On Jan. 18, The Observer was reminded of that day several years ago when we set out for the Bayou DeView in search of the ivory-billed woodpecker. We were part of a team assembled by Cornell University, so we felt pretty swell.
It was a cold morning when we scraped the kayak over the hood of our car to the roof; that technique scratches the hell out of a hood but makes it possible for one person to load a boat. Then off to Brinkley and the state Hwy. 38 bridge over the bayou. En route, crossing the Hwy. 17 bridge, we observed the stillness of the bayou and, knowing we were foolishly going to kayak in waders, felt at ease. Once at the Hwy. 38 bridge, we unloaded on the bank: kayak, spare clothes, lunch, camera, the GPS borrowed from Cornell University, notebook, wooden box and knocker to make ivory-bill sounds, the paddle, and dragged it all to the water. Which was about as still as you can get, given that it was frozen solid. So we pushed out onto the ice and bounced, figuring we could break the ice. We might as well have been Shackelton. We went nowhere.
It was yet one more screwup in our attempts to hunt for the ivory-bill. An earlier try, with a young woman who had never stepped foot in the woods and believed that snakes lived in crawdad holes, had been similarly stymied: A) She forgot to bring a kayak, so B) we had to borrow a canoe and C) got lost on the way back to the bayou, so, seeking directions, hailed a man driving a truck who turned out to be deaf and mute so D) the young woman, squealing with delight at encountering this young man because she could practice her sign language with him, could not get her message across, so E) it took us a while to get back to the bayou. Then into the water, where it became clear she did not know one bird from another. It was a short trip, our excitable canoe-mate nearly tumping us, and our major discovery was that a video camera we had with us did not work.
Now, in January, we once more found ourselves in a ridiculous situation. But we would not be defeated: We tied the boat back atop the car and took off into the woods along the bayou with our lunch and GPS and notebook. The ice was thinner here so we sloshed and cracked and slipped and perched on tupelo stumps and in the notch of trees and banged on the box. We made notes every place we stopped to bang, and sloshed on. We didn't see any ivory-bills — or hardly any birds, since the sound of a woman in waders stomping through ice to make her way up the bayou would drive off any animal, extinct or thriving. We spent several hours in this pursuit before returning to the car, the sun low and shafts of light coming in horizontally through the swamp. We were feeling pretty good from our effort despite not finding the ivory-bill and were de-wadering and packing up when we realized we'd lost Cornell's GPS. Back on went the waders and back into the swamp for another hour we went, trying to retrace our steps among the tupelos and cypress that, frankly, don't distinguish themselves much.
So we returned to the car, spirits dampened, getting out of the waders resignedly, feeling like a fool, wet and cold in the setting sun. We had not advanced science. We had hardly advanced our person into the swamp. And we cost Cornell a GPS.
It did not help a bit when, crawling into the car, we remembered: It was our wedding anniversary. Jan. 18. The Observer had sailed out the front door in the morning thinking only of birds and swamp. No greetings to our spouse. No gift hidden away, no meal at home in celebration. Fortunately, we could count on him to be just as forgetful, and forgiving. We wouldn't have been within 100 miles of a swamp had it not been for his making birds a crucial part of our courtship. This year, together, we saw seven sandhill cranes, big old birds and rare, too ... from a car. The Observer is (in this case) a heterosexual male, so we've got an understandable appreciation for female boobies. Rugrat food source, pleasing aesthetic, doodad to keep your sweater from looking all baggy, call and consider them what you will. We just like 'em. To that end, The Observer believes breasts should be cradled in comfort and style, so we'd like to direct your attention to an effort by the homeless outreach non-profit The Van, Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions and Arkansas Times. Between now and March 31, we're collecting bras for women in grave need. We'll take them all, friends: big, small, new, used, pretty or industrial-strength. As long as it's clean and gently used, we'll take it. Donations can be made at Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions, at Breckenridge Village on Rodney Parham, or at the offices of the Arkansas Times, 201 E. Markham, second floor. You'd be surprised how much hope you can bring to a lady in dire straits, just by giving her a little support.