just couldn’t. I thought about putting him on top of the compost pile, where he could get covered with snow and decompose untouched over the winter (somehow compost doesn’t equate to garbage in my brain), but that wasn’t safe. Not only could the neighbourhood cats potentially get him, so could my dog. I didn’t want to have to deal with that. I thought about putting him in our shed until spring when I could bury him, but I couldn’t get the door open (it was frozen in place).

In the end I left him outside, up off the ground with a crate covering him to keep him safe from scavengers. I’ll leave him there until Jo gets home to help me make a decision. It could be that there’s someone with the city I can call to deal with him, if not, he spend the winter quadruple bagged in my freezer until spring. Or that Jo can get the door to the shed open.

Whatever happens, he touched my day and my heart and I felt compelled to write about him and share my story.

Rest in peace, Magpie.

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