Elise Patkotak: Volunteers make our city a better place

commentDecember 17, 2013 

I'm assuming that by now everyone has read or heard the story of the two juvenile bald eagles from Adak who flew too close to the fire and singed some important feathers off. They're at Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage right now. They will probably be there for a long time since the only real cure for what ails them is to have a molt occur and new feathers come in to replace the burnt ones. Thanks to the dedication of a group of clearly crazed bird people -- and you all know who you are -- these kids will be fed, watered and treated for their injuries for as long as it takes to get them back into the skies.

I was asked recently what it was about birds that so fascinated me that I willingly give up hours upon hours every week caring for them at Bird TLC while also caring for seven companion birds in my home. (The only reason I have seven birds is because I'm a foster bird parent for companion birds abandoned by their previous caretakers. I'm not completely insane, no matter what my family thinks.)

Anyhow, the answer to the question of why I am a tad bird crazy is that birds can fly. It's that simple. They can break their earthly bonds, defy gravity, and soar towards the heavens. I was first jealous of this ability when I discerned it in Mighty Mouse, a major childhood crush of mine. As the years went on and I realized that birds could do exactly what Mighty Mouse could do, and on top of that were real, I transferred my affections.

The volunteers at Bird TLC are a microcosm of our community. They come from every walk of life and just about every demographic. We have the young, the old and the middle aged. We have men and women. We have the lame (get well soon, Terri) and the healthy. All have in common a love of Alaska's wild birds and a desire to be of service to their community.

The holiday season seems an appropriate time to stop and consider what volunteers bring to the table of our civic, social and community life. They can be found dishing out food at Bean's, manning tables at voting booths, cleaning kennels at various animal shelters or, as in my case, prying open an eagle's beak to force some medicine infused salmon down their throats. Volunteers are ushering you down the aisle at the PAC, performing at ACT, holding meetings of various political clubs and working with the differently abled in the Special Olympics.

Of course, I happen to think the people at Bird TLC are simply the best of the best because they can actually smile while wallowing in bird poop and smelly salmon. They tenderly care for the smallest nuthatch and the biggest eagle with the same loving concern, believing all of God's creatures, no matter the size, deserve our care and compassion. A shout should also go out to all those people in the community who show up at our front door with donations of fish and red meat and newspapers and, of course, money -- but mostly the fish and red meat, which goes to feed the birds while they heal. Although these donors may not show up weekly to muck out eagle pens, their contributions are invaluable.

And to all the people who care enough about our wild neighbors to go out of their way to bring them to our clinic when they've been hurt or abandoned, kudos. Someone who pulls their car over to the side of the road on a wintry morning to capture a wounded magpie and bring the bird to us is, simply put, a kind person. I like to think those acts of kindness and compassion are a hallmark of our city.

Without volunteers, our community would be a much poorer place; the fabric of life would have huge holes; and many of the things that enrich the human experience would simply not exist. Happy holidays to them all.

On a separate note, Bird TLC will be moving locations by the beginning of the year. We're not moving far, just over to 7800 King Street, but people who want to bring donations or an injured bird should make sure to call 562-4852 to check where we are before heading out.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City" is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

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