Where do I begin….. to tell the story of how great a day can be….the really true story of the Eeee’s and me…. 🙂 ok I’m now dating myself with that movie/song reference, I hope you all picked up on that… in case it’s not ringing a bell let me remind you… it’s from “Love Story” a 1970 movie starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw… good movie. I picked it for the opening line but also because the name of the Movie/Song had the word “Story” in it…. Because that’s what this “episode” is about for me. It’s about stories… I have a good friend, James Hersey who can tell a story like no other, it’s an art form. I don’t have that gift, but I can listen to his stories all day without getting bored, even if I’ve heard them before. I admire that ability, it truly is an art form as old as time, predating the written word I suspect… I’ve always told my kids, it’s about the Journey, it’s about the experience…not just the end result… without that journey, without the experiences to get the results you wouldn’t have a story……James has definitely enjoyed his journey so far and I’m very thankful to be a part of that… I don’t know when I first realized that I love “stories” but I suspect it was very, very young…. I remember 2nd grade and my teacher, Mrs. Barefoot giving me an award for reading , because I used the word “Dilapidated” in a sentence because I’d read it in a book…. I’ve always been an avid reader… as are both of my Parents, Thanks Mom ( Valerie Neagle) and Dad (Ron Cunningham) for passing on the “I love a great story” gene. If I haven’t mentioned it I’m a “story” buff…. Spoken word stories, written stories, and musical stories…for me it’s got to tell a story for it to mean something to me. The story in musical form can be the lyrics , just instrumental or both…I have extremely odd “Taste” in music but that’s because for me it’s about the story….from ALL of Bruce Springsteen’s songs to Les Mis, Barry Manilow to Metallica, Elvis to Hank Sr. and Jr, the 1812 Overture to She’s a Grand old flag, Bag pipes and drums to Jimmy Buffet, they all tell me stories… So let’s get this party started huh…. Let’s skip forward to Saturday 8/18/12….My wife, my son and our friends James and Shawnene went to the Kiss and Motely Crue concert at the White River amphitheater, it was a great show! Well when your wife throws out her back from dancing in the confines of our seating area, when your seat was only used to “hold your stuff” and not your butt, when your hands, arms, legs and neck hurt the next day from clapping, fist pumping, air guitarring and head banging, when your voice and your hearing are gone for 2 days afterwards you KNOW it was a good show J I grew up listening to 8 tracks of Kenny Rogers, Elvis and the Village People…. And my parents 45 RPM records of Elvis, the Beatles, Neil Sedaka, the Beach boys, Jan and Dean etc… my own very 1st 33 1/3 vinyl album was “KISS –Destroyer” in 1976 it was their 4th studio album and it told my young mind stories…. For the show this past weekend KISS kicked off their set with Detroit Rock City , the first song off of Destroyer… and ..yep imagine that, it tells a story of a Musician who drives to fast, drinking and smoking who dies in a head on collision, it’s a 1st hand account of a deadly car wreck.. hmmm that sounds like a call that a Firefighter would go to…. Interesting.. anyway it was a great show as I mentioned and the only thing that would have made it better was if the other two people that were SUPPOSED to go had been able to, our son Tyler and my BFF Daron.. oh well they missed a killer show… the show got over around 11:30 and we got home around 1AM ( even though the venue is only 20 miles from home LOL), bed around 2 ish…. Then up at 7 to head to Sarvey for the day for me!!!! So tired, sore, deaf and gravelly voiced, I’m still totally excited to make the 90 minute drive and go do some hot dirty work!! Ok Coffee and shower, hit Safeway and load up on the “sale” meats and fish, paper towels and bleach ( remember I told them I’d never show up empty handed, and I learned very young to say what you mean and mean what you say!) and hit the road! My music on the way up was Jimmy Buffet and Gordon Lightfoot, great story tellers!! So I had the tunes telling me stories, I’m singing along in my new cool low morning, gravelly just went to a concert voice that sounds nothing like me ( so it must be good right LOL) …enjoying the misty morning drive to Sarvey. As soon as I arrive, the misting stops, the clouds part and the sun comes out and the temp goes up from 65 to 75 in about 10 minutes LOL thanks Mom Nature…. You know how to help a fella lose weight 🙂 I sign in and say hi to everyone ( there were only about 5 people there today) the Shift lead says “Hi Mike, I was pleasantly surprised to hear you were coming, I thought you were only doing once a month”, my response, that was a minimum number 🙂 I can’t stay away I LOVE it here!! There’s some foreshadowing for ya…. (one of those Story terms again…). Another gal that was there on our last visit, a vet student from the UW semi-sarcastically says “Hi Mike sorry to tell ya but someone has already cleaned the raccoon pens today, sorry “ LOL was it that obvious last time….haha…. Greetings and salutations complete it’s time to get dirty!! Unload my truck, meat and fish in the freezer, paper towels are needed badly they were completely out!! ( if can donate to Sarvey , please do!! They need supplies constantly!!) – http://www.sarveywildlife.org/ Time to check the “to do list” and see what needs done! Ah my Peregrine flight from last time is in need of cleaning, I learned that she is an educational Raptor, so I can talk to her while I clean this time, her name is Ista (pronounced Ish-tah) so I’m cleaning her flight already sweating my butt off picking up parts and feathers… I find some pretty fresh quail “parts” including a breast … that looks like it is very fresh so I put it up on a perch for her…oooh she’s my friend now 🙂 no more dive bombs for this guy! She flew right over to it and started chowing while I cleaned….amazing to watch and HEAR a falcon eat about a foot away !!! so I’m almost complete with her flight and Olivia comes out and casually says “hey Mike would you want to help me catch and weigh some Eagles?” My jaw hit the dirt…. I was speechless, floored, flabbergasted and flummoxed all at the same time… was this a joke? A twisted new guy hazing? She’s gotta be kidding right? I said that…You’re kidding right? Nope not kidding, they need to be weighed it’s been a long time and we need some muscle…. HECK YES I want to help wrangle Eagles!!! Ok she says, I’ll be inside, come find me when you’re ready…. Well, I had to table my excitement and finish up cleaning Ista’s flight… I doubt I’ve ever rolled hose and taken out garbage so quick in my life and I’ve done some pretty fast hose rollin’ at 3AM after a fire let me tell ya… so I wrap it up and the Raptor Gods decide to cool me off and teach me a lesson before I go find Olivia…. I’m putting my stuff away and I drop the hose…. Well it’s got the old school garden nozzle, you know the metal one with the screw on the back to tighten the stream or create a fog….it lands perfectly on it’s trigger handle…. And locks on aimed directly at my back… NAILED…. I ended up doing that at least 3 times to myself and once to someone else on this day… but more on that later… (that’s a cliff hanger in my story to make you keep reading) …so who wants to wrangle some Eagles?? That’s what I thought… so Olivia gives me the verbal run down on what we’re going to do…. Here’s the “spiel” ok so we get bed sheets , not white we don’t want them to be able to see through it…we go into their flight (roughly the size of a football field), hold up our sheets, get them into a corner… make sure all your movements are slow, then when you have them on the ground, put the sheet over them, be sure to get it over their head…then place you hand firmly on their back, reach under them and grab their legs just above their talons at the ankle, then fold their wings in a gently pick them up and carry them out of the flight and into the med center to weigh them….ok got it… so we grab our sheets and head out there…. As we open the 1st of the “airlock” doors to the flight she turns to me and says I’ve only done this once so this may be interesting…. WHAT?!?! Hahahahaha she wasn’t kidding!! They don’t weigh them that often as it’s a pretty stressful event for them as you can imagine, so typically they only do it when they move them from one flight to the next on their rehab progression to larger and larger flights.. and then again before release or their next stage in life… so in this football field sized flight that is about 50 feet high as well we have an Osprey, 2 Juvenile Bald Eagles ( at least 1 year old so full grown), an adult Bald Eagle and a turkey vulture. We have to catch them all one at a time and get them in to get weighed… so Olivia deftly snags the adult Bald Eagle ( he only has 1 and a half wings so can’t fly) we get him in an weighed, then I learn the “How to release a Raptor” lesson…. Get their head out of the sheet so they can see where they are and where they want to go, then gently set them down without getting bitten and unwrap the sheet and set them free ( in the flight not free free yet….another cliff hanger? Maybe you just have to keep on reading now dontcha….) Olivia then grabs the Osprey , he was not happy about it….but we got him, he continued to hiss at us the rest of the “event”….ok it’s my turn…. whichever we can get of the 2 Juvies… of course it’s the biggest…a 12lb+ female… just gorgeous!! ( all of the Raptors are amazingly beautiful and majestic, but after watching the Decorah Eagles from the RRP I have an amazing respect for this particular species… I know what their beaks and their talons are capable of!!! if you’ve never see an Eagle up close, go to your local zoo and take a close look at their talons and beaks… serious weaponry!! Oh and did I mention we don’t have gloves or anything on….you can’t really do this with gloves because you have to be able to get a good grip on their ankles and feel what/where you are holding them… so back to my turn…. so of course the Juvies can fly very well and are flying all over the fight and hanging from the netting 50 ft. up…. We slowly and carefully go from end to end trying to get them down… finally the big gal (the Eagle not Olivia, she’s a tall thin gal) takes off to land on a perch and misses… she lands on the ground and is about to take off again so to put it buntly , screw slow and quiet… time to POUNCE!! I’m on her in a flash but I already made mistake #1…. I didn’t get her head covered completely and she was able to get her head clear and was NOT pleased with me …. But I can’t let go to get her head covered because then she would probably get me with her talons… so grab a bunch of sheet in my teeth and kind of fling the sheet over her head… ok that worked whew!! Now hand firmly on her back, grab the ankles , fold her wings in and ok I’m ready to go up … up I stand and get a huge head rush lol… tunnel vision and all ….guess I had some adrenaline flowing huh? Well shake it off big boy don’t pass out now or you’re Eagle food… uh oh her head came out again because you let go with your teeth that were holding the sheet in place yikes… OK well let’s sart walking out… a few steps later and I’m tripping on the sheet that is hanging down by my feet… can I be any more clumsy?? Um, Olivia will you help me? Her head is out, she’s not happy and I keep trippin’ on the gosh-darn sheet….she turns around and laughs and comes back to help … ah thank you ok into the Med Center and to the scale…on our way in we pass the shift leader and Olivia says looky here we’ve got us a new Eagle Wrangler..haha…..I think she meant “sucker”…… yeah I don’t live my life by the NAVY Motto…. I’m more of a Boy Scout type….. ( oh you don’t know the Navy Motto? It’s Never Again Volunteer Yourself… LOL) ok back to work….to weigh them we lay them on their sides on the scale and they kind of go to sleep…. So let go, get the weight and ok I’ve lost the feet… where in the jumble of sheets and Eagle are the talons? Slowly not to wake her….. found one… ok there’s the other… got her…. Back upright , yep she’s awake again… ok well back to the flight to release her and get the next one…. The release went fairly smooth for my 1st time ..uncover her head check, hissing and trying to eat me, check… lower her to the ground check…now let go and pull the sheet off…. Um do I have to? I’m good just let me hold her for a while and work up to that? No? fine… ok down you go pretty girl please don’t turn around and eat me …I’m just trying to get ya ready to be free J unwrap and let her go…. And off she goes without looking back up up and to the roof…to the walls…. To the perch….to the ceiling lol…. Sorry hon but it was all for you… ok on to the next Juvie and then my new best bud the Turkey Vulture… so the same process fro them and all goes well catch, weigh and release the other Juvie…now for the Turkey Vulture.. he’s not a happy camper he made some sounds I’ve never heard! I swear he was part raccoon!! Well I get him down and wrapped up, get his ankles, wrap the wings up we go and holy moLY YOU ARE EATING MY THUMB MR. VULTURE LEGGO MY THUMB-OH!!!!!! I thought you ate Carrion!! I’m NOT DEAD I KNOW that because I can feel you chomping on my thumb … Olivia says “are you ok”? Um no he’s eating me LOL…. She say you can let him go and we can try it again… NO way.. let’s go …I have two thumbs for a reason let’s get this done ha ha …. So in we go with him pleasantly distracted with chewing on my thumb like it’s his personal living chew toy….all the while he’s making the sounds of a mad raccoon….finally get him in and on the scale and I get my thumb back…just a little blood I’ll live , it’s not fun until someone is bleeding anyway right?? Actually it was fun a whole lotta fun!! So we get Mr. Vulture safely back to the flight and released, WOW that was an incredible experience!! Back to reality, there’s lots of flights that need cleanin’!! Off I go to the “stilts” a series of raised flights for smaller song birds, jays etc…there’s an “airlock” area in the front to go through then the flights are inside, in case someone get’s out while you are cleaning…. (hey lookey there, more foreshadowing, you’re still waiting to see who I hosed down and why I LOVE it at Sarvey so much…well keep waiting those things are coming up! Along with something else to wait for now….) ok well let’s give you a tidbit… so the first flight I clean is full of Juvinile Robins… I get the flight cleaned out and scrubbed down, and cose the doors, I go on to move to the next one, Cedar Waxwings and Sparrows….. when out of the corner of my eye I see movement to my left where there shouldn’t be movement…. Oopsie a Robin has escaped!! Ok time to queue the keystone cops music…this should be easy right? I mean I’m now a professional Eagle Wrangler… what’s a little robin got on me? So imagine if you will again a 6’2 guy in a 5’10 high by 3’ wide and 15 feet long netted enclosure trying to catch a juvenile robin… calmly walk up to it and reach out to snag him… off he goes to the other end…. Over your head… I’m over here… come and get me mr. man…. Nope now I’m over heeeeeeree tweet tweet rockin’ robin… tweet tweedle dee deet… ha gotcha little guy! Back in you go , you’re not ready for liberation yet…soon though…. Ok back to the Cedar Waxwings and sparrow flight… get in there and clean, man they are messy!! And my first full on, catch every bit of the poo on me…… well done Cedar Waxwing I see you laughing at me, thank you for the right of passage…I’m now officially a member of the team now! Finish up with them move on to the Stellar Jay and then the Coup De Grace for this set of flights, the Northern Saw Whet Owl… just the cutest little guy you’ve ever seen ….. clean the bloody mess up off the floor ( time for another cliff hanger…hang on!!) I found out what that bloody mess was later…. And that’s when I’ll tell you.. for now just think of how cute this little guy is…. Ok put my stuff away again, and grab a drink of water….I run into Olivia and she says hey, wanna help me catch and weigh Raccoons?? I laugh out loud….. and say SURE!! Love to! Ok well grab one of those big dog carriers and come on over to the pens…….you remember the pens from the last story? Good if not well then you didn’t read it… go back and do that LOL….. I get a new set of instructions for this task ohh and a single welders glove for my left hand….. the instructions are… pin the coon with your gloved hand, the scruff it with your right and put it in the container to be weighed… easy right? Just like a cute widdle cuddly kitten… just scruff it and put it in the bin…got it… oh and yeah Olivia says and I’ve never done this before so this could be fun…. Um understatement of the weekend…. In we go with the scale and the container…we’re looking for fatty coons to be released…they need to weigh in over 8 lbs to be free, these are completely rehabilitated coons that are getting “fattened up” for release….we chase them around and get several tears in our gloves and have both screamed and jumped around and apologized to about 50 coons in a 15 coon pen…. You do the math…. There are only 10 coons in here… and we haven’t caught one yet 15 minutes and many screams laughs and apologies later I came up with a different method…. You take the lid to the container.. you kind of chase the coon to the ceiling of the 5’ high pen ( they are like little monkeys) then you trap the coon on the ceiling with the container and slide the lid on!! BOO YAH Adapt, Improvise and Overcome!! Gotcha …..but you only weigh 7 lbs…. ugg…ok you’re free to go, move along, but can you stay over there so we don’t catch you again please? No? ok you go where you want…..Olivia did get the catch, scruff and stuff technique to work for her, and at that point I had to be rude and ask… How old are you??? She laughed and said 19…. Ahhh I said that explains your total lack of fear… I’m gonna stick with my method for now…. Well, her catch rate was higher than mine and amazingly neither of us nor any of the raccoons were injured in the making of this story…. So rinse and repeat the process without the rinse, unless you count raccoon pee on your head a rinse…. about 30 more times and we ended up collecting 10 or 12 coons that were ready to be released into wild!! Wow very cool huh? But you just wait , it gets even cooler!! Or is it more cool? I dunno you’re the grammar police, I’m just the story teller….so we’re done and I’m soaked in sweat nastiness and perma grin…I need a break…nah breaks are for whimps…. Let’s see what else we can do… so the Shift lead and I go out and clean up some boxes of cow hearts that went into the freezer… mmmm mm mmm boxes of blood yummers! Oh well it’s gotta be done and she is a great leader, I can tell because she leads by example, those are the best kind in my book!! Don’t make anyone do anything you haven’t or wouldn’t do yourself! Amen sister, I’m following you!! So we get that all cleaned up and go grab the hose…you see what’s coming right?? Well there are a couple blankets laying outside that someone left where they shouldn’t have, so like good Disney employees around the world, we do our job and we also keep the park clean…… so let’s pick them up on our way to the hose…. OMG screams my fearless leader…… what’s wrong? What’s going on? Are you ok? Lady lady ……. Instincts kick in “ damsel in distress!!” what’s wrong??? Quivering and gagging she says there are maggots on these blankets….. ahhhh she’s not fearless she’s a real human being 🙂 the one thing she doesn’t like…maggots… yeah well we all have something… mine used to be spiders but I’ve gotten over that and can hold them or whatever now without issue… my most recent aversion is to Elder abuse…. Makes me sick and see red…. But back to the maggoty blankies…… get them rinsed off and straight to the washing machine… she starts off carrying them out away from her body and I’m putting the hose away… here it comes….. I drop the hose…. Yep perfect landing the hose hits on that dang handle again and NAILS HER full stream right square in the back…soaking her… she let out a scream that would curl your hair… I AM SOOOOOO SORRY I said about 500 times….. gotta give her credit though, she didn’t drop the blankets and made it to the washer in record time….. ok so after that I’m thinking I should probably go now…. Just slide on into my truck and head out …..so I go in to apologize again and say buh bye when they ask me if I want to take some Raccoons home to release… they need to be transported in open bedded trucks…and I happen to have one of those, plus they were “south end” coons so they needed to go back that direction…it’d be helping them out if I could…. WHAT?? You’re going to LET me release wild animals? That’s not a favor to you that’s a dream come true for ME!!!HELLS YES I’ll take as many as you want!! So we go grab 5 raccoons in a giant dog carrier and load it into my truck…. Sweet I’m stoked.. wash up and ok I’m ready to roll… it’s 5PM and I have a 2 1/2 hour drive home ( Sunday traffic on a nice weekend heading that way SUCKS….) so here I go…. Bye all, thanks for a great…what? What’s that? Do I room for an owl? Really? You’d let me release an owl too???? But I sprayed you with a hose…. And I am a big clumsy oaf… no problem? You owe me for catching the coons and Eagles? You’ve got a temperature lady ….. you gave me a huge gift to LET me catch Eagles and coons….. seriously you want me to release an owl??? Well shucks ok I guess so…. If you make me…. (jumps up and down inside and does the Toyota heel click thingy) ….which owl? WHAT? The cute little Norther Saw Whet who’s cage I just cleaned all that blood and gunk out of? he’s ready to go? Wait he WHAT? He “allegedly” killed his flight partner…. His bigger, older, stronger, faster partner? YIKES he’s a baaaaaad little guy! Ok he’s proven that he’s ready for the wild… box him up and ship him out J I’d love to set him free!!!! Ok (south) eastbound down , loaded up and truckin’… I’m on my way home sweet home ( Motely Crue reference there…thank you…) so hurry up to get to the freeway so I can sit in traffic…..a little Boss telling me and my new friend the Northern Saw Whet Owl stories about “Growiin’ up” and then some country seemed fitting since that’s where he’s headed J And who better at story tellin’ in country music these days than Brad Paisley…..let’s get a little mud on the tires…..well we finally make it home and I show the owl to my wife and son , then the neighbors and their little daughter… so very cool, we talk about the wildlife and explain to her what we are doing and we then release the Northern Saw Whet into the woods behind their house…ahhh wow what a feeling, indescribable…. A fully rehabilitated owl set free…amazing but I’m not done yet… I’ve still got 60 lbs of raccoons in my truck that need a new home with Mother Nature…. So my son and I head on up into the Cascade foothills, State land , wilderness as far as the eye can see….unload the carrier on a little gravel turnout and the head of some “trail” and we set them free…..what? youse little bandits don’t want to leave the dog carrier and be free? You want free meals for life you say? Well sorry that’s not for me to decide…as cute as you are, I have to let you go be free raccoons in the wilderness… I know it was lots of fun catching you and cleaning up after you, even if you smell really, really badly…. And even though you destroyed my gloves and are still making those evil sounds at me that really means you love me ( and that you are afraid of me which is what I want so you can live long happy lives in the wild) ..ok well my son had a great idea let’s lure them out with these blackberries that are ripe and growing right here… sure son.. let’s try that… well he picked a few and made a little trail of blackberries from the front of the carrier a little way down the trail and sure enough they wandered out 2 by 2 into the woods…until there was just one little guy left… he really didn’t want to go…so I ended up having to take the carrier apart and force him into his new life, there’s always one kid that doesn’t want to leave home…. And while that carrier wasn’t his home for long, he sure didn’t want to go into the big scary wilderness… please don’t make me….. sorry bud I’s gotsta…. Off you go, had to clap and be loud and mean 🙁 but he finally wandered off into the woods with a small look back at us to say well fine… off I go… into the big wide world…don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine… no no, really go on, leave me out here without any food or water and go on back to your nice house and happy family and hot dinner.. go on now…. Ok little guy that’s just what we’re going to do….. but as he left, I think I heard him telling his friends a story about how he was gonna build himself a new home in the woods and meet a nice lady coon and raise happy coon pups……… The End..
P.S. Each time I clean a cage and now each time I release a wild one, I tell them thank you. Either thank you for letting me clean your cage and try to help you, which really helps me… or thank you for letting me release you into the world, please don’t eat the birds from bird feeders and have a wonderful life and thank you for the gift you gave to me of releasing you, which releases me inside. But I’d be more than negligent if I didn’t thank Sarvey Wildlife Care Center for this amazing opportunity to do good in the world and share that with my friends and family. Thank you, Thank you , Thank you to all of the amazing people at Sarvey, you are all Angels!!!! And my Beautiful wife and son who are sharing my dream with me. I love you!!