Yesterday, while walking amongst the trees of the Boisé du Portage, I happened upon the edge of la rivière Magog. Perhaps one hundred feet away, in the middle of the river, stood the small wooded island known as Îlots de la Scaswan. It was there that I spotted the spectacle of a distressed and thrashing common grackle dangling upside down from a tree branch. The bird's left leg had become ensnared in some discarded fishing line and the wretched creature’s head bobbed just two feet above the rushing water.
To reach the crow I would need to forge the river. I estimated the depth to be only about 3 feet. I wondered how I would free the bird and then I remembered that I didn't have my trusted Leatherman knife. Earlier that day, before leaving my hotel room, I had paused at the door and thought, “I should take my knife.” However, I left without it. After all, why would I have needed a knife to explore Sherbrooke? I threw off my shoes and gingerly walked across the riverbed with its stones, aquatic plants, and shells. That was when I realized the shells were freshwater mussels. I picked up a large one, ran my thumb along its keen edge, and confirmed its cutting potential.
When I reached the disconsolate grackle, it regarded me with wildly flaring eyes and renewed its frenzied flapping. Not wanting to frighten it, I whistled and hummed a soothing lullaby (no, it wasn’t “Four & Twenty Blackbirds”). I had used this technique with a frightened Wooly Monkey in the Amazon forest just 6 weeks earlier to good effect. The fishing line went from the bird's leg vertically about 10 feet, angled another 7 or 8 feet to a higher branch and ended where a fishing hook dug into the bark. I figured that the best plan would be to bend the highest branch that the tangled line was wrapped around so I could lower the grackle to the ground before cutting the line. The closest part of the branch was 5 feet above me so I jumped, caught it with both arms, and then—snap!—branch, grackle, and I all crashed into the water. Alarmed that the bird might drown, I fetched the mussel from my pocket and with a quick slash, severed the line leaving about a foot still attached to the startled animal. The grackle limped to the shore and tended to its leg with its beak. I stood watching. The exhausted bird raised its head, and our eyes locked for several seconds. The youngling then hopped away and disappeared behind a rock. I didn't pursue it; it had been harrowed enough.
As I walked back across the river, I heard a loud cawing. I turned and was greeted with the satisfying sight of a ruffled but otherwise robust-looking bird staring down at me from a tall tree. For a long moment, the river ceased moving, the wind fell, and a warm silence enveloped the two of us. Most of my days--perhaps yours too?--are marked with stress, white noise, people noise, machine noise, and so many comings, goings, and doings. But not today. Today was perfect.