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Mrs. Tanner Gets Chetted

Sunday, January 8, 2006

It's a quiet Sunday morning, and I'm reflecting on the last two days. Nancy Tanner and Janet McKnight were here from Tennesee, and we talked about ivory-billed woodpeckers for much of her visit. She brought a DVD which had clips of ivory-bills at the nest--a male and female. It was stunning to see the photo stills we all know so well, moving and even calling--the male's bill opening, that strange tooting call being given. They are shiny, shiny birds, so strong and vigorous. They looked nervous, and Nancy said they were--nervous about the grinding camera and the crew below their nest. Imagine! But it was even more amazing to sit on the couch next to Nancy and have her narrate. The Arthur Allen films were made as part of an expedition to film and record the vocalizations of vanishing birds. Jim Tanner was taken along at the age of 21, as Nancy put it, to cook and haul the heavy equipment and climb to the nests. "Why else would you take a 21-year-old along?" she asked. He would soon be in a position to lead his own expeditions, and to record almost everything we now know about ivory-billed woodpeckers.
Here are Liam, Janet and Nancy watching the David Luneau video on my computer. I was nearly overwhelmed a number of times during Nancy's visit, and this was one of them--this conjunction of modern technology, coincidence, and a remarkable person who has been in the presence of nesting ivory-billed woodpeckers--the last living person known to have seen them in the Singer Tract.
Another high point was walking the loop with Bill, Janet, and Nancy. At 88, Nancy was favoring one knee, but I could see in her eyes the desire to complete the Loop. When she offered to turn back, I told her I thought she could make it fine--and she did, creek fording and muddy steep climbs notwithstanding. We had to walk off the nearly constant meals somehow.
Like any visit, much of it was conducted around the kitchen table, and we didn't suffer for lack of good food. Chet Baker was absolutely delighted to have houseguests, and he pressed his abundant affections on both Nancy and Janet the whole weekend. When people are sitting around the kitchen table, Chet takes up station on someone's lap, where he seems to listen to the conversation. From this vantage, he can also keep watch for stray bits of pie crust or unclaimed scraps, and he'll stealthily put a paw on the table to lean over toward a plate when he thinks no one's watching. If he gets busted, he flattens his ears and rolls his eyes in apology, then regroups, to plan his next sortie.
Janet rescues dogs in Tennessee, and I'm sure the contrast between the abused, living skeletons she sees every day and little Mr. Happy was a bit much for her, especially as I was picking out just the right doggie sweater for our Loop walk. Nancy and Janet came laden with gifts, and the biggest hit was a baking soda and vinegar volcano, which was made to erupt about 50 times. The kids cleaned me out of baking soda and polished off half a gallon of vinegar. Chet was fascinated and a little worried by the constant eruptions.
All in all, it was a great visit. I scribbled constantly in my notebook, trying to take down everything Nancy said about ivory-billed woodpeckers. I would like to have recorded her, but I think my scribbling was intimidating enough. I got up early this morning to transcribe my notes while I still remembered the conversations. I still can't believe our good luck--that Mrs. Tanner would come up here from Tennessee and share so much with us. Thank you, dear Janet, for making this happen, for carving the days out of your full and busy life to connect us all.


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