Once a park ranger…

This week was an epic adventure in songwriting and in life. My experience in life is that I often make plans; those plans then take on a life of their own and generally turn out quite differently than I anticipated. This shift can lead to the unexpected, which can be uncomfortable at times but often turns out to be “all for the best,” as my husband’s grandfather used to say.


In my life as a park ranger for the National Park Service in the United States, I worked specifically as an educator and interpreter. It was my job to tell the stories of each park where I worked in ways that would help people make personal connections to those places. Even though national parks are meant to be free and accessible for all people, most people are not able to travel to all of the places in the United States where national parks have been created. Many people, especially elementary school teachers, have found creative ways for their students to “visit” these places and learn about them. One way is by sending a little Flat Stanley doll to a national park. Most of my colleagues groaned when a Flat Stanley arrived in the mail, but I absolutely loved taking the wee Stanley around the park and taking photos to send to the kids. Indelibly, the Stanley made just about always made it to my desk as a result.


A friend of mine who lives in Alaska recently sent me a message, asking if she could mail me the Flat Stanley her nephew had sent to her in Homer. I was thrilled! There is a saying in the United States, “Once a ___, always a ___.” In my experience, this definitely holds true for park rangers.


Flat Stanley arrived on a Friday, and I planned to bring him with me to the refugee center on Monday. I let my co-volunteer Sarah know that I would need to leave a little early so I could bring Stanley to some of the famous haunts around Brussels center. I figured I would bring him to Grand Place and take a photo in front of one of the many waffles stands and call it a day.


It turned out to be quite different than I planned.


I packed my bag and headed out with my ukulele to make the familiar trip to Petit-Château. While waiting for the metro to arrive at the Beaulieu station stop, I noticed a pigeon trying to land on a wire line above the tracks. It sort of bobbed hesitantly from side to side and then came to land on the platform right next to the edge.


It stood there, feathers puffed up and head tucked low. I sat, watching it and thinking that something was not right.


I stood up and cautiously moved close to the pigeon. I knelt down. It didn’t move. I reached out and touched it, and it did a kind of hop away from me.


Ok, I thought. Maybe it’s ok. I went back to sit down and continued watching it. It just sat there, all tucked into itself.


I walked back over and gently reached out and scooped it up. No protest from the bird. I tucked it beneath my scarf and held it closer to my body. Still no protest.


Uncertain of what to do next, I went over to my bag and instrument. The train was now approaching. I hesitated. What was I going to do bringing a sick bird to the refugee center?


I found myself leaving station and walking back toward the stop for bus 17. A woman passed by and looked at me strangely (I was holding a pigeon, after all). I paused halfway to the bus. What was I going to do with this bird? Should I bring it to the vet? Would the vet be able to help it? Was I going to spend a small fortune I didn’t have?


Then, I remembered there was a rescue and rehabilitation center for wild animals somewhere in Brussels. I had brought an injured magpie there last fall. Holding the bird in one hand, I did a Google search for the center with the other. Then, I looked up directions. I could just get back on the 5, and it would take me all the way there.


I headed back to the station and boarded the next train. The bird was now hidden beneath my scarf, and no one was the wiser that there was a pigeon sharing their commute with them on this Monday afternoon in March. I felt such a rush of love while holding this bird to my heart. I could feel its own heart beating close to mine.


It was not until I reached the rescue center that I remembered Stanley. I took him out and snapped a few shots with the pigeon to show the process. The staff person brought out a plastic box, and I gingerly placed the bird inside.


Stanley and I wished the pigeon well and then headed to the refugee center to meet up with Sarah. At center, we decided to sing a song we wrote to honor pigeons as a way to send healing energy to the injured bird I had just brought to the rescue center. I filmed us singing the song, which also featured Flat Stanley. Sarah suggested that we walk together to Grand Place, and we had a grand time taking photos of Stanley along the way.


Stanley with St. Catherine’s Church in the backround. Stanley with waffles. Stanley in front of a Belgian chocolate shop with a chocolate Atomium in the window. Stanley at Grand Place. Then, Stanley with Tin Tin and the Smurfs.


The next morning, I bid Stanley farewell and sent him on his way to my friend’s in-laws in France. I then spent pretty much an entire day making a short film for my friend to send to her nephew. The film turned out to be fairly park ranger-y, teaching the kids about wildlife rescue, immigration, and historic Brussels.


Once a park ranger…

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