Friday, December 10, 2010

The Raptor in My Prius

"It is a dangerous business going out your front door." J. R. R. Tolkien

When caught up in the middle of a rip-roaring adventure book, I secretly wish to be part of it until reality sinks in. The Tarantula in My Purse is not that kind of book. However, as Pamela and read it together, I sometimes wondered what it would be like to have enough courage to build an indoor pond for tadpoles or keep a bat in the refrigerator. The truth is I am too much of a chicken to try it, and Steve would probably haul me into divorce court or a psychiatric hospital. Besides, I can hardly handle it when our pooch leaves us a little present on the floor.

Last Monday, God granted my wish and Pamela and I got a taste of what a life in the day of Jean Craighead George would be like. Before getting started teaching Pamela, I checked Facebook and commented on a picture of an injured red-tailed hawk found by my friend Shea.

Me: Where are you? Are you in Manning? Can we come and see it? (Seriously!!!! Great opportunity for nature study!)

Shea: We are! We'll stop by your house. You live next door to your parents right?

Me: Really? I live in the old Plowden/Mill house. Same street as my folks. The white two-story house with a green metal roof. It's not next door but across the street in a diagonal way. When?

Shea: Okay! We're picking up our kids from school. Then we'll come by! We are taking the bird to Awendaw to the Bird of Prey Center!

And, then, the adventure began!

Shea and her family live in a very rural area. Ten years ago, they found a Cooper's hawk with a broken wing. He had ended up trapped behind some fencing for two weeks and grew terribly emaciated. After extricating him, they named him Gary Cooper and headed to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, SC. He survived but not well enough to live out in the wild again, and Gary now spends his days educating people about hawks.

They have been watching a red-tailed hawk for years. Every morning, they saw him hunt his prey and feed on breakfast. He only recently changed his behavior and began dining with the vultures. Finally, Shea's husband Mike found him on the side of the road so they nabbed him and put him in a cage, borrowed from a friend who works for the Department of Natural Resources.

Shea's older children attend school, so she and Mike decided to pull them out for an impromptu field trip. One of the teachers took advantage of the opportunity and herded her students outdoors to see the hawk and its beautiful feathers. Then, they drove over to my house so we could take a peek.

I didn't let Pamela in on the secret because sometimes things fall apart and I didn't want to build up her hopes for nought. She must have thought I was acting strange because I ran around the house looking for the memory card, which needed reformatting——ACK, batteries, her nature notebook and markers, and masking tape for the broken latch to the battery compartment. Pamela grew miffed because, instead of letting her choose, I picked the tarantula book and we started reading about Jean hatching and raising seven northern bobwhite quails. We alternated reading aloud sentences for two pages, and, the moment I read aloud "red-shouldered hawk," the door bell rang! Talk about a wink from God!

I told Pamela that Shea had a surprise to show us in her car and filmed her reaction. She knew it was a hawk and that hawks weren't tame pets. The moment Pamela realized they were taking him to a center, she shifted gears into knowing where they were going and how to get there. The raptor center, which had already taken in two birds in this cold snap, asked if Mike and Shea could pick up another hawk 45 minutes in the wrong direction. With three kids, booster seats, car seats, and one huge bird cage packed into their SUV, Mike and Shea weren't sure they had the space. Since I had nothing better to do that day than homeschool, I made a snap decision to follow them in my car. Pamela, surprisingly flexible for an autistic person, joyfully galloped to the house and we were out the door in five minutes!

Picking Up a Bird in a Box

An hour later, we picked up the bird and migrated south to the raptor center. Although we left home just before noon, none of us had discussed lunch. With the bird onboard, Pamela's attention turned toward food. She asked me about lunch and I told her the truth: I had no idea! She took the uncertainty calmly and I consoled her, "They have three kids under the age of eight in that car. You know they will eat soon." Once we hit a largish town, Mike peeled off to a Hardee's. Apparently, their flock was hungry, too. Then, we did something we never do. We ate in the car!

The trip to Awendaw took almost three hours between the food and potty stops. I began to wonder how our feathered passenger was doing. During the last half hour of the trip, I could here it scratching the box and began to worry about what it was doing. There was a raptor in my Prius and the only thing separating it from us was cardboard and duct tape! I realized that rule number one of adventuring was not to get too far ahead of reality.

We turned into the raptor center at three o'clock. It is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and it felt daring to have to open the gate and take the roads for authorized personnel only. We dropped off the hawks and, while we waited one of the board of directors gave us a tour of all their birds of prey and one crow. We didn't care that it was 45 degrees outside for we needed to stretch our legs and loved the idea of getting our own personal tour.

You can imagine that keeping track of this bunch was a bit like herding cats! The board of director was the only one paying attention to the photographer. The kids' energy and exuberance at playing hooky from school and doing something important made me smile. The most precious moment that I will treasure in my heart is all four children gravitating to a patch of discarded ice. It taught me that it is never too late to enjoy being one with other children, doing something adults really don't understand.

After the tour, we headed back to the bird hospital. Mike filled out paperwork while the director learned the status of the hawks. The director briefed us and let us take a peek at the birds. They had an observation window just like maternity wards have for visitors to see newborns without disturbing them. The doctor inside the ward solemnly lifted the blanket of each bird, and we caught one last glimpse before heading home. Actually, for the mystery hawk, it was our first and only glimpse!

The red-tailed hawk was in terrible shape. The pictures below illustrate how much he had declined during the car ride. The doctors weren't optimistic about its condition and sadly they were right. One eye was blind and he had sustained significant pelvic damage. Had he survived, he would have never lived free. The mystery hawk that listened to Pamela's eclectic music in the car (Bach, Beethoven, Latin American rhythms, and big band) turned out to be a red-shouldered hawk. His shoulder injury is mild and he should return to the wild some day. We are crossing our fingers that we get invited to his release.

Nature Journal Entry
"The wild hawk stood with the down on his beak, and stared, with his foot on the prey" Tennyson

Birds of Prey and a Fish Crow in No Particular Order


Anonymous said...

These are great pictures and a wonderful write up. What an adventure!

Penny said...

What a special and memorable day - you all got a glimpse at something "everyday" that most of us don't get to experiece!

Barb said...

Amazing adventure! I love the compassion and the fear of the beautiful creatures at the same time.

Birds are an amazing gift to behold and I thank you today for sharing your story and the photos.

Melissa said...


Julee Huy said...

Wow! What an adventure! You had me mesmerized with your story!

Monica said...

Wow... what an amazing time your family must have had!

Stranded said...

OH my what an adventure! And an impormptu one - the best kind :D

I enjoyed the journal entry.

walking said...

We had a blast living out a living book!