Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again” back in the 1930’s. Were he to write it today, it would be titled, “You Can’t Go Home Again… Unless Your Name Is Peanut.” Yes, our little Lazarus has returned. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We arrived back at St. Marks Wednesday night; Colleen in the tracking van and me in the Jamboree motor-home affectionately known as the “Jambo.” Next morning, Colleen flew back to Wisconsin and I headed out to the blind. It was great to be back as always, though very strange to arrive without a cohort of young whoopers trailing behind the ultralight. Something was seriously missing. But as Confucius used to say “Things change.” The walk out to the blind was its usual calming experience. The path was as deliciously familiar and welcoming as it had always been – the perfect journey of transition between the tame and the wild. The frustration of the previous months melted away and was replaced by that old excitement of renewal.
I pulled open the blind shutters and was treated to the soothing magic of the marsh. The pen stood proud and in perfect shape thanks to the heroic efforts of Refuge Manager Terry Peacock and her willing and enthusiastic staff of regulars and volunteers. Wrestling the pen back from the grasping tongs of Mother Nature every year is no mean feat to be sure. And there, just outside the pen loafing, preening and doing crane things were 4-13 and 8-14… waiting. No matter how many times I have witnessed it, I can never quite get my head around the phenomenon of birds returning from so very far away on their own. Guess that’s because I used to work for UPS.
But arrivals are always fraught with the baggage of “Whooper Do Lists” and because my annual efforts to “hit the ground running” usually result in more than the occasional face plant, I put on my hockey goalie’s helmet and launched into the fray. Between dirty jobs, I did out and back trips to the blind to observe the two little wanderers and try to get a sense of what was going on with them before costuming up for some closer observation. To put it in avian, aviculture, highly scientific and technical terms, they appeared to be as happy as clams at high tide. That evening, it was a relief to see them roosting out on the oyster bar inside the pen just like old times.
Next day, Bryce from the Refuge came out with the marsh master and did a fantastic job of mashing down the needle rush around the bird’s two favorite ponds, thereby depriving our arch nemesis, the predatory bobcat, of possible ambush opportunities. The birds flew off to a nearby marsh until the work was completed, then flew back in to resume their oh so important activities. I walked back out to the parking lot to collect up the foam from the four wheeler seat that had provided the local bear with so much entertainment the night before.
Later in the afternoon, it was time. I wiggled into the costume and headed out to reconnect with our little dynamic duo. They observed me from their happy spot at the north pond, but I just couldn’t compete with the pond’s menu of little fish and crabs for their attention. “Him again”! I could hear 8-14 say in disgust. “I thought we left him in Wisconsin.” They had enjoyed a couple of costume free weeks reconnecting with the area, but again… things change.
It was then that a couple of white spots suddenly appeared out of the corner of my eye. Egrets, I thought at first. What else could they be? After all, 4-13 and 8-14 would have vocalized up a storm if they were whoopers, right? The two white spots stood inanimate as a painting when I continued my approach while my heart audibly increased its cadence. Had my wishful thinking escaped the quiet cell of its imprisonment, shed its shroud of amyloid plague in revolt and completely overtaken the kingdom of my senses? Or had my age ambushed me with yet another “Gotcha”!? They continued their stare, completely motionless.
Then, as if having returned from the abyss of some netherworld, I regained focus and certainty. This was no dream, or stroke or out of body experience. They were really there! Two whoopers… right in front of me, their forms so white and red against the black needle rush.
It was our old friend 5-12. I guess I had expected him. But who was this other one? I stared down at the leg bands, my mind racing in a desperate effort to discern his or her identity. Two colors on one leg, three on the other. So many color combinations… so few brain cells. Like a shipwrecked sailor chasing a floating life ring, my mind swam through the veritable Rubix Cube of color combinations until one and only one computed. “No! It can’t be! No way! It’s impossible”!
The bird looked up at me and calmly replied, “It’s me… PEANUT”!
(to be continued)