by Ashley Pearson
With its mammoth mouth and oversized wings, the stork has always struck me as a strange creature to represent birth. As a mostly mute bird, the only sound coming from a stork would be one of alarm, perhaps because a newborn has suddenly been placed in its mouth. I think of the stork cursing to itself, begrudgingly thinking, the universe has damned me again.
It is not important to know who I am. I am but a mere observer of the universe, a passerby from below looking above and perceiving the world around me. All you need to know about me is that I know storks are carnivorous little bastards known to snack on a small alligator now and then.
And storks have teeth, you know? They are as terrifying as geese teeth. Ragged, jagged, and all things terrifying and bad, the teeth line their mouth like tines to a fork. When storks carry little bundles of joy, do they cut the straps? Do the babies ever inadvertently fly on their own?
Mortality rates are no kinder to the baby than they are to the stork. Storks are victims of predators, losers of bloody battles shown on Animal Planet. Once their legs are broken, it is as if they have been tied down to the ground. Unable to fly. Unable to take off. Another victim of the cruel mistress Earth, or more specifically, Mother Nature. She watches from above with her hands held up in self-defense, as if to say, “You did this to yourself.” Mother Nature nurtures, but also controls the world with an iron fist. I think, in that sense, she seems lonely. I wonder if she thinks of her loved ones, of which she has few.
I can’t imagine the sun, moon, or stars are great company.
My company are the strangers I observe. I learned long ago that it was not worth my time to make friends or have lovers. All people, animals, and things pass me too quickly.
Many times I also wonder, how often do birds think of their loved ones? Birds are quick and tricky creatures. Their lives are much shorter than mine. Do other storks ever cross their minds once they are gone, leaving them as lonely as Mother Nature or as impartial as I? I could sit at home and ponder these questions all night long.
Home is a tricky word. It sits bitterly on my tongue, like a nest collapsing during a storm. It is a human’s natural instinct to look away from a trio of dead baby birds. They may feel sorry. They may even pout. Almost every human likes to gawk, whether it be in their own backyard or from behind a glass wall.
Behind any glass wall of a hospital nursery lie hundreds of thousands of babies: squealing, gooing, crying, silent. Are they home? Why, they have been dropped off with their families, haven’t they? Cradled in the sterilized arms of a faint mother, ogled by a grandma with the camera flash on too high, serenaded poorly by an aunt from Louisiana.
Yet, a number of babies, as many as those that lie behind glass walls, lie in plastic domes.
A different kind of gawking occurs during an early delivery; one that is not so kind. Sure, some happy endings arrive later than expected; A gooing baby being driven away in a blue Suburban, the mother riding in the back just to gaze fondly. Yet, it is the quiet pushing of baby-sized stretchers down hospital halls that I think of the most. The places where no stork is allowed.
Like a stork migrating through the worst of weather, I find it hard to escape the West, the United States in particular. The ideal West. The ideal United States. The American dream land where all babies are heard and seen and dropped off. Where the storks are immortalized in announcement signs and banners; a pristine white stork, the vision of responsibility, cradling a grinning baby in its wake. A delivery man. A viral USPS worker.
Storks are good at keeping humankind’s secrets. Evil or sympathetic bastards, storks are hiding behind dumpsters or landing at fire stations and watching the darkest underbellies of birth; accidental misfires in a bathtub, escapes from public restrooms. These birds are the ones you don’t see on signs. Dirty things, sad and tragic, no time for grand announcements, they are too busy in other places.
Don’t even get me started on the flocks of storks.
Flocks are no secret keepers, at least not in the traditional sense. Part of an open secret or scheme maybe. Certainly no Scorpio, Taurus, or Pisces. More of a fire sign, fanning the flames. The babies in the flames are loud and nasally, akin to braying donkeys. Desperate to make contact with others. Desperate for human touch.
The bray is the noisiest at orphanages where babies are kept like donkeys; two to a bed, a group on the floor, all vying for the same attention. The cribs are lined up like stalls. Feed me, touch me, play with me, they say.
And again, humans gawk as humans do, shoving a bottle in the baby’s mouths like it’s a carrot for a donkey.
Westerners from thousands of miles away love to watch the flocks of storks go by. I think the storks are like airplanes to them because they always squint at them with their binoculars. Wait for them to pluck a passenger from a young, poverty-stricken mother’s arms after the mother has groggily signed a set of papers. Pay close attention to the color of the basket. Look for the perfect one and gawk at hundreds more. With that, the Westerners bring their tried and true traditions. They clap when the storks land and place a baby in their arms. They pay a pretty penny to fly home.
No need for a stork in that situation.
Like storks migrating across the ocean, home is interchangeable for babies. Home is moveable, if you pay the right price and have the right resources, then home can be anywhere. Illinois. Maryland. Delaware. Ontario. And I have seen just as many successful adoptions as failed ones. I have seen just as many good storks as bad ones.
However, no matter the outcome, the stork becomes a meaningless symbol to me, just a silly mascot to plaster on walls and cars.
Like migration, the route of orphans also repeats itself. It’s a complicated path with more endings and beginnings than one can count and it’s a path storks stay on the sidelines for.
Maybe a formation of a workers’ union is overdue because somewhere along the way, a stork confuses a nice two-story home in American suburbia with a crowded foster home consisting of a dozen starving kids. Another stork dies crossing a foreign border. It drowns, flapping its wings; a silent, desperate call for help. News consumers gawk at the sight of the scatterbrained bird. The surrounding storks gawk too, afraid of their own fate if they do not escape the muddy waters. Thousands of people share the video, once, twice, three times, before it enters the trending pages and leaves just as quickly as it was posted. Stared at by thousands, yet saved by no one.
With its gaping mouth and beady eyes, the stork still strikes me as a strange beast to represent the arrival of new life. But, I suspect that the stork is not all at fault here, for it cannot help its funky looks and strange motivations. A stork can also not control its own destiny. It is another mere victim of the cruel universe, another victim at the hands of Mother Nature, humans, despair, and all terrible things in between, just like the baby it carries in its beak.
Ashley Pearson is a sophomore majoring in Creative Writing and Biochemistry at Knox College. She is also following the Pre-Med route. She divides her time between Monmouth and Galesburg Illinois.