Querido Pajarito: Dear Baby Bird

I’m sitting in a Refugio in El Bolsón. Checkout was technically an hour ago. There’s a beautiful, new city to explore. And yet, and yet.

I arrived here late at night on March 3rd, after a 20 hour bus ride from El Chaltén, and almost immediately met four Argentinian travelers, also all strangers before this night, and we decided to set out for a 2 day hike the next morning to Hielo Azul.

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It’s a 15 kilometer hike from the base of the sendero (trail) to a Refugio on the mountain, then another 1.5 hours steep hike up to the glacier. People usually stay overnight before making the ascent to the glacier in the morning, then running to the destruction of their knees back to the beginning of the trail.

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My hiking buddies didn’t speak any English and my Spanish is shit, but the energy of the group was warm and in short, it was an amazing two days. It’s gorgeous up there, though for the record the area was morrón (brown) with sediment, not “azul.” For anyone else who wishes to visit Hielo Azul, be forewarned: there is no glacier anymore.

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A badly receded glacier.

About an hour before we reached the Refugio, I picked up another passenger.

I could find no nest for this little bird, and maybe I should have let nature take its course, but I have a weak heart towards animals, and so along for the journey he came.

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I’ve unofficially named him Antonio, unofficially because I never told anyone, in part after Antoine Saint-Exupéry who is much celebrated in Argentina, for his contributions as an aviator in this region, and of course, for his novel, El Principito (The Little Prince). My little bird is Antonio, though, because he is Argentino, not French.

Antonio was a strong, little bird, who ate plenty, pooped, and squeaked much. I would say he was about two weeks away from flying, and I thought maybe it would be lucky to name him after a famous pilot. I made him a warm nest of tissues and Buffs and he lived through his first night, which is always a good sign.

He visited the glacier, enjoyed time at the Refugio, and came down the mountain to El Bolsón last night. I kept him in my sports bra wrapped in tissue, that lucky, damn bird.

I hoped to go find a vet this morning to see if there were any animal refuges in this nature-loving hippie town. As much as I’d have loved to keep my little passenger, I don’t think Customs in Chile would be very happy with me.

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But my plans this morning have changed, for some time during the night, he passed away. He had a good dinner, some water before bedtime, and a warm bed. Sometimes there is no reason for these things.

I spent my whole childhood raising animals with my dad. We had lots of rescues, and lots of birds. Some lived, some died. It’s not a new concept, but it’s sad all the same.

I can remember a few times when I tried not to seem sad about something because I didn’t want to look pathetic in front of my dad. We once had an injured mourning dove whom I loved dearly. She was recovering well and I dreaded that soon, we would release her.

Then, she died. And I cried my eyes out, that morning when I found her. My dad wasn’t home and would return the next day. When we had her funeral, I pretended I didn’t care. I’m not sure why, but ten-year-olds, like twenty-something-year-olds, and anything-year-olds, do inexplicable things. My dad didn’t say anything that day, but a week later told me how upset he was to see me be so cold.

Life is full of recurring patterns, and maybe they are just coincidences, and maybe I’m just an over-thinker grasping for anything to rationalize and simplify my tiny, complicated world. Even so, I can’t help but recognize this rhythm of events and familiar stories.

I’m the daughter of a man whose Chinese name translates to “ghost under the mountain,” whose childhood nickname among friends was Stone Grace, and a woman named Winter Garden. My dad always called me his baby bird. Always, he was frustrated with where he was. Always, he talked of the adventures of his past and stagnancy of his present. Always, he wanted to travel and learn other languages, as he built more cages for more animals whose lives he felt compelled to collect and save.

I’ve spent the last two days hiking up to see a big piece of ice and a waterfall parting the rocks, surrounded by Spanish conversations I struggled to keep up with, with a baby bird (more poetically) beside my heart (less poetically) between my boobs, a bird that I tried to save like the meddler that I am as I pass through temporary homes and instant companionships, a bird that I will bury today on my way to buy my bus ticket to transition to the next destination.

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The sixth anniversary of my father’s passing is at the end of this month. There was a moment on the mountain these last two days, when my head was too exhausted to try and understand Spanish anymore, when my knees were broken down, when I wished that I could talk to him again. But I am on a mountain on Earth and he is nowhere, so for the answers I cannot have for the questions I cannot help but have, I search for metaphors to fill the gaps between my head and my gut.

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