A Final Flight
2023, Junior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Gonzalo Cardona, ProAves
Gripping my cup of warm tea, I raise it up for a sip. My trembling fingers shake the cup as I try to read the newspaper. Gonzalo Cardona, Parrot Conservationist, Found Dead on the Dirt Road Near—. The tinkling sound of breaking glass slices through the words that I read. I hiss, a small drop of blood emerges near the cut.
* * *
Neck-deep in the forest, beads of sweat trickle down Gonzo’s back. He has a twinkle in his eyes that never seems to ebb. Gonzo always stood, trying to get a bigger picture of the area he sought to master. Decades of work, yet he still held on to his childlike sense of adventure. Even as his hair grayed, his enthusiasm for the forest never faded. He was a man who scrimped and saved every penny to fund his research efforts. He was also my husband.
Gonzo opens the all-in-one camo travel pack and pulls out the foldable chairs. “Pink for me, blue for you!” He winks as he sits down, wincing slightly from back pain. The chairs were a long-running joke from college, something about breaking gender norms.
I pass him the laptop, its cover adorned with peeling bird stickers. Gonzo whistles as he opens the device and types in his password. His tanned face lights up after seeing the blue numbers flashing on the screen.
The fundraising was a win for the campaign, which meant a win for the parrots. I smile as Gonzo starts whooping and thanking God. No matter how far we have gone, he never stopped being grateful for where we came from. My husband had an optimistic view on life, smiling more often than not.
* * *
His walrus mustache bristles as he climbs up a wax palm tree to find his yellow-eared parrots. With a harness attached to a single rope, Gonzo hoists himself upwards. His smile grows as he climbs further and further into the leafy canopy, where he will have a full view of the birds. I can see his cattleman’s hat tipping as he cranes over to check their nests. He knows the history of each and every bird.
“How are the parrots?” I yell upward into the leaves.
“This pair wasn’t doing so well last year! Now, they have three chicks.” Gonzo calls back as he descends with two birds nestled in his arms.
The parrots, colored in lime and dark green, stare at me with somber black eyes. The yellow patch around their eyes has an ombre effect. They burrow deeper into Gonzo’s palm. The birds have always been Gonzo’s fascination rather than my own, but over time, I grew to love them like my own children.
“I can’t help feeling like I should do more,” Gonzo murmurs as he slowly strokes the parrots’ heads.
My eyebrow shoots up. “Are you serious?”
Campaigns, workshops, talks – Gonzo worked hard to inform the world and our country about the beauty of the yellow-eared parrot. When he first began his effort to save the species in 1999, there were only 81 nestlings in a remnant flock. Now, the numbers in his survey notebooks have documented more than 2,500 parrots living among Colombia’s forests. My husband was on a mission, and I knew he would never give up on the parrots.
Only I could feel a growing sense of danger among the thick wax palms. Where my husband saw only a bird watcher’s paradise, it was well-known that the areas where he worked were traveled by FARC guerillas, drug traffickers, illegal loggers, and other groups who stood against my husband’s conservation efforts.
As I wipe humid sweat beads off my back, my mind flits back to an anonymous email Gonzo received last night. A warning, an ill omen.
* * *
“Last census today!” Gonzo’s wide smile stretches the seams of his mouth, his mustache bristling.
“Have a good day at work,” I nod as I knead the dough between my fingers.
“Promise to be back before five.”
The front door swings shut. I hear Gonzo whistling the tune that played on our wedding day.
Hours after, red and blue lights flash outside. Policemen enter our home and my world becomes a blur. Fluttering in the distance, a yellow-eared parrot leaves its nest, taking flight. The final flight.
I was inspired to write this piece when I read an article about Gonzalo Cardona. It was a great shock to me when I found out that he died. I decided to write my story on him as his story is very compelling and deserves to be known. What he did was not wrong, but he was still brutally murdered. My message to the viewers of my piece would be to treat animals kindly, and that hard work always pays off. Before doing research on climate change and our oceans, I believed that birds were one of the more stable populations. Yet, during my research, I realized that no matter how stable birds in general are, there will be less prominent birds that are unstable. I feel that in the future, we need to step forward and help the birds that keep up the fragile ecosystem that we have right now.