This is the fourth time we have flown the more westerly migration route. The first was in 2008. That year we arrived in Russellville, Alabama on December 12th and the weather held the cranes and planes in place for five days with no let up in sight before we conceded. On December 18th we broke the migration to allow the majority of the team to go home for the holidays.
The second year on this route was a repeat. We arrived on December 17th and held on hoping for flyable weather until the 21st before releasing the crew to allow them time to get home for Christmas with family. In 2010 we had great weather when we departed Hardin County, Tennessee, and as a result we were able to overfly our Franklin County stop.
Now, as I spend my third Christmas here, I can’t help but flashback to something than happened in 2009. At the conclusion of that year’s migration each member of the team was asked to write a piece describing what was for them, the journey’s most ‘memorable moment’. Last night, as I lay in bed listening to a chorus of spine-tingling coyote howls, my mind replayed my most memorable moment of the 2009 migration. Below is what I wrote back then…
2009 Most Memorable Moment
On a migration of 89 days of which just 25 were ‘fly days’, one might rightly reason there were days and more days that – shall we say – were less than exciting. While because of their inevitability, ‘down days’ are borne with some measure of equanimity, when the weather hits us with a lengthy stretch of going-nowhere-days, anxiety and frustration mount.
Such was the case when for the third consecutive year we faced the reality of the migration running over into the New Year. Although once or twice in the past, finishing in time to get home in time for Christmas was a bit of a squeaker, that timing was the rule until the Marathon Migration of 2007.
On December 20th this past year, as we contemplated a forecast of at least a week of unfavourable flying weather, we knew a return to pre-Christmas finishes was not in the cards. So it was that the next day the crew began departing for their respective homes for the holidays with their families, with three of us (Robert Doyle, Geoff Tarbox and I) staying behind to hold down the fort.
What I didn’t know at the time was that staying behind to keep the CraneCam operational would put me in line for a most unexpected experience – and memorable moment.
The weatherman produced day after day of cold, wet, windy, mind-numbing, misery-inducing weather. It wasn’t too many days before I would groan at the mere thought of the four times a day ritual of layering up, sticking my feet in icy, rubber boots, and, laptop in tow, trudging through the mud down to the camera trailer where I’d sit, nose dripping, toes freezing, my mouse manipulating fingers gradually stiffening from the cold, and question my sanity at having volunteered. Until…..one trip to the CraneCam changed it all.
That morning when tucking the truck out of view behind a forested hill, my peripheral vision caught a blur of movement. As started my trek down the hill to the camera, I peered through the early morning half light to see what it was that had caught my eye. Holeee! Coyotes! Headed toward the pen!
They had seen me too, and for long moments, heads lowered and ears perked, they stood stock-still staring me down. Frozen in place I gaped open-mouthed while my brain raced. “Oh my gawd! Oh my gawd! What do I do? What do I do?” Then my brain said, “Go get back in the truck, stupid.” Never knew my short, fat legs could move so fast.
Secure in the cab, with one eye I watched the coyotes circle and sniff the air, while with the other I cast about for potential weaponry should they look like they were intent on having a Whooper breakfast. It was quickly apparent however, that short of running over and beaning them with my laptop, the truck itself was my only weapon – and exposing the birds to it was a no-no. “Okay,” I thought, “So now what?”
Long before I figured it out the coyotes trotted off in the other direction, casting what I thought was looks of disdain over their shoulders. In the aftermath of the heart palpitating encounter, I of course remembered the hot wires around the pen, and half marveled, half chuckled at the protective ‘mother instinct’ the threat to the chicks had aroused.
While day in and day out I treasured and had toiled for those chicks, they had become, if only for a few minutes, as much mine to personally protect as they ever would. That feeling of possessiveness went beyond the norm. They weren’t WCEP’s chicks. They weren’t even ours, as in OM’s chicks. They were MY chicks. Scant seconds later I rightly returned their ownership to all the world, but not before I indulged myself fully in that emotional, adrenaline pumping memorable moment.
Indeed, those gorgeous youngsters not only belong to the world, but by the time you are reading this they will be out on their own in it. And the world better be careful – – woe betide the human that messes with my, ..er, our cranes. I think I could be the mother from hell.