Matfield Green - Our first years

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Of birds and bears and seeing eye dogs

I've just returned from three days in Washington with the Realtors Association - a welcoming, interesting and interested bunch. I led a class in leadership, touching on personal renewal, personality type and conflict resolution, and all 24 students jumped enthusiasitically into each new conversation - and didn't even complain when I made them do role plays! What more can I ask?

The class was seven hours long and, role plays or not, I spent most of those seven hours talking. At about the end of hour six, my voice, normally so cooperative, gave out under the strain of a cold, bid me good-bye, and left a nasty frog's voice in its place. Luckily there was a microphone handy to carry me to the end of the class.

Exhausted, I could think of nothing more perfect to do than to take myself down to the National Zoo, just 4 blocks away from my hotel, to visit the baby Panda, 10-month old Tai Shan. It was a gray day and for the most part the zoo was deserted. No admission charge required, I wandered right in and happily up to the panda habitat. For a zoo, it all looks very comfortable. The panda dad - weighing in at 270 lbs - has his own wooded and grassy enclosure, with mama and baby - Mai Xiang and Tai Shen - living in a separate and equally hospitable space next door. Apparently panda dads aren't into childcare (or much else about their young offspring) and can resent the relationship between mother and son. So zookeepers take no chances.

When I arrived, Tai Shen was sleeping in a tree. On a small branch of a leafy tree about 8 feet off the ground. Not much of a view for me. Mothers and fathers with small children came and went as I sat on a bench nearby, glimpsing the sleeping panda bear, watching for awhile and then wandering on to a more entertaining exhibit. But three other women, like me, were camped out waiting for the little one to move. And these women new A LOT about this panda. When he was born - July 9 2005 - how much he weighs - 50 lbs (just a little bit less than Pepper, he looks bigger, but it must be all the fur). They even knew at what time and what kind of fruitcicle was used to lure Tai Shen out of the tree yesterday evening! And they shared anticdotes about other evenings as well!

"Are you here every evening?" I asked. Really wondering.

"On no," the one woman laughed. Turned out she is from Texas. Her friend is from New Jersey. They'd never met before today, but they are members of a cyber-group of about 400 that keeps an eye on Tai Shen via the Zoo's "Pandacam" They share observations and photos and whenever anyone is going to be in DC they check to see if anyone else happens to be going. They love pandas in general and Tai Shen in particular. Not that I blame them.

So I sat for about an hour. Panda mom and dad had long since gone inside. The zookeeper - a young woman in blue jeans - had woken Tai Shen and was trying to coax him down with a stick of bamboo. No go. Apparently this had been a hard day for the cub. For the first time, Mama had refused her nipple. Over and over. All day. My new friends thought perhaps he was sulking.
Hard to say.

The young woman cleaned out the cage (a very nice cage it is, but it is still a cage). Then she came back and coaxed some more. Cleaned some more. Coaxed some more. Pretended not to care. And finally, while here back was turned Tai Shen dropped a fuzzy black leg and another, and as she turned around he hung about 5 feet off the ground. She reached up and took him in her arms. Her hands across his belly, his face toward the small and dedicated crowd. He's a cutey. They don't make them much cuter than that.

Except for Pepper of course.

She and Bill met me at the airport in Wichita. We stopped at Kinko's on the way home. I was going to wait in the car while Bill ran in to make a few copies. But apparently Pep had been in the car long enough. She wiggled out the front door after Bill, took a quick survey of the Kinko's parking lot, and as the automatic doors slid open she ran into Kinko's, darted to the back of the store, made a quick circle of the place, evaded our attempts to catch her by the collar, took this quick turn and that until finally she made a mistake and I caught her (ta-da!) by the collar.

We sat for a few moments behind a copier at the front of the store. A customer came in and another left both smiling at my sweet dog sitting so nicely, like a greeter just inside the door. I knew I would have trouble getting into the car without Bill, so I thought I'd just wait and we could all exit together. (Did I mention that we had no leash with us? Did I mention that neither Bill nor I are ace dog trainers?)

But it was not to be.

A Kinko's co-worker approached us with a smile. "Is he a seeing-eye dog?" she asked politely. I had visions of putting that deception into some kind of absurd action. But instead I said regretfully, "No." So, of course, we were asked to leave. And we did.

One morning while I was away Bill was working at his desk, Pepper was lying on the bed and the bunkhouse door was open as it often is to catch the breeze and give Pepper in-and-out privileges. Suddenly overhead were three barn swallows. "Like angels," says Bill. They flew several circles around the room, with dog and man both staying still and watching. In a moment, two swallows found and made their exit, but one remained. Bill moved into action to help guide her out the door. Pepper too gave chase.

Must have been quite the scene.


Post a Comment

<< Home