Four Years Ago Today
On TV a pelican has been bronzed and stilled by oil. A journalist reports from the beach in Venice, Louisiana, a fishing town that used to like being called the end of the world. Animal control specialists are trucking in crate after crate of unrecognizable waterfowl. Egrets and blue heron are being helicoptered in from Grand Isle. It’s Day 46 and over 400 birds have come through. “It’s like they were dipped in fondue,” the journalist says.
The bird cleaning squad has set up shop in an un-air-conditioned warehouse. The handlers work quickly to keep the shocked birds from preening and eating oil. Shifts are twenty minutes long because the heat index is 105.
A worker in a yellow HAZMAT suit and a face windshield rubs vegetable oil into the wings of a brown pelican, redundant, but a way to loosen the crude. The bird fidgets, molested by concern. Not being touched is one of the benefits of knowing how to fly. After the Crisco massage the pelican is bathed with blue dish washing liquid, which breaks down the grease. The worker uses a toothbrush to clean around the eye. The bird doesn’t blink. How to touch and not change? Or be changed? It will be put into a resting cage. A heat lamp will dry the feathers without burning skin, and now, finally, it can preen and layer them back into insulation, beginning with the soft down, working out to the pinion.
The restored birds will be banded with ankle bracelets in case they get oiled again, because the rig is still leaking and what they know is to spot fish and dive. They will be taken on a boat miles away from the spill and let go to fly.
Nelly Zann lives in New Orleans and New York.