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Explaining a Shovelbird

     I'm sitting in Pinedale, Wyoming—miles away from Interstate 8 and the Second Street exit in El Cajon. Delicate yellow leaves drift down around me as the breeze shakes them off the slender aspens—"quakies" to the natives. What in the world am I doing here?

     At the moment, I'm trying to figure out how to explain the presence of this big black shovelbird to my spouse. The creature is lying on its side, feet in the air, just behind the driver's seat of our Chevy pickup, where our luggage should be. Rol—my spouse—will be back in a few minutes.

     The problem is we don't have room for the bird in our truck. We barely have room for our luggage and the few gifts we mysteriously acquired during our eight day drive through the Northwest. Okay, more than a few. . . If the weather's favorable, we can put our luggage in the bed of the truck, but if it rains I'm in big trouble. Right now, with this wind, it doesn't look too good.

     It's obvious to me that this bird belongs in Southern California, not Wyoming. But will it be obvious to Rol? More specifically, it belongs at 509 Burgasia Path. Same place I belong. Same place Rol belongs. Except we live indoors and the shovelbird is definitely an outdoor creature. He's two feet tall and rather ugly. He looks just like – surprise! — a black shovel with a long, skinny neck and a tiny V-shaped head.

     I met the shovelbird yesterday afternoon on Pine Street, right in the middle of town. He'd taken shelter in the back corner of a small gift shop and was staring mournfully at the dusty floor. Unfortunately, by the time I saw him I'd gathered my quota of gifts and didn't have a free hand to scoop him up and lay him gently on the counter, with the universal quote, "Charge it."

     Rol was outside waiting as patiently as anyone waits when they've had enough and are ready to move on. so I paid for my purchases and left. But I couldn't help thinking that a dusty floor in the back of a gift shop is no place for a bird, especially an ugly shovelbird.

     Tossing and turning in an unfamiliar bed that night I laid my plans. In the early dawn I sneaked out of the house into the freezing Wyoming weather. As I drove silently through the dark twisted streets of Pinedale toward my rendezvous with the shovelbird, I had a premonition that the big black bird had flown off during the night.

     Okay. I embellished that a little. What I really did that morning was wait innocently for Rol and our Pinedale friend, Bill, to leave for their morning hunt. After they left, I popped a slice of bread in the toaster and sipped a second cup of coffee. I read the morning paper, just in case. But there were no articles about a large black bird migrating to Mount Whitney, nor any headlines shrieking, "Kidnapper Speedily Shovels Shovelbird into Stolen SUV and Skips Town." I breathed a sigh of relief and tripped lightly out to the truck.

     First stop, the general store to pick up supplies for the remainder of our journey. I didn't want to raise any suspicions. Pinedale is a small town and news gets around mighty fast—especially when you're the stranger in town. Shortly before ten, I parked on Pine Street in front of the gift shop, hopped out of the truck and headed for the habitat of the shovelbird.  

     I found him still staring mournfully at the dusty floorboards. As I leaned over to read the tag on his leg, I swear he looked up with a glimmer of hope in his little black eyes. Luckily the tag that I'd dreamed last night was marked $229.95 was only $29.95.

     The price was right but still uncertain, I was wondering how I could possibly fit this creature into our truck when a tourist stopped to examine a ridiculously gaudy three-foot tall creature a few feet away. He looked as if he might actually buy it. Suddenly his gaze shifted towards the shovelbird. My shovelbird. No way! I scooped up the bird, ran to the counter and whipped out my credit card, "Charge it!"

     Now all I have to do is explain this shovelbird to Rol. Maybe I'll just say I fell in love with the shovelbird just like I fell in love with him back in 19??. Think he'll buy it?

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