They say that if you really want to understand another person, walk a mile in his or her shoes. This is easier said than done. It’s just not that easy to pull the shoes off a stranger’s feet. At least not while they’re awake and walking. They get mad, hit 911 on their smart phone and start screaming, “Why Me? I didn’t vote for that guy!” And besides, it’s downright cruel. Strangers need their shoes. They won’t let you into Walmart without them.
They also say that whooping cranes are in Mother Nature’s Breakdown Lane. And so perhaps the best way to really understand what it’s like to be a Whooping Crane… or any other endangered species, is to pull your vehicle off the highway into the Breakdown Lane… and call AAA for a tow. I guarantee that after an hour or two of waiting, your “Eureka Moment” will arrive. “Now, Grasshopper… are you starting to get the picture?” I can speak of this with great authority because of what happened to Colleen, Jeff and I a little over a week ago.
It was early afternoon and we had just finished capturing and tagging a sandhill chick – the second of the day – in an area of Green Lake County so remote and unexplored that a lost, stone age tribe was recently discovered there by a National Geographic photographer who managed to take a few pictures of them before they ate him. We were heading home and feeling pretty good about ourselves. (Always a BIG mistake) when it happened. Our trusty tracking van decided it had had enough of our shenanigans. It coughed and sputtered, and carried us off the road and onto the Breakdown Lane for a “Time Out”.
“It’s those damned Russians again!” Jeff exclaimed, breaking our long silence.
“Still got your AAA card”? Colleen asked from the back seat.
“I don’t leave home without it” I answered. Santa Clause (my mother) gives me a AAA Card every year for Christmas. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” she says, always putting things in terms she thinks I will understand. And she should know. This would be the third time this year I’ve had to “make the call”.
And so I called Nancy at AAA. I call her so often these days that she thinks I’m hitting on her. “I’m married!” she hollered into the phone, exasperated. “Why don’t you just get out and PUSH”! Then she regained her composure and processed my tow request while assuring me that my life was not, in fact, over and that everything was going to turn out alright.
Before she bade me the sad farewell (“Parting is such sweet sorrow), she did inform me that the tow truck would only have room for one passenger. Colleen overheard my request for a set of roof racks and screamed, “I’m not Roof Rack Ready”. She then dialed our good friend Barry, who just happens to own the repair shop that attends to our vehicles. “Just walk up to the garage a hundred yards up the road, go inside and help yourself to a beer in the fridge just to your right,” Barry said. “I’ll be there to pick you up in twenty minutes.” Turns out Barry used to live right up the street. Small world. He had just moved closer to town in March. “Nothing to do out there,” he explained. Obviously, he had never thought of breaking down. Nor had he ever acquired a taste for National Geographic photographers.
Time slowly passed while a parade of cars stopped by with questions like, “Are you guys surveying?” and “Do you work for the FCC?” and “How many TV channels do you get with that antenna?” With the large antenna sticking out the roof of the tracking van roof, we get that a lot. Then Barry arrived, picked up Colleen and Jeff, and headed off for town. And as they did, I saw Colleen waving something at me through the back window. It was one of her fingers. Seems she didn’t appreciate my request for the Roof Racks!
Sometime later the tow truck arrived. “I know who you guys are,” the tow truck driver said as he winched the tracking van onto the flat bed. “I saw you on TV. How are those Herons doing, anyway?”
“Fine”, I replied. “Never better”.
Being towed through town where everyone knows your vehicle is like riding in a parade on the “Failure Float”. Really hard to muster up that “Royal Wave” for the fans. “Come back with your shield… or on it”, the Spartan General told his troops before the Battle of Thermopile.
Then, just before arriving at Barry’s, the driver’s phone rang. “It’s Nancy”, he said. “She wants me to stop and pick up the roof racks.”
“For Colleen and Jeff”? I asked.
“No…. For those Whooping Cranes!”
I sighed, shook my head… and pulled my AAA Card back out of my wallet.