Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fly Away Free!

Our book today is a slim little natural history title called Fly Away Free from 1981 by Joan Hewett, with some absolutely remarkable black-and-white photos by Richard Hewett. It's the story of a California veterinarian named Joel who loves to surf and who one day while out on the water finds a lone young pelican just idling there on the surface. Joel suspects something might be wrong, and his suspicions are confirmed when the bird makes no attempt to fly away from him.

Joel suspects the bird might be injured or disoriented somehow, so he brings it back to his animal hospital, names it Rusty (because his wings don't seem to work and so might be rusty), and sets in motion a quick but fascinating story of the animal world intersecting with the human world.

Rusty submits to the care Joel gives him - the feeding tube, the crate, the baths under a hose - with complete meekness. Reading the book, you can't avoid the impression - mistaken though it might well be - that Rusty knows he needs help and gratefully accepts it. Joel is certainly happy to offer it, although once Rusty starts to feel better and begins bossing around everybody at the animal hospital, the feeling is perhaps not shared equally by all. The hospital's cat, for instance, might not like being snapped at, and the hospital staff might not enjoy being squawked at (Hewett says the squawking wasn't very loud, pointing out that pelicans have very small voices).

In a few days Rusty is strong enough to go surfing with Joel, tethered to him by a leash. He clearly enjoys it as much as Joel does, and he grows very much stronger. He grows ready, as Joel knows despite not completely wanting to admit it. And eventually the day comes when they go to the beach without the tether and Joel releases Rusty into the free air. The vet stands on the beach watching while the bird flies away, and neither he nor anybody will ever know how Rusty himself thought of this weird, not entirely unenjoyable interlude in the human world.

The moral of the story? Sometimes the weird-looking bossy smelly ungainly creatures we find out in the world are only with us for a short time, regaining their strength, before they disappear back into the world again.

And sometimes they stay, perhaps because the world doesn't want them back.

1 comment:

Gry pl said...

The crux of your writing whilst appearing reasonable initially, did not really settle perfectly with me personally after some time. Somewhere within the sentences you actually were able to make me a believer but only for a while. I nevertheless have a problem with your leaps in logic and you might do well to help fill in those gaps. In the event that you can accomplish that, I would certainly end up being fascinated.