I turned 66 this week.  Birthdays don’t normally cause any particular reflection… I’ve had a lot of them at this point, and I’ve got reflection built into my life, so birthdays aren’t a trigger for that.

But this year, there was a wrinkle.  I had just gotten back from 4 days backpacking in Emigrant Wilderness, north of Yosemite.  We did some long days, including a fair amount of off-trail, and experienced the incredible beauty of the Sierra in full measure.  

Our neighbors across the alley celebrated the long ‘weekend’ by taking their new trailer and their 1-yr. old son Ryan (born on the 4th of July last year) to Glacier National Park for some camping, hiking, canoeing and biking.  They had gotten back late at night the day I came back from Emigrant Wilderness.  When I saw their car in the alley the next morning, I walked over to see how their trip had been.

We caught up, then I headed back across the alley to our house.  I noticed, lying on our already-hot pavers between our fence and Wally (still waiting to get unpacked), was a dead quail chick, only a few days old.  As I leaned in for a closer look, starting to think how I better dispose of him before any of the neighborhood kids saw him, I noticed his tiny little chest was moving!

So I scooped him up and took him inside to turn him over to the resident nurse, my wife Francie.  We named him Woodstock, and Francie fed him some water from a teaspoon.  He was filthy from crawling through our black bark.  He didn’t move much, but after a little water he at least seemed alert.  We heard some quail calls in our neighbors yard, and looked over the fence to see a very agitated dad quail, and a mom quail under a bush with 5 chicks.  We figured this must be Woodstock’s family, desperately searching for him.

So I crawled as close as I dared to the mother quail and the chicks, deposited Woodstock on the bark and retreated.  He was still not recovered enough to move very much, but we thought maybe the mom would come to him and get him moving.  When we came back a little later, Woodstock was still sitting there, but everyone else was gone!

I scooped him up again, and we put him in a large ceramic bowl on the table.  15 minutes later when Francie walked by, he was gone!  He had hopped out of the bowl, tumbled off the table, and we finally found him under the dishwasher.

We talked to Think Wild, our local rescue organization.  It was too hot to take Woodstock over there, but they kindly gave us some ground up food in case his mom had already taught him how to peck.  They also informed us that quail are very social, and left too long away from their family, they will pretty much just go to sleep and die.  The quail were sitting out the heat of the day, so we figured the cool of evening would be our next chance to locate a suitable family.

Francie put some rice in socks and microwaved them to keep Woodstock warm.  And she put her phone in his box so he could watch ‘QuailTV’ for social stimulation.  He watched avidly, and seemed energized.  Meanwhile, the alley was galvanized into action.  Everyone was alerted to let us know if they saw a quail with chicks in their yard, so we could slip Woodstock into a family.  Our 8-yr. old neighbor Madeline, inspired by Woodstock, got to work on an unfinished birdhouse project.  

That evening, Madeline and her older brother Luke came over to tell us there was a quail in their front yard!  We took Woodstock out in his box, and set it down, hoping his chirps would draw in the quail.  It was only a pair, with no visible chicks, and they didn’t seem that interested in Woodstock.  We let Woodstock run around a little on his own, hoping that might trigger some kind of response.  But we ended up having to put him back in his box, and tucking him in for the night.

We figured the next morning we would try again, but he had a rough night.  Woodstock was very lethargic in the morning, and died within a couple of hours.

It was a hard blow for the neighborhood, who had rallied around Woodstock during his brief stay with us.  But in the 24 hours he was with us, Woodstock touched a lot of lives, and spread joy way out of proportion to his diminutive stature.  Madeline got to work finishing her birdhouse project.  The neighborhood text stream lit up with potential quail sightings. Friends further afield were enchanted by photos and videos that Francie sent them.  I found out that a good friend had spent time volunteering at Think Wild, which I hadn’t known.

Woodstock’s passing left a hole, but also a glow.  I guess, as I age, I hope that in the time left, I can also touch lives, bring some people together, maybe inspire a few to proceed on some projects they had forgotten about or given up on, and to leave some residual glow when I go.  I have a friend who’s life refrain is “Leave it better than you found it.”  Woodstock accomplished that, even in his brief 24 hours with us.

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  1. Poor little woodstock. He was treated better than most animals in the wild, and also better than many humans. We can’t save the world. But we can make one chick’s life a bit better for a while. Good job Glen.

    1. It’s like that story about the boy throwing stranded starfish back into the water. We can’t save everyone, but that shouldn’t stop us from saving those that we can.

  2. This blog brought me to tears, I was rooting for Woodstock! Happy Belated Birthday, Glen and love to the resident nurse 💖

    1. I wish the story had a happier ending…. like Woodstock found his family, came back next year to show us his own family… but we have to deal with what is, not what we wish was.

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