|DATE: Oct. 19, 2012 – Entry 2
||MIGRATION DAY 22/DOWN DAY 7
|FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles
||ACCUMULATED: 175 miles
|LOCATION: LaSalle Co, IL
||REPORTER: Brooke Pennypacker
As those of you who follow the migration know, the lead pilot on each migration leg is responsible for writing an update describing the flight to be submitted to Liz for posting on the webpage by 4 o’clock…or is it 5?
It is my turn to lead the next flight leg, but I have recently come to the realization that by the time that good weather day finally arrives, I may be too old to actually fly let alone construct more than a few cohesive sentences.
It has nothing at all to do with the fact that I had to get my Pilot’s License from AARP instead of the FAA or, that airport managers insist I park my trike in a Handicapped Parking space at the airport despite my protests that I still have the “Right Stuff.”…I just can’t remember where I put it.
But to be on the safe side, I am submitting my lead pilot report a little early in the hope that the fates will read it, feel guilty, and bless us with a decent fly day. Well…one can hope.
As Geoff and I walked down to the pen for the evening roost check yesterday, it was, as Yogi used to say, “Deja vu all over again,” and as we approached the pen, there he was, Father Time, sitting fat, dumb, and happy up in a tree stand. “You again,” he asked? “You guessed it, how could you tell,” I replied. “Those dumb costumes, Bucko. How do you think?”
It never ceases to amaze me how something someone says to you can start your mind to thinking about all kinds of stuff, and I soon realized it was the eleventh straight year I had walked down that path to the bird pen.
As Geoff entered the pen to commence the chores, I rested my back against the pentrailer and gazed down the runway – which was soon transformed in my mind’s eye into a darkened stage upon which past dramas played out.
Like the time before the hanger was built and we had to drop our wings flat on the runway and tie them down to protect them as best we could from sudden high winds. One night, we went to a supporter’s for dinner leaving our then intern, Mark Nipper, and a motorhome to stand watch.
Suddenly a squall hit, there came the emergency call for help and we arrived in the driving rain in time to see Mark laying spread-eagled on top one of the wings as the wind broke its lashings and turned it into a bucking bronco. We rushed to Mark’s aid like a gang of rodeo clowns attempting to save a cowboy in distress, and before you could yell, “Eight Seconds,” we had the wing re-secured and the completely soaked and shivering Mark back in the motorhome to recuperate.
No rodeo cowboy ever deserved a silver belt buckle more than Mark did that night, for he saved the wings…and the migration. Mark later married Angie, another of our great interns and I am confident they are living happily ever after.
Then there was the time we let the birds out of the pen for a little exercise as was our protocol at the time since we had not flown in over three days. We had done this many times through the years and never had the chicks not returned to the pen after their little workout session.
Never, that is, until this one particular day. At first all went as expected. Up they went, circled a few times, then a few of them landed. The others continued to circle above the field. Then, as if called by some invisible voice, away they flew towards the horizon until they were gone.
Our crew was short-handed at the time, but everyone jumped into action; Walt and our host in his aircraft, Richard in his trike, Sharon from Patuxent and a crazy white-haired driver in the tracking van….all giving chase while Bev and the rest of the crew drove down to the next stop to put up the pen which our host at the next stop had dragged across a muddy road and gully with his tractor early that morning in the off chance we could fly that day.
The details of this adventure would take more words than this maybe someday lead pilot has time for, but by the end of the day, the birds were safely in their pen at the next stop and I was left with a feeling of pride at my great fortune of being a part of such a great crew.
There are, of course, more great memories, and of the days before cell phones and laptops and facebook and webcams, when migration was the same as it is today…only different. The faces of all the wonderful people that made it, and continue to make it all possible come to mind, and one can only marvel at how fortunate we have been over these many years.
“Thanks for all the help,” Geoff said as he exited the pen and woke me from my memories. Then he added, “I know, I know. You stop for flashbacks!”
Remembering Father Time, we looked up and waved our puppet heads at him as we started down the familiar path back to camp. “See you next year….older, and maybe even a little wiser.”
“One can hope.”