“Tomorrow, I want to be in Ontario,” Dave said. “What? No way,” I adamantly responded. I knew what he wanted. He wanted to get up at the crack of dawn and drive up to Ontario, Canada to see the Great Gray Owl that had been spotted just outside of Point Pelee. If we saw it, it would be a Life Bird for both of us. “Absolutely, no way.”
I mean, really. We just completed our annual “Big Day” of birding on News Years Day to kick off the Chili Challenge Birding Competition in SW Ohio. Granted, it had been a slow day, and we only saw 65 species, when our goal (set by Sister Marty) was 89 species. But, still, I can only take so many days of birding in one month!
Since Thanksgiving, we’ve done quite a bit of birding: Black Friday we drove 700 miles to get the Black-tailed & Black-headed Gulls outside of Cleveland; in early December we flew to the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas and got the Black-vented Oriole, Hook-billed Kite, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Rose-throated Becard; in mid-December we did both the Oxford and Whitewater Christmas Bird Counts; last week we drove to southern Tennessee to see the Hooded Crane; and yesterday was our Big Day. Being the work-a-holic that I am, taking this many days off to go birding was beginning to put pressure on me. Granted, I AM on break, and I don’t have to work – it’s not like I’m getting paid. But, I had planned to use my time during Winter Break to finish a manuscript, write the draft of our NSF proposal, work on the next edition of The Ohio Cardinal, get my syllabi and lectures written for next semester and post notes to Blackboard. I was starting to feel that pressure you feel when work starts piling up. So, I said no way, we can’t go to Ontario tomorrow.
We drove Manda to the airport to go back to school in South Carolina. It had been great having her home for the holidays. For the first time in at least 5 years, 4 of our 5 kids were home for Christmas, and I was a happy mama. The house had been full of chaos and laughter for 3 weeks now. Dylan will leave on Friday, and then it will be just Dad and I and the pets in the farmhouse, and we’ll go back to the daily grind of academia.
We left the airport and drove over to visit mom at the nursing home. She’s so sweet now. She doesn’t know who I am now and that’s alright, I happily tell her that I am Jill, her daughter, and that I love her. Sometimes she reacts with recognition, but most often she smiles and says, “Really?” Yep, I tell her and I go on to tell her about myself. I trimmed her fingernails, lotioned the parchment like skin on her arms and talked to her about our Christmas. She tried to talk to me, but her words don’t make sense. I can see in her eyes that she is frustrated that she can’t say what she means, and I tell her that it’s ok, she’s fine and I’ll take care of her. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for her to be trapped in her own mind. I sat with my arm around her and she described the colors of all of the Christmas decorations hanging in the room. She got confused with the colors blue and yellow, but she was proud that she could identify the snowflakes and round ball ornaments. For the first time, tears welled up in her eyes when I told her I had to go. She wanted me to stay, and I wanted to stay. I wish I could keep her at home with me, but I know that she is better off here, where her life is structured and familiar. It won’t be long before her mind will move into the scared and panicky stage. God, I wish she didn’t have to go through that. I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to stop the slow degradation of neurons in her brain… She was such a vibrant woman who had raised a family and built a successful career as a real estate broker.
We were a little late leaving the nursing home and headed over to dinner at Steve’s house. We were meeting his folks for the first time. We’ve known Steve for years, since he was a freshman in Dave’s BMZ class at Miami, and he’d impressed us with birding skills. He’s spent years working with us at our banding stations, travelling to both Mexico and Alaska with us to study birds in El Cielo Biosphere Reserve and in the White Mountains. But, we had never met his family.
As we sat at dinner, telling tall tales of our birding adventures, the subject of the Great Gray came up. Suddenly, I blurted out, “You know, if I bring my laptop along, I can work on my manuscript, etc., while we’re driving up to Ontario. I could get quite a bit done. Why don’t we go for it? Steve, do you want to go?” WHERE DID THAT COME FROM??!! Did I just say that?
Dave looked at me with stunned elation in his eyes. Not one to miss an opportunity, he immediately took my suggestion and began brainstorming how we could leave first thing in the morning, drive the 5 hrs up to get the bird, snap a couple of pictures and turn around and be home that evening. A quick trip. I was caught up in the excitement of the moment, and enthusiastically added that Dylan could take care of the dogs while we were done. We both looked at Steve and said at almost the same time, “You in?” Steve was already grinning from ear to ear. “You got a passport?” Steve had just come back from conducting the hawk count at Pelee this Fall, so he knew exactly where the owl was. As I looked from Dave to Steve while we discussed the details of the trip, I realized that the rest of Steve’s family was staring at us, open mouthed, over their cherry cheesecake. We’d totally forgotten everyone else in the room and gotten caught up in the rush of planning our spur-of-the-moment road trip. Um, oops. Steve, sheepishly glanced over at his folks who were smiling at these three crazy birders. Within minutes, Steve was packed and tossing his bedroom trying to find his missing passport.
So, here we are, driving west on Interstate 70 toward Dayton at 7:30am. It’s 27F and cloudy and the weather forecast for Ontario is for temps around 30F and gale force winds. It’s going to be bone chillingly cold. We’re off on another birding adventure!