MATTIE WASN’T LOOKING forward to the next two weeks without Simon and what would happen after his release worried her even more. Other than registering for classes for the fall semester at university and doing maintenance at the sanctuary there wasn’t much to fill the long days.
She was sitting at the kitchen table reviewing the sanctuary’s financial statement for the previous month. Saunders Bird Boarding and Daycare had showed a profit in the first month and some of that revenue would help offset the sanctuary’s ongoing deficit.
Her cell phone rang. It was Rob at Raptor Rescue.
“We’ve got an emergency and I’m contacting everyone who can help?”
“I’m listening,” Mattie said.
“Two ships have collided in English Bay,” Rob said.
“Oh, no. Is there any environmental damage?” Her first question she probably should have asked was if anyone was injured or killed, but that wasn’t her priority. Birds were.
“There’s an oil spill washing up on the local beaches, mostly Point Grey.”
“Were either of the ships oil tankers?”
“No, thank goodness, a container ship and a bulk grain carrier. One of the vessels hull was pierced and a fuel tank is leaking into the bay.”
“What about shore birds?” Mattie said.
“That’s why I’m calling. There are dozens and likely more coming as the spill hasn’t been contained yet.”
Mattie knew treating oiled birds took special skills and equipment and was an involved process. You didn’t just scrub them with dish detergent and set them free.
“How can I help?”
“The Oiled Wildlife Society has a stockpile of equipment as well trained key personnel. Right now there are so many volunteers they’re becoming a problem to manage. What they need are facilities. Spaces like ours and hopefully yours where they can set up feeding, scrubbing and drying stations, therapy pools and pens for the ongoing rehabilitation of oiled birds.”
The sanctuary wasn’t suitable, but Bodine’s studio was empty. It had a large rehearsal area, heat, light and a bathroom including a tub.
“I’ve got some space.”
“Great. I’ll have one of their people get in touch with you.”
Within an hour Mattie was showing a rescue coordinator from OWLS, an acronym that reminded Mattie of her own brood, the studio.
“This will work, but its messy and hell on hardwood floors.” Jeremy, the representative from the society was an older man; enthusiastic, confident straight forward.
“Okay. I’ll be back shortly and we’ll start saving birds.”
“The sooner the better.”
An hour later, the Oiled Wildlife Society cargo van arrived. Six volunteers piled out and Jeremy began giving orders to unload boxes and crates of equipment into a space where six months ago the number one song worldwide had been recorded. Mattie noticed a television van had followed the OWLS vehicle onto the property. She glared at them as they disembarked.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Jeremy said. “The publicity encourages donations.”
Mattie could relate, besides there were more important things to do than throw reporters off her property.
“Put these on, the oil will take the skin off your hands.” He handed Mattie a pair of thick rubber gloves. “Now help me with the birds.” Jeremy was no stranger to giving orders.
There were thirteen cages each holding an oiled bird.
“I’ll give you a crash course and then you can oversee the volunteers.”
“Why not someone else?”
“It’s your place and you know how handle birds.”
It made sense, and the volunteers, committed as they were, would have to go home or to work sooner or later.
“The first thing is to evaluate the bird.” Jeremy took an oil soaked Glaucous-winged Gull from a cage and passed it to Mattie. The bird was shivering, its white and grey plumage matted and weighted with brown goo. As she grasped its body in both hands it went limp, the shivering stopped, eyes closed and the bill opened, closed, opened and stayed open.
“Cardiac arrest. Leave it and concentrate on the ones we can save.”
“No.” Mattie took the lifeless seagull and stepped away from the van. She placed her mouth over the open beak and puffed air into it - one, two, three. Then she compressed its breast with her thumbs - one, two, three. “Come on, please.” She repeated the puffs, then the compression. “Don’t give up on me.” Again she repeated the procedure, tears streaming down her face, her hands greasy with oil. Puff, puff, puff, press, press, squawk! The gull opened its eyes, flapped its wings.
Mattie looked up a saw four media people hovering around her, the cameras filming, the shutters clicking.
“That was amazing.” A woman with a microphone approached her. “Are you Mattie Saunders?”
“I’m busy.” Mattie turned away and took the bird into the studio with the rest of the victims that had been unloaded.
Jeremy was waiting. He raised his eyebrows when she handed him the revived gull.
“I’ve evaluated them all,” he said. “Because the spill was in an area easily accessible, the birds were rescued quickly, none seem to be too dehydrated or undernourished, but most are hypothermic.”
“Maybe they’re just frightened,” Mattie said.
“That’s a given. The ocean temperature this time of the year in English Bay is eleven degrees centigrade. Even a little oil on plumage is like having a hole in a wet suit, they get cold quickly. We’ll let them rest and warm up. They have to be strong enough to survive the stress of washing.”
There were ten Glaucous-winged Seagulls, two Cormorants and a Harlequin Duck. Some were worse than others.
“They all need nourishment,” Jeremy said. “Do you know how to gavage feed a bird using a feeding tube?”
“Yes.” Most of the exotic birds that came to the sanctuary were malnourished. Mattie had learned to take care of them out of necessity. A lot of vets volunteered their time and expertise but paying clients came first. Sometimes a bird couldn’t wait, like today.
Jeremy went to a box of supplies and took a plastic bottle. “This is a formula of Pedialyte mixed with ToxiBan. It will nourish and rehydrate the birds as well helping them excrete ingested oil from their systems. Feed them all now. We’ll start the cleaning tomorrow at eight in the morning. Tell the volunteers.” He handed her a sheet of paper towel. “You’ve got oil on your face.”
It took three hours to feed the thirteen patients. Mattie inserted the tube while another person held the bird. It was stressful work. She ordered pizza for all the volunteers and as they ate wondered how many would return tomorrow.
“Do you need me to stay here over night?” The volunteer was a little younger than Mattie. She’d worked hard, was quick and resourceful. She looked familiar, like someone you’d been introduced to, thought you’d like to know, but never had the chance. Mattie had become used to strangers staring at her, but she’d noticed this girl watched her a lot.
“Have we met?” Mattie said.
“No. I’m Ann-Louise Soames.”
Mattie held out her hand “Mattie Saunders.”
“Thanks for everything you’ve done today. I’ll be okay tonight and you’re probably exhausted.”
“I’m happy I could help.”
“Well, I hope you’ll be back at eight tomorrow morning to start the washing.”
“I will be.” Ann hesitated. “I admire what you do.”
“I love birds.”
Mattie took the cot from Jonathon’s office and kept vigil on the oiled birds. In between cage checks she streamed the early news on her laptop. Coverage of the spill was everywhere even though it had been small, was now contained and cleanup was underway. Environmental damage had been kept to a minimum.
Tell that to the hundred or so shore birds fighting for their lives.
The talking heads were in an uproar. It could have been worse, a lot worse. It could have been an Aframax-sized tanker, two hundred and forty-five metres in length with a maximum capacity of one hundred and twenty thousand tonnes capable of carrying seven hundred and fifty thousand barrels of toxic diluted bitumen. Right now four of those vessels a month loaded in the Port of Vancouver at the Kinder Morgan tank farm. If the pipeline was expanded tanker traffic would increase seven-fold.
Mattie made another check of the birds in her care. An estimate was half would survive, and of those that did most would die prematurely from liver and kidney failure. Maybe Simon was right to go to jail to try to block the pipeline expansion.
At ten that night the cell phone rang. It was Louise. Mattie let it go into message.
JEREMY ARRIVED AT SEVEN-thirty the next morning. By eight, four of the six volunteers had returned including the enigmatic Ann-Louise. Mattie had called a catering truck so everyone got a hot breakfast.
“Are you two related?” Jeremy said. He was referring to Ann and Mattie as they stood side by side eating breakfast wraps.
“Only child,” Mattie said.
They began by washing a large seagull. Mattie immersed its body in a tub while Jeremy bathed it with the soapy water. To clean sensitive areas around the head and eyes, he used a waterpik-like device filled with the soap solution. Caked oil was removed with soft toothbrushes or cotton swabs. Once the water in the first tub became dirty, the bird was moved to a clean tub, and the process continued until oil from the bird’s feathers no longer dirtied the water. It took an hour and a half to do one bird.
Freshly rinsed birds were placed in a pen under pet-grooming dryers. It was gratifying to see them gradually resume preening and re-establish the alignment of their feathers.
Jeremy had to leave for another site, but enough volunteers had arrived so they had three cleaning stations running with Mattie supervising. By twelve-thirty, she called a lunch break. There were six birds left to wash.
Upon leaving the studio, Mattie and her crew were thronged by media. There were at least four camera crews.
“Mattie, what do think about being called the bird whisperer?”
“Is Bodine okay with you using his studio to clean oiled birds?”
“What do you think about Ellwyn tweeting telling all her fans to support you? She says you’re best friends. Are you?”
“I’ll give you guys five minutes to talk to these dedicated volunteers, if they’ll to speak with you, and then I want you off my property.” They followed her to the catering truck, peppering her with more questions. Mattie saw Jonathon standing at the entrance to the sanctuary and left the reporters to interview her helpers.
“You’ve done it again,” Jonathon said. They went inside to his office.
“What have I done this time?”
“Only become an international news story.” He pushed the morning newspaper across his desk. “That’s twice in as many months.”
On the front page was a picture of her holding the resuscitated seagull, oil smeared around her mouth, tears streaming down her cheeks. The headline read Breathing Life into Oiled Birds.
“I look horrible.”
“The late news ran a clip of you resuscitating that seagull. It was very dramatic.”
“Oh, yes. It’s gone viral on the internet.” Jonathon clicked the keys on his computer. “Six hundred and forty-nine thousand, three hundred and eighty-two hits in thirteen hours.”
“Just when I thought it was safe to come out of hiding.”
“Your notoriety is paying dividends,” Jonathon said. “Our PayPal account that clears donations, the few that we get, is now at twenty-four thousand dollars thanks mostly to Ellwyn encouraging her fans to donate. I didn’t know you were best friends with her?”
“That money’s not ours,” Mattie said. “It belongs to the Oiled Wildlife Society.” Mattie headed for the door.
“Can’t we at least talk about this?” Jonathon said. “Maybe split the difference?”
The media was packing up, the volunteers were finishing their lunch.
“Hey,” Mattie said. She ran toward the vans.
“Don’t worry, we’re leaving,” one of the camera men said.
“No wait. I’ve got a story for you.”
It only took a minute for them to set up.
“There’s appears to be a misunderstanding with the public. Donations to save oiled birds should go to the Oiled Wildlife Society and not to me or Saunders Exotic Bird Sanctuary.”
“That’s it?” a reporter said.
“Yes, it’s very important you get that out.”
“Do you want to comment on Ellwyn and her support?”
“I’m very grateful to her fans for all the donations.”
“Are you best friends?”
“We did share a boyfriend.”
“Does Bodine approve of what you’re using his studio for?”
“You’ll have to ask him?”
“We can’t, he’s gone into rehab.”
Now that was disconcerting. She’d have to give Marv a call, or maybe not.
“Bodine loves birds. I’m sure he would be supportive of what I’m doing,” Mattie said.
“Are you against the expansion of the pipeline?”
Careful. “I am an advocate on the behalf of what’s best for birds, all species, everywhere.”
“What do you think about being called the bird whisperer?”
“I love birds. I happen to know how to care for them. Anyone in this situation with similar training would have done the same.”
All the birds survived the washing and the tube-feeding that followed. The worst was over, but they were still at risk. For at least another five days the birds’ swimming ability, alertness, and progress toward waterproofing would be monitored. That meant placing them in a warm pool, re-dried and returned to the warm pool repeatedly until their waterproofing improved sufficiently to be placed in a cold water pool.
Usually, it took three to ten days for a bird to recover its normal body temperature, weight, and feeding behaviors. Mattie hoped to have all the birds rehabilitated and released before she had to start classes at university.
This was work Mattie could do herself, in fact she wanted to as it took her mind off Simon.
“I want to thank you all for your hard work and commitment,” Mattie said. She was addressing the volunteers at the end of their last shift. “If this experience has ignited a passion, and you want to continue to volunteer with birds the Saunders Exotic Bird Sanctuary is always looking for dedicated people like yourselves.”
“It was nice meeting you, Mattie.” Ann had lingered behind.
“So what will you be doing with the rest of your summer barring any more oil spills?”
“I’ll be returning to university in the fall.”
“At UBC?” Mattie smiled at the thought she might meet Ann on campus.
They walked toward the parking lot where Ann’s vehicle was. Mattie was unsettled at never seeing her again. Most people she met she couldn’t be bothered to ask their name. What was going on?
“Would you like to come by for a private tour of the sanctuary some time?” Mattie said. It sounded lame. Why didn’t she come out and say she liked Ann and hoped they could be friends?
“Do you think we could be friends, Mattie?”
Ann seemed relieved. “What’s your cell phone number?”
Mattie recited it as Ann punched it in her cell phone directory. Mattie’s phone rang.
“Now we have each other’s number,” Ann said. “I’ll call you.” She got into her car, a Mercedes Sedan, and drove away.
Mattie left the studio at 9:30 p.m. longing the comfort of her own bed and confident the rescued birds could survive the night without monitoring. Louise called at ten, just as Mattie was turning on the news.
“Hi, Matts, how was your day?”
“Good. How was yours?”
“It was a proud one. That was amazing how breathed life into that seagull.”
“Nothing compared to what you do.” Apparently saving a seagull was more newsworthy than saving human beings.
“Give yourself credit, Mattie. It wasn’t just that you saved a living creature, you were decisive, resourceful and acted selflessly. In my book that’s the definition of a hero.”
Nice, but then it was coming from her mother.
“I had a very weird connection with a young woman who volunteered to work with the oiled birds,” Mattie said.
“Like I was familiar with her even though we’d never met. I think she felt the same way.”
“Someone from your lost years as a foster kid?”
“No.” Mattie had vivid memories of growing up in foster homes, and though she closed them off from her day-to-day life, when they were inadvertently revisited, their intensity hadn’t diminished.
“This girl’s wealthy. Goes to university abroad, drives a Mercedes. Her last name is Soames.”
Louise was silent.
Mattie saw her face appeared on the muted television screen. “I’ve got to go Mom. I’ll call you back.”
The Saunders Exotic Bird Sanctuary, one of the locations where oil soaked birds were rehabilitated, has received thousands of dollars in donations, after its owner, Mattie Saunders was filmed resuscitating a dying bird.
A brief clip showed her reviving the gull.
According to Saunders, she wants the funds directed to the Oiled Wildlife Society, and not the Saunders Exotic Bird Sanctuary.
The OWLS address came on the screen.
“What a remarkable person,” the woman co-anchor said.
“They say character is not built in crisis, only exhibited,” her partner replied.
Mattie turned off the television. The coverage made it sound like the sanctuary was entitled to the donations and she was being magnanimous in redirecting them. Furthermore, it didn’t mention what would happen to the donations that had already come in. Had she made things worse?
Her cell phone rang.
“I think you’ve got some money that belongs to us.” It was Jeremy.
“First of all, we wouldn’t have this problem if you hadn’t invited the press onto my property. Secondly, what’s your association with OWLS?” Mattie said.
“I’m the President of the Board of Directors.”
“Come by tomorrow and you can talk to my Executive Director. We’ll sort it out.”
“Good. How are the birds?”
Mattie spent the next ten minutes telling him about the patients. They had given each bird a number which Jeremy said made it less personal if they died. All except the one seagull Mattie had revived. It was called Miracle.
A quarter hour had passed before she called Louise back. It went into message. Louise always called back, usually within five minutes. Mattie waited a half hour, then turned off her phone and went to bed. Something was up.
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