Hoots, Howls, and Hollers – September 03, 2018
I am writing today of my personal experience with the Honorable John S. McCain. My experience was different in many ways from the other reports that I have read about him. Yet, it was noticeably the same in many other ways. The honorable and engaged part is a definite a familiar theme.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that my experience with Senator McCain is all about, and wildlife and nature, but mostly it is about birds. John McCain loved nature, and he really loved birds. A few years ago, I was invited to do a release at the ranch. Feeling totally, intimidated I made my way there having no idea what to expect. At this point, I was unaware of this passion of the Senator’s. That quickly changed. He was invited to release one of the rehabilitated great horned owls. There was no hesitation at all…fete accompli. For a few years after that, I was invited to do a number of other releases at the ranch. We released everything from herons, barn owls, kestrels, screech owls, Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, black hawks, quail, and yes, even an incredibly large gopher snake. That is another story.
I have done many releases in my 30 years with Liberty Wildlife. No two are ever the same and each one is a thrill and a chill bringer.
But, there was something profoundly different about John McCain’s release and his birds. I have thought a lot about that first release. There was just something very different about it. I was standing next to the Senator. I handed off the bird to his gloved hands. (We aren’t allowed to do that anymore…what a shame!) He took the bird with a sure but gentle grip. There was, I swear, a slight hesitation while bird and man merged. And, on the count of three, everyone made a silent wish…either for the bird, a loved one, the planet, or oneself, whatever an individual wanted to wish for…and then the bird burst from the senator’s opened hands with a determined reach for freedom. Like I said…I have done this many times… and this release was different.
On another trip north to the ranch, I took, among other things, a covey of quail for release. There were eight of them. I opened the box next to the quail block, brought along…just in case. We all stood around in anticipation only to watch the quail scurry with utmost determination up into the shrubbery. Vanished, vamoosed, skedaddled, out ‘a there. Hmmmmm…how anticlimactic could it get? But, then one by one they bopped back downhill where a dusty sand pile offered a bath to rid them of human cooties (my interpretation). There they fluttered and bathed dipping their little quail bodies into the dirt, creating plumes of fine mini sand dust storms for what seemed like a half an hour. The Senator stood fascinated and only left when several of us mentioned our need to get going. He was enthralled.
On another occasion, he toured me around the ranch showing me the black hawk nest that produced babies every year. He took me to the tree where the great horned owls nested. I am told that he stopped a motorcade entering the ranch grounds including dignitaries like Hillary Clinton, to show the visitors his great horned owls and their babies. He suggested that we needed nest boxes for the owls and kestrels, which we installed. Now there is even a “taj mahal (their description)” built to provide nighttime protection for a flock of mallard ducks.
Like I said, the Senator loved his birds. I have thought back over these few years trying to understand it. Was the thing that I felt on that first release an overwhelming understanding from someone who was an aviator…one who could actually relate to the feeling of freedom, flying through the skies unbound by the demands of earth?
Or, was it more than that…was it the soul deep feeling of freedom that only someone caged for over 5 years…finally set free…could understand? I never asked. I will never know for sure…but I have my suspicions.
He was indeed an honorable man. Above all, he loved his family, friends, country; he also loved his birds.
As I stood at Liberty Wildlife and watched his plane leave Sky Harbor…his last departure from the state he so loved, there was no doubt in my mind, that he is now soaring free and doing it in his own honorable way.
I will personally miss him and his integrity….and most surely, I am not alone.