We have a cockatiel. His name is Kiwi. The bird annoys me regularly but I have to admit that he’s pretty cool to have around. Mrs. Jinksto, loves the damned thing. A lot.
He sits with her as she reads, she scratches his head, they sing together and talk to one another, they share plates of food and, once or twice, a shower. Don’t ask. He’s her buddy.
Several years ago we loaded up the camper and headed to a state park in Illinois for a weekend trip. It was winter time but we needed to get away for a bit and our camper was outfitted for dealing with the cold. Rather than leave Kiwi at home we packed him up and and took him with us.
We had an awesome time trekking through the park in the snow and generally just hanging out all weekend. Kiwi sat on the table by the window and talked to the wild birds that happened by. As we were packing up to go back home Sunday afternoon Mrs. Jinksto stepped out of the camper and the bird decided that he wanted to go too.
That doesn’t work because we keep his wings clipped and he doesn’t really know how to fly. In fact, I was fond of calling him a feathered brick due to his aerodynamic capabilities. As his wing feathers grew out he could get some nice distance but never what a pilot would call a “positive rate”… meaning he could fly “down” but not “up”.
As he fluttered out the door, we met a beast that we had never had reason to meet before. A year or so later I would start flying lessons and learn about this phenomena but on that day when the beast know as “Density Altitude” reached out and smacked me I was completely unprepared for it. I expected the bird to flop ungracefully into the snow with a undignified splat, learn his lesson, and be returned to his cage.
Read this next bit fast, it’s all sciency stuff and only here for fun.
Density altitude is defined as the altitude at which a given air density is found in the standard atmosphere. For a given altitude, density altitude changes with changes in atmospheric pressure and air temperature. An increase in pressure increases air density, so it decreases density altitude. An increase in temperature decreases air density, so it increases density altitude. Changes in humidity can also affect this but to a lesser degree.
What’s that mean? It means that cold air is more dense than warm air (which you already knew) but it also means that it is easier to fly in cold dry air (like the 22 degrees F that it was outside that day) than it is to fly in warm humid air (like the 74 degrees F that it was inside the camper that day). A LOT easier Annnddd, it also means that when my flying brick hit the cold, dense air outside the door his trajectory changed drastically and he went very nearly straight up. For a long time.
He went to the very top of a huge pine tree and managed to land. I could see him and he could see us. He screeched and cried but had absolutely no idea how to fly down now that he actually wanted to do so.
The wind was blowing about 20 or25 mph that day so anytime he tried to fly down, he’d go up and end up getting blown to another tree farther away. We kept calling and he kept screaming until finally he reached the edge of the trees and was left 40 feet in the air over an Illinois corn field.
I spent the next 5 hours walking across those corn fields. It was cold. Horribly cold with 22 degree temperatures and 20+ mph winds I knew that if we left him out there he would die. I had hoped that with nothing for him to land on he would eventually crash into the ground and I could get him back but after he was caught by the wind I lost sight of him. We stayed out there until well after dark, trespassing, calling, hoping to hear that annoying little screech.
Eventually, we had to give up and go home, it was too cold and I didn’t have the right clothes for being out in the weather that long. My fingers hurt badly. My toes and ears had stopped hurting a while ago. I hadn’t eaten lunch or dinner, expecting to grab something on the way home, so I was out of energy. There was no choice.
For the whole hour and a half drive home we watched out the windows as we passed cornfield after cornfield looking for him. We would occasionally make a joke about him already being at home waiting on us but… we knew. It was just too cold out there. About halfway home Mrs. Jinksto started crying and didn’t stop until she cried herself to sleep that night.
The next day I worked from home and Mrs. Jinksto drove back out to the park to keep looking. She kept at it most of the day and came home late. She cried herself to sleep again that night.
The next day was another repeat.
She had probably been home for about 30 minutes after being out in the cold all day when the phone rang. It was a cop from a very small town nearby.
I had put ads in all of the local papers and offered a $500.00 reward for the return of the bird. He’s worth less than $100 and most can be had for under $50.00 but we hadn’t even paid that for him. Friends of ours hand raised cockatiels and were getting out of the business so Kiwi was a gift. My thought was that I would gladly pay $500.00 to fix my wife’s broken heart and if the bird wasn’t found then, well, nothing lost.
I hadn’t told Mrs. Jinksto about placing the ads because I didn’t want to get her hopes up. The police officer that morning had picked up the paper and looked in the “Lost Pets” section. It was a part of the paper that he never read but a couple of days before a farmer who lives twenty miles from the campground had discovered our Kiwi in a tree in his yard. He had held out his hand and the bird simply hopped onto his finger. The farmer noticed Kiwi’s band and took him to the local police station. The officer that was working that night had no idea what to do with an exotic bird but wrote down the band number and told the farmer he could keep him.
The farmer had no use for a bird and went to the town bar to think over his options. While he was there he struck up a conversation with the barmaid who was very excited to take Kiwi home. The cop stopped off for a drink after work (small town, one bar) and saw Kiwi sitting on the bar. They chatted about the “poor lost thing” as they fed him pretzels. When he left the bar he forgot about it… until he picked up the paper a couple of days later.
When the phone rang and Mrs Jinksto realized what it was about she began ripping through our paperwork looking for Kiwi’s banding certificate. She recited the band number to the officer and he confirmed that it was the number that he had recorded. He gave us the name of the bar and the name of the waitress so we called. She was working that night but said that her boyfriend was at home and that we could, of course, pick up our bird. She had fallen in love with him too and was happy to see him find his home.
Ok, let’s stop here and summarize because I want to ensure that you have the timeline down:
While I was out trekking across frozen corn fields in the dead of night and with the temperature falling through the high teens…
While I called for him in twenty mile per hour winds with frostbite on every extremity looking for my wife’s bird and starving from lack of a meal in nearly twelve hours…
While my heart was tearing watching as the woman that I love had her heart broken and as I watched tears begin to stream down her frozen cheeks as the horrible realization came to her…
That bastard was twenty miles away snuggled up to a nice soft waitress in a nice warm bar eating freaking pretzels.
Seriously. Back to the story…
Her boyfriend was a nice man and happy to help us as well. He said that he could already see that he was going to have to get a bird for our new barmaid friend.
When we left, I showed her boyfriend the ad that we had placed in the paper (which neither of them knew about) and left a $500.00 check on the counter for her. It was never cashed.
Like greybeard I am glad that there are damned fine, honest people in this world.
Oh, also, he’s a cannibal… loves turkey:
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