“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. We’re free at last.” …… Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If you love somebody…..Set them free” …….. Sting (rock group “Police”)
“Open the pen door and let the little buggers out” ……. Brooke
And so it was that Tuesday morning our chicks took yet one more step towards the fulfillment of their destiny when Brenda from Disney and Colleen opened the doors of the top netted pen and the “Fab Five” walked out into their new beginning.
Like sailors blown ashore on a foreign land, they moved at first with uncertainty, taking a step or two then sounding the air for result. Then a few more steps and another measure, until curiosity took charge and released them from their trepidations. Soon, one could detect a strut in each of their steps as they advanced into their new world of freedom, a world they have been waiting their entire lives to enjoy…..sort of.
We accelerated the adjustment process by taking them on the “Out of Towner’s Tour of the pen. First stop, the pond. “Go ahead! Have a drink of good ol’ salt water.” “Sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice!” They huddled at the edge of the pond. “You first!” “No! You go first!” “Hey…why do I always have to be the first one in?” Then a blue crab scuttled past and they were all up to their hocks in POND.
Next we headed over to the first feed shelter where their familiar metal camo painted feeders hung, awaiting them in cold anticipation. But as all experienced whooperites know, “it’s all about the beak” as the chicks tapped, pecked and pounded every inch of the plywood structure as if checking for mines before ever approaching the feeder filled with crane chow. Later, they pecked at each pellet as if tasting it for the very first time, and the pellets one chick missed bounced down upon the deck only to explode into a small galaxy of dust at the peck of another.
The bubbler was next…or the drinker, or the water bowl…whatever you want to call it. We repositioned it from the top netted pen to out near the main pen door. One grape, accurately tossed splashed a welcome, and soon the chicks were taking turns drinking at their new oasis.
A nearby bucket feeder completed the snack and then it was off to the oyster bar and the decoy standing at its watery end. Schools of bait fish mesmerized the chicks with screen saver-like affect in their shallow world between oyster shell and air. Again, the beaks harpooned the shallows in frustrating attempts at harvest while a pied billed greeb swam away in disgust. “Who invited these guys anyway?”
Next came the second feed shelter, mirror image of the first, as the beaks hammered out another raucous chorus. Good thing the end of a beak grows back with time or these guys would soon be eating with their eye balls!
As if something very special had somehow been overlooked or forgotten, #4 did what they would all do in time….he flew! Round and round overhead he flew, the circles ever widening until he boomeranged halfway across the marsh before landing outside the pen. “Oops!” I could hear him say. “Now what do I do?” Ya, now what are you going to do? I wondered.
#11 had the answer as she leaped into the air, flew over #4, and like a magnet sucked him right up into the air beside her as they both arched on a short final into pen. “Sweet!” I heard that little voice in the back of my head exclaim.
Then it was #5’s turn, then #6, and finally #7, as they each did their aerial NASCAR followed by landings of such grace and precision they could qualify as performance art. Two and a half weeks of down time in the pen had not diminished their prowess in the air one little bit.
The tour over, one by one the three “White People” snuck away to the blind, leaving the chicks to revel in their new “digs”….and revel they did. For them, the rest of the day was a never ending procession of one magic trick after another, like turning the pages of a book they just couldn’t put down.
Thought balloons formed and popped like fireworks above their heads as noon turned to afternoon turned to almost dark. Then it was time for the oyster bar shuffle as Brenda and I took up positions on the end of the oyster bar and invited our charges to roost. Out they walked one by one, each settling into the nightly rhythmic ritual of preening.
As darkness faded each of us into shadow, Brenda and I slipped silently off the oyster bar and away to the blind, leaving the chicks to their first night of freedom.
“Little man’s had a busy day” a quiet voice spoke from within. “Are you talking about them or me” I wondered.