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Naming a Wild Thing

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

The orphaned jackdaw has been with us for three weeks now. In that time the bird has developed from a helpless chick unable to fend for itself into a flighty, mischievous fledgling who likes to sit on my head and peck my ears. Unsure of the bird's gender (jackdaws are monomorphic so both males and females have the same plumage) we called 'them' Rodrigo Esteban Gonzales at first – for the sole reason that those three names were bandied about in conversation on the day we found them. However, perhaps Lucifer would've been more appropriate, since they're literally a fallen angel, having descended 120ft from the church tower to the hard concrete below, with just enough feathers to cushion the fall.

Our Lucifer the fallen jackdaw is definitely the son of the morning – or the daughter. I didn't realise until I began considering this creature's name that Lucifer is the Latin name for the morning appearance of the planet Venus and corresponds to the Greek name phosphorus translated as 'light-bringer' or 'dawn-bringer' – which they most certainly are, since they call raucously to be fed at 5am, sitting on the bird table where before them are copious amounts of mealworms and sunflower seeds. I get up to feed them, and they ignore me and eat what's already on the table. Like I said, mischievous.

But last night, as I attended the New Moon gathering of Venus Rose Club, our host and my good friend Jemma Jackson spoke in depth of Lilith, the first woman who was banished from the Garden of Eden because she refused to obey the rules and was thereafter demonised as the Dark Goddess. The myth is that God then made Eve from Adam's rib, so that womankind would be forever derivative of mankind, and not wild and mysterious like Lilith. It dawned on me then that our jackdaw is much more like Lilith than Lucifer (these Christianised mythological roots quite applicable I feel, seeing as she fell from a church tower.)

Lilith is wild, perhaps untameable though why would we want to tame her? She is fascinating just as she is and obeys only her own rules, though instinct is a powerful and protective energy for her too. How else would she know to preen her feathers so, to bathe every day, to seek shade at midday and to peck at the insects in the trees? This week, as her flight feathers took on a petrol-blue sheen, Lilith chose the branches of a rowan tree rather than the safety of her nest box, refusing to be bound by the beautifully-crafted aviary my husband made, preferring the cover of the leafy canopy and her own ability to disappear into her arborial cradle. When I call her (just to ensure she's still there, that she's not fallen prey to the magpies who quarter our garden voraciously, and to my eye, menacingly – but who can be scared off just by the clap of human hands), she calls back to me in response, a gentle caw, saying, "I'm still here, but I'm not coming to see you, not yet." And then when I'm weeding, bent double and in a world of my own, she flies onto my head and makes me jump out of my skin. I look her in the eye and I could swear she is amused.

I often wonder why it is important to name creatures, flowers, trees... It is a human propensity. I find it difficult to wander the fields without silently chanting a mantra, a paean to all that I observe, "Oak, Chestnut, Timothy, Herb Robert, Jay, Skylark..." Naming wild things is a bridge that allows us to create a relationship with them, to consider them, to love them. In naming a being, we are acknowledging their presence in our lives, creating a dialogue that isn't actually one way. Try talking to the robin in your garden, and notice the response – or even better, sing to it. Naming is an act of Love.

So now we have a new name in our lexicon. Lilith the Wild. I'm sure she will also be called Roddy-Rukes, Lucy-Lou (in honour of Lucifer) and all manner of other names, as is our wont. Names in our family seem to evolve on a daily basis, elongating and becoming triple barrelled. Long may Lilith be with us and enhance our lives; long may Rodrigo rove the wilds beyond. When and if she lays an egg, we will know her gender, but it doesn't really matter. They are many things just as they are.

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