wildllife rescue

Death of a Pajarito and Other News

As so often is the case, there is good news and bad news. Well, sort of bad news, I guess, but maybe it is actually good news. My mother, who has hovered in an undoubted twilight zone for the past year, since my father had the audacity to pass away rather suddenly and leave her behind in this vale of tears, seems to be more responsive than she’s been in a while. But she is also simultaneously starting to be much less interested in food and drink, which may be a signal that she’s fixin’ to die. Death has been on my mind the last couple of days, because yesterday I found a little bird struggling in the fountain, gasping for breath, with what looked like broken neck and a broken wing and it was clearly probably not going to make it. But I got it out of the water and set it down in a sheltered place where at least Reina wouldn’t get it, and thought maybe there would be a miracle, maybe it would recover; maybe it was just in shock, maybe it wasn’t that badly injured.  I couldn’t tell how it got into the water but it was cold and rainy and I know birds can’t survive long once they have gotten that waterlogged . And I was right, the poor little pajarito soon died. It just was one more sad thing upon sad thing that I’ve been dealing with lately.

The other day, I went over to the pretty little house we have rented for my mom and her caregivers, and for the first time in many visits, she was actually awake and seemed to recognize that I was there. She is in bed night and day; they turn her every so often to prevent bedsores, and change her diapers, keep her warm, give her oxygen, adjust her nebulizer, cool her off, whatever she needs; she has the world’s most attentive care from Jose and Sandra. She can’t really talk any more but I made a joke about getting her up and dressed because there was a sale on at Saks Fifth Avenue and there was just the tiniest, tiniest hint of a smile. That’s more than I’d gotten out of her in months. But the horrible thing about it was that it also was proof positive that – as we all say – she’s still “in there” – and what must this ongoing saga be like for her? She is asked repeatedly by the nice young doctor who stops by every few days to check on her, whether she’s in pain, and she nods her head to say she is not. I ask her if she wants anything or needs anything and she nods no. Or barely whispers no. But she – who was one of the most visual people I can remember – admired for her beautifully decorated homes and her personal style, is now completely blind, bedridden, incontinent, and her health has been failing, leading to this final landing place, for decades.  Now, she can’t carry on a conversation any more, and she is ever so slowly fading away, but she is still, for some unfathomable reason, with us, in spite of the ravages of diabetes, COPD/Emphysema, and just plain old age and frailty.

As I’ve noted on these pages before, I’ve been waging a pitched battle to lose the 70 lbs I managed to put on god knows how over the years.  It got more serious for me as I watched my mother disintegrate and I’ve read more and learned that in fact, based on my own history and blood test scores, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that the tendency to obesity, strokes, diabetes, heart stuff, is also genetically encoded in me as well as the various relatives who have died from all this stuff over the past few decades. I’ve read every book I can find about all this and they all sort of drum “diet and exercise” into your head to the point where I finally just surrendered to the obvious, cut all the carbs and sugar out of my diet and started to make excruciatingly slow, halting progress on the journey back down to a normal weight.  From the point where I began, it felt like being at the base of an enormous mountain I was going to have to climb, some monstrous, fog-shrouded Alp or something. I had no idea whether I would succeed. But, with all my “numbers” now in normal ranges, I guess I can say I have won at least the major skirmishes of the battle since nothing else horrible seems to be going wrong with me just yet.

It has been hard, but in a way it hasn’t, when I consider what I’m trying so hard to avoid – the pleasures of having to replace my entire wardrobe with new, NOT-plus-size stuff notwithstanding. Watching so many people around me age, especially my mother, I realized that thanks to the “miracles” of modern medicine, the chances are pretty good that lots of us baby boomers are indeed going to live to a ripe old age, whether we are actually fit to keep living or not. Everyone who knew my dad would have agreed he was one of the most brilliant people they’d ever met – with a Ph.D. from USC in musicology and an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Oberlin. He was brilliantly funny, loved by his colleagues, and successful enough to have kept us all in reasonable Southern California style when I was a kid, complete with red Jaguar and Encino swimming pool. He spoke four languages – five, if you count Italian, required by his musicology degree and love of music; even through the ravages of Alzheimer’s or whatever dementia or depression finally got the best of him. Though he died quickly and with great dignity, his departure was preceded by decades of slow, inexorable mental decline and withdrawal from the world which was a torment for him and an even greater torment for the rest of our family. Then there’s my mother, who absolutely refused to do the exercises prescribed by a parade of physical therapists and doctors throughout her life, as though somehow, as the Queen of the San Fernando Valley or whatever she thought she was, she was going to be exempt from the ravages of mostly preventable illness and old age.

Well, guess what, troops. She wasn’t exempt, nor was my dad. So even at the risk of being a little over-obsessed with it, I decided along the way to look the snarling demon right in his glowing red eyes and take him on. Scary and hard, when all you want is a tortilla with your chile relleno but you have – over and over again – to say no, it’s got too many carbs for me. I’ll just have a salad, thanks. (Well, I’m Atkins enough to have had a steak with my salad, to be more precise).

But the rewards are there, too, now, closer to the end of the trail than the beginning of the daunting project eight or nine years ago. I’ve lost weight more slowly than any other creature on the planet, I think, with stops along the way for various family and professional crises. But I have managed to stick with it and now, getting stronger working out three times a week, it’s starting to be more fun. I told a friend the other day “it’s odd, I look in the mirror now and the reflection I see staring back at me is a NORMAL person. Not thin, not especially athletic looking or sleek or anything like that, and most assuredly an older woman, but NORMAL. For a five foot tall girl who was pushing 200 lbs, this is weird but also undeniably kind of cool. And as I think about it from this new perspective, my hope is that at least while I’m still alive – hopefully twenty or even thirty more years – I can keep my strength and my faculties and enjoy whatever time I have left.  My poor mother could have had a much better time of her late eighties than she has had, that’s for sure.  None of us knows what fate awaits us, of course, and a bus could hit me turning a corner in the village tomorrow, but barring that, it is curious to say “here I am, at sixty-five, in the best shape of my life.”  I know others have had this experience too, from my reading, and at the end of my own life, for what it might be worth, at least I can say I tried. Not that it makes any difference if the diablo with the red eyes has you in his cross-hairs. Which he well might, knowing that we live in the land of vicious armed narcos, loco drivers who drink and text, unstoppable superbugs bedding down in hospitals, and on and on.

In any event, tomorrow I go back to my workouts with my trainer to keep slogging away at this, for what it is worth. The territorial battles of the cuatro gatos continue apace and it’s just so crazy with the yowling and hissing and chasing and god knows what that we honestly wonder if we will have to find new homes for Tabitha and Luigi in spite of our best efforts at some point. We hate to admit it, but maybe this ISN’T going to work out despite our intentions. Our original two are petite, delicate little girl kitties who have ruled their roost for years. But my mother’s two are bigger and stronger, and having been strays rescued at an older age, they were both on the streets in Santa Fe long enough so that they both can be aggressive with other cats, though they never were with any humans they encountered along the way.  We try to separate the four of them and break up the hissfests before they turn violent but today for the first time I heard some screaming while I was out in the garden, dropped my pruning shears and came running in to find a few drops of blood on the staircase. But all four kitties were by then far apart calmly licking themselves. Examined each cat for damage, could find none, checked the ears, the paws. Who knows which of the four got nailed? Now, they’re all curled up asleep scattered around the house. We are trying to be patient, give it some more time. Meanwhile, we seem to have a moment’s peace.

The Angel of Mercy

Two hours and fifty minutes on Alaska Airlines and I am in an entirely different universe…the Ancestral Homeland, the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, where I spent much of my childhood, at my sister Wendy’s house.  Broad avenues, tree-shaded streets, houses without ten-foot walls to protect them from god knows what predator or threat. Everyone can drive really fast because – well, no cobblestones, and no pedestrians, no dogs or livestock to watch out for, no street vendors, no taco stands in the calle, and no buses. If there ARE foot-deep potholes, somehow they seem to get fixed quickly, unlike the one I hit a few months ago that blew out our right front tire and left us stranded at sundown on the side of the road driving back from Guadalajara with a car full of Costco stuff.  (As is often the case in Mexico, two incredibly nice government topographers on their way home from work on the highway above us took pity on us and stopped to help, but we’ve been wary of that road ever since).

Well, they do have buses here but one hardly ever sees them. Wide lanes, and everyone has to get wherever they are going as quickly as they can because they know that once they leave the residential area and get on the freeway, they could be stuck there inching along for hours. So where they can drive fast, they do. But it all seems to work in its weird L.A. way.

There is no noise, either, except for the sound of the occasional car starting up – some poor devil who has to leave home at 5 a.m. to get to work on time. Not the raucous morning noises of the birds screaming in the trees, the various trucks advertising their wares with megaphones, the incessant crowing of roosters (they do not start at dawn, contrary to the folklore, they start at 3 a.m., if they are worth their salt), radios, car stereos. Add to this mix insanely loud fiestas with music amplified by speakers as big as refrigerators, and the roof dogs’ barking at whatever little thing is going on below. The biggest complaint everyone seems to have here is the gardeners’ blowers to which my reaction is “and THAT wakes you up?”  So many of my gringo friends back home have learned to sleep – especially in the summer when you pretty much HAVE to leave your windows open or you suffocate from the heat – with earplugs, white noise machines, running fans. Anything to block out or at least minimize the incessant racket.

However on Sunday morning Wendy and I were sitting having breakfast when there WAS some unexpected noise – the terrified screaming of what turned out to be a baby squirrel one of her cats had captured and brought into her bedroom. Wendy ran upstairs screaming at the unlucky cat to drop his prey. Once released from the kitty’s jaws, Wendy put the baby squirrel quickly into a box where it laid terrified and trembling.  We didn’t see any puncture wounds on him, but we still couldn’t tell if it had any internal injuries or what was really going on, but suckers that we are, we were determined to save its little life if we could; even in his panic he was awfully cute. We covered the box so it would be dark and just peeked inside every so often to see if he was still breathing, which he was – his little sides just heaving in terror. But his eyes were open and pretty bright, and even though he was motionless, he was still clearly alive.

Here is what they have in my sister’s neighborhood which we don’t have back home: an outfit called The Critter Squad, which Wendy found after a few frantic calls to friends and some anxious searching online about “how to rescue an injured squirrel”.  After Wendy got in touch with the Critter Squad they sent their truck right out along with delightful young Jeffrey, a volunteer maybe in his twenties or early thirties who is, as it turned out, extremely knowledgeable about wildlife rescue. He examined the baby squirrel and actually told us what kind of squirrel he was – definitely a male. It also turned out that he was a European Fox Squirrel, a species not native to the Valley, which is running all the native squirrels out of their habitat here. Oh great, we both thought, so we should have let him die after all? This darling little baby thing is an invader? It is just so ridiculously complicated. It had been very windy, as it often is here, and his nest probably blew down from one of the tall trees or he just fell out. Jeffrey noted that usually the fall injures them or kills them, but this little guy might just have been incredibly lucky, notwithstanding his adventures with the cat who found him, probably dazed on the lawn.

Indeed as we were getting our biology lesson on squirrel species and habitats from Jeffrey, the baby began to crawl around in the box and it seemed  that – un milagro! – he was going to be okay. We just put ourselves into Jeffrey’s hands and asked “what will you guys do with him now?” Not to worry, invader or not, he was a tiny terrified living thing who apparently had nothing wrong with him beyond being traumatized. Without expecting a penny from us (though we did make a contribution), The Critter Squad would take care of him, feed him the correct formula for a baby squirrel, and if he had no injuries from his fall that would prevent it, at the appropriate time he would be released back into the wild. If, however, it turned out that he had a bum leg or something like that, he would become part of their education program for kids. So, I joked with my sister, not only did they come promptly to the house, rescue him, and promise him therapy, but he may well have a job offer with a lifetime contract! What a deal! Soon the box with the baby squirrel, wrapped gently in an old towel because he was cold and dehydrated, was whisked away in the gaily painted “Critter Squad” van to his new life. No, Dorothy, we are not in Mexico any more.

It occurred to usually cynical me that our morning had all the lessons of an adventure of mythic proportions. Here was pure evil, in a sense – an overfed house cat who probably could live on the Friskies stored on his body for months trying to kill a little baby thing for the sheer instinctual pleasure of it. One gets it that “that’s what cats do” but it doesn’t make it any more fun when they bring the terrified and helpless tiny creature into your house. Wendy and I both see ANY baby thing and go “awwww” like so many people do.

But then, as we frantically try to figure out what to do on a Sunday morning – call a shelter? Call a vet? Who would be around to guide us? —  we find out about this wonderful outfit. Within an hour the Angel of Mercy arrives at the house and the evil is outshone by pure goodness as the baby’s life is saved. It is so indiscriminate and weird . Here a life is saved by this wonderful young man in an exquisite act of compassion, giving up his Sunday morning to help us, and how many people in Mexico, Syria, god knows where else, get randomly mown down today?

The philosophical lessons implied in this adventure were all too complicated for us to fathom so after we returned to our morning coffee  (a bit like Scarpia going back to his dinner with Tosca after arranging for the torture of Cavaradossi, though with a far happier outcome), we decided we needed some trauma treatment ourselves, and planned a therapeutic visit to the mall. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi!

The Baby Squirrel!