Can you truly domesticate a bird? After years of incarceration, would a bird want to stay in its cage, had the owner opened the door for it to fly off? However, is there a proper way of caring for a creature we shouldn't "own" in the first place? Do birds ever need or want our help, even when close to death?
Oddly enough, I find that Kingsolver's answer to these questions would be yes, based off of her words in this novel. I thought that a naturalist's perspective on this would be to always leave nature alone, never interfering, never testing the wrath of mother nature herself. For, of course, we don't want to get our apparently nasty human stench onto other creatures, right? That would cause their actual families to kill them, wouldn't it?
In The Bean Trees, Taylor takes in a baby bird: a little girl named Turtle. Kingsolver seems to tussle with herself around the true answer to the questions above via making a human child in the situation a baby bird would be in, if found by a human. When Taylor fed Turtle pieces of food, "she took it like a newborn bird" (Bean 108). Around the time that Turtle goes through a crisis of being molested, a "terrified bird" whose "little heart" you could see "beating through the feathers" just so happened to fly into the house and hit a window, then, spastically fly out "the open screen door into the terrible night" (Bean 167-68). Turtle and birds go through parallel experiences in this novel. It is almost obvious that Turtle is who the baby bird metaphor discusses. But the true depth of this metaphor isn't what it represents, but rather what Kingsolver is saying about it. She uses her fictional stories to state non-fictional opinions. So what is she saying now?
The answer lies behind her words: “There was a cactus with bushy arms and a coat of yellow spines as thick as fur. A bird had built her nest in it. In and out she flew among the horrible spiny branches, never once hesitating. You just couldn’t imagine how she’s made a home in there” (Bean 124). Kingsolver is simply galvanized by people like Turtle, people who act like these birds with cacti as nests. This metaphor is a "shout-out" of sorts, not truly a call to action, but more of a notable mention for people who live with struggles, yet continue to LIVE. Turtle has been through so much during some of the most vital years of her life: her childhood. However, no matter what predators move in on her and Taylor, like Cynthia, a social worker who "had these tawny gold eyes like some member of the cat family" and wanted to separate Turtle and Taylor, the pair of them continue to be advocates for themselves. Taylor never stops fighting for her relationship with Turtle.
But, does it matter? How do Taylor's efforts align with Turtle's needs? When driving, Taylor "passed a run-over blackbird in the road" (Bean 189). Even if her "instinct was to step on the brakes... there was no earthly reason to stop for a dead bird" (Bean 189). These were her thoughts. Once a bird is dead, it's no good. Not worth stopping for. Taylor, being a very "nonstop" kind of girl, just might leave Turtle behind in the dust. She keeps pulling Turtle along, carrying her in a cage, but "if you tried to keep this bird in a cage, it died" (Bean 192). What use is Taylor for a girl who just wants to be free?
Kingsolver's message is oversimplified. To the end of the novel, it's completely okay for Taylor to have taken in this baby bird. For humans are simply another part of the natural world, from her perspective... right? But, for just this once, I find myself in opposition with Kingsolver's simplistic notion. Humans can strive to be like birds. Humans can also support birds by increasing the care of their habitats. However, humans and birds can't naturally interact and grow as beings from that interaction. Birds should stay with birds, humans with humans. Sometimes, all a bird needs to grow is nature. And if nature doesn't see fit for the bird to grow, then that will naturally be handled, too.
~Father Nature, Editor