Reflection: Non-Art Interspecies Collaborations
Funeral for a Bird
By Erik Shalat (04/22/13 08:35:24)
Related animal: Bird

During Interspecies Collaboration we gathered into groups to discuss chapters of Jim Nollman’s book, The Man Who Talks to Whales. My group decided to go outside to get out of the classroom and enjoy the sunlight while we talked. Despite the sun, it was very windy which offset the benefits of going outside. One of the group questions prompted us to talk about our personal animal experiences, and when it came to me to answer I started talking about my bird Toby. It seems ominous in retrospect that we were talking about my bird when what we heard a light thud against the classroom window. When we examined the source of the noise we saw the small fragile body of a bird. The bird slowly tightened it’s foot as it’s last living gesture. The rest of the class exited the room and we all gathered around the bird’s body. I started taking pictures of it, which i’m displaying in this post. We wrapped the bird up in a piece of paper and deliberated over what to do with it. The first thought we had was unanimously, “Of course this would happen in Interspecies Collaboration.” We seem like the one class uniquely suited to deal with the situation, barring an avian biology course.

With the bird being delicately handled by our teacher, we set off in search of a proper burial site. The decision was made to lay him to rest under a large tree, as you would with a family pet. Trees act as natural gravestones in a way. They’re good landmarks and the verticality of them suggests a transcendence. Along the way to find a tree, we came up with the name “Icarus Yellowtail” for the bird, because of his tragic last flight and his small yellow tail- like a paint brush that dabbed a jar of yellow acrylic.

At this point we had all but forgotten about the assignment we were supposed to be working on, but we found trees at the bottom of the art building. The first tree had a spiny bark that seemed too menacing for the seemingly benign Yellowtail. I’d like to think that in life he was a laid back bird. The second tree had a much thicker for flatter bark, a good traditional tree. More complications arose, as we had no means of digging a good hole and we weren’t about to do it with our fingers and risk getting cut on the hard earth. We ended up using a flimsy plastic shovel head that did the job well enough to form a shallow grave. Icarus was wrapped up in leaves and placed in the hole, and an altar of sorts was crafted around his burial mound out of pinecones and yellow flowers. The class spoke their last words about our new posthumously formed friendship and we left the site to return to class.

What fascinated me more than the bird’s death itself is that we all came together as a class to give this bird a funeral, and there was no voice of dissent. Everyone just felt it was the right thing to do. That probably wouldn’t have happened in many other classes.

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