Last week, we said goodbye to Cage Man. Who was Cage Man? you ask. Well, I’m glad you asked that question because he is one of the unsung heroes of this project. Think of him as being like the professional athlete who suddenly joins the team roster for only a few weeks every year to help set the team’s season on a winning trajectory only to just as suddenly disappear back into obscurity without ever being in a single beer commercial. And though he’s not even on the roster long enough to rate a number on his jersey and the fans are saying “Goodbye” before they ever even had the chance to say, Hello.” By the time he leaves he’s always Number 1 in their hearts.
“But where did he come from?”
Good question, but a little difficult to answer. Legend has it that way back when in Hollywood when they were making the movie the Wizard of Oz he was one of the cast members. Trouble was, when the time came for him to sing his signature song, “If I Only Had a Voice” he couldn’t do it. You see, Cage Man was mute. He was dropped from the movie and began his long descent into obscurity.
It was not until several years ago at Patuxent that crane aviculturist Brian Clause discovered him, or what was left of him, in their scrape yard. You see, Brian needed someone to stay in the ponded pen with the chicks 24/7 and not talk or move or play with their smart phone to help get the chicks used to being alone without the costumed handlers that raised them. He went about reassembling Cage Man with pen materials… screen, conduit and all secured with wire ties. Then Brian put a costume and helmet on the old boy and hung him up in the pen for the night.
The chicks loved him! No more all night stressful pacing and peeping. They said their prayers, crawled into their beds and slept the sleep of the innocent. Cage Man gave them the security and confidence they needed to take that next step on the road to independence.
And so began Cage Man’s new career as a whooper chick transition specialist. We put him in charge of the place known to crane biologists as the “In Between,” the dimension which exists between costumed handler and no more costumed handler. He has presided over chick activities at the north pond for the last two weeks, teaching them, counselling them, encouraging them. And when he felt they are ready for the next step and his work is finished for yet another year, he texted us to come and get him… which is what I did.
And so began the annual ritual. I waded out into the pond, lifted Cage Man up off his supporting rod and onto my shoulder and began the long trek back to camp. As we continued, an unexpected gentle sadness weighted my steps, slowing the precession with a sense of appreciation but regret. Then, as we broke out onto the runway for the final leg home, he said it,
“And remember to tell them… they’re not in Kansas anymore.”