“So… Brooke. Who’s your favorite bird?”
“Well, Jimmy,that’s a little like asking a parent which child is their favorite. But since you asked, I’d have to say… it’s Henry (5-12)”
“Well, Jimmy… that’s a long story.”
And it is. But unlike most stories, this one didn’t start at the beginning. It wasn’t a … “When he first popped out of the egg, he looked up at me and it was love at first sight” or “When he hatched, he was blind, crippled and barely able to breathe, but through sheer force of will he overcame it all… and whenever he flew, the sound of a Disney movie soundtrack filled the sky… as the movie credits with the names of all the WCEP partners scrolled down from the clouds.”
For me, the real story of Henry began one Christmas Eve at the St Marks pen back in 2014. As I watched from the blind, Henry and his best friend and 2012 classmate, 4-12, were casually strolling shoulder to shoulder across the pen while the sound of Christmas Carols drifted peacefully across the marsh, carrying their message of peace and good will towards… whoopers. They were the best of friends and had been almost inseparable for more than two years.
And then it happened. Without warning, 4-12 suddenly exploded into a mad frenzy of hostility and rage as his Dr. Jeckle turned into Mr. Hyde and he began beating hell out of his faithful friend, Henry. It was “shock and awe”, as the Class of 2014 chicks, #4-13 and I looked on in disbelief! Seconds later, Henry was running, then flying for his life with 4-12 in savage pursuit, doing his best impression of Charles Manson. A Christmas Coup had replaced Christmas Cheer as 4-12 returned to the pen victorious and ascended the thrown as sole ruler of the Kingdom.
Poor Henry hid in the marsh, licking his wound… broken and without hope, as darkness fell and the “wild things” began their approach. Sad and depressed, he believed this was final proof of the Third Law of Whooper Physics…“Life’s just a big whooper poop sandwich… and every day’s another bite.” But just then, as if in a dream, the spirit of the salt marsh spoke… quiet and reassuring, “Luke… ah, Henry. May the Force be with you.”
And it was, thanks to an intervention by his new friends, the marsh creatures. Soon, Henry was happily roosting in the creek at night with the egrets and spending his days working the sandflats for periwinkles with the ibis. Even the great blue herons took him under their collective wing and taught him the art of beak archery… the patient and stealthy stalk, the blinding flash of the beak, followed by the long, hard swallow as small edibles of every description made their way down his throat. Then it was the clapper rails’ turn. They taught him the sound of a bobcat’s approach and the coyote’s presence and where the gators were likely to wait in ambush. In the days and weeks that followed, Henry served his apprenticeship well. He became, “Survivor Whooper.”
Meanwhile, the King (4-12) ruled his Kingdom of the Pen with stern benevolence, never forgetting for a minute the peripheral presence of his old friend, Henry. And every evening, just before roost, he would stand like a lone sentinel, weather-vaned in Henry’s unseen direction, ready to defend a possible last minute Henry assault while his subjects, the chicks, looked on. Little did he know then that in another two years, “the worm would turn” and the Kingdom would no longer be his. It would belong to Henry and his apprentice, Johnny (30-16). Thus… proving that the world belongs to those who wait.
…But that’s a story for another time.