Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Tonight my family rescued an entire family of ducks.


What's that?

Wait. I've just been informed this is not a duck. It's a quail.

Okay, I admit. When I first saw this duck quail waddling hopping on our patio just asking to be turned into a puppy feast, it did cross my mind that it wasn't a duck.

But I needed to say something to Bridgette to draw her attention to it before she stepped on it, and I wanted to be more specific than baby bird. So I said, "Awww! Bridgette look! A baby duck!"

Come on. It has cute little stripey-things.

For all I knew, it was a chipmunk. Or a zebra. Duck was a pretty good guess.

Anyway, we brought it inside with the intention of saving it somehow.

It was feisty, capering about in our hands and on our shirts. We put it in a small box, and it almost hopped out. We had to tape the flaps up to make it taller.

About this time, I realized none of this made sense. How did a mostly-ish developed duck get into our backyard, alone?

Also, I knew earlier in the day there had been something interesting out in the backyard because our smaller dog, Piper, had been hunting. She gets this manic look in her eye when she's preying on mobile creatures. She concentrates and moves lithely with tremendous speed in a crouched position. We've seen it before.

So then I thought, If this duck was just sitting there, perhaps there are other sitting ducks?

We went to search, and sure enough, we heard the peeping.

This was when I posted a picture (see above) on FB and begged for immediate assistance from anyone I know who knows more about ducks birds than me.

Ends up that's probably everyone.

In reality, I have a few friends who raise birds, and another friend who got a masters degree in bird studies and now teaches about birds (and biology in general) at a university.

He told me it was a quail.

Which somehow brings me back to the peeping.

We found the sound coming from our window well.

For those not versed in window wells, it is a hole. It is a hole designed to allow a large window to be placed in a basement so the basement can get natural light. Our hole is approximately 4ft wide and around 5ft deep. It has bars across the top.

It appeared that, faced with the loss of his sister to the evil-box-of-containment, bird #2 jumped.

I don't blame him. Sisters are pretty cool.

I tried to pry the well cover off, but alas, my criminal days got me nowhere.

So I went to the basement window (which happened to be in Jeff's office), slid it open and removed the screen.

(Enter baby quail, stage left.)

He hopped right inside without thinking twice.

I put him in our box.


What could be cuter than a cute little thing holding cute little things?
Nothing. The answer is nothing.

With a moment to spare, I check FB again and found helpful advice flooding in. Mostly I was supposed to find / wait for the quail parents.

Bridgette and I went outside to look.

And found a parent!

And another baby . . .

 . . . in the window-well.

Forehead slap.

Back down to the basement.

Mama or daddy quail (Hey, I thought they were ducks. You think I know their sex?) was not interested in coming inside gently.

It flapped and panicked inside the well, fluttering into the bars across the top, the metal well-casing, the glass window. And THEN (after tearing the screen) it slipped in behind me into Jeff's office . . .

Where it immediately hid.

In the meantime, another baby duck quail dropped down the well to see what all the ruckus was about.

I fished both babies out and put them in my box. We were up to four.

About this time Jeff came home and cracked the office door, giving me helpful suggestions like:

"Just catch it!"


"Don't let it go near my computer!"

Since you've probably never tried to scoop up a hysterical quail who keeps changing directions, ducking, escaping and hiding in a room full of boxes and electronics, allow me to say that it was okay to answer my well-meaning husband like this:

"If you're not going to come in and be helpful . . . Go! Away!"

He did go away. And was helpful. I killed two birds with one . . .

Oh. Sorry ducks.

Jeff went outside and covered the window well with a vinyl tablecloth, thereby diverting what would surely have been an inevitable deluge of baby quail continuously raining down upon us.

Then, since I was obviously failing to catch the MaPa Quail, he came inside and trapped it too. After I finally had it cornered. And with the basket and cardboard I provided, I might add.

Still. Yeah. He caught it.

Then we had to decide what to do with the FIVE quail we now had INSIDE our house.

See, if this was the MaPa, we had actually *also* found the PaMa. 


It was in a dense bush by our house (thus the window well) with the rest of the brood. We thought about trying to relocate the entire covey, but we didn't / don't know how. 

The problem in releasing them to their origination is still the dogs. 

Um. And the *other* wildlife.

The thing is, we know what Piper looks like when she hunts because we have an amazing ecosystem in our backyard. The spiders eat the bugs, the mice eat the grain, the snakes eat the spiders and the mice, the dogs eat the mice and the snakes. 

The snails just slime everything.

It works out well, especially when we're hungry. There's nothing quite like grilled snake meat with a pinch of rosemary.


We like the snails best.

So let's give a great warm welcome to the newest members of our ecosystem -- billions of tiny helpless quail!!!

You will be eaten.

If not by us, by the dogs or the snakes. Or the spiders. 

Or the more voracious mice.

You're doomed.

I understand (after Googling "baby quail") that quail actually have lots of babies on purpose with the intention understanding that some of them *will* die. It's sort of a save-the-few-to-preserve-the-many-by-having-more-quail-later-on theory.

What can you expect from a bird that nests on the ground?

*My* theory is that humans are really not that bright, so we only eat the animals we can catch. And quail are on that list. Have you ever noticed how a whole family of quail will dart out in front of your car at the last possible moment?

"Wait for it . . . wait for it. Come on kids, gather 'round . . . the car is almost here. Wait for it! Now!"

Any animal for which you have to repeatedly and consistently come to a screeching halt in order to preserve their lives is kind of asking for it.

Poor things with tiny brains who can't evolve as fast as our technology. There should be a Moore's Law for birds. And for deer. 

(We saw a deer today, too. In JULY. Strange day for the Johnson family and wildlife.)

But since Moore's Law does not cover quail brains, chances are our darling little quail covey -- who managed to unwittingly take up over an hour of my evening -- will likely end up in Piper's tummy tomorrow.

Can't say we didn't try.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to Lose and Win

I don't know my race splits or even my overall time. I don't have race photos yet, except from my cell phone after the race. I haven't really had a chance to ponder what to write or how to turn my phrases.

This may not be refined, but I wanted to get it down.

A few hours ago, I finished the Echo Triathlon Olympic Course. That's twice the length of a Sprint. Distances today were a 1.5 kilometer swim (Echo Reservoir / wetsuit), 40 kilometer bike (Echo Canyon, rollers, up and back), and a 10 kilometer run (hard-packed trail).

There were a number of reasons I almost never started.

For one, I felt pretty sick all of yesterday. That's a hard way to race.

For two, I was not mentally engaged to the idea of this event. I'm not sure why, but making myself show up was half the race for me.

For three, it takes about an 1 1/2 hours to drive from my home to Coalville, Utah, where the race was hosted. So I stayed in Park City overnight instead, about a 15 minute drive.

This morning I was almost to the race when I realized I didn't have my timing chip. You can't race without a chip. My 15 minute drive turned into a 45 minute drive to fetch it. AND you have to park in town and bike 2 miles to the start of the race. AND you have to pack your own gear in. AND you have to get your wetsuit on.

I ran down to the lake half dressed in my wetsuit and from that point on was very nearly last in everything.

But that's really what this blog entry is about.

Being last.

What does that mean?

Well, in the linear sense, the answer is easy. There are X number of racers. We all get strung out along the route between points Start and Finish as we navigate various transitions and events. The first one to move from S to F is . . . first. The last one is . . . last. Everyone else is in between.

Although I don't have my overall time, I know my general ranking.

I was not precisely last, but perhaps 5 places in front of last? In other words, very nearly. I was in the exceptionally strung out section of racers who come across the line when the transition area is cleared out and half the racers have gone home.

Now, this being my first longer distance race, I had no intention of winning. And if I had, intentions would not have made a huge difference. I'm new to the sport and not very fast as a rule.

But for this race, I purposely did not wear my Garmin. I didn't want to time anything. I didn't want the pressure of trying to match any expectations, others' or my own.

I just wanted to finish.

But here's the ultimate question--
When you finish last (or close to it), do you lose?

Certainly there were winners. People who received special accolades on the stand for being extra speedy. And they were amazing. And I'm glad they won.

But if they won . . . did I lose? Are "last" and "lose" synonymous?

I talked to myself (audibly) a lot during this race. And sometimes I shouted really loud, usually stuff like, "Yeeehaw!" because I am from Texas after all.

But also I asked myself questions and tried to answer them. Questions like, "Why am I doing this?"

And I listed out about 10 reasons. Some of them were goofy. Others quite serious. But one of my answers surprised even me.

In part, I'm pushing myself through longer and longer distances to find out what's at my core.

What IS my core? If I got boiled down, and all my meat and bones and blood fell away, what one word would be left to describe me?

When I finished the race, I ran into a woman who has been something of a racing idol to me. She's fast. Very fast. And she's always been friendly and helpful too, with me, the infant. This is our third race together. She won the first two. Like, she was the total "overall" winner of both of them.

I asked her how her race went today. She was disappointed. I felt sad for her because I know how hard she works, but she said, "You know. You have to learn to deal with bad race days." That's true.

As I hung around for awards (a few of my friends received some), this same woman took the stand! I was amazed! She had come in third in her age group. I think I understand her frame of mind, but the thought that this was a bad race day for her was somewhat shocking. When she said "bad," I assumed it was *really* bad, not third-place "bad."

Then there was me. I could look in front of me on the run and see one person ahead of me in the distance. I could look behind me and see no one. For all I knew, I really was in last last last place.

But as I became that person, that person at the end of the race, I kept thinking of Bridgette as she struggled to walk and to run and to climb. Sometimes she used to take 20 minutes to climb up the stairs, and when she reached the top, you know what she would shout?

"I win!!!"

She won.

It was so difficult for her, and she was so proud of her accomplishment. By all standards climbing stairs is easy, even for children. But it wasn't for her. And it made me unbelievably happy to hear how proud she was of herself.

As I came toward the finish line today, I saw that the aid station was practically unmanned. I passed by transition for the last time and saw the empty racks, bicycles packed up and gone. I began to have all those thoughts about being slow and unworthy.

Then, along one side of the trail, about 15 young men probably in their early 20s all dressed in matching gray shirts began to gather in a line, shouting and hollering just for me. They cheered and congratulated. Every one of them gave me a high five.

And I broke down in that crazy emotional smile-cry that can only happen under duress when your thoughts and body are swirling.

I won.

I won the race today.

I'm CERTAIN that I felt better coming in *last* than my friend did coming in third.

I won because I showed up to BEGIN with. I would rather crash and burn half-way through than NEVER TO SHOW UP AT ALL.

I won because I was *this* close to running away altogether. When I went back to get my timing chip, I almost kept on driving home.

But I didn't. And that means I won.

I really felt like sharing these thoughts, so I hope they help someone know that they too can / have won. Will win. By trying. Trying again. Not running away.

Maybe "trying" is my core? I don't know.

Guess I'll race again to find out . . .

Steph Best: 3rd Place in Age Group
Leann Brinton: 6th Place in Age Group
Kelly Johnson: Last Place in Age Group

All of us, celebrating our win in a sudden downpour.