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A Nature-Lover Puts Wildlife At the End of His Tether

My wife, Mary, and I have been campers for many years. It has been a means for us to introduce six children to distant places.

Now that our children have all grown up, we continue to spend a good part of our summers camping. We enjoy associating with nature, wilderness sounds, and marvelous wildlife activities. We love and respect nature. We would never do anything to disturb or hurt it.

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That's what we thought - until last year.

What happened was the result of Mary's and my benevolent practice of feeding unshelled peanuts to beautiful little chipmunks. We thoroughly enjoy watching these neat little animals pick up nuts with their front feet and stuff them into their cute little cheeks for safekeeping.

As we watched them gather the nuts we'd spread on the ground, my wife commented, "I wonder where those chipmunks store those peanuts for the winter?" This prompted my scientific curiosity, and I devised what I thought would be a nifty scheme to find out.

I CUT about 50 feet of very thin, hard-to-see fishing line from a spool in my fishing-tackle box. Then I tied one end of the line to a peanut, which I tossed on the ground. I tied the other end to a tent stake driven into the ground.

When a chipmunk tucked the tied peanut into his cheek, I speculated, he would go to his hiding place, leaving a trail of line, and I would then be able to trace it to its hole. Here would be the answer to the grand mystery in need of resolution.

Mary and I waited patiently for a chipmunk. But suddenly, a large, beautifully colored blue jay came out of nowhere, picked up my tied peanut in its beak, and flew at top speed into the sky.

When it reached the limited height governed by the length of my tether, the poor bird was yanked into an uncontrolled spin. Head over heels he went like a jet aircraft that had just been shot out of the sky. The bird's wings flapped furiously as it fought to gain control over its tumble toward earth.

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It was able to right its fall, buzz the ground, and fly safely to rest on a branch of a nearby tree. There he stood, wide-eyed and glaring at me in a state of shock, and wondering what he had done to precipitate the mean trick I had played on him.

I wish I could say that this is the end of the story, but it isn't.

After the bird's abortive flight, the tied peanut had snapped back and landed among the other peanuts scattered on the ground. Before I could gather my shattered thoughts, and in a matter of seconds, another blue jay flew down, picked up the same peanut and repeated the acrobatic performance of his fellow. Head over tail feathers he went, just as his companion had.

"Stop it! Stop it!" Mary shouted. "You're mean! You're mean!" she said to me.

Scolded, stunned, and guilt-ridden, I quickly gathered the fishing line and put an abrupt end to my unintentionally shameful experiment. Fortunately, the second blue jay, like its friend, also recovered from his fright and flew safely to a tree. Oh, how I wished I could have escaped and flown to a tree to perch beside them. Oh, how I wished I could have begged for their forgiveness in bird language.

Instead, I must accept the fact that I unthinkingly frightened two beautiful wild creatures. From now on, I resolve to do my kite flying on hills and my fishing on the water.

My wife will see to that. You can count on it.

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