When I first picked her up, she fought back. Restraint is not something that would be easy for any wild animal, and although she'd sought refuge on the beach, she did not seek a human hand upon her. I left her wrapped up securely in the car, explained to my friends why I had to go, and took her carefully home.
She fought me again when I released her into the bath. I'd read up online and knew to put in warm water to stave off a chill. She wasn't that impressed: she sat shivering and uncertain, lashing out at me whenever I reached towards her. She'd already caught my neck when I first picked her up, and my wrist when I released her into the bath, and let me tell you, those beaks are sharp! The scar on my wrist is still there, but I don't mind: it's a written memory, in a strange sort of way.
Her first washing started off tense: she was upset and confused, I was uncertain as to what I was doing, but before too long we both relaxed. Finding my way through her feathers, it wasn't long before I was feeling her leaning into me, sagging her weight against my hand and my heart swelled in response.
That first wash, I got as much off as I could at that time, rinsed her off and then left her to nap: this would be exhausting for her. A new experience in unfamiliar surroundings. When she woke, I fed her fish and she tucked in, nimbly tossing down the proffered slithers, eating far more than I thought possible. The next day, I removed more oil by dissolving it in warmed light vegetable oil. It came off in clumps and she stood on my knee as I eased it out, not once snapping at me, and sometimes closing her eyes and nodding off as I worked. The olive oil left behind came out easily with washing up liquid, and her feathers miraculously regained their purity.
There ended our short but lovely relationship. A new trust gained, and though she will have re-joined her friends and be back within a large group of auks all thinking now of the breeding season ahead, I remember her. I remember her warmth, her weight, the wee soft noises of preening feathers. I remember the way she would watch as I drained and refilled the bath, the cleverness of her beak, and the perfection of her plumage, and I will always look on guillemots now as Greta, the one I washed and warmed and fed and released.
The sea will always be her, and the limitless oceans hers.