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Awning Dawning

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My friend Y. S. Pascal, author of the Zygan Emprise Trilogy, sent me an email today from her Airbnb on the Mediterranean coast. Awakened by jet lag at the crack of dawn, Pascal heard intense chirping from the balcony of her duplex:

"Sparrows are plentiful in the recesses of the eucalyptus trees that line the hill between the resplendent azure sea and our temporary vacation home. City dwellers, we relished the bird calls that stirred us awake from the restorative slumber after a too-long plane flight. But, this morning, the cries had an urgency that penetrated my stupor from the melatonin gummies that I had futilely ingested to adjust my sleeping schedule. The chittering had a note of agony, a persistence that did not allow for the musical counterpoints that typified the birds' usual chatter.

I slid out of bed, hoping not to awaken my lightly snoring husband, and tiptoed towards the balcony door in our bedroom. The first rays of sunlight were visible through the louvered slats. Debating whether to attempt to open the door, which was in need of a strong dose of WD 40, I heard banging from the adjacent unit of our duplex. Ah, my groggy brain convinced me; our neighbor had flown in from the north, and her arrival must have stirred the birds.

Awakening a few hours later, I balanced my toast and coffee in one hand, and slid open the balcony door. Our hosts had set up an inviting table where we could sit and sip as we gazed at the calm waters. A small furry ball caught my eye as I stepped over the door jamb. Resting my breakfast on the table, I bent down to examine it. It moved, and I pulled back for a minute, before realizing it was a tiny baby bird. Using a clean napkin, I picked it up; its chirp was echoed by birds from our neighbors' balcony. I peered around the divider to view a shattered nest lying on the marble floor, in which a couple more baby birds were chirping for sustenance. I was also able to see what had happened. The neighbors had left their awning up while home during the off season, and, upon arriving after a redeye, had rolled up the awning, knocking the nest from its perch near the roll.

I guided the little one from my hands through a gap between the divider towards its nest. The grown birds were nowhere to be found. A quick glance at our side of the balcony; I spied a second tiny bird, which I collected in the napkin and eased through the gap. Below, I saw the groundskeeper drive in, and waved him over to come and assist with moving the birds to a safe location. As he joined me, the neighbor popped her head out of her unit and, after a polite greeting, start mumbling that she had to air out her unit and its balcony and didn't think there was anything she could do. Just one of those things.

The groundskeeper and I managed to ease the nest into a plastic container, and we carried it to a protected area in a tree nook on the first floor, away from predators. It had only been a few hours since the birds' home had been launched from the awning, but we were disheartened to see a baby bird that had not made it to safety lying still on the grass below. The ants were swarming over its body for their morning meal. Too late for us to help. We could only hope that the other four chicks would survive.

There is a theory, proposed by Robin Dunbar, that humans' ability maintain stable relationships is limited, limited to a number of around 150. Above that number, it becomes easy to objectify those beyond that circle; to be unable to see them as sentient beings, to empathize, or to care. To think 'I need to roll up that awning and the 'squatters' be damned.'

We used to live in villages, communities that allowed us to know and care about each other and those who share the world in which we live. Our communities are now ever more gated, discrete, divided. We see those beyond our walls as the objectified 'others', rather than the fellow beings, human or otherwise, that they are.

Our world has had no shortage of psychopathic or sociopathic leadership. As our leaders, in politics, industry, etc. isolate themselves from the world outside their enclaves, distancing themselves from the middle and working classes and the poor; their Dunbar numbers will be used up by the surrounding wealthy. Any remnants of humanitarianism will be lost to our genetic programming. Everyone 'outside' will be objects, statistics, collateral damage. Stuff happens to them? It's just one of those things.

I hope the tiny birds recover and survive."

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Jill Jackson is a practitioner of kindness and common sense. Unlike her cat, she prefers to think out of the box.

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