Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Cedar Waxwing

The interpreter was back on desk duty in the Nature House. The air inside was dead and still, as was the pump in the lamprey’s aquarium. The lamprey itself was gone, rescued at the last moment. When the interpreter had opened the lights in the morning, the eel was hanging in the water like a question mark.

"Are you dead?" asked the interpreter. He tapped the glass.

It was alive, barely.

After dumping the eel back into the well-oxygenated creek across the road, from which it never should have been removed in the first place, the interpreter returned to the Nature House. He had not bothered to lock the door and visitors had ventured inside. A mother, father, and young son were staring into the lifeless lamprey tank, trying to divine its purpose. The interpreter said nothing and patiently waited for the visitors to go away.

He sat at his desk and opened his mail, a large brown envelop filled with twenty or so colourful cards made from folded and decorated sheets of construction paper, much as an elementary class would create. However, these had been sent by an adult ESL class that had come for a program two weeks earlier. He was amused and flattered. The participants had drawn pictures with charcoal, coloured pencils or felt-tipped pens, and had included hand-written notes. Each card was a tandem effort, by Nancy and Coco, Barry and Irina, Linda and Jeong, and so on. Seemingly related to the fact that the vast majority of the participants had come from Asian countries, a crane motif was well represented, although there had been no cranes in or anywhere near the park.
There had been a heron, though.

“Close enough, I guess,” said the interpreter

He was reading a note from a card decorated with a sketch of two adorable chickadee-like birds on a branch. The note said,

Dear Interpreter,

Thank you for teaching us about nature. In nature there are so many things that we never know such as. Differents kinds of birds. plants. animals. ect. So these enrich our knowledge and widen our field of vision. We enjoyed everything you told us. And the last. We want to tell you are a gentle and kind person. So we help see you again!

Sincerely, Jade and Minh.

Jade and Minh, mused the interpreter. He wondered which ones they had been. He was mentally perusing the Asian faces from the ESL program, surprised he could remember so many, when a Caucasian woman walked in and stood in front of his desk.

The interpreter lay the card down. "Hello," he said.

The woman placed a baseball cap onto the desk, open side up. Sitting inside the cap was a Cedar Waxwing, alive but seemingly stunned. The Caucasian woman said, "He was on our lawn, in front of our window. He probably hit the window. You can keep the hat."

The interpreter understood that the woman expected him to look after the bird. He gently corrected her, "I’m sorry, but you will have to take it to the Wildlife Rescue Centre. It’s about a ten minute drive, around the end of the lake." He reached behind to a brochure rack and removed a pamphlet about the rescue centre, which included a map.

The woman refused the pamphlet. "Isn’t this supposed to be a nature centre?"

"It's an interpretive centre," said the interpreter. "We don’t look after sick or injured animals. We don’t have the facilities for that. Or a license. You have to have a license to look after injured wildlife."

Instead of taking the bird back to her car, and *POOF* driving away around the end of the lake, what the interpreter had hoped and expected the woman would do, the woman said, "I don’t have time to drive around the lake."

The interpreter said, "I'm the only one here. I can't leave until five o’clock. The bird could be dead by then." He also couldn't drive to the rescue centre because he no longer owned a functioning car, but refrained from mentioning this hardship. He cautiously pushed the cap, with its addled occupant, back toward the woman.

The woman refused to take it. She stepped away, and, waving her hands, said, "I don’t have time for this. I have to take my daughter to her piano lesson, and we’re probably already at least five minutes late. It’s one hundred dollars an hour, non-refundable." And then *POOF* she was gone, leaving the bird behind.

The interpreter contemplated the many things he could do with one hundred dollars. None included sitting on a bench for an hour having someone tell you how to move your hands.

He found a box that contained scraps of coloured felt, leftovers from a program created by a different interpreter-- one with a very different, much more felty approach to explaining nature. He dumped the felt and placed the cap and bird inside. He closed the lid and placed the box on the floor, under the desk.

Several times during the day the interpreter checked on the bird, half-wishing it would quietly expire. But the bird didn't cooperate. Although it wouldn’t move, its eyes shone with a determination to live.

The interpreter was poked by the words in the card with the two little birds,

“ are gentle and kind person.”

I’m not, really,” said the interpreter.

At five o’clock the interpreter locked the door of the Nature House and set off on a long walk around the end of the lake with a bird in baseball cap in a box beneath his arm. “It’s only because you’re a Cedar Waxwing,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this for just any bird.”

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Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Yet another great interpretor story. Like it or not, you do seem to be kind and gentle.


Hugh said...

Thank you Deb.

cedrorum said...

I have a feeling you would do it for even those LBJs (little brown jobs). Nice well written story. It reminds me of similar stories I could tell while working at a particular state park in South Carolina. Seems people in the states have similar attitudes as some of those in Canada. We once had someone drop off a red-tailed hawk that had been hit by something. I won't go into how close to death it was. Seems many people feel the need to help wildlife as long as it isn't too much of a burden to them.

Hugh said...

Thanks Cedrorum [and what an appropriate name!], but maybe not for a starling.

It's always a bit tricky knowing what to tell a person who brings in an injured animal -- or a baby bird that fell from a nest and probably should have been left where it was. You want to acknowledge their heartfelt concern, but you also want to educate them a bit too, for next time.

BerryBird said...

one with a very different, much more felty approach to explaining nature.

This is sheer comic genius, Hugh. Yet another awesome tale from the interpreter!