Monday, September 22, 2008

Fudging the goose count.

The interpreter was at the far end of the boardwalk, on the wooden platform where they launched the canoes, counting waterfowl and writing the results in a notebook. The tally so far:

Mallard 92
Gadwall 4
Green-winged Teal 2
Pintail 5
Widgeon 4
Wood Duck 6

He was counting Canada Geese. Most were standing on a gravel bar, sleeping or preening; a few were swimming back and forth in front of or behind the bar, making an exact count slightly challenging. One, two, three, four…

A voice asked, “What kind of duck is that little one, next to the beer can?” The interpreter turned. A woman about his age with sharp facial features and unusually broad hips was standing with a boy seven or eight years old.

The interpreter looked. “It’s a Green-winged Teal.”

“Is it a baby?” asked the woman.

“No,” said the interpreter. “It’s an adult. They’re a very small species of duck.” 

 The woman and boy were silent, so the interpreter returned to the geese. One, two, three, four…

“What’s that one there?” asked the boy. He was pointing at a slender duck with a crested head and a white, Cleopatra-style eye-ring.

“A Wood Duck, female,” said the interpreter. “The male is the colourful one swimming behind it.”

“Wow,” said the boy. “Do you know the names of all the birds?”

“Most of them. I think I know all the ones found here,” said the interpreter.

“Cool!” said the boy.

After waiting for more questions, which did not come, the interpreter started again, One, two, three, four…

“You are actually counting ducks?” asked the woman.

“Once a week,” said that interpreter.

“Why would you do that?”

“To keep track of things, compare data from year to year, find out which ones are losing ground, which ones are increasing.”

“Cool,” said the boy.

The interpreter looked at him. “You want to help?”


“See that funny black one there, the one with the white beak? That’s an American Coot. See how many you can count and let me know. Watch carefully, they move in and out of the cattails.”

“We don’t really have time,” said the woman.


“Fine, hurry up,” said the woman.

One, two, three, four…

“Seven!” said the boy.

“Thank you,” said the interpreter, who suspected there were really only four or five coots, that the boy had counted at least one bird more than once. But he made sure the boy saw him write down, American Coot 7.

The boy asked, “Are you married?”

“Matthew!” the woman shouted.

The boy turned to his mother. “Think how great it would be if I had a new dad who could tell us every night at dinnertime what birds he saw that day, and all the animals we could talk about and learn about…”


“Um,” said the interpreter.

“Time to go, Matt, let’s go,” said the woman, and she hustled the boy away, up the boardwalk.

“Seeya,” said the interpreter.

The woman stopped, leaned to say something to her son, and then came tromping back. 

The interpreter was at thirty-seven geese when she interrupted.

“He gets this interest in animals from his father.”

“What? Oh, I see,” said the interpreter.

“So it would never work. Being constantly reminded of my ex is the last thing I want from a man, so don’t even think about it, okay?”

“It?” asked the interpreter.

The woman made a back-and-forth motion with her hands, implying some sort of relationship between the interpreter and herself.

Eww, thought the interpreter. “Okay,” said the interpreter.

“And would you mind, if you see us here again, please, like, try to avoid us?”

“Why?” asked the interpreter.

“Listen, not to be rude, because you’re probably not a bad person or anything, but I just don’t find you attractive. I have never dated a man less than six foot two. You’re not even five ten.”

“Not even,” agreed the interpreter.

“So, sorry,” said the woman. She rolled her eyes, heaved a great sigh, and spun around. Her arms swung wide as she closed on her son. The interpreter looked past the mother to the boy’s expectant face. He foresaw deep and endless disappointment. He turned again to the geese, every one now motionless on the gravel bar. The interpreter was tired of counting. He wrote in his notebook, 

Canada Goose 60

“Or so,” he said to himself.


Cicero Sings said...

James Herriot did well with his books on a vet's life ... maybe you could enter the market with "A Day in the Life of a Park Interpreter" ... Maybe you could make your fortune ... leave interpreting forever!!!!!

Another good chuckle.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Another great story. What an ego that lady had.

Hugh said...

Thanks for the encouragement, C.S. I wonder if literary agents read nature blogs. I have a few dozen of these things. I'm glad I kept notes on the stranger interactions with strangers.

Thank you, Aunt Debbi, and yes, quite the attitude. It's unfair when you're the public servant and basically have to bite your tongue. (But then, later, you can blog about it.)

Anonymous said...

Oooooooo, wasn't that a female Common Jaw-flapping Red-rumped Bustard? Or was it a Fluffy-headed Twit-Babbler?

Karen said...

Another bummer encounter on the beach. Maybe the kid will come back with the dad and he'll get to spend more time learning about the birds. Sounds like he was really interested!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should count birds with the traditional numbers: one, two, many.

BerryBird said...

That poor kid! Seriously, these interpreter tales are great stuff.

Susan Tomlinson said...

You can't make this stuff up...

Very funny!