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An NPR Day

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


This day: big exhale. It started off with seeing BOTB off yet again, this time to Akron, Boston, and parts of northern Ohio. Looking at our schedules this winter, I wondered what it would be like to live through this spring, and now I'm finding out. Our wonderful home feels like a place where we throw our suitcases, run the washing machine, and sleep occasionally. I started missing him before he left. It gets harder to wave goodbye each time. He knows. He came dashing home to say goodbye again at lunchtime before he had to leave for good. It helped.

I was feeling blue for a number of reasons. The underlying reason: April 10 is the day my father died in 1994. I always try to suspend the normal stuff that fills my days on April 10, and do something that honors his memory. I decided to plant peas. He was a gardener, a man of the earth. So last night Liam and I counted out and soaked about 400 sugar snap peas and this morning they were nice and fat. I was digging a trowel trench for the first row when the phone rang. I was wanted in Athens, an hour and a half away, to record an interview with Melissa Block, about the effects of the cold snap (is it a snap when it lasts more than a week?) on birds. We'd corresponded about it, and she decided it would be newsworthy. It was about 1:15 when I got the call. I had to be in Athens by 3. I called Sue, the beloved school bus driver described in an early commentary, and asked her what I should do, because Phoebe had softball practice, and I'd miss him at the bus stop, and Bill wasn't here to catch for me. This is part of what I love about living here. People stop to help. Without a moment's hesitation, Sue suggested that Liam ride home with her, and I was off, pedal to the metal, headed for Athens. I grabbed a handful of tamari wasabi almonds and a pint of yogurt on my way out the door. That was lunch.

Oh, rot. Gas tank empty. Why would I need to keep gas in the car, living 20 miles from town? Red "CHECK GAGE" light and all. Yes, Ford spells it "GAGE." Stop for $20 worth of gas. Throw the bill on the counter and race back out to the car. They know me at the Pit Stop and didn't bat an eye. Jump back in. Speed all the 50-mile way, thanking the powers above that the road to Athens is fairly straight, and you can see a long way ahead, scanning for cops. I hate speeding, have been pinched more than once for it, (see Nature Girl Gets Pinched, one of my favorite posts of all time) but when NPR has studio time reserved at 3, you're darn well there at 3, even if you have to fly low to make it there. The engineer at WOUB, Mark Robinson, staved off a prior studio commitment to help me set up the audio connection with Washington's NPR studio. Gosh, I have come to adore Mark Robinson. He is THERE for me.

I slid into the padded chair in the darkened studio at 2:57. Melissa greeted me through the headphones at 3:00 on the dot. We talked about cold weather and birds. A lot of our conversation didn't make it, doubtless because it would have been impossible to fact-check before 4 p.m. Heck, it would be impossible to fact check before 2008. Like the information I got, via a desperate cellphone call to Bill, who called Louise and then called me on my way to Athens, from my friend Louise Chambers at The Purple Martin Conservation Association. Louise said that this cold snap may have caused a nearly complete die-off of adult male purple martins in the affected areas (most of the upper Midwest and Northeast). See, the poor things came home on schedule in late March, but couldn't endure more than a week of subfreezing temperatures, and no flying insect food. That's the bad news. It's likely going to be the worst die-off since the early '80's, when there was an Easter snowstorm. The not-so-bad news is that the breeding female and subadult martins are only just hitting the Gulf Coast, headed north. So there will probably be a whole lot of subadult male martins who get to breed this year, who ordinarily would have been outcompeted by the mature males (the "scouts" in martin landlord parlance). Now we just have to pray the freakin' nature gods don't hit those birds with a late April snowstorm. That would really, really be awful. I'm holding my breath until we hit 80 again and hold it.

So bits and pieces of our conversation made it, and it was good, and I feel deeply honored to be asked to talk about nature on NPR. It aired this evening, while I was out planting the rest of the peas. Liam wandered out to find me, saying off-handedly in his dove-soft voice, "You're on the radio."
WHAT? NOW??
"Yup."
I tore into the house to catch just the last third of it, so I had to listen to it online. Kissed my boy for thinking to come find me. He is the sweetest thing.

What's cool is that I feel as though my deep connection with the natural world is finding its highest use--connecting millions of NPR listeners with nature, too. Making them think about things that might not have occurred to them, locked as they are in home, car, city and office. It's an everyday thing for me. It's something that may not enter others' consciousness unless they hear it on the radio. Bringing it to them feels good, and deeply fulfilling. You can listen to my chat with Melissa Block here.

While I was listening to the audio file on the NPR web site, I saw a banner ad for the brand-new Driveway Moments collection. Those are the stories that people nominate, the ones that kept them sitting in the car out in the driveway, listening to the end.

"When Hummingbirds Come Home" is on the newest Driveway Moments 5 Collection: All About Animals.

So it was an NPR day. A saying goodbye day, a Dad day, a sad day, a wild, hairy pea-planting day. DOD, I miss you. Wherever you are, I hope you get public radio.

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