For the birds 

The Observer has in-laws in town and so we thought we would show them 20,000 or so purple martins.

We were a little early for the martin show, so we took a leisurely drive around the Little Rock Port Authority and Welspun and points south. A tour of an industrial area might not sound like a hot Saturday night to you, but the sight of thousands of pipes — maybe not as many as the martins but lots, anyway — was surprisingly diverting. Then we showed them the Hindu temple built by the Indian owners of Welspun, and then the bean fields on the Quapaw land where gambling competitors in Arkansas envision a casino that threatens their own take of misspent money. Then young scissor-tailed flycatchers, their tails still a little stunted, came into view, and because we saw them we saw in a nearby snag a pair of Western Kingbirds. If you want to see Western Kingbirds in Arkansas, the industrial area is a good place to go. Around the corner was a field of calves, frolicking as only calves can do, by the fence near the road.

From across the field, like a bee to a flower, a donkey came to our car, sensing that within was one of the world's biggest donkey fans. She was thrilled. We got a good look at the beautiful dark slash of a stripe across its shoulders. In the same field, off in the distance, appeared an alpaca in need of shearing. Then we took a spin around the Terry Lock and Dam park, but struck out on painted buntings, who apparently have taken off for Panama. There was more wildlife to come, however: a long, fat water moccasin in a smelly ditch filled with leaping frogs. The minute Mr. No Shoulders drew near, the frogs would leap a safe distance (maybe).

The sun was getting low in the sky so we headed back to the power lines that we knew would be heavy with staging purple martins. And there they were, at the corner of Dock and Industrial Harbor roads, a mass of swirling, burbling, swoop-shaped birds moving around their perched brethren on power lines from the Port Authority office to a distant tower on Industrial Harbor. While some sat on the lines awaiting the signal to fly to the roost — the sun's descent below the horizon — others fed in the fields and on the road. Each section of power line, from pole to pole, held some 3,000 martins, by our count. As darkness descended, they flew in some martin-determined order, section by section, from west to east and across the river. How they knew to depart in such a fashion — or why they chose to — The Observer can only guess.

The birds are soon to fly south. The summer, thankfully, is winding down. A month from now, thinking optimistically, The Observer will be wearing a jacket in the mornings. And that sounds just fine.

But stay a while, summer. Not those brutal noons of 103 degrees, when the pavement feels like standing on a potbelly stove. Not the days when the water comes from the tap damn near warm enough to brew a cup of tea. But warm nights, and mornings that coolly surprise when we open the door and step out onto the porch. Oh, yes. More of that. More of the delicious feel of walking up the ramp to the Big Dam Bridge, sweating ball bearings, then turning the corner and being hit with the constant breeze that comes rolling down the river. More cold beer in the shade. More bare feet on damp grass. More every-flavor sno-cones. More barefoot kids riding their bikes down Maple Street, inviting a memorable scar. More dogs panting happily at the end of a leash. More ugly tomatoes that taste beautiful. The way the leaves stir at any breath of air. The chlorine stink of the pool. The way the lake is warm on the surface and cools on the way down to the bottom's chilly depths. These are all the things we'll crave in the blue heart of February. So stay a while, summer. Remain a bit, before the door of September coasts closed. Do us a favor, for old times' sake: linger just a little while longer.



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