One of the things we appreciate most about each other is our mutual love of learning. Before meeting, our intellectual and leisure interests were markedly different with rare surprising areas of overlap. But since the beginnings of our friendship, we’ve gravitated toward sharing aspects of our individual lives that we never would have thought possible. Being able to join and participate in each other’s fantastically nerdy and fun avocations has enlivened both of us. It has been like the transformation of plants in springtime after the first rain showers of the season arrive. Neither of us could have imagined that due to Lindsey’s frequent discussions of engineering design, wondering “How is this made?” would become second nature for Sarah upon encountering objects of all kinds. Likewise, we never would have thought Lindsey might develop an interest in the theological basis of Christian social action movements after engaging in hours of conversation about Sarah’s research. Sometimes, our different personal interests don’t pique each other’s curiosity at all. Lindsey will probably never convince Sarah that American Pickers is anything other than boring, and it’s unlikely that Sarah’s knack for painting or sewing will ever rub off on Lindsey. One never knows for sure, though. A couple of weeks ago, we spent some time on a day trip together reflecting on one of Sarah’s hobbies that, over the past two years, has become a rather unexpected aspect of our shared life.
Having grown up in Eastern Kentucky, Sarah has always been passionate about wildlife. In childhood, Sarah fell in love with all creatures inhabiting the surrounding area. Some of Sarah’s best memories are of sprinting outdoors in bare feet to get a closer look at a snake, turtle, or lizard that Sarah’s dad had found in the backyard…or of catching a red-eyed tree frog to hide in the basket while Sarah’s mom was removing laundry from the clothesline. Every time a member of the family found an orphaned baby animal, Sarah would insist that it not be left to fend for itself. Over the years, Sarah’s family provided care for dozens of reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Sarah still remembers being twelve years old and mourning for a week over the death of a hatchling grouse that was impossible to save. This love for all kinds of wildlife has never become less important. Whether it’s using a broomstick and cat carrier to rescue a young opossum stuck on a fire escape or getting a late start on work after coaxing a reluctant cicada out of the apartment complex early in the morning, a typical day for Sarah almost always involves an interaction with our city’s wildlife.
Very soon after the two of us met, Lindsey learned of Sarah’s interest in wildlife. As we each found out about what brings the other joy, this item arose frequently in conversation. Within the first two weeks of our friendship, Lindsey knew that Sarah had taken a course for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation volunteers, and that eventually Sarah hopes to become more active in supporting the local wildlife center. Lindsey had never been particularly interested in wild animals before meeting Sarah, but long before we decided to pursue a celibate partnership we sensed that Sarah’s enthusiasm about creatures great and small was a beneficial topic for us to discuss together. In no time at all Lindsey was asking Sarah, “How does one safely rescue an injured eagle? Why do migrating songbirds crash into windows of tall buildings? What are you supposed to do if a duck has nested on your roof? Is it possible to save a snake that has swallowed something inedible?”
Later on as we moved in together and began to conceive of ourselves as a family, we had many conversations about the choices we had made individually with regard to donations. We talked about organizations, causes, and ministries that we value, and ultimately came to one mind about which of these should receive support from us jointly. At that point, Sarah introduced Lindsey to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. While not exactly local to us, this wildlife center is one of the nation’s most successful, and a trip there and back from our city can be undertaken within a day. Sarah explained to Lindsey the significance of this organization’s work, and we decided that as a family, we would sponsor two education animals: Buttercup the Black Vulture and Ruby the Red-Tailed Hawk. Something about these two birds resonated deeply with both of us. Sarah has always had a special interest in creatures that most people consider unattractive and nonessential to a healthy ecosystem, so a vulture in particular seemed an appropriate animal to sponsor.
Over the summer this year, we learned that the Wildlife Center of Virginia would be holding some open house dates. Sarah was thrilled at the opportunity to visit over Labor Day weekend and immediately registered the two of us. Lindsey was eager to welcome this new experience, but had some doubts. Even as we headed toward Charlottesville on that Saturday morning, we both knew that Lindsey wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of spending one whole day of a three-day weekend learning about veterinary equipment and animals kept for educational programs. But all that changed as soon as our tour of the facility began. First, everyone present for the open house listened to a presentation about the Center’s history, intake process for animal patients, and rehabilitation approaches. Albus the Eastern Rat Snake introduced himself to us. Under most circumstances, Lindsey is terrified of snakes. But Albus brought a mysterious sense of charm that calmed even the most squirmy, snake-fearing children who were present.
Next, we were given the chance to see some of the outdoor enclosures where the Center’s education animals live. A volunteer explained each animal’s story to us and provided some education on the roles they all play in Virginia’s ecosystems. Both of us were excited to meet them, especially Buttercup and Ruby.
The Center describes Buttercup as a “charismatic black vulture,” and they aren’t kidding. Buttercup is so friendly and imprinted on humans that he rushes to the front of his enclosure anytime visitors come. We took a short video of this.
Any doubts that Lindsey may have had about driving all morning to visit a vulture quickly melted away.
Even Sarah was surprised by what we saw inside the Center’s hospital facility, which was the final part of the open house tour. The level of care offered to the animals at this place is superb. Neither of us was aware of how much effort employees and volunteers put into creating and implementing nutrition plans and exercise regimens for each patient. We also developed a new appreciation for the challenge of keeping wild animals wild so they can return to their habitats after receiving needed care. By the time we were ready to leave, Lindsey was saying, “I have to get these people to come to the school where I teach and give a presentation. There are so many engineering design connections I could make with the students!”
Since our visit, Sarah has been thrilled to see Lindsey’s enthusiasm over International Vulture Awareness Day. We celebrated this year by wearing our “Keep Calm and Carrion” t-shirts and sporting our “carrion bags.”
Lindsey probably never thought we would say this, but we cherish the ways in which Sarah’s love of wildlife have opened new spaces of enjoyment and interest for Lindsey as well. Vultures and the like are now part of our regular conversations around the dinner table and during long drives. What we’ve learned and continue to learn from this experience is the importance of giving both of us space to be ourselves as fully as possible. This gives us equal freedom to explore new areas of life together, and also freedom to say, “No thanks,” when one of us has an interest that the other feels no connection to whatsoever. It keeps us open to the millions of possibilities that life together affords us. And it makes every day we spend together a truly wild ride.
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