I have dogs, sheep, cows, chickens, and donkeys. I write about animals for a living. But I know how little I understand about them whenever I'm with Annie. Her life revolves around loving and caring for animals. She has the gift. When she shows up for work, every animal on the place dances with joy. Elvis, my 2,000-pound steer, holds perfectly still while she treats his eyes with ointment to keep away flies. Mother, my ferocious barn cat, closes her eyes and purrs while Annie picks her up to check for ticks.
Annie has already saved my rooster Winston from certain death (as of this writing, he is alive, well, and loud) and healed two infected goats. She is studying with an animal shaman in Vermont. So, if anyone could rescue the remaining birds, she could. I told her the situation, shading the body count a bit.
Ten minutes later, her truck pulled into the driveway and Annie came rushing in, screwdriver and hammer in hand.
"What are those for?" I asked warily.
"In case we have to take the stove apart," she said.
I wished the birds freedom and long life, but I was not about to dismantle my precious wood stove. An elemental rule of rural life—where repair people can be many miles away—is that it's easy to take things apart, not so simple to put them back together. It had taken nearly a year to get my broken screen door replaced.
Annie flashed me a fierce look, however, signaling that this fight was not over. Seeing my wood stove in pieces would mean nothing to her, compared to saving the life of the wrens. We could hear the birds fluttering around in the stovepipe.
"Don't touch anything," warned Annie, pulling up a chair. "Just stand back and hold the sheet over the top of the stove."
She began a soothing, reassuring conversation. It seems she speaks bird as well as sheep, donkey, and cow. "It's OK," she assured them. "We'll get you out of there. Don't worry." The patter continued and in perhaps 15 minutes I saw two birds hop down from the pipe to stare at her curiously through the glass door.
I leaned forward quickly with the sheet. "Stay still," Annie hissed.
"Come on, now," she urged the birds, advising them to be calm and not hurt their fragile selves. They actually seemed to be following her instructions. They'd stopped their frenetic activity. Every now and then they chirped at her and she responded, assuring them that all would be well.