Yesterday I visited a wildlife rescue center with my son, W. As I chased him through the obligatory gift shop, lamenting the irony that I had paid for us to see real wild animals and yet was spending time in a glorified toy store filled with their faux counterparts, I caught smidgens of the adjacent presentation on a maimed bald eagle staying at the center. My son calmed down enough to “watch the eagle get a shower,” which meant they sprayed him with a hose as he trotted about on a leash in a tiny plastic pond. The docent explained how this exposure to water, a simulation of what he would encounter in the wild, was actually an “enrichment activity” for this poor one-winged creature.

My eyes welled up with tears as I heard this phrase, so often spoken in reference to the situations we fashion for our children, as we shuttle them from one organized sport, class or play date to another: enrichment activities. I saw this bird, once wild, now divorced from his own habitat, as a metaphor for us as a species. We wall ourselves into our myth of being separate from nature and then create synthetic experiences for our children and ourselves in an attempt to meet our needs, which, despite our best attempts to numb or evade them, do not go away. We are, in our hearts, in our biology, animals. Wild things. Are we not like this injured bird? Broken? Divorced from our own nature, from what truly makes us human?

The docent said he believed the bird had made a choice to accept his new caregivers, but I do not think a choice between survival and non-survival is much of a choice at all. The bird was adapting, as we adapt, as our children adapt. I wondered if he remembered the feel of the wind under two healthy wings as he flew through a seemingly limitless sky. I wondered if he missed it.

I suddenly felt the urge to grab my son from this place and run into the pouring rain outside, just to feel it pelt upon our skin—a true shower, an immediate experience. Instead, I followed my child—buzzing frenetically with the life force he had been unable to release into the outdoors after two days of inclement weather— inside the “discovery center” and watched him trace plastic animals with a magnetic pen as his peers viewed wildlife videos from television monitors and played animated games on a computer. Taxidermied birds and rodents stared down with dull eyes from the carefully arranged terrariums scattered about the room. The children, upon realizing that these slender vestiges of wildlife would not move or entertain, continued on with the more “enriching” pursuits that had been constructed for them. The animals, our supposed reason for being here, were at the end of the day little more than an irrelevant footnote.

I swallowed hard around the lump in my throat and tried in my mind, like the one-winged eagle, to adapt. The wind and rain, still there, slammed angrily into the room’s solitary pane.

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