Thursday, February 19, 2015

on the yellow line

on the yellow line
a hawk on its back, one wing 
flying in the wind

Another road kill, lying exactly on the yellow median line. A large bird, one wing flapping in the wind. I can't bear the thought of it being smashed by thoughtless drivers, so I turn around and go back, parking in a farmer's drive a little ways from the bird. I retrieve an empty cardboard box from the back seat, just the right size for a small body, and walk along the narrow grassy shoulder of the highway. Looking both ways to make sure no vehicles are coming from either direction, I cross to the downed bird. 
          It's a redtailed hawk, lying on its back, wings spread wide as if in flight, one leg extended. I pick it up by the foot and lay it on its back in the box. It just fits -- only the tip of the red tail sticks up a bit. It's below freezing but the bird is not frozen stiff, so the collision must have happened quite recently. As I walk back to my car, a couple of trucks veer to the other lane, giving me and my box a wide birth.
          Back home, I lay the hawk on the snow for a memorial photograph. A little blood leaks from its beak onto the snow. Was it hit in the head? When I turn it over, there's a bloody patch on its back. I'm sure this is the same hawk I've seen many times on that stretch of the road, sitting on a telephone wire or on top of a telephone post, watching for a mouse or a rabbit to run by in the grass. The hawk was probably diving for its dinner and didn't even see the vehicle approaching from behind.
          I won't be able to bury the bird until the ground thaws in the spring, but it will stay frozen in its cardboard coffin until then. I tuck the tail in and fold the flaps on top of each other all the way around. To keep raccoons from tearing open the box, I place it inside a plastic storage container with a snap on lid and leave it in a sheltered corner of the house.
          Standing there, looking at the plastic box, I suddenly remember a young girl who used to collect dead animals and bury them. One time, she brought home a baby turtle she caught in the lake across the street from her house and put it in the fish pond in the back yard, where she kept the little fish she caught. The next day, all the fish were lying belly up, with a half moon hole on one side. It turned out that the cute little turtle with the long snout was a snapping turtle and it had taken a bite out of each fish. She buried them in the back of the yard, under a tree, each with a little stone marker.
          Then one day in winter she and her girlfriend were walking along the frozen creek when they found a dead bird with beautiful blue feathers. Because the ground was frozen she couldn't bury it, but her friend told her that her older brother said you could preserve a dead body with salt. It was such a beautiful bird, so she wanted to put it in a beautiful coffin. She found just what she was looking for in her mother's closet, a plastic Chinese jewelry box with a dragon on the lid, exactly the right size. She salted the bird with canning salt and wrapped it in the white silk handkerchief that was inside the box. Then she put the box back on the shelf in the closet. A week later, her mother tracked down the source of the stench. The girl begged her mother to put the bird in the freezer, but by this time the bluebird was not only stinky but wormy and her angry mother threw the corpse in the trash.
          Now you know why I can't bear to leave a dead bird on the highway.

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