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The Christmas Bird

Excerpt from Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

illustration of bird flying

Fly Away by Susie Loucks

On a December morning, many years ago, I brought a young, injured black-backed gull home from the beach.  It was, in fact, Christmas morning, as well as bitter cold, which may account for my act. Injured gulls are common; nature’s maw receives them again implacably; almost never is a rescue justified by a return to health and freedom. And this gull was close to that deep maw; it made no protest when I picked it up, the eyes were half-shut, the body so starved it seemed to hold nothing but air. A bathtub is a convenient and cool place in which to put an injured bird, and there this bird lay, on its side, through the rest of the day. But the next morning, its eyes were open and it sat, though clumsily, erect. It lifted its head and drank from a cup of water, little sips. It was a shattered elegance, grossly injured; the outer bone of one wing broken, the other wing injured as well. Our guess was that it had become hurt and unable to fly, and on the beach had been mauled by a dog or coyote. In the language of the day, it was bankrupt. But the following morning it accepted food, a few small pieces o …

Mary Oliver has earned numerous writing awards including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. This essay is from Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver, just published by Penguin Press. The essay was originally published as “Bird” from the volume Owls and Other Fantasies by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, Boston. Copyright 2003 by the author. Used here by permission of the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, Inc.

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