When I was a kid, I had a friend who possessed just enough wisdom to pick wealthy parents. One particularly hot summer day he invited me and the rest of our cadre of little scoundrels to come over for a swim in his brand new in-ground pool. There soon followed a roaring clatter as the baseball cards clothes-pined to our bicycle spokes sang out above the whir of rotating pedals while we raced to see the magnificent oasis that was to become, for the rest of the summer, our ‘8th Wonder of the World.’ (Yes, that roaring clatter was in fact the collective screams of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and the rest of the New York Yankees, pleading with us to spare them so that they could one day contribute to our future financial security… or at least cover a few months worth of Medicare payments).
We soon arrived on the scene and while our friend went to ask his mother if it was alright for us to go in for a swim, we stood transfixed against the fence, like ancient Spanish Conquistador’s gazing out at the Pacific Ocean for the first time. That pool was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen, its inviting, azure blue shimmering with scalloped shadows against the pure white of fresh concrete. It was love at first sight. That’s when my friend came out of his house and announced, “My mom says it’s OK but first ya gotta read the sign. Hanging on the gate was the sign that said, “We don’t swim in your toilet. Please don’t pee in our pool!”
The pure cosmic logic of this statement caught us completely by surprise and left each of us temporarily stunned by the intrusion of its reality. It was as if we were walking our very first Little Miss Wonderful to the Elementary School dance and she suddenly passed wind. In that instant, no more Santa Clause, or Easter Bunny or even God! Just reality. We chuckled nervously as we eyed each other with suspicion. Then our dear invisible friend for life, ‘Denial’ arrived just in time to save the day as he would so often do in the coming years, and moments later we were lost in the liquid ecstasy of the pool’s magical embrace.
There’s no such sign on either of the crane pools here at Patuxent. Our chicks are on the honor system. Like I said in my last update, it’s all about trust. Still, the pools are an absolutely essential part of life as a chick. Not that whoopers are exactly the Ester Williams of the wetlands. They possess none of the graceful glide of a duck, goose or swan. In fact, their ambulatory prowess across the water more closely resembles that of a spastic spider on acid, although it does have an incredibly cute ‘Little Engine That Could’ quality about it. No matter. What cranes lack as swimmers they certainly make up for as flyers.
The problem is with their legs. Long and thin, they are especially susceptible to injury and deformation. There’s a chart on the wall with little drawings of chicks with legs going this way and that, each with a name like cow-hocked, splayed, rotated and more. A minimum of two health exams per day, including weekends and holidays, rain or shine by Dr. Olsen and his staff provide vigilant monitoring of leg development. It’s a worrisome issue and the fact that all cranes come from an incredibly limited gene pool doesn’t help either. It is said that of the total remnant population of only 15 whoopers in the early 1940’s, only three were producing females or ‘Eves.’ Not a great situation. But to put it in perspective, mankind only had one Eve and ours had more hair than a well-watered Geo-pet, with a thing for trees. A real swinger. And we didn’t turn out so bad, did we? Ah… on second thought, never mind! Anyone for a swim? But I digress.
Fortunately for the chicks, Patuxent is on the government mandated “No Chick Left Behind” program. Daily swimming sessions provide each chick with excellent therapeutic leg exercise. Should leg issues develop, sometimes more than one swim a day is prescribed. And it works incredibly well, which is great because five of our eight chicks presently have leg issues. Some are getting three swims a day. How the fates can begin to work their cruelty on these noble little creatures at such an early age is bewildering to say the least. But that’s life in Crane Land. They’re endangered for a reason… actually, for more reasons than we can count.
These swims involve the chick being placed in the pool and following the puppet wielding technician walking next to the pool back and forth for about 20 minutes per session. As the chick grows larger, it graduates to the big pool and the laps are round and round instead of up and back.
Patuxent’s Sharon Peregoy provides swim therapy for one of the young chicks to help ensure its legs develop properly
Most chicks do well but every so often we get a sinker. Last week I heard that #5 had a sinking problem which caused some concern. However, it turned out he had just watched a rerun of “Sea Hunt” on MeTV and just wanted to see for himself if the evil 1950’s cold war Russian agents really were building an underwater missile base on the bottom or the pool. And who could blame him. Most of life actually happens just under the surface.
So the “take away” here is simple. It’s not about the cranes but about you. So before you go over to your neighbor’s pool for a nice refreshing swim this summer, be sure to first read the sign. And remember! When you leave, don’t forget to FLUSH!