Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up. “There’s a cyclone coming …” he said. Thus, began Dorothy’s voyage over the Kansas prairie with her dog, Toto, carried by a tornado. The first warnings were the wail of the wind and bowing grass.
The blood and sinew memory of panic soon fades after danger passes. After escaping to a safe haven, we tell the story blithely. Hence, I am writing while feelings remain fresh.
I was walking my dog in the afternoon. The air was calm and the clouds creamy-white apart from a sulking grey curtain over the horizon. Ben wanted to go further than planned but we turned back at the first spots of rain. By the time we were 400 yards from home I heard a tremendous roar behind, like a steam engine chasing us. I didn’t look round but pressed forward faster, expecting only to be drenched.
When debris started flying at a rate never seen before, we ran towards the path through our woodlot that takes us home. Later, I regretted we didn’t stop for refuge under a neighbor’s verandah because the violence grew and grew. The path was covered in debris and branches laden with leaves flailed as if animated by pulses of high voltage. We heard loud crashes behind, on each side, and even overhead. To halt under a tree seemed suicidal; to press forward felt perilous.
When we reached home, Lucinda held the door open eyes round as marbles and her quaking voice inaudible from the din outside. The phone I left on the table during our walk showed an emergency announcement to take cover immediately. Later we heard people had seen a funnel cloud. I could tell them where it had touched down.
When the wind abated, I went outside to check the damage. Large trees had fallen in a narrow swath almost surgically. Only a few yards from the giants, delicate plants were unaffected, although the ground was strewn with broken boughs, sticks and leaves. I found a tree lying across the path where it had been felled seconds after we passed.
A tornado transported Dorothy and Toto to the Land of Oz, but Ben and I missed going to another place.
Downies are the smallest and cutest of eight species of ‘peckers in south-east Virginia. Inge captured this picture of a male downy at a food bank. It hammered suet, nuts and seeds into a cavity of a bough. We don’t expect different species to be deliberately cooperative, but so it seemed. Like visitors at a community bank, a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Tufted Titmouse also deposited titbits while two other species came to check it out. All the depositors returned for withdrawals, the female downy taking more than the rest, perhaps for her nestlings. But an open safe at a bank is a temptation to bandits and along came a squirrel to steal everything.
In a week bringing news about grey wolves shot and poisoned in Idaho and a naturalist attacked and left for dead by badger baiters in England, I have also seen love and devotion for helpless Virginia wildlife. The human spectrum that arcs from cruelty to altruism is astounding, if all too familiar.
I write about rehabbers. They are AWARE volunteers, mostly women, trained and licensed to help injured and distressed wildlife. They care for road casualties and orphans in the breeding season, besides all the accidents that can befall wild creatures, potentially any with a backbone (arthropods can’t repair broken parts and starfish need no help to regenerate an arm!).
When an animal is rescued, it is triaged to weigh its chances of recovery. Pro bono services from veterinarians provide advice, medication and surgery as necessary for repairing a broken wing, healing the stump of an amputated leg, nursing concussion, etc. Too often, euthanasia is the merciful decision.
Although they might wish otherwise, rehabbers can’t accept all-comers because each chooses to focus on particular groups of animals. The national status of Bald Eagles requires sending to one of the wildlife hospitals in Virginia. Recently, I heard of one given chelation treatment after eating carrion contaminated with lead shot, but unfortunately too late to save it.
The ultimate goal is to rehabilitate animals so they can be returned to nature. This brings relief and satisfaction, although sometimes a bittersweet parting after weeks of intimacy with wildness. Some patients restored to health are still too disabled to survive on their own, yet often have long lives with their carers as ‘ambassadors’ for the education program.
On the day I attended a demonstration along with other master naturalists we saw a box turtle and corn snake (pictured), two owls, an American Kestrel (pictured), Red-shouldered Hawk and Osprey, two vultures and several bunnies and nestlings. All in a day’s work as they say! A long day when chicks need a special diet fed by hand every 45 minutes until sundown!
Volunteers set aside part of their property to accommodate patients and year-round ambassadors. They pay out of pocket for expenses not covered by donations or fees from education. Other family members and friends touched by the plight of vulnerable animals and seeing the labor of caring for them offer helping hands. We mostly have only fleeting glimpses of wild animals, who have little reason to trust us, but here is an example of the kindness of strangers, whose hearts are kinder than in the famous play that coined the cliché.