The Unchartered Land of In Between
“We are not unlike a particularly hardy crustacean. . . With each passage from one stage of human growth to the next we, too, must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable — but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before. These sheddings may take several years or more. Coming out of each passage, though, we enter a longer and more stable period in which we can expect relative tranquility and a sense of equilibrium regained.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was hurrying around the barn cleaning water buckets, fluffing straw and filling goat mangers, when I stumbled upon a baby swallow on the ground. I quickly scooped it up, trying to save it from the goat’s heavy hooves.
As I walked to the house, I realized I did not have a clue how to proceed with this bird. My first thoughts were shoe box, syringe, and warmth. I was in a hurry, needing to leave for work, so I couldn’t do much of anything right away.
Five hours later, I returned to a completely new scene. My daughter had the shoebox on the ground outside the barn, and an adult swallow, presumably mom or dad, was diving in and out towards the box. When I got closer, I noticed that there were now two baby swallows. My husband and daughter decided to attempt putting the baby back in its nest, and in the process found baby #2 sitting on the goat manger.
The attempt to re-nest the birds was unsuccessful, as I found them on the ground the next morning. Shit. What was I going to do with these birds? I started by picking them up. Instead of fluttering and trying to get away, they both perched on my finger. Huh. Didn’t expect that. I grabbed the box that had been hopefully discarded the day before, and gently placed them back in.
I felt like I was wandering aimlessly for a while, as I searched the internet, looked for mama bird and evaluated my level of commitment to the situation. The truth is that I started wishing I had never found them. Last year, the goat’s made this dilemma much easier by trampling a fallen baby. It was sad, but I didn’t need to do anything but dig a hole and say goodbye. This year, I was forced to ponder and decide.
This transitional place can be a difficult one, riddled with mistakes and the messiness of not knowing exactly how to proceed. It is like life; I have learned enough about myself to be unable to just dig a hole anymore, and say goodbye to who I have become. It is that place where there is no going back. I can’t just leave those birds on the ground, and I can’t hide from knowing I have important work in front of me. Push through that desire to hide from the unknown messiness, and embrace the worthwhile endeavor of seeking oneself in an effort to offer our authentic, best selves. Let go of outcomes, seize the joy and pain of the moment, be persistent and principled, flexible and rock solid, compassionate and hard-ass, and truly forgive oneself and others for mistakes made in the place of in between. It is new territory and the process is guaranteed to get you and the ones you love dirty. You may find yourself changing your mind ten times an hour, hiding under the covers, or trying to buy, eat, drink or smoke your way out of looking closer…but we still forge ahead.
I set the shoe box in the grass, amongst the tall weeds, and thought it might be good enough. Mama might find them and they were somewhat hidden. I was worried about the chickens eating them, the goats trampling them, a predator stealing them. So I pushed through, and grabbed onto inspiration. I can do this. I can really try to save these birds. So I did.
I made a nest out of a strawberry carton, and placed a dish rag inside of it. I stapled it to the barn wall at eye level, with a bale of hay below them in case they jumped out. One did, once. Then they stayed. Mom swooped in and out, and they called to her… feed me! After 2 days, she began feeding them right in front of me. Then, on day 5, I found the nest empty. I looked around and there they were, both clinging to the side of the barn. I slowly approached one of the birds, reached out my finger, and she hopped on for just a second… and then flew away.