Jeff Guidry was an ordinary man living in Washington State, who came to work at the Sarvey Wildlife Center, helping capture and rehabilitate wild animals. During his time there, he bonded with his fellow co-workers, including Kaye, the woman who started the sanctuary, and Crazy Bob, a man with an unrivaled skill for connecting with all sorts of animals and freeing them from traps- mostly raccoons. But it was with one special animal that Bob found an instant connection.
When he first saw the Baby Eagle, she was a mess. Her wings were both broken, she was emaciated, and covered in lice But that little Eagle and Jeff connected with each other, and while she recovered from her injuries, his bond with her grew stronger. Her story had a mixed ending- she lived and grew healthy, but one of her wings was crippled, so she could never return to her life of being a Bald Eagle. She would have to live out her days at Sarvey being an "Education Bird", a bird used to teach others about the wild, and Jeff, who had bonded with her, was to be her handler.
Jeff named the bird "Freedom", and from the moment they began working together, their bond, and their friendship, was special. He seemed to understand Freedom, and she understood him in a way that few humans even connect, much less humans and animals. It was a bond that even Lynda, his wife, respected.
But Jeff found a lump on his neck one day, and Lynda was after him to find out what it was. Quickly, he gave in, and the lump was biopsied. The tests were inconclusive, so the lump was removed, and he found out the worst- he had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It had metastasized, and unless it was treated, and quickly, it would be fatal. Jeff spoke with Kaye, and looked for a Doctor Andrew Jacobs. Doctor J, as he was called, suggested chemotherapy, and if it didn't work, stem cell transplant. Jeff put the last one off until the Chemo was unsuccessful. He would lose his hair, but he was also willing to do just about anything to live.
He went through eight months of Chemotherapy, and all through the time, he made time to be with Freedom, and used visualizations of her to fight the weakness, nausea and pain of chemotherapy. And when he was finally cancer-free, Freedom and he shared a long, long moment of looking into each other's eyes, and Freedom touched her beak gently to his nose. Their bond grew and strengthened. But the book doesn't stop there, it talks about both Kaye and Crazy Bob, both of whom also were ill, and who eventually passed on, leaving Sawry a legacy of caring, and in Bob's case, money to help run the facility.
Then came the horrible winter that took such a toll on Sarvey- the Eagle Flight normally occupied by Freedom collapsed, along with two of the oldest trees on the property- both planted by Kaye. But even though Sarvey lost a great deal, it continues with its calling of taking care of "The Wild Ones", just one of which is Freedom.
I enjoyed this book a lot. It had plenty of pictures of the animals (and a few of the people, like Kaye and Crazy Bob) that work or worked in Sarvey. It turns out that this whole book came out because Jeff's story about his run-in with cancer and his survival (due to his bond with Freedom) was written up in an e-mail by a friend, who sent it on to a message list, from where it became a viral sensation.
This book is a result of that viral sensation e-mail, and it's a fine story. The parts I especially enjoyed were the stories about Jeff interacting with the animals he ended up saving, and the animals he came into contact with at Sarvey. of which Freedom is only one of many. Not that all of them have the same qualities as Freedom- near the end of the book, he comes into contact with an Eagle in almost the same condition as Freedom- broken wings, emaciated, covered in lice, but it doesn't bond with him- it pulls away, and it is also able to be rehabilitated and freed, unlike Freedom. But the differences are startling.
Reading this book gave me a lot of favorite moments, but I think the best comes at the beginning of the book, when Jeff describes how he took Freedom for a walk after he'd beaten the cancer, and she stared him in the eyes and rested her beak against his nose, and the connection he'd felt to her and the wild ones and the earth. Simply lyrical, and a wonderful read. Recommmended.