“We can never have enough newspaper,” Cheryl Reynolds was saying Saturday morning to our little group of ten.
Yet another workshop on the future of print journalism?
Volunteer orientation for International Bird Rescue. When you process hundreds of wounded, sick, abandoned sea birds in scores of cages, yes, you need newspaper to line the cages.
I listened with a grin and tried not to dwell on the irony of a 40-year newsman confronting the ultimate end of his lifetime work.
I was at the sprawling facility on the wind-raked and sun-baked edge of the Suisun wetlands to become a volunteer. Two days earlier I hadn’t a clue that this facility existed until I passed by while out on a bike ride. A half-mile up the road I turned around – something turned me around – to investigate.
Next thing I know I was telling myself, yes, I could put in a few hours a week helping these folks.
The Fairfield complex is one of two first-call facilities during the inevitable oil spill off the coast of California. In fact, by caring for birds all year long, the legion of volunteers and handful of full-timers here are preparing themselves for the day when a tanker sinks or an oil well erupts in fire covering scores of sea birds in oily muck.
I can give them a couple of mornings before we leave for Belize and perhaps more time upon our return. Very excited to be able to help.
Is there a Belize connection? Sort of. There is Belize Bird Rescue, which focuses mainly on parrots and other exotic birds. But there are also shore birds and sea birds and where they exist there is conflict with development and birds in need. Some way, I’m sure, I’ll be able to apply the knowledge I learn here in Belize.
Beside, take one look at this International Bird Rescue bird cam and tell me you wouldn’t want to work here!
Jumping right in
Tuesday morning I drove to International Bird Rescue to begin my first day as a volunteer – well, half day.
I walked through the gate, dropped my bag and immediately began helping to off-load boxes of frozen fish from a tractor trailer. Not a word was spoken as we passed the boxes from truck to cart to freezer.
As I quickly learned, not a lot of words are spoken on the grounds. As Cheryl Reynolds explained, talk is kept to a minimum because these are birds bought in from the wild and, with luck, they will be returned to the wild someday. Human voices can cause stress and even worse, the birds could grow comfortable with the sound of humans and even equate it with food. You are not even supposed to make eye contact with the birds!
So there’s a kind of monastic air about the place. And that sort of reminded me of my years in a Catholic seminary where talking was limited to class time, some meals and the occasional recreation period. As much as I hated that time of my life, I liked returning to the idea of working in silence.
Thich Nhat Hanh had taught me many years ago that in the practice of mindfulness, silence must envelope you, your senses, your emotions, your environment.
So in the spirit of mindfulness, I went about picking up trash and organizing big piles of junk. Joyfully.
International Bird Rescue plans a big dedication ceremony for its newest facility, a very large enclosed pen for pelicans, gulls and other flying birds. It is so big that pelicans can fly from end to end, flapping their wings into the wind.
Lesser projects tend to get dropped and forgotten when a shipment of abandoned ducklings or a pelican with a fish hook in its throat arrives, so there is “stuff” lying all around the campus.
I spent the morning consolidating stuff – concrete blocks with concrete blocks, tree limbs with tree limbs, tools with tools. I did what I could to organize two depot areas for ice chests, PVC pipe parts, lumber, electric pumps and a host of odds and ends.
There’s more work to be done but I left after a mere four hours coated in dust, sweat and grime — with a big smile in my heart. It felt good to be useful.
The real beauty in this facility is the selfless work that the small staff and dozens of volunteers do to save the lives of aquatic birds. When there is an oil spill, I’m told, this place hums around the clock with machine-like production lines – washing oil off birds, feeding them, repairing wounds, giving them a chance to revive before release.
I’d rather pick up trash than witness the devastation of an oil spill but the reality is that day will come. I hope I am ready.
Meanwhile, I’m hoping to do whatever I can to help International Bird Rescue put its best face forward when the public and politicians arrive for the dedication.