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Vision from a Blind Scarlet Macaw

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

I first met Rebecca 4 years ago. She was a feisty thing, following me around her home in Mocorón, La Moskitia, Honduras. I was there working with the community on scarlet macaw protection and was enjoying the hospitality of Norma Love (of the Norma l. Love Foundation), with whom Rebecca lived. I noted that one of her eyes was damaged, and said so to Norma, who answered, “Yes, she is blind in that one eye. But she walks all over the place, climbs trees, sits on the porch."

“Did she come to you this way?”

“No, she didn’t. I was away on a trip and some boys threw rocks at her in the tree, and hit her in the head. She hasn’t been able to see out of that eye since, now being about 10 years old.”

“Where did you get her?”

“I got her from some people who were selling her.”

“Oh, so she was a wild chick stolen from some nest here?"

“That’s what I thought too.”

The next year Rebecca got caught up in a program by government authorities to confiscate parrots in the area. She ended up in our rescue center when I was away, and when I came to see how see she was doing, she was just sitting on a perch, not moving. It was clear she was out of her home element, and upon examination, I found out that her other eye didn’t function either. She was completely blind! She couldn’t see to move or to eat without assistance in this novel environment. Devastated I realized that she would never be happy at the rescue center. She needed to go back home. I understand that confiscating parrots is an important part of parrot conservation, but each bird has to be evaluated as an individual, and a blind bird with a fair amount of quality of life should never have been taken from an environment she had learned to navigate.

Through much paperwork, and effort on the part of several governmental workers (thank you!), Rebecca was eventually returned to Mocorón. I saw her several times since then, and she always greeted me with wings out and in a protective stance. She was telling me that this was her territory and if she didn’t like you, you couldn’t enter.

But someone did. A few weeks ago, a thief came in the night and stole Rebecca. Her human family was frantic, asking our project to find the thieves and return Rebecca. The authorities were notified, but there was no further word of her until she was found dead in the forest nearby. Her human family mourns her, constructing a memorial over her grave.

(photos by Norma Love family)

Rebecca’s life was short for a scarlet macaw, and unnecessarily cruel and painful. Cases such as her’s make me angry, energized to do anything to make it stop. Then on some days, I instead despair, as there doesn’t seem to be much that I can do. Parrots all over the world, indeed much of earth’s wildlife, are being extracted to extinction while their ecosystems are laid to waste, such as what is happening in La Moskitia with the encroachment of illegal cattle ranching and farming that is destroying the forest.

This week, with Rebecca in my heart, I think how impossible and hard this work of conservation is. I fantasize, although briefly, of doing anything other than this. How nice it would be to get through one day without some being interrupted by one tragedy, loss, conflict or something similar.

Then, my spouse, seeking to motivate me, reminded me of the poem, Vision, by Wendell Berry, which ends with…

The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds,

will be health and wisdom and indwelling light.

This is no paradisal dream.

Its hardship is its possibility

It’s not that this work or this life is supposed to be hard, but it is it is worth doing, for it opens up the possibility of a different path. If not for Rebecca, then for Norma and the many children she serves, or for myself with hope for the children of all species to come.

We can do this, as Berry begins in his poem...

If we will have the wisdom to survive, to stand like slow-growing trees

on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it, if we will make our seasons welcome here, asking not too much of earth or heaven,

(photo of a red-and-green macaw, close relative to the scarlet macaw)

Yes, everywhere I look I see ruin, but Rebecca opens my eyes so that I can see that…

a long time after we are dead… the river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it, birdsong like a canopy.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down

the old forest, an old forest will stand, its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.

Families will be singing in the fields.

In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground.

They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, whatever the grief at parting.

Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament.

We people are the legend of which one day people and birds will sing.

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