Rosa came into this world weighing maybe 20 grams, all pink with unruly yellowish down. I, nor any other human, knew her then. I also never met her parents, but I imagine they loved her, and cared for her. They stroked her body with their beaks, pulling at the sheath of her new feathers so they could sprout rainbow and rise over the earth. But then one day men came to her home, broke into it, and pulled Rosa screaming from the warm comfort of the place where she was safe, loved. At least that is one version of her early life. Another telling is that the men hacked into her pine tree, and felled it to get to Rosa on the ground. However she became a prisoner of human desire, she ended up with broken legs and wings. Her parents swooped, calling until they were hoarse, but to no avail. They would never see Rosa again.
Rosa now entered into a dark time. Men bound her in a burlap sack so she wouldn’t move and could be easily moved from the fields to the nearby town. She was given little water, and heard no longer the sounds and words of comfort that she had known before. No attention was given to her brokenness, even though she cried in pain as she was moved clandestinely from house to house. New men with a different vision for how to meet desire, found her in squalor, fed only corn mush. Her legs were swollen, scabbed over from where the bones had once protruded (see photo above). Tomas Manzanares, he himself with deep scars and bone wounding from those that would take from both indigenous and parrot alike, took care of Rosa, nursing her to some semblance of health, at least enough to grow out her feathers, though dull and damaged with bars of stress that told the story of how her life was full of such loss and sorrow. I saw her pictures from afar and wondered if she would ever fly, let alone live.
Anayda caring for Rosa
Live she did, finding her way to Anayda. Anayda and her spouse Santiago, and other villagers, had been taking in rescued scarlet macaws and yellow-naped parrots for the past 2.5 years in the village of Mabita in La Moskitia, Honduras. Rosa joined this liberated flock, though she had to be hand carried from branch to feeding platform to porch. I met her when she was nearly 18 months old, a sad and pain-ridden being. She cried constantly, her lungs were congested, she was desperately thin, her ears leaked fluid from a mite infestation, and her legs were bowed out – one side from a break, the other, dislocated at the hip. She could not extend her wings either, both with internal tissues scarred and joints contracted, evidence of the early fractures that had not been tended to or allowed a chance to heal. I thought she would die, and said so to Anayda. “Without you, Rosa will not live.” Anayda heard that as a charge and did not let Rosa die. She continued the treatments I began, and never let Rosa out of her sight. When she went to Nicaragua to tend fields, Rosa rode in her shirt, both of them behind Santiago on a motorcycle.
Rosa in September 2013
I next saw Rosa when she was two, and she was a fine thing. Still fearfully thin, she had regained her health, her feathers had grown in shiny and shockingly red, the disease gone and replaced with some feistiness. By three she was attempting short flights, abrupt in their landing but able to get her closer to her companion Anayda, and the other macaws. Macaws, being macaws, would often pick on her, but some were her friends, such as Lempira who preened her feathers and kept her company at night. Then Lempira healed enough to fly, so he would go off with all the other macaws, leaving Rosa often alone in Casa Ara. That didn’t stop Rosa from engaging in the world, using her beak for balance and to walk, taking hobbling steps with her bowed legs and curled feet to get to food and to companionship.
Rosa had found a safe home in Mabita, Honduras - now two years old
I got to spend two months with her near her 4th birthday. I wondered about her future, all broken, so un-macaw-like with her diminished ability (earth please forgive me for such thoughts). I am a hobbler too, legs in declining function, so it is perhaps really myself whom I judge for being less than my species can be. I watched Rosa closely, and found a fierce friend, for she taught me that even the broken can yet shine and serve.
Rosa with Santiago and Anayda - she had just taken a short lumbering flight
Just past her 4th birthday Moncorron came to the Rescue Center. He was a weak thing, timid and beaten down with captivity. We were afraid to introduce him into Casa Ara, knowing there could be fights. But Anayda said, “Rosa will take care of him. That is what she does with newcomers.” It took all of 5 minutes before Rosa zeroed in on him. Beak advancing to grab wood or wire, she pulled herself slowly towards him. Within ten minutes they were preening each other, hardly thereafter ever leaving each other’s side, Moncorron safe now in the company and protection of Rosa.
Rosa with Moncorron in Casa Ara (Macaw House)
Some visitors from the USA came to the village one day and stopped at Casa Ara. They had been led to believe that the birds could be handled and only one was “brave” enough to grab a macaw, the only one he could get, Rosa. I saw this from afar and ran running, “No toca las guaras, no toca Rosa.” Don’t touch the macaws, don’t touch Rosa. Why is it that humans must always touch and keep beauty close, harming as they go? When will we ever realize that we live in eternity’s sunrise when beauty flies free? For when others live in freedom, so do we, for their liberation is ours and is their beauty.
I got a call from Santiago a few weeks ago. “Doctora, algo triste. Rosa murio.” Dr., something sad, Rosa died. She had developed a cough and was taken into Anyada’s home. There was no clinic, no veterinarian, inadequate medicine, and no diagnostic ability to know why she was so sick. She died two days later. I didn’t feel much then, couldn’t, because I had to work with Santiago on understanding the illness she had and who else might have it. Santiago did the hard chore of performing a necropsy, cutting up little Rosa so her tissues could tell us something of the mysterious illness that threatens the liberated flock.
So Rosa is in bits and pieces, and only now, can I let myself break into pieces. I just couldn’t write about her any earlier, I couldn’t risk feeling. Now on the way to Paraguay to yet another country where macaws are trashed and broken for the illegal wildlife trade, on the long plane trip I saw the movie, “Me, Before You.” It is about a woman who tries to love a paraplegic enough so that he would not choose to die. She failed, but she gave him good company and love before he left his life of pain. They were both changed completely in knowing each other, despite their initial and ongoing wounding.
Our love and care wasn’t enough for Rosa. We all have failed her, and her kind. But Rosa didn’t falter. She lived in pain and with her unique and precious life; she gave us and the macaws companionship. She taught us the kind of love that tasks us to bone deep rending and mending that never ceases. I wish my love was enough so that Rosa would not have died. But I do not have the power to end pain, anyone’s. And that hurts all the more.
Anayda with Rosa, one of the last pictures of them together
I’d like to go back to the days before I met Rosa, when I wasn’t responsible for all those crippled and tortured birds in the illegal wildlife trade in Honduras. I have no idea what I am doing, or how to go forward, living in love, beauty, and pain, but I don’t suppose Rosa did either. But she shone and she served. Who are we to attempt anything less than that? Anayda once told me something similar when I asked her why she dedicates her life to caring for macaws. “Once I saw Rosa, I could not let it happen anymore.”
I can't let it happen anymore either. So dear Rosa, I promise you now my unending love. May I not forget that though you are now gone, you are still visible and ever with me. Your beauty flies behind me, around me, under and above me, and in front of me. You live into the future in those who knew you, and I dream beyond knowing, that your parents flew over the Rescue Center in your last days and recognized your voice, calling out their love to you.
Rosa, Pree Palisa (Miskito for Rosa, Fly Free). Your beauty will never die.
And you humans, no toca! Let them fly free.
Painting on our research station with the words in Miskito which mean, "Macaw fly free!"