Kaweah River Road walk was beautiful that morning. It was July and the mornings are barely cool, enough to get out early before the summer heat hits. The river was flowing quietly, river rocks glistening under the cover of water.
I see Mr. Burns old VW bus coming up the road. I also noticed a couple walking a big dog toward me. Both vehicle and the couple reach me at the same time.
“Get in the car, Shirley,” Mr. Burns commands. “Scottie and Eddie, you too. I have something wonderful to show all of you.” There is a back and forth about the dog fitting in such a small space with all of us, but Mr. Burns exuberance overcame all objections and we piled in the back of the vehicle. Eddie, Scottie and I made introductions. They are new in town, built a house not far up the road from me, and have been walking the dog daily. That is how they met Mr. Burns. Turns out they are birdwatchers, too.
Mr. Burns drives over the bumpy dirt road to the Catfish Farm and parks. He wants the dog left in the car because he will chase the wonderful surprise away. We walk quickly behind Mr. Burns into the Catfish Farm, past one pond after another. He points out birds along the way, but does not stop. That’s unusual for him. He is so full of information that every step he has knowledge to pass, and as Eddie, Scottie and I have been doing since meeting him on the road, was to listen, to watch, to learn. He barely knows us, but we feel like best friends and it amazes us.
We get to the last pond on the left. He puts his fingers to his lips to tell us to be quiet. He whispers, “I sure hope it’s still here, after dragging you all this way.” Then his face lights up. He points.
A White-faced Ibis is hunting in the pond. Mr. Burns assures us this is a very unusual event. The bird is not known for coming this far inland. Why is it alone? They usually are in flocks.
“I didn’t want you to miss this,” Mr. Burns smiled.
My legs began to give me trouble, thus my walking had to stop. Diagnosed with warn out knees I am in line to have them replaced. In the few months that I didn’t walk daily on Kaweah River Drive, Mr. Burn’s age began to catch up with him. And finally, he died a couple of months ago. He is missed every day.
When I think of next year at this time, both knees fixed, and I will resume my daily walks, checking out the birds, critters and plants, all learned about from Mr. Burns, it is hard to imagine he won’t meet me on the road, to share one adventure or another with. And no longer is the Catfish Farm a place with ponds filled with water that attracted different birds every season. The owners have been trying to sell to a developer and let the ponds dry up. So all we have left are the photos that captured the wonders.
In memory of Mr. Burns I will walk, listen, look, to witness the changes as they emerge, and if I am lucky capture them on camera. Hopefully, the critters and birds will figure out a way to continue to live here in Three Rivers, while we humans change the environment, sometimes for good, and sometimes not.