Going North, Going Home
Leaving the east coast, I drove back to Maitland to visit the Audubon staff. Mo Oliver, the bookkeeper, and I got into a lengthy discussion about the value of studying birds as a profession. She could not understand how anyone could enjoy watching birds. She asked questions about ethics, such as ornithologists disturbing the birds that they are studying, does ornithology really help the health of the environment and the health of the ornithologist. I told her ornithologist did help save birds and that if doing so made them happy, maybe it helped the health of ornithologist. For me, a bird watcher, I was happy and healthy.
The next morning, after my last night sleeping on the Audubon House floor, I greeted Mo, Russ Mason and Margaret Hundley who were coming to work. After a final cup of coffee, I headed northeast passed acres of orange and grapefruit orchards. Unfortunately, most of the fruit was on the ground, lying in the mud of flooded trees. Some of the trees were leafless and blackened by the cold wave I felt nipping at Ft. Pierce in December.
By afternoon, I arrived at the Williams in Ormond Beach, north of Daytona Beach. I had not seen them since before Christmas. The next morning a cold but light rain fell outside. Inside, the phone rang. Someone had seen a Brant, a species I needed. The three of us headed to the Halifax River near downtown Daytona Beach, where we found a single Brant preening itself on a small outcrop of beach rocks. Later, for the first time, I was riding a car on the famous flat sands of Daytona Beach. There were no speeding cars. Posted speeds limited daytime driving to 15 mph and 25 mph at night. Car traffic was light, and we saw eight species of shorebirds with the expected gulls and terns resting on the hard sand. It felt good to be birding again.
The next day’s field trip ended abruptly when the Williams’s car began to sputter. We turned to their home. Cold rain continued to fall as I began to have doubts about going north.
Many birds and their habitat are safe because ornithologist study them. Mo Oliver’s perspective as a nonbiologist, points to the importance of conveying what ornithologist discover to conservationist and to the public at large. Since 1963, the gap between scientist and others has narrowed. Mo’s questions further encouraged my need to study birds. I began to realize how little I knew and that it was impossible to know how to answer all the questions. As for the question that studying birds improves an ornithologist health, it may. At the museum, the use of arsenic to help preserve museum specimens, according to some people, was dangerous if not fatal. Dick Banks and I knew there were many aging ornithologists who worked with such specimens for decades. Curious, I compared the longevities of five different professions and discovered that musicians did not fare well, teachers and chemists did ok and ornithologist who worked in museums and medical doctors did very well. The study was too anecdotal to publish but it did seem to suggest using arsenic to help preserve specimens was not the sky falling as some suggested. Of course, we continued the age-old practice of any good biologist: wash your hands, and, if you are going to the bathroom, wash your hands before and after the good deed. The results also suggest that many ornithologists not only washed their hands but also enjoyed their life. One of the things I remember the most about Dr. Wetmore was his laugh. In fact, now retired from the museum, I feel lucky to have rubbed shoulders with so many, who have, through studying birds, have contributed to avian conservation and are happy for it. It is easy to recall the hearty laughter of most of my colleagues, including the whispery chuckle of Herb Kale and the nearly raucous laughter of Roxie Laybourne. Today, I would tell Mo that their research continues to contribute towards the conservation of birds.
One study by ornithologist in the name of bird conservation by Margaret Hundley and Herb Kale in1966 documented bird mortality caused by communication towers. It is one of many studies helping prevent deaths caused by towers. Their studies also helped produce a base-line for mortality caused by a new menace, wind turbines. Herb and I first met during my early years at the museum. A treatment to remove vocal cord polyps nearly took away his speaking voice. He had a loud whisper and was friends with Roxie Laybourne, who identified many of the specimens Herb and Margaret Hundley collected. Roxie always talked loudly. Hearing the two of them converse was a learning situation.
Had Mo Oliver checked the background of another important colleague, she would have realized that banding efforts and other studies conducted by Russ Mason led to bird conservation. Russ did not seem one to brag, but he could have told Mo that he also protected Burrowing Owls at the Miami Airport, convinced Florida landholders to protect then diminishing Bald Eagles, and establish reserves from here to Trinidad and Mexico.
The freeze of December 1962 created one of Florida’s greatest losses of citrus fruits. Damage to nearly 50% of their oranges and tangerines began on 14 December when temperatures plummeted to the 20s.
The car seemed cold as I drove east from the Williams. The blower that cooled the engine also was the source for air from the heater vents. The faster I drove the stronger the flow, but the faintly warmed air barely helped my cold fingers. Today’s destination was Live Oaks, a town west Tallahassee and home of Elisabeth Ball, friend of Geraldine Cox of Washington, North Carolina, who suggest places to look for birds in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
I spent a cold night parked behind a service station. Eighty miles west through rolling hills lay Tallahassee. The YMCA was tiny and without shower facilities. I suppose it is fortunate that I am traveling alone; at least I manage to tolerate myself.
At Florida State University, I was to meet Dr. Henry Stevenson although an exact date and time was never set. I found the biology department, but he was in class. Instead of waiting there, I drove to the post office to stock up on the new 5-cent stamp. On the drive back, the snarl in traffic caused me to miss Dr. Stevenson. He had moved onto a different building but I missed him there also so I left him a note.
Driving south, the fiery glow of the sunset to my right, I found a wide shoulder north of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The night’s thoughts were on what a Florida birdwatcher I met in the Everglades gave me. They were directions to a locality in St. Marks where someone reported the rarest of North American birds. The remote possibility of seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker kept me awake almost the entire night.
Sunshine seeping through the car windows warmed the morning of 30 January. Excited, I followed my directions, ending up at a building and a sign advertising boats for rent. An old gent standing near the door looked up. Tobacco wet and disgustingly stuck on his stained lips oozed down his bristled chin and onto brown spotted overalls. “Yes,” he told me, as he wiped his chin with a sleeve and spit. “They arsome big peckerwoods around.” I quizzed him, showed him my field guide, and everything he said led me to believe he had seen, maybe years ago, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I decided to use the rest of the morning to search the dense woods he described. I walked, listened, walked and listened, hearing and seeing no shortage of Pileated Woodpeckers.
Back at Tallahassee, I picked up $4.00 worth of groceries for the next several days and paid $1.60 for an oil change and lube. Darkness was falling as I drove north following headlight beams on U.S. 319. Pockets of fog, constant rain and wet roads were unpleasant for driving. Sadly crossing the border, I decided to call it a halt at a service station in the southern outskirts of Thomasville, Georgia.
Reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers from Highland Hammock in south central Florida in the 1950s or 1960s were enticing. Henry Stevenson, who I never physically met, and I discussed the woodpeckers once on one of many phone conversations. Mostly we talked and corresponded about filling in the gaps for his The birdlife of Florida published three years after his death. As for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, the only ones I ever saw were specimens at the museum. They were part of the woodpecker collection that Lester Short worked through just a few years before I began at the museum.
Short, known for his research on the family, was, more or less, the woodpecker expert. He moved on to the American Museum and years later, I oversaw the curation of the woodpeckers at Smithsonian. Before curating the collection, I had to revise and amend essential systematic information on woodpeckers. In the process, I discovered a thing or two about the family and subsequently published more than one paper on woodpeckers to correct former concepts. For example, contrary to Short, Downy Woodpeckers do not migrate and a once named subspecies of Downy from the Pacific Northwest deserves recognition. Most of all, delving into woodpeckers got me thinking about species Short had unabashedly placed in the genus Picoides. This is another story and the jury is still out concerning the short-sited concept of Picoides.
More years later, an alleged Ivory-billed Woodpecker was pecking around northeastern Arkansas. This was the year Linda, the girl I left behind, and I were in Arkansas. We did not hear the news until we arrived in southeastern Arizona. However, the photographic evidence that an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was anywhere in the camera frame is dubious. Some argue that the species still lives while others would like to believe, but do not.
31 January-2 February
The cold and being behind the wheel left aching muscles. I pulled off U.S. 1 barely inside South Carolina to stretch and have my peanut butter and cracker lunch. With only thirty minutes of daylight, I found a place at Cheraw, South Carolina, to park for the night and wrote Linda an airmail letter. Ice covered every alley and side street.
The first day of February was freezing. Much to my relief, the car started easily, and I was soon crunching ice along a street to the highway. The windshield kept icing up and frozen snow began gathering in the wheel welds and undercarriage of the heavy car. Donning long handles after a hot shower in Raleigh, North Carolina, was a necessity. Before leaving town, I spent $2.88 for new wiper blades. Near Petersburg, Virginia, two large birds flying overhead invited a closer look. Sudden stops were impossible on the glazed road; I had already witnessed several cars abandoned in highway ditches. Inching to a stop, I jumped out of the cramped car, and with tired eyes, saw two Black Vultures. After a night behind a service station in Richmond, I had decided to drive to Shenandoah National Park, but got as far as Charlottesville. Because the icy roads were even icier to the northwest, I decided to take a right on U.S. 29 toward Washington, D.C.
Last evening I arrived in Vienna, Virginia, and phoned George Williams’ daughter Francis who said she was expecting me and gave me instructions to her home. It was wonderful not to sleep in the car. With her children, we toured the newly opened Dulles International Airport. The sweeping architecture was beautiful and it was warm inside. Huge and very unsightly buses ferry passengers from the terminal to the airport runways, about a half mile away. Later, we visited Great Falls on the Potomac River where George Washington surveyed and where few birds shivered. Before the day was over, we were standing in line at the National Gallery of Art to view the Mona Lisa. A Marine guard kept everyone moving, and I took as much time as possible staring at the wistful expression of the famous face.
The early morning temperature dipped to around 5 degrees. Dennis Sherwin, who I met last fall, had planned a trip to Ocean City tomorrow. In the meantime, he had arranged for me to stay at his vacationing aunt’s house in Georgetown where I spent a cozy evening working on my notes and wondering if I had made a mistake coming north.
The promising trip to Ocean City, where 142 species topped their Christmas Bird Count, was disappointing. After driving over 300 miles, paying the dollar toll twice to cross and re-cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Dennis and I entered the city just in time for rush hour traffic. Still, Whistling Swan [=Tundra Swan] and Oldsquaw [=Long-tailed Duck] were added to the trip list. The next day we headed toward the Chesapeake Bay again, but birded on the west side at Sandy Point and Kent Island. White fog hid the strangely wonderful calls of the swans. Ever slowly, the fog lifted, revealing over 100 of these white birds. As the day progressed, a freezing wind became almost unbearable.
Visited the Division of Birds at Smithsonian. Drs. Humphrey and Wetmore were away. George Watson was there and right away told me that he and Dr. Humphrey were considering me for a position for work in the Pacific. I could not believe it.
Dennis, a fellow named George something and I checked for waterfowl on a pond near the airport. The next day the three of us drove to Kent Island where we met a couple birdwatching. They had seen several Tree Sparrows [=American Tree Sparrow], one of the northern species I hoped to find, on Sandy Point. Forty-minutes later, we arrived at the described place and found a flock Tree Sparrows.
Dennis and I drove to Patuxent Research Center near Laurel, Maryland, on the 9th where we found closed gates. It was Sunday. We birded around Alexandria. The next morning, we drove back to Patuxent. This time, I followed him in his Corvair since I would be heading north later in the morning. We searched for longspurs but found White-throated Sparrows and a single Tree Sparrow and ponds too frozen for anything but skating. We met Chandler Robbins in the warmth of his office. He also lamented that birding on the center was dismal.
In the early afternoon, I headed north. Before reaching Baltimore, the right front brake developed a loud grinding noise.
In 1967, I received a letter from Smithsonian offering me a position in their Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program. Unfortunately, I was in San Diego attending classes directed by the Navy. In fact, the Navy directed most aspects of life. I was in the Navy, but I would rather have been in Smithsonian seeing the world. About a year later, the Pentagon became my duty station. Between my Navy duties and a part time job, I volunteered at Smithsonian’s Pacific Project measuring specimens and collating data. Termination of the Pacific Project came as a stunning loss, but soon, I began working for Dick Banks of the National Biological Survey, then administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Chan Robbins, who initiated the Breeding Bird Surveys, and I met on and off during our careers. Visiting Chan was always uplifting. He inspired many. In 1997, Chan received the Elliot Coues (pronounced Cows) Award from the American Ornithologist’s Union. It is most the prestigious award in North American ornithology. In 2000, he received the Audubon Medal in recognition of his contributions in conservation and protection of the environment, joining Roger Tory Peterson, Rachel Carson, Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner, E.O. Wilson and others who have received the honor. Of course Chan’s field guide was kept handy although I feel guilty it is not my favorite.
Today was car repair day. I had already found many mechanics unwilling to work on foreign vehicles, and was relieved that someone would look at my brakes. The worn right shoe would not keep me safe. I was shocked that replacing one shoe and the labor came to $7.00 and even more shocked that I had to use my last travelers check to pay the bill. Even though I was using a gas credit card that my father paid from my bank account, I had only $5.00 in my pocket and enough food to last 10 days. If something else comes up, I could be in trouble. I was grateful for a handy phone; money was on the way. I was also grateful for the cold that negated having to buy ice so often.
It was a cold night, with a low of 15 degrees, in a noisy lot of a service station. The drive north on turnpikes took me west of New York City and took a chunk of my $5.00. Slippery roads became worse nearing Boston and the temperature hovered slightly above 20. I located the Massachusetts Audubon Society office to see what birds might be in the area. It would be exciting to see a Tufted Duck, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, Snow Bunting and a King Eider they listed. Unbelievably, after all the miles driven from warm Florida, those rare birds were all south of Boston. With dwindling funds, I could not afford to drive any direction but north. Near Gloucester, I found two Harlequin Ducks and searched for new gulls. A breeze sent needles of cold to the bone. When I reached Newburyport, daylight and my eyes were growing dim. At the YMCA, I got a room for $1.75. I could not afford to buy any food. In order to eat my can goods from the car, I had to smuggle them into my room with my clothes and heat them on the radiator.
The warm bed in the YMCA was difficult to leave but life birds were waiting, or so I believed. A check at the local sewer outlet was birdless. The drive to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island might have yielded longspurs but it did not. When asked about Snowy Owls, the manager told me I should have been there last year. Birding was not good and the weather too uncomfortable to keep trying.
Driving nonstop, I arrived at my August friends, the Chadbournes in Yarmouth, Maine. They were one of the recipients of a post card from Florida. The next day I rode shotgun on Harry’s stove oil delivery truck searching for Snow Buntings and redpolls. We saw only three crows chasing a Red-tailed and gulls with black wing tips. Harry asked why a man who made homes warm and comfortable had to be so cold doing it.
The temperature dropped to zero in the early hours of the 16th. Ginny had an electric space heater blasting in the kitchen, and then pushed down the toaster. A fuse blew but there were not any replacements. I offered to go to the store for fuses, but my car would not start. We tried pushing it into the warmer garage but the snow and ice was too slippery. A neighbor, with his pickup pushed the freezing VW out of the frigid wind. He also picked up the needed fuses. Money from home arrived.
On the third day at the Chadbournes, Ginny, their young son Brian and I toured backcountry roads north of Yarmouth. Bright sun reflected off immaculate snow, glazed over by repeated thawing and freezing. The narrow roads, with snow banking high at the edge of the pavement were unlike any winter I had experienced. Most of the birds we saw were concentrated around houses, with starlings and chickadees dominating the scene. A man clearing his driveway looked up as we slowed to check a Hairy Woodpecker. He seemed to be rambling, but I heard the words “snow birds.” He might have meant juncos and said they were close to the size of a robin and mostly white. A Brown Creeper spiraled up a tree followed by a massive flock of birds exploding from the man’s back yard. “That’s them, snow birds,” he said. Snow Buntings!
That afternoon we drove to Portland’s Back Bay. Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes and Oldsquaws dotted the water. The next day, the 18th, we returned to Back Bay where I found a Bonaparte’s Gull, a new trip species. Harry had taken off the afternoon and was eager to check birds south of Portland at Pine Point near Scarborough. Before leaving Yarmouth, Harry wanted to initiate me to snowshoes. I first learned how to fall face first into the snow. A few yards of walking taught me I lacked certain leg muscles needed for traversing any distance beyond the length of a garden hose. Pine Point, on the other hand, did not require snowshoes as long as you stayed on the snow packed roads. There were no new birds to add to the trip list.
The road leading to Bailey Island, which is southeast of Yarmouth, was full of frost heaves, one of which sent my head to the car roof. At the end of the road, in the Town of Bailey Island, I parked and walked part of the rock shores. A large, white-throated cormorant shadowed a Common Eider. An hour later, I saw my second Great Cormorant swimming near shore. Finally, efforts to find a different gull paid off, but the bird was not a large bird with white wings, but a small delicate Black-legged Kittiwake. When I was about to leave, a pickup backed up to the edge of the ocean and a man began shoveling out trash and garbage for his second such trip. I jotted down his license plate on his third trip, and confronted him about his plunder. His annoyance boiled to the point I felt in danger. On the way back to Yarmouth, I stopped at the Brunswick newspaper office to discuss my experience. As luck would have it, I talked to the editor, who seemed very interested. He said he planned to write an editorial and would send me a copy.
Snow began falling but Harry, used to driving in all sorts of weather, decided to drive to Portland for the Maine Audubon Society and Portland Natural History Society weekly meeting. The only ones attending the meeting were Chris Packard, who I met last fall, and the Chadbournes and me. The snow kept falling. Soon, adjourning the meeting was the only sensible choice that would allow escaping the slick Portland streets. It took us an hour to drive the 14 miles back to Yarmouth. Every few minutes, we needed to scrape the blowing snow collecting and freezing on the windshield. A few inches of snow covered the shoveled driveway, with the rest covered with two-foot snow dunes. Harry blasted through the snow, but the last icy drift stopped the car. We jumped out quickly and began shoveling the choked path to the long garage. The VW was nestled deep inside the garage and we finally spun Harry’s big Buick into the sheltering bowels of the building. Ice caked our hair and my windward ear was numb by the hardened snow.
The next day it snowed even more. I spent the day shoveling snow, chatting, listening to music (Ginny sings and plays the guitar). My plan was to start heading southward today but the Chadbournes advised against leaving. They were right.
On the 21st, the snow had stopped falling and the roads plowed. After breakfast, the blue sky blackened as snow began falling. My plan was to leave today, but I wondered if I was making a mistake. Ginny fretted and Harry said I would be all right. I hated leaving such gracious friends.
Chris Packard had suggested I stop at York Beach on my way south to Portsmouth. It was a good place to look for gulls. From a high perching and ice-glazed residential street overlooking the pounding surf and rocky shore below, I spotted a strange bird. It had a telling white line on the edge of its bill. It was a Thick-billed Murre. A Barrow’s Goldeneye came into view as life bird number 351. Portsmouth did not have a YMCA, but Manchester, New Hampshire, did. Dinner, before turning in, was across the street at a Woolworth.
The editor did write the editorial about dumping garbage into the ocean. Maybe it was a good thing I was leaving the state to avoid the wrath of the local dumping garbage. One of the northern gulls I may have seen went unnoticed since, in the 1960s, Thayer’s Gull was only a subspecies of the Herring Gull. Dick Banks and I studied specimens of gulls and published, in 1999, a note on some of the controversy plaguing the taxonomic status of Thayer’s, Iceland of Greenland and “Kumlien’s Gull of North America.
Minus 10 was too cold for the car battery to turn over the engine, but a pedestrian helped me push the car fast enough for the car to kick to life. Driving across New Hampshire was uneventful considering bone-chilling temperature and snow were the norm. I wanted to experience winter in the northeast and add winter birds to the trip list. I had not done well adding new birds and I had had enough of winter. Oregon in early February is usually the beginning of spring.
Dennis Sherwin wrote his friend Warren King that he had convinced me to stop in Williamstown in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts. Warren was a student at Williams College, and finding his dorm almost required snowshoes. I was welcomed into a crowded three-room dorm full of heavy coats and boots, stacks of books and papers and one vacant set of bare bed springs and a thin mattress, a welcomed place for my sleeping bag. Next to the nicest piece of furniture, a record player was a set of cement blocks and boards holding up around 150 LPs of classical music. Something by Mahler strained the speakers. Warren had other obligations on Saturday and arranged for Woody Hartman a student, to help me look for birds. Woody wore a long fur coat, jeans and hair covering his ears. We attempted to locate redpolls and a Great Gray Owl but failed. That evening, Woody invited me to dinner at his fraternity house. Warren was obligated to attend a banquet for a motorcycle association with his physics teacher. I wondered what the common dominator was.
The next morning Warren and I rushed to the cafeteria for breakfast. A heavy snow fell as we ate scrambled eggs and hot buttery pancakes. Warren was not sure we should go birding until the last snowflake drifted to the white ground. In seconds, we were in his Porsche, my first ride in a sports car, my favorite car. Warren nudged the throttle causing the car to fish tail, then dig in and push us past trees bent and mountains draped with glistening snow. Nearby Mt. Greylock, with its 3,491 feet and the highest point in Massachusetts, allowed us to bird its shoulder. We stopped in a silent forest. We drove to a small mountain town to the east called Florida. Maybe someone had an active bird feeder, but once again, in the muffled snow we heard only a few humans venturing into the cold. Still, I was thrilled to ride the car of my dreams until more snow began falling as the road was becoming dangerously slick.
We spent part of the evening going over birding locations in Florida, the state, where Warren and Woody would be next month. I looked out the window thinking I might go south again. The rest of the evening was attending dinner. The university had ruled students must wear coat and ties for Sunday evening meals. I joined them, and, as suggested by Warren, wore my jeans and boots as a protest against the impractical dress code.
Warren was employed by the Pacific Project when I was volunteering for the same program at Smithsonian. One evening in 1967, he drove me back to the austere Navy quarters on a hill overlooking the Pentagon where we discussed the future of working in ornithology. While he authored many publications on his fieldwork in the Pacific, I was counting down to my last Navy day. His kind encouragement helped. Warren had an office next to John Aldrich in the Division of Birds when I started there, working at the museum. Warren authored the first Endangered Birds of the World: the ICBP Bird Red Data Book published in 1981. Founded in 1922, the ICBP (International Council for Bird Preservation) has been the vanguard of migratory bird conservation. A few years later, my friend left Smithsonian and continued working for the conservation of birds in Vermont.
25 February-5 March
Thinking I might have a chance at northern finches, I drove north from Williamstown to Burlington. At Ruteland, the cold and snow changed my mind. I turned west, arriving at Elnora, a town north of Schenectady, New York, and home of the Denners who I met last fall. We had stayed in touch, including a hastily written postcard when I left Florida almost a month ago.
During the next several days, while searching back roads for winter finches and being stuck in snow more than once, I found a new trip bird, a Saw-whet Owl. Crossbills and redpolls were never found. A few days were spent loafing, eating and going to the movies where I saw the Longest Day. Plans to leave Elnora were ended when I pushed on the brake and nothing happened. I thought I just needed new brake shoes, but the next day I had to have the master cylinder replaced and new rear shoes. The mechanic charged $35.00 and diagnosed the knocking sound I had been hearing since Maine; the flywheel was loose. My car was falling apart. I wondered if I should head directly home to Oregon before it broke down completely.
A local weatherman reported that a snowstorm was on its way, but I needed to leave for points west. Nearing western New York, the storm had turned into my first blizzard. Keeping the windshield clear of snow was almost impossible, especially when the slow crawling traffic came to a stop. After several minutes, I got out and wrestled the wind and snow to find the car blocking the way. The cold wind cut through my coat like a thousand knives and plastered snow hard against my face. The driver blocking the way was in a panicked state, afraid to drive in the blizzard. I told him he had to keep moving; otherwise, about ten cars behind him will be buried. “You have to move!” I fully expected him to ignore my teenage request. Finally, I was able to drive onward. West of East Aurora I skidded into a car that was turning around in the middle of the road. Luckily, there was little damage. Visibility by now was almost zero. Not a bird was in sight. A farm house across the road showed a ghostly frame as the wind driven snowflakes no longer seem delicate and blured the view. With a borrowed phone, the call to the police was moot. They are too busy to come to the scene and said if the vehicles were drivable, we should come back to East Aurora. The other driver, who was the head maintenance man at the East Aurora high school, said neither of us should be on the road and I should follow him back to town. He first took me to dinner at a local bar and then to the gymnasium where hundreds of stranded motorist were camping for the duration of the storm.
Snow had stopped falling by the next morning. The car started but the knocking flywheel sounded seriously worse. Fearful of being trapped by snow, I headed west to Springfield, Missouri, where my favorite cousin and family lived. I drove all day and the next night, stopping only for pie and coffee and the used coffee department. My arrival at 5 am at my cousin Bonnie’s was early but expected. After a couple of days of recuperating and visiting, I drove south to Harrison, Arkansas, where I could stay with my favorite aunt and uncle. During the drive, each time I decelerated, the flywheel would bang loudly on its housing.
On 12 March, I located a garage that would allow me to pull the engine to repair the car. By the 14th, I discovered the problem and that it could be repaired. A machinist bore new holes to reattach the flywheel. The next day I had the car back together and drove to my paternal grandparents a few miles on country roads from the garage. Now, I knew I could complete my trip, and began dreaming of migrants on the coast of Texas, the Southwest and California. The next day, everyone planned to go to town, but it wasn’t even Saturday. I decided to drive in separately and was a quarter of a mile ahead of their pickup when a loud sound, a cross between a pop and thud came from the engine. Before there was time for an echo, the car stopped abruptly in the middle of the dirt road. My legs weak from anticipation barely carried me to the rear of the car. A few feeble puffs of smoke wafted upward and oil poured from the bottom of the broken motor.
Lee Browning, my uncle, towed me back. When the flywheel was rebored, the machinist didn’t bother to check whether it was balanced or not. After all, it was just a VW. In fact, I had difficulty selling the car for junk. Hardly anyone in this part of the Ozarks wanted to be associated with foreign cars, especially one from Germany. Fortunately, there was a Renault Dealer, who likely prospered because his French car is made by an ally. He towed it away for $100. My old friend, my traveling companion, shelter from all kinds of weather, had kept me safe day and night. It had transported me to new places, wonderful and interesting people and took me to birds a year ago were but dreams. My powerless home was being drug away to be scavenged for parts and then tossed in a heap of oily rust.
The Parker’s, my favorite aunt and uncle, stored the contents of the car in their garage until I decided what to do. On the 24th, I knew and purchased a bus ticket. Most of the contents of the car were shipped along with my defeat.
25 March-3 April
The bus route first took me to Little Rock to visit another uncle and aunt, Johnny and Dora Farmer. I was looking forward to seeing them and birding with Della, my cousin, who was still in high school. She tried to help find species missing from my trip list, but it was too early for migrants. One day the family and I visited Hot Springs National Park. A Downy Woodpecker was excavating a nest hole and a Tufted Titmouse was marking its territory. Cardinals and Brown Thrashers sang around the house and five Fish Crows flew north. Spring was on its way, but I was not on the way to coastal Texas. I could not become excited about this spring. It was an effort to remain positive, but maybe I would see something new during the bus trip home. Boarding the bus in Little Rock, the fact that my adventure was actually over hit me. As some consolation prize, I did see a Prairie Falcon in Texas and long tiresome miles further in central California I saw the last new trip species, Yellow-billed Magpie. On the 2nd of April, the day of the magpies, I began to be anxious to be home. At 10:29 pm, the bus rolled into the Medford, Oregon, terminal. My only entry of my journal on the 3rd was “Saw some friends, Linda especially.