Beating the Heat

“The man who chops his own wood is warmed twice.”  Perhaps. But the crane handler that trains and walks crane chicks in the Maryland summer heat is soon microwaved into a piece of charcoal dressed in a white costume… if he or she is not careful, that is. Last week’s deliciously cool temps have left the building and the game of “Beat the Heat’ has begun in earnest.  Out of mothballs comes all the keeping cool strategies that make working in this tanning salon – minus the salon, bearable.

Setting the alarm an hour or two earlier is the first step… that is, of course, if you just happen to have paid a little extra when you bought the noisy, inhumane device and actually got the one with an hour or two earlier on it. Mine has a cuckoo living inside of it that hates me. It’s even louder than the one that lives inside my head.  But then, the cuckoo is the most appropriate of birds to open one’s eyes to another day in the bird business. It is simply not possible to underestimate the cruelty of Mother Nature. But beating the sun to the training site can be the difference between successfully getting the chicks through their daily training and walking regime or just getting sunburned.

The next trick: clothing – or lack thereof.  The costume is a given but what lies beneath it is not and by the end of the morning there is less underneath it than under a Scotsman’s kilt. Thankfully, there are no morning inspections by an officer armed with a stick with a mirror attached to the end of it.  But if you were born under a very lucky star as I was, you have a Guardian Angel named Mary O’Brien watching over you who sewed you up a costume of material so light and shear that Victoria’s Secret bought the design and it has become the “Go To” Christmas gift for the special someone’s of bee keepers and out of work Klansman. You wouldn’t believe how lowering the temperature just a few degrees in that special biosphere that exists under the costume can mean the difference between ending the day as a human or a French fry.

Then there are the ice packs.  One or two of these little beauties strategically placed near one of those areas of the human globe labelled “Private Parts” can do wonders to make overheating the last thing on your mind.  And though their affect may not be lasting, they do enable you to hit those high notes when you sing the “National Anthem” before the start of each circle pen training session.

But it is the chicks that suffer the most in the heat. Being so close to the rapidly heating earth and too low to enjoy any breeze should one develop can quickly turn a benign twelve minute circle pen training session or a 20 minute walk into a Bataan Death March.  Their little beaks soon open wide in the condition called open-mouthed breathing as they attempt to cool themselves, while scurrying along beside their giant white tormentors. And as the sun rises mercilessly higher in the sky, we find ourselves sprinting from shade spot to shade spot like some Chinese Checker in the hand of a giant who drank too much coffee for breakfast.

Fortunately, each chick also gets a cool and refreshing daily swim… or two or three depending on considerations of weight gains or leg issues.  Problem is, State and Federal Law requires each chick to wait 30 minutes after eating before entering the water or they would sink immediately to the bottom of the pool and become forever the responsibility of Jacques Cousteau, who, as we all know, lives down there on the bottom….waiting. Then there is that requirement that each chick, before entering the pool, must stand before the Universal Pool Commandment sign which states, “We don’t swim in your toilet.  Please don’t pee in our pool.”

And eventually they do. Swim, I mean… if you could call what a spastic spider does “swimming.”

Whooping crane chick 1-15 cools off in the pool at Patuxent.

Whooping crane chick 1-15 cools off in the pool at Patuxent.

They remind you of Ester Williams doing laps with both of her arms and one of her legs tied behind her back while the theme from the movie “Titanic” begins playing in the back of your head. Water ballet, it is not, which is, I suppose, why they are called cranes and not ducks. A more appropriate name would be flotsam and jetsam.

So we push on through the summer, the chicks and ourselves, and take it all in stride. Come fall migration, the heat will be a distant memory and all the sweat and suffering will have been worth it.  Besides, it’s like they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Or like Frank Purdue used to say, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

“Backstroke, little fellows. Backstroke!”



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  1. westendoldbird June 2, 2015 4:40 pm

    So, much to see and learn , before they come.

  2. lilbirdz June 2, 2015 12:37 pm

    Thanks for the giggles, Brooke. We are always interested in how the babies are doing, and your entry is so-oo much better than the newspaper, which is mostly bad news. It’s a great way to start the day on a happy note. I agree that a video (with peeping sounds) would be wonderful, but I am very grateful for your entry and the pics. Keep ’em coming!

  3. ffmn June 2, 2015 11:38 am

    p,s, Is it my imagination or are the ‘tumes’ in photos have a different full-face look? Thought only eyes were behind transparent plastic? Or…maybe just me. OR….maybe used only at Maryland site???

  4. ffmn June 2, 2015 11:35 am

    What can i say? You all said it re these continuing saga of Brook’s. Great to start the day with laughter, Brooke. thanks much . ffmn

  5. Mollie Cook June 2, 2015 11:08 am

    What a great update on the new babies & what a story as usual from Brooke. Thank you Brooke as always for your dedication & patience.
    Thank you Colleen for whatever your duties are. Thanks for the post Heather.

  6. Mindy June 2, 2015 10:59 am

    Thank you both so much for the pictures and the descriptive narrative of a day in the life! And thank you for what sometimes becomes “plain perseverance” as you faithfully take care of such precious little ones….May you be blessed and may kindness and generosity be multiplied back to you because of your unselfish sacrifices for all the Whoopers, small and large!

  7. Marilyn June 2, 2015 10:05 am

    Hilarious! You are a “Beautiful Mind”. I admire the mystery of how your mind works – how it forms and articulates such perfect, amusing analogies. Thank you for taking us along to live the dream (or, sweaty semi-nightmare?) with you! You bring smiles to the faces of many of us whooper-lovers.

    (I can’t get Richard’s painting of Heather swimming in the pool with the whoopers out of my mind!)

    Thank you, Brooke. For everything you do. <3

  8. Ruth Mitchell June 2, 2015 9:53 am

    Oh Brooke, the only thing that exceeds your wonderful humor in writing these journal updates for us, is your love of your sweet whooping cranes!!!
    The only thing I would like to see added to this is a VIDEO of the flotsam and jetsam swimming!!!!! 🙂

  9. Ann Gillis June 2, 2015 9:39 am

    Loved to hear the details. Thank you for all your patience and hard work. You are good. Those babies in the water made me feel cool too.

  10. thunder June 2, 2015 9:34 am

    Thank you Brooke! A joy to read as always. Love the pics so much. How cute are they!! A big thanks to Mary O’Brien for your expertise fashionable light weight tume costume that will be flying off the shelves for sure! An envy to every bee keeper and Klansman.

  11. Warrenwesternpa June 2, 2015 9:05 am

    Beating the Heat, Brooke Pennypacker

    What a hoot your recitations bring to the Journal! Though I can no longer lift the hive sections, if I ever go back to bee keeping, the ice packs cooling the body sounds like a valid idea. However, keeping the bees out is another consideration.
    Today’s photos are extremely colorful and how quickly the chicks are growing. Never got used to how the chow and the meal worms can expand!
    Swimming lessons picture… Wow! More legs in the water than bird. Only in a Crane, huh? Thanks Brooke!

  12. ArtistLady June 2, 2015 9:00 am

    ” wait 30 minutes after eating before entering the water” ,,,, LOL
    Always love your comments, Brooke!

  13. Carl W. Sdano June 2, 2015 8:59 am

    Brooke, your humor filled prose is delightful. It was a good way to begin my day, albeit a much cooler one for me.

  14. Sue Decker June 2, 2015 8:53 am

    This is the most clever piece I’ve read in weeks!

  15. Kay Huey June 2, 2015 8:45 am

    Top form — as usual, Brooke!

  16. Richard P. Chase June 2, 2015 8:41 am

    I am truly surprised that Colleen is not in the pool with the birdies, allegedly showing them how to swim! The number one fact about Colleen is that “she don’t like no heat”. 😉

  17. Betsy June 2, 2015 8:08 am

    Thanks for the humorous commentary, Brooke! Love to hear how the babies are coming along.

  18. Evinas June 2, 2015 6:14 am

    Love it! 🙂