It was your average Easter Sunday - my sister baked a glazed ham, mom brought the fluffy sweet potatoes with a crackle of gingersnaps and I was two beers in by our third hallelujah. My tummy was swelling by dusk so I took a walk around my pool and started Radium Girls on Libby, hoping to stroll off the calories. On my tenth lap or so, this giant blue heron flew low to our lawn and landed in a flurry by the air conditioner. It flapped around wildly and ducked, like it was trying to crawl under the machine. Then it stood stalk straight and stared into my bedroom through the window. I thought it had eyed a garden snake or lizard on my window screening, so I kept walking around and learning about licking radium. When mom asked, “Why isn’t he moving?,” I shrugged and took a closer look.
The poor guy was flapping sadly and trying to fly, but he couldn’t - he stumbled into a corner by the mangrove and squatted down, looking stuck and in pain. Mom said she saw a fishing line trailing from his legs, so I started calling and texting bird sanctuaries. I luckily got a hold of Birds in Helping Hands, a local nonprofit. I was texting pictures of the bird as night swiftly descended and pretty soon, the poor creature was just a faint outline. Luckily, Shelly from Birds in Helping Hands contacted one of her rescuers, Ed, and he was on his way.
He came about thirty minutes later in a black rescuer van, complete with a bird net, tool kit and birdcage. I was exhilarated and filled with hope - I had sat by the bird’s side for an hour and insisted that we keep trying to save him, no matter how late the hour or inconvenient the holiday. When Ed pulled up, I showed him around to the backyard and there was our little friend, sitting lumpy and hurting by our rickety fence. Ed stealthily approached and whoosh!, the bird was trapped in his massive net. Grabbing his beak and swinging the avian around, we all finally caught a glimpse of the damage.
A worn lure hook was piercing the bird’s thigh and leg, connecting the flesh together. A lure is basically two menacing three-pronged hooks suspended between a dummy plastic fish or other bait. The two hooks were lodged in his body, slicing his sinews and spurting blood (especially from the thigh) all over Ed’s fingers. When Ed was rearranging him, the bird croaked out in pain and my heart broke - I was so angry at the fishermen who carelessly tossed their nefarious hooks into the water or in rocks. They can’t fathom - or don’t care - about the damage they inflict, about a majestic heron yelping out in anguish on an Easter Sunday.
With mom shining the flashlight, me taking pictures, dad clipping the hooks out using Ed’s tools and Ed holding the bird against his chest, we managed to free the heron from the plastic fish connecting his limbs. The three-pronged hooks were still shredding him, but at least he could stand upright. Ed cradled him tightly and we walked back to the rescuer van, the heron disappearing in the beige bird cage. He texted me around 11pm that night, sending a blurry picture of our trooper and saying, “the heron should be fine. Hooks are removed and it is already standing.” I teared up with relief, and my emotions traversed across sadness, sympathy, worry and anger. Ed was my hero, the kind of man who truly cared about saving the wildlife from a slow, painful death at 10:00 pm on a Sunday night.
Thankfully, the heron was released in our backyard only a few days later on Wednesday. Kim, volunteer at the Seabird Sanctuary, carted our friend over and I opened the cage, watching as the heron took a few ginger steps and then rocketed off into the sweltering light. He was free! Over two weeks later and I’m still shocked at this turn of events - I rarely walk outside past dinner and the heron happened to flounder past me as I was clunking around in my boot. It felt like a weird stroke of kismet - the heron desperately needed help, and who better to intervene than me, a girl with a broken-down leg herself?
I’m going into extreme detail here because the event left a profound impression on me. I used to be extremely environmentally conscious in high school, especially when I was taking my AP Environmental Science class. My mind was windswept as I learned about the glaciers melting, bees dying off, strip mining, coral reef bleaching, you name it. We learned about soil science and the precipitation cycle, forestry and fracking. It was the first time I encountered such drastic, doomsdayer knowledge, and I was drawn to the subject - hell, I actually read the textbook front to back and started a TedEd club to focus on environmental issues. I wrote numerous articles on LearnTravelArt about oligotrophic lakes, plate tectonics, epiphytes and climate change in the Arctic. I cared deeply about environmental issues and consciously tried to eliminate waste through carpooling, recycling, etc.
Unfortunately, my high school conviction didn’t last and once I got to college, all memories of that impactful class faded - I carelessly threw away my beer bottles and printed out reams of paper at the Reitz Union because it was free for students. My car became my liberator, and I didn’t worry about how many miles I drove or planes I flew. I picked up the occasional National Geographic, but I was more concerned about War and Peace and Lolita than the Amazon rainforest destruction. Looking back now, it’s perilously easy to forget about the environment when your personal life revolves around boys and accounting, not sustainable aquaculture.
I think it takes a freak oddity or accident to jar your complacent mind into action where the environment is concerned. And my reaction has been purely emotional, my heart shred to pieces when I saw that helpless bird dying in my backyard. Since that night, I’ve been inspecting the waters around my dock and scooping up debris with our pool net. I have a newfound appreciation for our mangrove and save wildlife whenever I can, whether that’s helping out a struggling monarch butterfly or saving a lizard in my shower. My mom has an environmentally-conscious streak in her as well - she highlights conservation articles in The Rotarian magazine and plans to donate to Birds in Helping Hands. She’s my partner when I can’t reach trash in our water or want to rage against irresponsible fishermen.
I spend most nights sitting on the edge of our dock, the worn wood digging into my thighs. Sometimes I’m nursing a beer, other times I’m drinking in literature. I watch the sunset in a reverie and always have my face upturned towards the heat and light - with eyes closed and the melodic squawk of seabirds, I’m just another particle in the sea. The sky flashes from an angry violet to a forgiving fuchsia and then a psychologist-calm blue. Then blackness comes and finally my beer is finished. I’m not sure what fisherman discarded the lure which damaged our neighborhood heron, but I’m sure he’s never truly seen the sunset before. Who would deliberately be so reckless with beauty?