Monday, July 21, 2008

Home Alone

June was a busy month for me. And as a consequence of my gallivanting around, Alice was left home alone….

As part of the Bush Leadership Fellowship I've been granted to help me plan an International Owl Center in Houston, I wanted to take a non-profit management course. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find one that would fit into my fellowship schedule, or one offered online that fit my schedule and had guidance. So since the Friends of the Houston Nature Center opted not to do their regular summer event this year and my nature center intern returned from last year (plus I have great volunteers to fill in), the Friends paid my way to attend a week-long Non-profit Management Mini MBA course through the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.
But that meant I’d be gone for a week. And Alice would be home alone.

Bridget Mullen was enthusiastic and brave enough to agree to take care of Alice during the time I’d be away. This involved a couple of visits to my house when I was still home to learn the ropes of gopher preparation, where the “gut bucket” and cleaning supplies are located, getting to know Alice a bit, instructions on what to do with molted feathers, etc. And I sent Bridget home with a pile of baggies filled with cut up gophers.

I was hopeful that Alice would take things all right since it’s not breeding season and she doesn’t demand so much attention now. Bridget called with an update after the first night, and e-mailed thereafter. I had intermittent e-mail access, so it was a relief to me to know Alice was being cared for so well.

Bridget and her kids, Nayelli and Roberto, would bow their heads and hoot a greeting to Alice from outside when they arrived. And they always gave Alice her personal space, and were careful to watch their feet, since Alice can get aggressive and pounce on feet (mostly just to startle, not to injure), but if there is a cached gopher head nearby, beware!

They saved her large molted feathers, and noted the date each one was lost. They even cleaned Alice’s room, which is a huge job, especially considering they emptied and refilled her bath pan, which holds 15-20 gallons of water (and there’s no running water on the second floor of the house where Alice’s room is located.)

As soon as I got home Friday night (after having left Sunday afternoon), I went upstairs to hoot with Alice, which we did. She didn’t seem overly stressed or perturbed. I was surprised that she hadn’t gone downstairs at all while I was gone. She’s as curious as a cat, and I had just rearranged the living room furniture before she left, so I was certain she would have been down to check it out (and make a mess.)

Alice was a bit owly about going to work the next afternoon, but I expected her to be crabby after I had been gone for a week. Then the next day the next leg of the adventure started. Hein Bloem arrived from The Netherlands.

Hein had been here in March for the International Festival of Owls. He was back for some research he was doing on the serrations on the feathers of owls. Key in his research was measuring Alice’s molted feathers that I had collected over the years as well as the feathers of Lady Gray’l, a Great Gray Owl that lived for 22 years in Winnipeg.

Alice seemed all right with Hein the first day. She hooted some, but not incessantly like she sometimes does with strangers. So I figured all was well. But then Hein and I left for several days to go to Winnipeg and the Twin Cities to visit several facilities for his research. Bridget again came to take care of Alice.

I only had very limited access to e-mail, and the first e-mail I received from Bridget made me a bit nervous—Alice had raked her leg. But Bridget assured me that she always wears pants around Alice in case something like this might happen, so she was fine. And she’d just give Alice more space in the future. Within a day or two Bridget e-mailed that Alice had hopped up onto her knee to hoot! That was certainly positive!

When Hein and I arrived back home at the end of the week, I didn’t give Alice the attention I should have. She had been downstairs in our absence, but hadn’t made too much of a mess. And Bridget and crew had done a great job cleaning. But Alice hooted at Hein and pounced at my feet. One evening she even came into the office and scooted around me to pounce on Hein’s stocking feet! Thankfully her foot pounces are more of a bluff than anything, but they certainly get the point across.

I figured I’d have some serious kissing up to do with Alice after Hein left, so I spent some extra time hooting with her in the mornings. And within a couple of days she was back to normal, thank goodness.

I won’t tell Alice that I’m going to be gone a lot more in October for my fellowship, but at least I’ll be staying home in the meantime.

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