The flashing beak of an oil-soaked seabird with a six-foot wingspan once sliced Jean Bryant from her ear to the bridge of her nose, missing her eye by a quarter of an inch.
This and other incidents force her husband, Alan Bryant, to admit in "Second Chance" that "it can be a little distressing to realize that a bird for which I have nothing but affection and for which I am prepared to make every effort doesn't trust me."
The slim book is a simple account of what the two have learned while treating wildlife victims and returning them to their kind.
"Second Chance" is a true story, honestly written, of the author and his wife, who live perched on a hill in Wales. About them we shall learn very little, for Welshmen--except for Richard Burton--seldom spill their guts. We know that Bryant fought in Burma, and that he once built roads and bridges; that he bought his little holding and turned it into a sanctuary for distressed wildlife; that through the years, he and his wife have come to accept for treatment any distressed animals--seabird, dolphins, seals--that fate or neighbors cast within their grasp.
About their patients we learn much more. Though sparrow hawks "move like greased lightning" and will evade you during daylight hours even though your intentions are honorable, you can catch one easily after dusk. Bird-parents play a great part in teaching their young to feed: An oyster-catcher chick sees its parents hammer at an oyster to open it, and ever after does the same; another watches its mother stab at an oyster instead, and is a stabber of oysters the rest of its life.
A dolphin beached is a dolphin lost, unless it is quickly cooled with water: The fins and tail, especially, must be kept cold, for they are the radiators of the blood.
Seals use their fins like hands; they have five digits and can grasp. You can make a rake for a seal to scratch his belly, and he will use it in perfect contentment, or hand it to you to use instead.
Swans mate for life, and to separate two oil-soaked swans from each other is one of the saddest tasks in animal care: They cry piteously and seem to wilt. A baby magpie, far too young to fly, finds its siblings a quarter-mile away--apparently telepathically--and joins them. A bay in Wales where Bryant is treating a dolphin miraculously fills with other dolphins during treatment, and empties when the patient is moved to an oceanarium.
But if this little volume were simply a handbook on the nursing of wild animals, it might never have been published in this country. It is the questions beyond the printed page that intrigue.
Why, while men are drowning thousands of seabirds in oil, does Jean Bryant risk disfigurement and blindness to save a single one? Why does she prod six weeks at a tumor on the leg of a buzzard named Biggles, knowing that she will fail?
When men club seals in Canada and shoot them off the Scottish coast, why does this Welsh couple build a tank in their home to save a wounded seal, and change 30,000 gallons of water while he recovers?
Because the seal's name is Moses, and he has learned to turn off the light at night? Or because we all are one?
What kind of people clean oil off swans, just to give them a "second chance," and why does their number grow?
Far away, in Mexico, a doctor named John Lily is establishing a dolphin sanctuary, open to the sea.
There is a certain unity in nature and in man. The Greenpeace Warriors of the Rainbow know it, and John Lily, and the Bryants.