Wildlife Day at Crosby Arboretum one of my favorite days

Published 7:18 pm Thursday, March 22, 2007

Depending on what time you open your paper, I’m either happily stretching a sore shoulder and back, or more happily I’m standing in the middle of the pond at Crosby Arboretum fly fishing.

This is one of my favorite days of the year: Wildlife Day at Crosby Arboretum. Today is the day that schools from the counties and parishes around the arboretum bring some of their youngsters, mostly elementary students, to tour the arboretum, meet wildlife professionals and enthusiasts with their displays and look at the wildflowers and other nature scenery there.

I am part of the scenery. Today, I am the designated pond ornament. You have seen them before. Usually they are concrete or plastic statues of children sitting on a dock dangling a line in the water below. My sister in Natchez has a plywood cow cutout that occasionally becomes a pond ornament when the pond at her and Fred’s home rises higher than usual.

I am an animated, talkative pond ornament, though, and that is the best kind as far as I’m concerned.

The children watch me by the minute, pulling for me to catch a fish for them to oooh and ahhh over as I pull it in. I know this because they become so excited when that happens.

I wish at least one fish, large or small, would strike every time a group comes out on the little dock to the right of the point from which I entered the water. That’s what they want to see. Unfortunately, for both them and me, I don’t get a strike for every group. Only a few groups get to watch me catch — or lose — a fish.

Last year was a good year with most groups getting to see me catch a fish. I think one group got to see that happen two or three times.

Catching fish is only a small part of the fun, though. I love bantering with the children as they ask me this question or that. Some also are so concerned for my safety. They want to know if I have to watch out for snakes and alligators, even crocodiles and sharks.

Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh at their questions, but they ask them with such great solemnity. This not-laughing thing is something I had to learn with my own children. I must confess that I still forget myself and occasionally laugh when I shouldn’t.

I try hard, though, but have you ever spent several hours standing water up to your chest being peppered with delightful questions, some that just want to make you guffaw, not at the child or the question, because they truly are solemn and serious, but just because it strikes your funny bone?

When you are in the middle of the pond, you can’t step outside or into another room to just let go; you have to hold it in. When you get home and are reviewing in your mind all that went on, or are telling your spouse about it, is the time to laugh.

Not all of the questions come from the children, either. Teachers and chaperones have a few of their own.

One such question I can never forget was asked by a teacher in a joking but friendly sort of manner, but the question was no joke and it took me a moment of reflection to answer it correctly, or mostly so, because it was so unexpected.

The teacher asked me if I was “predator or prey.” Initially, I was silenced by the question. Several groups of students had come by before her and her students asking me the usual variety, such as, “Are you catching anything, mister?” “What’s the biggest fish you’ve caught?” And, of course, the ones about snakes, alligators, crocodiles and sharks.

Finally, I answered, “I’m a predator,” which of course I was since I was catching fish that I would provide to the staff at the arboretum for a fish fry. A more complete answer, though, is one that I thought of a year or two later as the question ran through my mind while I was again standing in the pond and wondering if that same teacher would return with another group of happy and excited students and ask her question again.

This time I would reply, “I am both predator and prey. I am a predator of the fish and prey for you and the children to ask your questions.”

Yes, that definitely would have been a more accurate answer, but I can’t imagine any other prey enjoying itself as much as I do when I’m standing in the middle of that pond trying to field the questions.

I hope when I finish cleaning my fly line and the rod and reel and put them away this evening it won’t be so long before I take them out again.

Since the storm, I have had the opportunity to go fishing only twice, both times as the designated pond ornament at Crosby Arboretum. Those are my favorite fishing trips, though, ones I wouldn’t miss for anything.