PAWS Magazine


Issue 49, Summer 2001


Seeking the concrete experience of wild animals

by Monte Merrick

On my application to be a PAWS Wildlife Center volunteer, I wrote that I wanted concrete experience of wild animals—that I wanted to be more conscious of their actual lives. I didn’t know exactly what I meant, only that I knew that I was missing something very important and fundamental. I had no idea how this reason would be taken, but I hoped it would not be seen as selfish or naive. I hoped it was worthy. I hoped that I was in the right place.

A week later, at an orientation for new volunteers, I was given a volunteer manual. Inside the first page I found this passage from Henry Beston’s book of Cape Cod, The Outermost House: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move, finished and living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

What a joy it is to find that, after a long search, you’ve knocked on the right door. You walk right in and start learning the facilities and the very context of life moves from seeking to receiving. And so it is that over the next two years, as a volunteer and occasional staff member, I received so very much more than I gave. I came for contact with bare elements and each day I am schooled in the sovereignty of live things. Animals give this lesson freely. Each animal is so uniquely, so insularly, here.

Each day at the Wildlife Center I am witness to a courage that I had not known existed. Every animal that we see is locked in mortal combat. I think of a certain lead poisoned red-tailed hawk, good old 6847. With his head turned upside down as if he simply couldn’t tell the ceiling from the floor, for months he ate, he slept, he sat, in this condition, and for months he maintained a fierce rejection of his fate. Each time I opened his cage he greeted me, head in the unlikeliest of positions, eyes bright and angry, shifting his feet, prepared to win or die.

Slowly his condition improved—many times his fate was nearly sealed, but always he came around to yield hope. We had him all winter; I fed him mice on Christmas Day. Come spring he was released. Right now, maybe, he is perched and asleep, waiting for the sun to give him thermals to ride and the light to hunt breakfast for his young. It is him that I imagine, not the idea of a hawk, but him, with a particular past, standing alongside all of us at the front edge of time. And if it is true of him, that his personal life matters, that he is considerable, then it is true of all.

And this is why volunteering at PAWS is such a good bargain. All of us—volunteers, staff, and those who find animals injured or abandoned, each as we are, come away with a new view of each single animal’s integrity and a sound, ethical way to love them, singly, each as they come.

Pleae visit our volunteer section if you are interested in donating your time to help the animals.

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