Archivos de Diario para julio 2022

lunes, 25 de julio de 2022

We So Deeply Need Each Other

“We So Deeply Need Each Other”
By Chrissy McClarren – 7/22/2022

Every spring migration since 2009, each migrating bird species has brought special rituals into my life in Missouri, but none so fraught with angst this year as the Least Tern. Each spring since 2009, I have stood upon the banks of the Mississippi River with my life partner, Andy Reago, and listened for the return of the familiar banter of the tiniest tern species in the world, and when I’d heard that first high-pitched squeaky ‘zeep’ reach my midwestern ear, I’d felt both immediate relief and intense joy as I’d wriggled up and down and gushed “Least Tern!” to Andy. I’d follow the direction of their call and look for their gray and white bodies zipping by. Honing in on one with my binoculars, I’d first look for that jet-black crown that drapes over their head and down to their nape, but it was only when I discerned that distinctive sweet spot, the white triangle breaking up the black above their slender corn yellow bill, that I knew for certain they were arriving back from their winter sojourn in the Caribbean, or perhaps Central or South America. As more Least Terns would arrive in the days that followed our first spring sightings, we’d rejoice as courtship began in earnest, with males making valiant attempts to offer little fish delights to standoffish females. Once a female deigned to take the nuptial offering, eggs were soon laid colonial-style alongside other nesting terns, and babies were hatched around three weeks later. During the twenty days after hatching, we were sometimes privy to the wee ones evolving into teenagers, ready to take flight. Of course, this was all dependent on everything going well with the two cleverly crafted sand-covered barges the terns in our area had come to rely on as nesting sites at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Missouri. These floating barges, meant to imitate the terns’ natural habitat, isolated sandbars along wide river channels, were the genius of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineering (USACE or the Corps). First placed in Ellis Bay in 2010, then moved to Teal Pond in 2016, and many tweaks later, the Corps began to have numerous successes, despite the setbacks of predating raccoons and herons. In 2019, they counted forty-seven nests, seventy-four eggs, sixty chicks and even a first documented return of a banded tern, but this year there were no barges.

Andy and I saw our first Least Terns arriving back this spring in early May, but by the end of May, we noticed that the last remaining barge (the other had sprung a leak a few years prior, had been removed and never replaced) had also sprung a leak and was partially sunk and grounded along the shoreline of Teal Pond. On the afternoon of May 28, we counted fifty-six Least Terns flying together and hunting in a group near the Melvin Price Lock & Dam, not far from Teal Pond, as well as some flying back and forth along Ellis Bay, but the barge had not been fixed and was still marooned. Where were they going to nest? Although two of the three populations of Least Terns in the United States, (sometimes the three are considered subspecies) the Least Terns of California and the Coastal Least Terns of the Atlantic Coast, appear to be doing well, our area’s particular population of Least Terns, called the Interior Least Tern due to their proclivity for nesting along the river systems in the interior of the United States, was in a more precarious position. Despite making a spectacular comeback since they were first added to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1985 when their numbers dropped below 2000, placing them on the brink of extinction, and by 2021 being removed from the ESA list as their numbers were thought to be close to 18,000, some of us were still worried, as their numbers seemed to be plummeting again.
Due to a sudden debilitating injury that sent Andy to the ER on Memorial Day, we weren’t able to return to Riverlands to check on the terns until June 24th, when, to our surprise, we discovered something unexpected and wonderful, even if not ideal. We’d hoped to see a repaired barge out in the middle of Teal Pond full of nesting terns, but were at first downcast to see the damaged barge, bereft of terns, still floundering like a beached whale just off the parking lot. Scanning the area, still hoping somehow that a new barge might have been placed out in the pond, we found nothing, when suddenly, a pair of Least Terns flew by, carrying on in an excited manner and heading toward the two jetties that extended out into the pond, where many more terns were flying about. What was going on? Getting out our spotting scope, we took a gander at fourteen adult terns sitting on shallow depressions atop the gravel of the far jetty, three of them with chicks running about and at least twenty-three more adults flying up from the rock walls and hunting! The terns had found a solution to their nesting dilemma! We felt like soaring. Reality checks quickly crept in as I worried about the ease with which predators had access to this jetty, but I let go of that concern when a more pressing one came to my attention.

I noticed a fisherman was walking out on the jetty, right through the nesting areas, flushing the birds, scattering the chicks and potentially stepping on eggs! Outraged and distressed, Andy and I began debating about what to do. We finally decided to walk the levee trail out to the jetty and politely inform the fisherman about the birds and ask if he might fish somewhere else. Even if the fisherman became disgruntled, we figured we had to try. Looking out at the trail along the levee, I could see it was covered over with grass, and that I’d have to walk through the grass for about a quarter mile to get to him. I balked. I get strong allergic reactions to chigger bites, but I knew if I didn’t go, Andy wouldn’t. He’s an introvert, while I’m the extravert - and Andy hates confrontation. Pacing the parking lot, I knew I could not leave the terns in the lurch. Seeing a hint of a stone path through the grass, I faced my fears and gingerly began walking the levee, bolstering myself with some good old-fashioned denial. I won’t get bit. I won’t get bit. I won’t get bit. Finally arriving at the jetty, I pondered how to best address this fisherman. I wanted to get this right and maximize my chances of endearing this fisherman to the terns’ plight. Andy stood about twenty feet to my side, taking photos of the terns. Still antsy about what to say, the wisdom of my best friend popped into my head. She had advised me some years back on how best to approach a situation like this, one where you are upset at someone and tempted to be reactive. I had been upset with the way some nursing home staff were treating my uncle Will, and had been about to send a very damning email, when I decided to call and talk to her about it first. She’d said, “You have to think of what’s best for your uncle. He’s dependent on these people. If you anger them, they could take it out on him, so be cautious. How you treat them will affect him, not you, so don’t react. Think about Will. For instance, when I’ve been angry at teachers for the way they’ve treated my sons, I’ve had to remember that those teachers have a dramatic impact on my son’s wellbeing – and so I do my utmost to be compassionate and thoughtful and kind in my communication with them, no matter how upset I am.” Heeding that advice, I thought of what was best for the terns, regained some composure, and kept all hint of frustration out of my voice as I spoke to the fisherman.

In an uncharacteristic deferring manner, I asked, “Sir? Could I talk with you for just a minute?” “Sure,” was his immediate friendly response. Ah, a good sign. I felt a little calmer saying in the gentlest of tones, “I just wanted to make you aware of something. Those birds out there?” I pointed toward them. “They’re called Least Terns. They’re an endangered bird - and the ones you see squatting on the gravel? They’re nesting - sitting on eggs. Some already have little chicks running around. I don’t know if you can see them. They’re very tiny.” He interrupted me, “Oh, wow. That makes sense. When I walked out there, they were all dive-bombing me. I could swear one dive-pooped me.” I laughed, “I don’t doubt it. They can be fierce in defense of their young. We came out to document them and to ask you a favor, if you don’t mind.” “Sure,” he responded again with unexpected kindness and attentiveness. I continued, “You have every right to fish here, but if you wouldn’t mind fishing perhaps on the other jetty for now, that would be so great.” That was the best compromise I could come up with in the moment, even though a few terns seemed to be using the other jetty as well. “Oh, no problem. I had no idea. I love nature,” he graciously offered and then began gathering his things as we continued to talk.

After he left, and we walked back to the parking lot, we realized the entire trail to the jetties needed to be cordoned off immediately, or others would be out there disturbing them. Besides fishermen, we’d often seen folks walk their dogs out there. We knew we had to contact the Corps, since this was their jurisdiction, in order to achieve this, but not knowing how, since it was late on a Sunday night, and they were all gone for the day, I called two birders I knew would know what to do, and left a message for Pat Lueders and talked to Dave Becher. Dave immediately called the Corps and left a message, as well as alerted the entire birding community on the Missouri Birding Society’s listserv. Pat called the Corps that night as well. The next day, still worried, I found the number for the Corps and talked to Ryan Swearingen, the wildlife biologist in charge of the Least Tern Project, and asked about the possibility of cordoning off the entire trail. He seemed leery at first. Even though he’d received the other calls alerting him to their presence, he wanted to send out a biologist to assess things before taking action. He expressed concern that folks could be misinformed. The Corps needed to document that Least Terns were indeed nesting there, not Killdeer, for example. I explained I wasn’t a crackpot (I didn’t use that exact word) and had been observing the Least Terns and the Corps’ efforts for years - and was sure about what I saw, explaining that I had both video footage and photos documenting numerous terns sitting on eggs as well as three sets of parents with chicks. He asked me to email all that to him, which I hurriedly did, frantic, as each minute that ticked by put the nesting colony at risk. A few minutes later, he responded, thanking me, and said the area was going to be cordoned off within the hour – and it was. His responsiveness was the most uplifting piece of good news I’d had in a long time. As the news got out to others, I think I heard the roar of cheers around the state, if not the country.

There was only one response to our efforts to cordon off the area that nagged at me in the days that followed. Someone on the Missouri Birding Society Listserv asked, “Is it worth it?” in response to the Least Tern Project. Aghast, my initial response was one of reactive anger, but she got me thinking. Was it worth it? Would it really do any good? Was the whole Least Tern Project a drop in a bucket with a leak in it? In our age of rampant hopelessness, we do tend to ask such questions. I do. My answer to her is the same I give myself. Maybe we don’t need to know if it is worth it. Maybe we don’t need success. Maybe we don’t need hope, not in the sense most of us think about hope. As Vaclav Havel, the Czech poet-playwright, wrote about hope, “It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” In other words, do what feels right. Trust yourself. Practice the unexpected.

Taking a lesson from the Least Terns, who nest in colonies in order to help each other deter predators, it seems not just important to do what feels right, but to do it together, to learn to deter the ‘predators’ together. What might those ‘predators’ be for humans? Might they be whatever gets in our way of celebrating each other and our lovely hearts? Might they be whatever gets in our way of rejoicing when a human being finds love for the wild rising up in themselves, finds a passionate desire to respond to the plight of another species and musters their creative resources to act in some way, whatever way they feel moved, no matter the outcome? Much like the terns have been endangered, can we see this love as the rising up of something so imperiled in us humans that, if we let ourselves, we might feel a tremendous desire to fall to our knees and weep with gratitude when we encounter it? We humans have become paralyzed as we feel tugged ever tighter and tighter by the war in ourselves between our despair over the world and the desire to escape those feelings. Perhaps together, remembering this love, our goodness, we could relax enough to free ourselves from this struggle? We might wake up in the morning and remember to be patient with ourselves, decide not to abuse ourselves anymore, stop feeling bad about ourselves, and find a way back to loving not just ourselves, but the entirety of this marvelous and wicked cosmos, holding and tending the whole of the chaos together, returning home to each other? The Least Terns found a way to deal with their predicament. Maybe we can? Martin Luther King said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

The day after our last check in on how the Least Terns were faring after having their nesting area cordoned off (to our delight, chicks, and even a young teenager, were running amok on the jetty), Andy and I found ourselves in the ER again, facing a predicament similar to the terns – a radical alteration to our life plans. To our shock, after twenty-four hours of one test after another by the ER team, interspersed with playing our own unruly version of do-it-yourself Pictionary in my sketchbook journal where we each drew birds or movies for the other to guess in order to alleviate the nerve-wracking suspense of what each test result might reveal, Andy needed an emergency surgery. Another twenty-four hours passed before they were able to find a free operating room. Fortunately, I’d upped the distraction level and brought our magnetic chess game from home. He won nine out of ten games – no, I did not let him win, but he did cheat on castling at one point, moving his King three spaces over, instead of two. At one point, when nothing seemed to quell his fears and distract him from his hunger (he had not eaten for forty-eight hours), I looked around the room for something inane to remark upon and landed on the saline bag dripping into his IV. “It says here that dextrose is in this bag. You’re getting sugar with your saline? Interesting.” Surprising me with a sudden whimsical retort, Andy said, “I’m a Hummingbird.”* It took me a minute to get it. “Ah, sugar water. Hummingbirds feed on sugar water! You splendid man,” I drawled and kissed him. Finally, they came to transport him to the pre-operative surgical bay. After waiting with him for an hour, I was asked to leave. They were ready to take him in. I returned to his room on the 17th floor of Barnes Hospital to wait. Alone, even the hilarious debut novel by Bonnie Garmus, LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, could not distract me from my anguish. The powerlessness I had felt seeing the terror in his eyes haunted me. Pulling out a tiny Blue Jay plushy toy from my backpack and making antics with it in pre-op had made him smile a smidgen, but I knew how fleeting the distraction had been. Gazing out the huge glass window at the view from his room, a multitude of high-rise buildings in various stages of construction or decay were all I could see. Only a hint of Forest Park could be seen in the green swath of trees way off in the distance. Even so, I looked out, desperate to see bird. A few pigeons flew by. A sparrow. A chimney swift. I tried reading my book again. I paced. I waited. Anxious. Then I heard them. I wouldn’t let myself believe my own ears at first. It was only when I saw a young Peregrine Falcon, followed by two parents, soar past the window, only thirty feet out, that I believed.

Running to the window, I gasped in astonishment as the youngster, hollering in what seemed agitation at his own ineffectualness, chased clumsily after a pigeon. Transfixed, I had a difficult time pulling myself away until they seemed to disappear for a few minutes, giving me time to drag one of the hospital chairs over to the window to keep vigil for their return. In the meantime, I furiously texted my family and friends, updating them on Andy and the presence of the falcons, a presence so profound, they’d hit me like spiritual lightning. I was awed and humbled - and literally gasping every time they flew by. My sister texted me back about their symbolism, which resonated uncannily: “The Peregrine Falcon is a symbol of aspiration, ambition, power, speed and freedom. They offer protection to you as a spirit animal, especially during transitional periods. Those who have the Peregrine Falcon as their spirit animal are attentive, perceptive and have a strong sense of purpose.” I imagined the falcons overseeing Andy’s care, I saw his surgeon and the surgical team as the adult Peregrine Falcons with keen powers and skills, and Andy as the juvenile, gaining strength and speed for his recovery. My dear friend Ky dressed up in her Peregrine Falcon t-shirt that said, “SO FLY” and texted me a picture of herself in it. Then I got the call. It was his surgeon. “He did great! He’ll be up in a few hours.” Whew. As Andy was being discharged the next day to return home for weeks of needed healing, the falcons flew by just in time for him to see them, too. He was honored, as he always is by the birds in his life. For him, there is no greater gift. Being held by both my family and the falcons through that trying time moved me to realize that as we were there for the terns, the falcons were there for us. Humans and birds. We so deeply need each other.

*Special aside. As I was busy attempting to finish this piece and typing away on our laptop, Andy walked into the living room and nonchalantly and very quietly said, “I found a hummingbird nest.” I thought he was joking. I’d been trying to find one for years, to no avail, and, since he’d been trying to get me to take a break for two hours by going outside and stretching my legs with him, but nothing had worked, I was sure this was a ploy. At this point in his recovery, he’s not allowed to exercise yet, but he’s encouraged to take walks. I asked, “With a hummingbird on it?” “Yes,” was his very understated response. “For real?” I asked as I began to surface from my writing trance and entertain the notion that he might be telling the truth about this possibly surreal and wondrous occurrence. “Yes. Come on. I’ll show you.” Still skeptical, I followed him outside into the 102 degrees heat of our sweltering city. Eventually, after first making me walk to the mailbox to drop off some mail, the tease finally pointed to a small tree and said to check near the tip of the lowest branch. After careful searching, I found her. The tiny marvel was indeed sitting on a nest, her own handmade crafted treasure box, just a few doors down from our house. Ah, the wonders of saline.

Publicado el lunes, 25 de julio de 2022 a las 08:56 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 5 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario