Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's for the Birds

You just never know where your next story idea is going to come from. One evening a week, I drive for a local volunteer group called Wildlife Rehab and Release (WRR). Tuesday is my day and I was advised that I had to deliver two baby squirrels to an address in Minneapolis. This is still April, so I expected to find two naked, blind creatures cuddled next to a latex glove filled with warm water in a plastic ice cream bucket. I opened the bucket to check on the creatures and one immediately tried to climb up my arm – she was about half grown, with big open eyes and a determined look on her face. It seems she had somehow got a piece of string or fishing line around one hind leg and it cut off the circulation to the point where gangrene set in. The leg from the hock down had to be amputated. But the creature is otherwise healthy and seems to get around quite well. If it turns out she cannot move swiftly enough to be released, they are going to try to find a place for her in an educational program – she loves people and is fearless around them. Her companion is more like a proper wild squirrel, shy and suspicious. I only got a glimpse of her trying to hide under a piece of towling. That one’s only problem was being washed out of her nest in a thunderstorm. A couple of weeks in protective custody is all she (he?) needs.

Anyway, the rehabber I took her to was in a mood to talk, so we gabbed for awhile. Elyn used to rehab birds and for awhile her house was full of – what’s the word? It means parrots and their kin and cousins. She also had some of her own, and was recently asked to take back a cockatiel she used to baby-sit for over a dozen years ago. The man who owned it has had to move into an assisted-living complex and is unable to care for the bird anymore. Elyn had another bird in the house at the same time, but for just a few months. It was named Cooler (an unusual name) and its owner had taught it to shout, “Hi, Cooler! Hi, Cooler.” Now, to Elyn’s amazement, the cockatiel has started shouting, “Hi, Cooler! Hi, Cooler!” She’s not sure if the bird is remembering the house or Elyn. It can’t be seeing Cooler and remembering him; Cooler died long ago. I’m sure there’s a mystery story in there somewhere. The problem would be making it believable. Maybe it’s just a nice story to be written for one of the bird magazines.

This past weekend we were in Little Falls, MN, at an event called an “author’s tea.” Held two or three times a year, it’s a collaboration among a tea shop (Ambience), a bookstore (Bookin’ It) and a city landmark called Linden Hills, which is a park and two big old mansions (built around 1900). There are endless bedrooms on the second and third floors, several porches, and the woodwork is gorgeous – one mansion was built by the Weyerhauser family. You can rent a room in either mansion for the night and have a continental breakfast the next morning. At the tea, a catering company serves a salad, a soup, and then little sandwiches and crackers with interesting spreads on them. And people come around with different kinds of tea throughout the meal. Books are sold in the living room and the author is invited to speak briefly (but loudly, as guests are in three adjoining rooms). Most of the women attending wore hats, some even wore gloves. The Mississippi River flows by within sight of the mansions, and a bald eagle and a pair of ospreys were in nearby trees. It was lovely!

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