We sped off to chase more beeps and soon our Royal Couple, 4-12 and 3-14 came into view atop a hill that passes for a mountain in Wisconsin. (It’s all relative) They stared longingly aloft in tentative posture as if sniffing the air for permission to alight. But after a time, the announcement came loud and clear over the airport loudspeaker… ”Your flight has been cancelled.”
We U’ied the van and headed for Mack (4-13) and 10-15, a mile and a half away. They were foraging delightedly in an ag field with no obvious intention of an imminent departure. Then it was off to check one of Jo-Ann’s parent reared chicks, 72-17, a couple of dozen miles away and soon her very lonely beeps filled the van.
After lunch, it was back on the circuit. Growing wind gusts buffeted the van, their invisible arms reaching in to jerk on the steering wheel. Familiar miles passed beneath while the morning’s chick observations began to repeat in my mind’s eye. And as they looped, a very subtle, Rorschach Chart-like picture began to emerge, carrying with it a sudden sense of quiet surprise and uneasiness. It was the morning’s usual picture of Henry, but tilted and skewed a degree or two from horizontal. His posture was slightly more erect, his tail feathers pointing towards the vertical with a bit more conviction, and his orientation weather-vaned uncharacteristically away from the chicks and more into the wind. This was the very earliest suggestion of the far more pronounced pre-migration posture I had seen so many times over the years at St Marks. But surely the old boy wouldn’t be leaving today! Or would he? My foot involuntarily pressed down against the accelerator with increased urgency.
As we neared the wetland area, all seven chick beeps sang sweetly from the receiver. Then we toggled Henry’s frequency. That’s when things got really loud. A squadron of Air Force fighter jets came screaming out of nowhere and passed just over our heads just as our engine threw a connecting rod, blasting the piston through the engine compartment and up through the roof. And that’s when I heard the words of Mr. Adams, my high school math teacher, informing me I had just flunked algebra.
“Turn it down!” my invisible friend hollered in sudden pain. “You’re hurting my ears”!
But I didn’t even try… because I already knew what he obviously did not: there is no volume control for silence… or disappointment.
Henry and Johnny had “left the building.” It wasn’t hard to imagine them winging their way south, freed at last from the grip of winter’s advance and from the responsibility of taking the chicks with them. But why did they leave the chicks now, after all of these weeks? Perhaps it’s the very same answer the guy gave when asked why he left his home and family one evening to go to Seven Eleven for a pack of cigarettes… and never returned… ”When you got to go, you got to go.” (In my travels, I have met two of these guys.)
“So… what do we do now?” my invisible friend asked.
“Pray for sandhills,” I replied. During their long days of post-release, our chicks had also been associating with sandhill cranes. Not a lot of them, mind you, but usually three or four. The first wave of migrating sandhills had already blown through the area, but surely there will be more coming. And hooking up with a large flock of sandhills would not be such a bad thing… safety in numbers and all of that.
“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,” my invisible friend confidently announced, quoting the great Yogi Berra.
“You got a point,” I replied. “I just hope she does it… quietly”