Talk to the Animals


Her name was Ariana Strozzi.  And she ran a place called Skyhorse Ranch.

I’d been given her name by someone in the coffee shop.  She worked with animals, I was told.  She knew a lot about birds.

A few days after returning to town, I fetched Poe from Occidental.  Penny was right.  He looked to be a complete mess, missing feathers, agitated, afraid to come near me.  I know of someone who maybe can help you, I told him.

That day, I took Poe to Valley Ford. We descended into that overcast channel west of Petaluma that leads on to the ocean. We drove up to Skyhorse ranch, a horse farm high on the hill overlooking the barren valley.  I pulled past the horse corrals to the house.  Ariana welcomed me at the door.  She appeared collected and thoughtful.  She invited Poe and I into her house and allowed me to take him from the carrier.

Ariana led workshops on interspecies communication, primarily with horses.  Animals were her thing.  They operate on the level of feeling and to be with them we need to quiet the noise inside ourselves.  She wasn’t part of the rehabilitation community and was a renegade of sorts.  On her own she worked with a whole range of predatory birds.  Hawks, peregrines, owls.  And ravens.

Ariana had done her graduate work at UC Davis.  While there, she had developed a system for wing rehabilitation using intensive physical therapy wedded to bird instinct. When she finished, she had been recruited to help with condor reintroduction on the North Rim. Her job would have been to prevent the birds from human imprinting.

Ariana felt that the ravens see everything and they know in deep way what we’re about.  She told me a story.  A while ago, her marriage was falling apart, she told me, and she didn’t want to admit it.  She was up at the ranch at the time, and the birds would come to her, they would follow her where she went and caw incessently.  Until one afternoon in a rage she stood outside her barn and called out what she had known all along and and she shouted and screamed to the birds and the world and the birds were at last silent.

I sat in the living room with her and Poe.  He sat on her table and she watched him, unconcerned as he shit over her living room floor.  She fed him meal worms. She was concerned about his thinness and his diet.  He needed field mice and insects, she said.  He sat calmly in her presence and preened.  She confidently took Poe by the legs and body and thrust him through diving motions again and again.

It wasn’t good, she said.  His right wing was damaged and fused shut.  His left wing seemed paralytic also, and his left foot wouldn’t grip properly.  In the diving motion he failed to respond instinctively by thrusting out his wing.

I doubt he will ever fly again, she said.

And if I take him to a wildlife refuge? I asked.

They’ll put him down, she said.

He can’t be a raven.  But can he live a life, a full life? I asked.

She smiled.  He can, she said.  Absolutely.  It’s clear that you have a special bond, she said.  You know one another and he trusts your presence.  He can be a happy member of your family.  He craves social interaction.  You can integrate him into your family.  When you eat, he can sit with you at the table.  He can be with you as you go about your day.  Stimulate him, pay attention, work with him and his life can be as full as any.

I thanked her.

I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to do this thing we call life, diminished though it may be.

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