I’m a big fan of raptors – birds of prey – like owls, hawks, and eagles. So when I had an opportunity to do an interview at A Place Called Hope, a rescue and rehab center for raptors in Connecticut, for my Podcast, I took it.
I had seen a Facebook video of Christine Cummings, the co-founder, with her husband Todd, working with a bald eagle, and her focus and love shined through. But it was just a taste of what was in store.
A Place Called Hope is in a rural part of eastern Connecticut, across from cranberry bogs and surrounded by woods. It’s quiet and isolated. The house that Christine and Todd live in has a wooden canoe perched up in the ceiling beams. Feathers and bird art are everywhere.
My visit started with a look at the many aviaries, which are built by Todd. Christine pulled a little red wagon behind her as we spoke, with buckets of food for the raptors. Suffice it to say that they are not vegetarian. As we went from aviary to aviary, she talked about the birds’ injuries and history.
Federal law prohibits keeping wild birds as pets, so the mission here is to rehabilitate them as quickly as possible and return them to the wild. The ones that cannot be healed may end up in a live teaching exhibit on the importance of protecting wildlife, which Christine takes to schools in the area.
Christine spoke to me about her journey with intensity and purpose. She always knew she had a bond with birds. Even as a child, she played a game where she pretended she was a bird and had fallen out of her nest; her parents had to put her back in.
Although she trained to become an art teacher, the animals called her back. I asked her about leaving the property to get a change of scenery or to take a break from the daily routine. “No”, she said with conviction. “My place is here.” There’s nowhere she’d rather be.
Although it’s hard work and she’s always on call (her phone rang with a rescue request as we were talking), she doesn’t think about taking a vacation – although she says her husband would love that. It’s like she’s part of the place.
She communes with the birds with her own special brand of Reiki.
It’s necessary to be very calm and focused while working with these birds who are powerful and have sharp talons. Reiki has been an important tool when she goes to rescue an injured bird. Rescuing is a deeply personal and spiritual experience for Christine.
Truthfully, her kind of lifestyle is not everyone’s cup of tea. Her devotion to her calling might seem over the top. But I was struck by her clarity and love. These birds are like cherished family members to her. She feels connected to them and responsible for them. She grieves when they fall ill.
As a vegetarian herself, feeding mice and chicks to them makes her a bit uncomfortable, but it’s all about the birds’ need. She’s careful to point out that they are not pets or stuffed animals. Birds do not like to be hugged or cuddled. They find it threatening.
Christine is very clear that caring for birds is not about her or her desire to be a special friend to them. It’s selfless love. It’s total devotion. It’s believing you have a calling and building your life around that calling.
I wondered how it would feel to have that level of devotion. To believe that I was put on earth to fill a role that only I could do.
I came away from our interview energized and inspired by her zeal and confidence. This is a woman who will not have many of the regrets some of us will be faced with – “I wish I wouldn’t have worked so hard” being the primary one.
Someone told me once that there’s nothing more inspiring than watching someone do something they truly love. As I drove out on the backroads, I realized how true that is.
What activities are you passionate about? What kinds of feelings arise in you when you are ingulfed in those activities? Do you ever feel tired of your passions, or would you rather have more time to do them? Please share what drives your motivation for life as you go beyond 60.