Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Kathe Kollwitz’

Photo: Tony Luong.
Robert Vallières brings a raptor when he speaks to veterans about how birds helped his recovery, like here at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire. When asked the worth of this Great Horned Owl, he told the vet: “I can’t put a value on it.” 

Tomorrow, November 11, is Veterans Day, one of only two federal holidays that hasn’t been switched to a Monday. The other is July 4. I saw today’s story around this time last year and decided to save it for you.

Purbita Saha and Tony Luong wrote at Audubon magazine in 2017 about a former soldier who found solace in Nature and then used his insights to help other veterans.

“The first bird that saved Robert Vallières,” they report, “was a Black Hawk helicopter. It was October 1990, and the then 28-year-old Army soldier was serving in the Persian Gulf War. While riding in the back of a truck on a mission to fortify a foxhole in the remote Arabian Desert, a heavy beam slammed into him, sending him flying and causing severe head injuries and swelling in the brain. The chopper sped Vallières to a field hospital for emergency care. …

“After being honorably discharged, Vallières returned to Concord, New Hampshire. While he appeared to be on the mend, he continued to grapple with chest spasms and Gulf War Syndrome—the mysterious mix of symptoms, including headaches, exhaustion, and memory problems, that plagued up to a third of returning veterans. On top of that, he had lingering effects from a pre-deployment aneurysm, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. … The PTSD led to serious depression and horrific anger, he says. He was overwhelmed with trying to readapt to civilian life when he saw a newspaper ad for a birding trip in the White Mountains. Remembering his hikes with his nature-loving father, also a veteran, Vallières signed up immediately. Up on the slopes, as he scanned the leafy ledges for passerines, a Peregrine Falcon hurtled into view, seizing a Northern Flicker mid-air in a puff of feathers. He followed it back to a snag, where it tore the woodpecker apart, yellow shaft after yellow shaft. ‘I was glued,’ Vallières says. …

“Vallières credits that Peregrine with saving him from despair. The encounter sparked a full-fledged birding obsession that ultimately helped shape his philosophy on healing. He quickly signed on to monitor raptor nests with New Hampshire Audubon. The first site he claimed was Joe English Hill, near Concord, where he and his son Andrew would watch American Kestrels speed rodents to their begging chicks’ mouths. As his identification and observational skills deepened, his responsibilities multiplied. He began tracking breeding Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles, aiding in the recognition of an uptick in chicks that confirms the birds’ nationwide resurgence since the pesticide DDT was banned.

“Vallières finds strength and hope in their comeback. ‘They keep my defeats in perspective,’ he says. And, he discovered, while painkillers reduced his chronic pain, his ailments often temporarily vanished in the presence of birds. Besides taking his mind off the hurt, tracking wild birds also allowed Vallières to beat back depression and regain much of his physical strength. …

“He began rehabilitating raptors, first with Audubon, then with the local wildlife hospital Wings of Dawn, where he learned to train unreleasable birds as educational ambassadors.

Working with the feathered charges allowed him to pay forward the care and kindness he’d received from doctors, nurses, and therapists, he says. It also made him feel like less of a burden.

“Given the profoundly soothing effect raptors had on Vallières, he was motivated to share the experience. He brought other vets to the New Hampshire Audubon hawkwatch platform to take in thousands of Broad-wingeds during fall migration. He cowrote a memoir, Wounded Warriors, about his experiences in battle and birding. And he started bringing rehab birds to the New Hampshire Veterans Home and Manchester VA Medical Center. (Vallières is a patient at the latter, receiving therapy for his chronic pain, taking drawing lessons to relieve stress, and learning cognitive exercises to combat memory loss from a second aneurysm in 2012.)

“On the Friday before Memorial Day, Vallières made his rounds at both facilities. In the solarium of the medical center that morning he saluted each of the 15 seniors, many in wheelchairs and Vietnam and Korean War caps. Then he introduced a male Great Horned Owl that is permanently grounded due to a wing injury. Vallières walked around with the raptor on his arm, lifting it above the veterans’ heads so they could feel the rush of its beating feathers. The room buzzed with questions and anecdotes of pet cockatoos; placid faces broke into grins. With his audience transfixed, Vallières related his story. He showed them sketches he has drawn of being airlifted out of Kuwait, shared dark reflections of his struggle with PTSD, and explained the important role that birds have played in his recovery.”

We owe so much to veterans, but you know as soon as a war starts that many, if not most, will be physically or mentally wounded or never come home. And the services to help them will be limited. All by itself, that’s a good reason not to go to war. Sometimes it’s necessary, of course, as the Ukrainians who take up arms today already know. Below is art that shows why they do it.

More at Audubon, here. No firewall. A description of the art is at WordPress, here.

Protecting the children: Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Grieving Parents’ at Vladslo: ‘Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground.’

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: