A favorite story of mine growing up was “Tailypo” by the Galdones. As an eight year old, I remember a primordial fear of the Tailypo. My daughter loves the story as well, even though she’s not even four. In the world of Circleville, a few tailypos are known to make an appearance; all are bad, but the biggest and nastiest is Rothrock (who also happens to own a coffee shop).
Thinking about the telling of “Tailypo”, I stumbled across this spectacular stop-motion film. It’s worth the seven minutes of your time.
I awoke before my alarm. The sun had yet to color the eastern sky over Mt. Nittany. In the predawn dark, one bird began a solo. A second joined in a duet a minute later. Within fifteen minutes, as the sun began to color the sky orange a multitude of birds joined the chorus, transforming the quiet night, drawing me out of my slumber.
My alarm broke the bird’s cadence, jolting me out of bed. I rose and caught sight of the sunrise. My pre-caffeine brain could only muster an “oh wow” and a quick moment of thanks for the beautiful morning.
The demands of the morning drew me downstairs to start the coffee and begin work for the day. I planned to run in the early morning coolness but my wife and daughter woke earlier than I anticipated, possibly pulled out of bed by the same bird chorus I had enjoyed. My wife announced her intention to run (after a dozen years of marriage my dad’s wedding day advice still holds true: When in doubt, say “Yes Dear”). My run postponed, I completed my morning work while juggling a toddler’s demands for her dad’s attention.
Forty-five minutes later, it was my turn for a run. Late spring humid-morning air, the kind of air that you know brings with it the first of the summer season’s scorchers, replaced the cooler nighttime temperatures. I laced up my shoes, stepped out into the humid morning, told myself the warm temperature would not affect my run and pushed off the curb.
I spotted a flicker within the first mile. The white spot on his back a dead giveaway as he flew.
Entering the woods, the humidity and temperature increased. If the day had been hotter and birds more exotic, I could have imagined I was running on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands, passing Banana Quits and hermit crabs.
After two miles of trail running, focusing on my feet to ensure I don’t twist an ankle, I happened to glance up and spot a brilliant red bird with black wings flying through some of the mature oaks. “Scarlet Tanager” popped into my head followed by the question “why?” “Mr. Straight” was the answer.
George Straight, ninth grade biology teacher. As a fifteen year old, I always thought Mr. Straight embodied high school teachers of the 1960’s. He always wore pleated khakis and a short-sleeved dress shirt. His shirt was always white. I don’t recall if he wore a tie, but would have a hard time believing he didn’t. Mr. Straight taught biology as if he were a college professor. Gruff and exacting, he required his students to learn how to identify trees, flowers, birds and a fourth organism which I fail to recall. Each quarter, Mr. Straight would test us on our abilities to name the different species. On test day, the biology class room would be darkened, a slide projector set up at the back of the classroom and at our seats, half sheets of paper for our answers.
Mild terror energized me during the first identification test. The trees I think. Mr. Straight sat in the back of the classroom at the slide projector. “Number one” he called. Thirty seconds passed and I heard the click-click of the advancing slides and a new tree to identify would be shown on the projector screen; from the back of the classroom: “Number two”. By far, the trickiest plant to identify was the tulip. The photo to identify was taken from directly above the flower. Only the shadow showed a hint of tulip-ness.
By the time I needed to identify birds, I had learned how to study for the tests. Audubon identification guides had been purchased and weekly I would try to memorize new species. The day of the bird test, I woke early to brush up on my species. I looked outside and a flock of birds was eating the remaining winter-wrinkled crab apples. I knew the birds were cedar waxwings. I felt ready for the test.
I completed my run, smiling, remembering Mr. Straight and ninth grade biology. When I returned home, I asked my daughter for the bird field guide (one of her favorite books) and she and I identified the scarlet tanager. I had been right! Mr. Straight would be proud.
We received a set of identification books as a wedding gift from my grandmother. The books are spectacular and I thoroughly enjoy learning the different species (again) alongside my daughter. While not a ‘reading’ book, the guides are awesome and it never ceases to amaze me how much my daughter learns (and she is rarely wrong).