During the 90's I volunteered for a wildlife rehabilitation center that focused on birds of prey in their environmental education programs. It wasn't long before I had the privilege of working directly with these amazing birds of prey by taking them out of their enclosures and walking around the wildlife sanctuary to give them stimulation and to become comfortable with human handling and interaction.
During those hours I conversed with various types of owls, falcons, hawks and a turkey vulture, to name a few of the permanent residents there that also included mammals. I had to overcome my fear of working with these incredible wild animals. I also know that's when my shamanic path really began.
While many of these animals were injured and could no longer fly or be released into the wild due to their injuries, but some were just imprinted. They had grown accustomed to living with humans or had been captive bred so they also could not survive on their own in the wild. Nevertheless, they were still extremely dangerous and had to be handled with care. I also had to be grounded when I worked with them. I had to connect to their spirit, their true essence, as I knew they were my teachers.
While it excited me immensely to work with these wild animals and I always looked forward to our sessions together, a part of me always remained sad for them. I wondered what it would be like to know the glorious exhilaration of flight and freedom and have it taken away by an accident. Or what about never having known freedom at all, but yet being a bird that could fly over 200 mph in a dive like a peregrine falcon? My feelings about these birds has changed over time, as well as the meaning of the lessons that they taught me. Some continue to be my allies.
One of my favorite birds became a turkey vulture named Retch. I never agreed with the name because I feel names are very important and despite the fact turkey vultures are known to regurgitate when fearful, the name did not do this bird justice. Retch happened to share an enclosure with a beautiful barn owl and so usually he would watch Artemis be taken out by the volunteers but he remained inside. Most were afraid of being vomited on so he was largely left alone except for cleaning duties.
One day I could take Retch's sad, dejected looks no more and decided to overcome my fear. It was a beautiful day as I attached him to my falconer's glove and brought Retch outside. Of course, as expected he vomited immediately on me out of fear due to lack of regular human contact, but immediately thereafter he spread his winds in a glorious way to catch the rays of sunlight that were streaming that day. He looked magnificent and I could feel how happy he was. We shared a moment of deep heart connection.
Thereafter Retch and I became the best of friends for the time I remained at the center and I believe he looked forward to our visits as he rarely regurgitated. He also taught me a huge lesson. While I was educating people about the wild creatures of our world, I still had prejudices of my own about what was beautiful. What is beautiful is seeing a turkey vulture spread its wings in all its glory basking in the sunlight whether on the hand of a human or in flight riding thermals. Since that time I have always looked up to the skies to see them in flight and honor their presence.
I will never forget those days with Retch and all those glorious birds of prey. They will always live on in my heart. I believe I now understand somewhat what it feels like to know freedom and have it taken away from you. For many years I have stayed in a region that has challenged me immensely. Yet moving back to my hometown from Washington, DC, I found myself pursuing passions that I loved such as working with wildlife, educating people about the environment and writing on behalf of the animals and this planet. I kept staying for my parents and later because of my son. Now I am still here because I'm attached to my land and all that I've created. Yet there was a time when I felt freedom that was not bound by responsibilities nor financial decisions.
Note: All photos shown were originally taken by photographer David Lawrence Reade www.dlrimagery.com.
Sometimes we are put exactly where we are meant to be to remember who we truly are. No doubt we are also here to affect the lives of others, as well as the land that we live upon. In so doing, we come full circle with our path in life.
I know that the captivity of those birds of prey in some ways was cruel and yet in other ways they had a profound impact on my life as well as the lives of so many volunteers and audiences that had the privilege to see and work with them. So perhaps, God does work in mysterious ways and sometimes clips our wings so that we remain exactly where we are meant to be. I'd like to believe those magnificent birds also chose their path...