Likely, the finch built its nest in the sprawling depths of a hemlock. Or spruce. Both are overly abundant in Oregon. Probably, the bird’s day began long before sunrise, scouring nearby shrubs and grasses for seeds, taking wing that late June afternoon, slicing through warm, coastal updrafts, then gliding its way over the narrow road I was walking, just some kid heading home, before diving headfirst into the windshield of a passing Toyota Corolla. Or Camry. Both are overly abundant in Oregon.
I screamed because I didn’t just see it. I felt it. A wallop that could only mean certain death. The finch pinwheeled through the sky, like some slight, tragic acrobat, before crashing on the splintered, summer-baked asphalt. Had this been a cartoon, I’d have roared. Instead, the roar of the vehicle’s engine faded with distance, dragging my screams along with it.
It has to be dead. But it wasn’t. The Finch tried to right itself on the road, to get on its feet, get back to the winds, but God, look how it shuddered, and look how its wings were bent in ways they weren’t meant to. I worried to touch it, worried I’d only add to its pain, but another car would come along in no time. On either side of the road, litter blossomed in malignant bougets. I tore an empty chocolate milk carton in half, flung curdled chunks of black to the ground, ungracefully shoveling the bird up inside it.
Don’t die, please…I begged, rushing home against those warm summer winds. Over and over the bird tried to take flight, fossils of spoiled milk on its bright, crumpled feathers. If I could just get it home, keep it locked in my room, somehow I could make it okay. Don’t die, I pleaded,rushing and rushing…But life rushed out alongside, and split from the finch in ways it’s not meant to. It gave one final shudder. And then there was no need to be rushing.
Behind our house, an overgrown field of sweet, durum wheat. Sunlight burnt the husks into copper, buzzing with frantic, fresh summer insects. Lifting the bird out of its dirty milk stretcher, I gathered sprigs of wheat for a shroud, encasing its delicate, wrecked body. The ground collapsed as my fingers sunk in it, working the earth into the shape of a grave. Eyes that once stared at the sky, that now stared at nothing, mirrored the dark, fragrant soil that rained down upon them, that concealed them forever.
Sunlight faded, stealing heat as it fled, drowning below an azure swatch of horizon. Within the depths of a hemlock or spruce, a finch built a nest it thought it’d return to, only to fall out of the sky forever. Only to vanish below the weight of the earth. Dirty fingers and knees, I got up and fought my way back to the day’s bleak remains, feeling, like dirt heaped in piles on my body, the weight of where we all end up in the world.
Will McMillan was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where he lives to this day. To date, his essays have appeared in over two dozen literary journals, and he has been featured on NPR’s This American Life.