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March 2008

On a recent visit to Mother Goose, she asked me if I would like to meet one of the older members of her kingdom, Grandmother Byrda.

"Of course," I replied. "I would love the opportunity. El Paso has some interesting characters, but it's good to meet others of different interests and pursuits, I always say."

"Well," she said, "Grandmother Byrda is our most beloved and trusted Egg Sitter, although we have several youngers ones in training."

And shortly thereafter I met Grandmother Byrda, who was nodding on her nest. Mother Goose reached to tap her shoulder gently.

"Um, whoa! What? Who?"

The little bird woman blinked several times. "Oh, Mother Goose, I wasn't expecting you. Must've dozed off for a second." She adjusted her body, shifting from one side to the other.

"Byrda, I'd like you to meet my friend Wanna," Mother Goose said. "She's a frequent visitor, and I thought maybe you might want to tell her a bit about what you do for us here."

Grandmother Byrda inclined her head, and said, "My pleasure."

"How do you do?" I said. "I'm happy to make your acquaintance, Mrs., er., Grandmother, er... what SHALL I call you?"

She smiled. "Well, Wanna, it all depends on one's age. The younger ones tend to call me Grandmother Byrda, but you look old enough to call me just Byrda. Whatever pleases you," she said, in a reedy old lady voice.

"Well, I may be old enough, but I feel more comfortable calling you Grandmother Byrda, if you don't mind."

She nodded, then her eyes closed. Mother Goose held her fingers to her lips, so we sat in silence until Byrda opened her eyes again.

"Where was I?" she asked, adjusting her posture. "Weren't you asking me something, Wanna?"

"I hadn't yet," I admitted. "But I am so very interested in your occupation. You are an Egg Sitter, Mother Goose tells me?"

"Yes, for quite some time now." She frowned a bit. "Actually I forget how long, but long enough to have seen many generations of birds leave the nest safely, after having spent some time with me."

She settled her body more comfortably, adjusting the eggs beneath her, rotating the ones closest to the outside further in, the ones on the inside moving closer to the edge of her capacious nest.

Mother Goose explained, "Byrda allows for Parenting Birds to leave their eggs for a spell while they forage, or just to get away from their chores for a while. You may not realize it, but egg sitting is very demanding, and even the most well-adjusted flying folk sometimes need a break. We believe in keeping our families strong, and sometimes that means serving as each other's caregivers for a while."

She gestured toward the nest. "Byrda has room here for about a dozen eggs at a time, depending on the size. When she's tending condor or other larger eggs, of course, she doesn't have as many."

"How does the system work?" I asked.

"Well, a Parent Bird contacts Goosey, and she checks with me and Byrda. If there is room, and Byrda is up to it, the Parents fly quickly here with the egg between them and Byrda moves the newcomer egg to the center of the nest. As you can see, she rotates them regularly, so that they all stay at the right temperature."

"It seems like a lot of responsibility," I said. "What's the longest period a Parent Bird leave its egg?"

"Oh, not more than a few hours, except in extreme emergency. For instance, while Grandmother Byrda and several Parent Birds were ill with bird flu, we all took turns, including Goosey, who did it grudgingly, I must say, as she views it as beneath her dignity. But we all pull together as a team when the need arises."

"Bird flu! Oh, no. I've heard it's a very serious illness."

"Oh, my, yes," Mother Goose replied. "Things were quite touch-and-go around here for a while, but Byrda is a tough old bird, if you will pardon my pun. And Dr. Stork came through admirably with his treatment, as well. He received a grant from the Centers for Disease Prevention, you know, and has had some very good results from his studies."

She reached to pat Byrda's shoulder fondly. "And Byrda is strong as ever, busting her feathers to get back to work again. We would never let our favorite Sitter take on such responsibility if she weren't fully certified as fit for duty."

"There was quite some concern in recent years that bird flu might spread to humans," I said.

She frowned slightly. "Surely not, or Goosey would've informed me. She knows everything that goes on around here, and Dr. Stork hasn't suggested this strain of flu was anything other than the regular kind."

"What a relief," I said. "So, you say there are younger Sitters, also?"

"Yes. Actually, there will be one arriving before too long to take over for Byrda, although she will still be close by for advice and instruction. Although we don't encourage Parent Birds to leave their eggs more than once in a hatching period, there is always a demand, and we want the young ones to be prepared."

As Grandmother Byrda nodded off again, Mother Goose whispered, "She's getting up there, you know, and it's best to have several trainees ready to take over."

At this point, Byrda shifted her posture again, rotating the eggs once more. "Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me," I told her. "It's been a pleasure meeting you and learning about your important responsibility."

She nodded, blinking several times. "Pleasure was all mine. Come again," and she nodded off once more.

As we left, I said, "Thanks, Mother Goose. Every time I come here I learn something new."

"It's a big, interesting world, isn't it, Wanna?"

And as I looked over my shoulder at Grandmother Byrda adjusting her eggs one more time, I said, "Yes, I know I will remember this visit for a long time."

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NOTE: You can see how I made Grandmother Byrda by going here.

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