Category Archives: Animal Encounters

Animal encounters in the desert.

Tethered Sparrow

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A few mornings ago, I awoke to find this feathered friend tethered to the desert floor by a slender black thread. The thread was seriously fouled around the left claw of the little fellow and he was stuck good.

Made curious by his seemingly strange antics, I approached him carefully. Initially, I didn’t realize he was a prisoner. He was hopping around when I drew near to him and as I came closer I realized he was definitively caught. Moreover, this little guy was clearly eager to be released from his mooring line.

I carefully picked up this fragile sparrow and gently severed the thread holding him fast to the ground. Noticing the thread entwined his claw and knotted it up like an old arthritic hand, I decided simply releasing him without removing the twisted thread would be imprudent. I brought him back to base camp for advanced procedures.

Using scissors, tweezers, and finger nail clippers, I delicately cut away the threads tangled around his claw.

A few things struck me most profoundly about this encounter. First, the little bird, after some slight initial reluctance, settled quite comfortably into my hand and allowed me to gently cut away the knotted thread. He almost became docile to my ministrations.

As I experienced this docility, I thought to myself if only we would let go and allow God to cut away the tethered threads of lack of love that limit our ability to soar.

Second, I had never been so close to a bird’s claw and was captivated by its complexity and its seeming fragility. How wonderfully made we are! I paused in quiet awe.

Next, I found myself deeply aware of this little sparrow’s beating heart. Oh how rapid it was as it beat against my palm. Knowing I could easily crush this little bird, the fragility of life and its attendant beauty struck me deeply. Again, I paused in awe.

One of the other elements that amazed me about this encounter, and there were many, was the fact that I had been meditating on the following quote from St. John of the Cross for the last few months:

“The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.”

~ St. John of the Cross

As I was cutting away the threads that bound our little sparrow, these words came to my heart. Seeing this little bird caught fast by a gossamer thread and knowing I only wanted to help him fly, helped me to better understand the teaching of St. John of the Cross.

This encounter was no small event for me. I was really touched by this little sparrow and my chanced meeting the other day in the desert. It seems to me, we are called to be helpful to other beings not simply because it is good for them but also because we become transformed in the process of helping.

At the end, the little bird chirped a happy song and flew away. As for me, I spent the rest of the week deeply moved by this encounter.

Some days later around 2:30 in the morning, I was awakened by a little songbird singing outside my window. I thought to myself, “Gee, little bird it’s too early in the morning for you to be awake. Why are you not sleeping like all the other birds?” I then thought perhaps this was my little friend released from his bonds and healed from his wounds returning to offer me an early morning song of thanks. Who knows!

This encounter with the tethered sparrow happened a few days ago and yet the joy of that moment lingers. Life is good. Rich. Beautiful.

Javelinas in the Morning!

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Music, my father and love were the themes presented in my first blog post. In this, blog post, I am bringing my theme a little closer to my temporary home in Arizona by sharing an animal encounter I experienced on my first day in the desert.

While rattle snakes, free range cattle, baby squirrels, skunks, gila monsters, tarantulas, cardinals, owls, road runners, coyotes and a hedgehog named Henry all feature in the entire story of my desert animal encounters, for today’s brief blog post, I’ll start the longer narrative of animal encounters with a short reflection on my encounter with Arizona javelinas. In fact, this is where all my animal encounters actually began.

You say you don’t know what a javelina is? Well, neither did I until this first encounter removed my unfamiliarity. This dramatic encounter, on my first night in Arizona, proved to me – early on – that the desert night has its own world of determined nocturnal denizens.

The story unfolds when I arrived in Ajo, Arizona to rent an apartment from Ed and Charlene. Ed shares the same health condition as I do, Environmental Illness (EI), and he built a number of homes that are uniquely suited for people with this challenging illness. I’ll share more about Environmental Illness in another blog post but for the moment suffice it to say, this illness necessitated me moving from my comfortable life on the east coast to pursue temporary housing and long term healing in Arizona.

I arrived at Ed and Charlene’s house after a lengthy three day journey from Dallas, Texas. Dallas had hosted me for about two months as I sought treatment for Environmental Illness from a well known EI doctor there.

The last leg of the journey took me through the dusty desert of southern Arizona. When I arrived at Ed and Charlene’s house, as you might imagine, I was beat from a long journey. Having never visited the southwest desert before, I found myself a bit shell shocked, disoriented and downright weary from my late afternoon drive through the desert. The perceived desert emptiness seemed endless to me.

Ed and Charlene received their tuckered traveler graciously enough with a hearty meal and warm table fellowship. It was good to be among folks who were living vibrant lives and shared similar health experiences. After this satisfying meal, I was lead to my apartment and quickly prepared myself for sleep. I was bushed!

Prior to getting readying for bed, I went outside to my little Nissan Versa (Which I named Rocinante. No offense to Steinbeck.) and removed two large plastic totes, my sleeping bag and other travel items and placed them carefully beside the back of my car. They seemed safe enough resting there against the cement wall dividing Ed’s property from the neighbor’s yard. I thought everything was well secured for the night. Little did I know.

Get! Get out! Get out of here, screamed Charlene at 3:00am in the morning just outside the window of the room in which I was sleeping! I was sound asleep and her cries were more like distant sounds in a strange faraway dream than an actual call for alarm. I had been traveling hard and consequently was dead asleep. I never fully woke up to investigate the commotion and just rolled over and fell back asleep. Dead to the world.

It wasn’t until the morning that I realized the filthy and disorganized consequences of a javelina attack lay just outside my door.

Three or four stinky javelinas evidently came charging into the yard earlier in the morning and Charlene chased them away from the property and the goodies they encountered in my food storage totes. They also seemed to have fun with my sleeping bag which was left outside.

As I looked at my ripped apart plastic totes, rice cakes, almond butter and organic crackers strewn all over the yard, I knew something unexpected had taken place in the early morning. In addition to the mess, this havoc was accompanied by a filthy smell that was something like a combination of a wet skunk, a dirty gym sock and a musty bitter stench of old garbage rolled into one. This smell, along with a filthy black residue, was all over my totes and seemingly infused into my sleeping bag. Such was what awaited me this first morning in Arizona. I was not happy.

What had happened, I thought to myself? I knew I had encountered something unknown from my own experience but I had no idea what had happened. Then I vaguely remembered Charlene’s shouts from a few hours earlier.

Dazed and curious, I walked around to the back of the house where Charlene and Ed lived and gently knocked on the door. Charlene presented herself with a slight smile on her face and I, after saying good morning, asked, “What happened here last night?”
”Javelinas” she responded somberly. “Javelinas?” I shouted! “What in the hell are Javelinas?” I stammered completely confused by what they were but quite convinced I understood the consequences of their actions. She laughed.

Charlene couldn’t contain herself and let out a full laugh. “You don’t know what a javelina is?” she asked incredulously? Shaking my head, surveying the detritus filled yard and looking a little stunned she knew I had absolutely no idea what animal had attacked my food supplies the night before. For all I knew it could have been the infamous and mysterious chupacabra from Puerto Rico. Charlene went on to explain the javelina is an animal about the size of a large hog which looks like a wild boar or pig but is actually a giant RAT originally from South America. “A giant rat?” I thought. Yuck!  I was further amazed to learn it was not just one javelina that devoured my food and left a mess but several critters. Evidently, these animals travel in packs!

As it turned out these active night creatures, which Charlene had chased out of the yard at three am, are protected and it’s only legal to hunt them certain times a year. They have actually become somewhat of a nuisance in the small desert town of Ajo, Arizona. They will eat just about any garbage they can find and will surely break into food supplies left outside thinking they are snacks for the whole javelina community to enjoy.

I learned an early lesson on my first night in the Sonoran desert. There are indeed creatures lurking in the Arizona dark and it’s wise to leave no food outside for these roaming characters to consume! Moreover, what I initially thought was a barren lifeless landscape is actually brimming with animal activity!

As my encounters with animals have unfolded here in the desert, most were far more enjoyable! All have been educational. More on those in future blog posts! Have you had an interesting animal encounter? Please share your experience as a comment here! Thank you for reading! Until next month, wishing you all the best!