The barrage was pelting down on the roof with machine gun speed and repetition, while the rainwater gushed down the drainpipes creating reservoirs around our downtown Nashville home. It was a terrible storm for sure but nobody had any idea that the water would cause such severe flooding- the nearby Cumberland River rose to 50 feet, more than 12 feet above flood level. People died, homes were destroyed, and the music capital of the world suffered devastation as the legacy stored in the city’s catacombs, as well as the Grand Ole Opry itself, succumbed to Mother Nature’s deluge. Not even animals were safe.
So when my teenage sons came bolting downstairs from the 3rd story, nearly hysterical, and motioning for me to hurry, I felt the panic a mother feels when her child is in distress with added drama from the violence being hurled from the heavens. As I stepped into the boys’ attic bedroom, my first thought was “What the hell are you two doing with the window open?” But then I saw what it was that had them so upset. There was a baby bird that had fallen into their window onto their shelf. Tiny, vulnerable, with its breast barely moving, eyes shut.
Could I save it? Looking at my sons who had brought me rodents, bunnies, a bird who had gotten caught in chicken wire, and even insects, with heartbreak and hopefulness, I knew that something magical was happening. My eldest son was already well on his way to thinking that I was an idiot, but the youngest still believed that I could do anything. I was going to do everything I could to save this bird, not only for the bird’s sake but also to give my son a reason for his trust.
That first night, the storm raged, and I worried. The bird, whom I had named “Etoile Volant”, Falling Star was brand new, possibly even just hatched. Without a momma to nestle it, keeping her warm was going to be a problem. I made a “nest” in a heart-shaped candy box stuffing it with grass I’d dried and torn-up paper towel. I set her (I decided she was female) atop the nest and rested the box inside of a shoe box and placed a plastic water bottle filled with warm water next to it to radiate heat. All night I fretted from inside my room, falling asleep just before dawn.
That morning, I bolted upright as soon as I awoke and ran downstairs. She wasn’t moving and my heart dropped. I used my index finger and rubbed her a bit wondering how I was going to tell my son. And then I felt the tiniest movement. She was alive! I was so thrilled. Over the next few days, the challenge was keeping her warm and feeding her. I used medical tweezers to pry open her mouth and insert mushed-up worms and a water dropper to wash them down using filtered water and the teeniest bit of sugar. I had no idea what I was doing. But three days of that and she was squacking loudly and eating up to eighteen worms a day!
The waters had subsided but the damage was everywhere. My eldest son’s swim coach had lost his home; friends had lost their businesses; and there was a chance that Etoile had lost her momma. I took her outside where I taught her to perch in a tree and even tossed her in the air, hoping flying was an instinct. As I did it, it seemed “flap or fall” was the name of the game. And starting that third day, I sat her in the middle of our lawn trusting that if her momma had made it, she would see or hear her as she had become quite vocal, much to the chagrin of my eldest son.
And on the 5th day, we were blessed to capture on film the first worm fed to our little beauty by another bird who we imagined to be her mother. After feeding, little Etoile was hidden away in the bushes where she resided for a couple of days after which she was strong enough to go further. It was my first experience of “letting go” of a baby and prepared me for my daughter who “flew the coop” at the end of that summer. She was also a lesson to my children of the affection and tireless care I was able to give that helpless thing and a picture of what I must have been like when they were infants.
I may have saved her life but she gave me a beautiful opportunity to love; she gave my children an opportunity to see me in a way they had not before; and she was a reminder of how even in the midst of a storm, life persists if you can endure the struggle and have a little help along the way.