Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Of Baby Birds, Bats and Backpacking

As I was busily preparing for Andy's party Saturday afternoon, I discovered a pair of baby birds, sparrows, hopping around the front porch area. They chirped and hopped and chirped and hopped. They had clearly come from one of the bird houses before they were ready and couldn't yet fly. I pointed them out to some of the men who were working nearby. They already knew of their presence. Apparently, they had been down there for quite a while.

I was concerned that the dogs would get them, but the men said that the dogs--get this--had been coming over occasionally to pick the birds up in their mouths, carry them around ever so gently, then set them back down again. I was sure the guys were kidding and laughed at their ridiculous joke.

But they weren't kidding.

The dogs were intrigued by the helpless baby birds, but unsure of what to do with them. Being retrievers, they have very gentle mouths and are genetically programmed to carry birds with the utmost care. But these birds were still alive and didn't need to be fetched and delivered to anyone. Drake and Fudge were two very confused bird dogs, to say the least.

Elli decided to rescue and relocate the birds to "Fairyland," a patch of mysterious green grass on a steep hillside quite a way from the house, before the dogs came to their senses and realized that sparrows taste like chicken. As she cradled each downy little creature carefully in her hands, it relaxed and stopped its chirping and flailing. Elli was in love.

She was convinced they would love their new home in Fairyland. I felt it was only fair, though, to warn her that the birds would most likely be killed anyway, by whatever predator happened to come along. They were entirely helpless, after all.

Her brother chimed in with his agreement. "Yeah, Elli," he added, "they're just going to die out there eventually, and a predator is not going to be nice to them. They're going to get ripped to shreds and die a terrible death. I could just shoot them now and put them out of their misery."

In his very non-little-girl way, he really was trying to be helpful.

Elli, of course, burst into tears and began yelling at him and his terrible idea. She was not about to let him shoot "her" birds.

I honestly don't know what happened to the birds. The party was about to begin and I was scurrying about with final preparations and had to leave the conversation. I must remember to ask my daughter what she ended up doing.

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Tano, Lief and Liam decided to go for another training hike today in the wildlife refuge. They loaded up their packs again with weights, lunch, my cell phone and ice cream money, as well as big black trash bags with arm and head-holes cut out like ponchos, as it was raining steadily.

When I dropped them off and they were strapping on their packs and ponchos, they noticed a tiny baby bat huddled on the ground. They nudged it and it rolled onto its back, spreading its wings and pumping its little legs helplessly, all the while screeching loudly with fear. It was very small, having a wing span of no more than eight inches across, and it appeared to be injured--another bird away from its mama too soon.

The boys discussed what they should do. Again, the "kill it quickly to put it out of its misery" option came up, but then one of the boys remembered the visitor's center. They could take it there and let the refuge employees decide what to do. Yes, that was what they would do. As I left, they were carefully loading the bat into a bag to hike it the half mile or so to the visitor's center.

When I picked them up five hours later at the ice cream place in town, they informed me that the park employees had been extremely grateful to the boys for delivering the bat to them, that there was a woman on staff who might be able to care for and rehabilitate the little creature. The boys were so pleased to be seen as heroes, even in such a little way. It's good to be a hero once in a while.

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Tano's big backpacking trip begins Thursday morning. He and I got his pack readied tonight with everything a boy might need for four days in the back country--clothes, sleeping bag and pad, snacks, a mess kit, first aid/bug spray/sun block/toilettries, fishing gear, a Bible, flashlight, knife, water bottles, t.p., a towel, a trowel, a hat and gloves, rain gear, and a compass. His pack weighs in at a trim eighteen pounds right now, but when he meets up with the rest of his group, the food, pots and pans, and tents will be divided up between them, so he will add a few more pounds yet before he hits the trail.

There are thirteen kids going and four leaders, so it will be a big group as far as backpacking goes, but a very small and intimate group compared to other summer camp-type experiences he has had. Tano is really excited about the idea of combining backpacking in the wilderness with Bible study, prayer and worship. That just sounds ideal to him. I am praying that it will be a wonderful experience for him and a real time of growth.

I am curious, though, on a less spiritually significant note, to see how much of the clothing actually gets worn. He has packed one extra pair of pants and a pair of shorts for swimming, two extra t-shirts, two extra sets of socks and underwear, a fleece pullover, and a flannel shirt. The clothing is all folded neatly in the bottom of his pack, so I will easily be able to tell if any of it was accessed. We shall see.

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