Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Birding Dangerously

Imagine my surprise, last Christmas, when I opened Joe’s present and found that he had given me a harness. A harness. When defending himself against my unspoken expectations Joe can often be found claiming, “I’m not a mind reader!”, but that harness proved otherwise. See, for a long time I had wanted a harness, and for a long time I expected that eventually I would go buy one; during those months of longing I don’t recall a single utterance to Joe expressing my harness desires. Yet, there he was on Christmas, with a harness wrapped in a box as if he’d read my mind.
Joe, rappelling into a nest

The importance of this harness was not lost on him, in fact, it could almost seem self-serving. Joe, in his ever evolving peregrine capers, often needs someone to go with him in case something bad happens. When we both worked for the park service at Lake Mead it was easy for me to find time to go along on his peregrinations (or as he calls it ‘sallying forth with daring and do’).  Then when we both left the park service for the glamorous life of New Mexico, his focal bird changed but the type of work didn’t. That being the case, it was good for both of us to have a harness in case I needed to rope up and save him—as we can all imagine I’m perfectly capable of doing.  Now that we’re back in Las Vegas, Joe submitted a proposal to the National Park Service to do some freelance peregrine work. And you know what? Last week they accepted his proposal, and I can tell you that there was a bit of celebratory dancing happening in this house.
Out comes the harness. In the past Joe never let me go down into the nests with him, I either watched from down below or waited from up above. Part of it was because he wasn’t always allowed to be doing what he went ahead and did, but mostly he didn’t let me go down because it’s too dangerous. But at a certain point it’s time to throw caution to the wind, so last Saturday, down to the peregrine nest I went-- harness, helmet, daring and do.

Pounding in a stake
Readying the rope
Rappelling into a nest is a lot different than the sandstone cliff face stuff I’d done at girls’ camp. For one, there’s nothing stable enough in this fine desert to anchor off of, so it’s necessary to pound in stakes, which means you have to carry both the stakes and the sledge hammer to the top of the mountain. You need at least 150 feet of rope, plenty of webbing, and of course, the harness. Joe set up everything that required knowledge and/or strength, while I ate a cliff bar and took pictures. Then, in a very workman like fashion, we went down to the nest. He went first and anchored himself in place once he got to the nest, then I headed down.  

Getting to the nest was relatively painless, though the extremely crumbly rock made for a few unexpected surprises, and I had to rough up a pygmy cedar on my way down. The birds are gone this time of year, so Joe’s purpose was to collect prey remains and analyze them for an ongoing study.  This particular nest didn’t have a lot of bones or feathers, so it was a quick and easy collection process. After that the only thing left to do was get back up, which turned out to be a very slow and tiresome process, peppered with the striking realization that a rope and some dubious skills were the only things keeping me from 
plummeting to my death.
In the nest

As you may have guessed, we both survived. It was the fourth nest that week for Joe, nothing particularly special. But my experience was eye-opening. It is so incredibly cool to see a peregrine’s nest up close—to actually sit in it. It also reiterated to me 1) how dangerous Joe’s work is, and 2) how awesome he is for doing it. So don’t panic if you’re driving along and see a man working his way down a precipice, that’s just Joe on his latest quest for peregrine prey. 
Putting the harness to good use


Just Carol said...

Oh my gosh! You are such an amazing and daring couple. I'm such a chicken, but now I wish that when I was younger I had done the things you guys do. PS..please be careful!

Ron said...

I agree with Carol, as always she says exactly what I planned to; except, I can add that your girls camp experience worked out!!