Only a Starling

by Mitakuye Oyasin

Keep in mind that in rural Knox County, dogs must be confined or restrained by what is called a "leash" law. Within the same borders of this county, any slob, (either sober or in a drugged stupor), can sit in his front yard on a peaceful Sunday evening and fire his shotgun into surrounding trees without breaking the law. He can shoot birds, stray cats, an occasional water snake and other dangerous creatures­­ and no one can stop him.

It is into this atmosphere that I invite you to come for a brief visit. It was a Sunday evening in mid-May. The sound of a shotgun discharging at close range pricked my curiosity and sent me on a tour of the neighborhood.

On the far side of the block just to the north of my house, my search ended. Seeing my neighbor sitting in his front yard, a shotgun resting on his lap, I opened the conversation with, "Well, that answers my question. I heard it go off and wondered who was shooting."

"I was trying to kill a starling," he answered. "See the damage he did to the house trying to build a nest?" What I saw was a small area beneath the eves where a nest was built. The board was rotten and, as birds do, a starling built a nest where the rotten board had broken away.

"Wouldn't it have been easier just to replace the board?" I asked. "You're going to have to close up the hole anyway or you'll have another bird nesting in there."

"Well," he responded, "I can't have the starlings destroying the house. Anyway, it was just a starling."

A moment of silence followed while I was angrily biting my tongue and then he said, "Anyway, after I shot it, it laid over in the grass for a few minutes. I thought it was dead. Then it got up and tried to fly. Funny thing to see. He was blind and couldn't find the limb to land on. You can see him. He's up on top to the house now."

I walked to the side of the house, looked up, and there he was, sitting at the very top. I imagined how puzzled he must be, one minute living and enjoying the day, gathering food, preparing for a night of rest, and then blinded and pained by some mysterious noise. I asked the Great Spirit for a favor. "Please, Great Mystery, don't let that bird suffer and die with the thought that he is unloved by your creation. He was only trying to live his life."

Filled with sadness over the senselessness of snuffing out life for no good reason, I returned to my home. The anger my daughter expressed when I told her about the wounded starling was only a prelude to the storms of the Thunder Beings that night. Lightning cracked and thunder rolled, and once again I sent forth a prayer for the suffering starling.

The next day, I went in search of a body but found nothing. Certain that he was either dead or hiding out, another prayer went forth from my heart.

It was on the following morning that one of my grandsons found him, newly dead, at our back door. The shotgun had obviously wounded him and blinded him, but he had found his way to die at the door of one who had loved him and prayed for him.

Only a starling? No. A life. And if the Great Spirit knows when a sparrow falls, he knows when a starling falls, and he cares.

My prayers were answered.

This article posted to Zephyr online May 31, 1997
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