Simmons family group1 Danville cropped
Yellowlegs
by Katherine Simmons

Mother was in the kitchen when I came down, Peterson guide in hand.
Thin and perky like a shorebird, Mother plucked our thermoses from the      shelf
and poured hot chocolate for me, black coffee for herself.
She hummed and smiled, and helped me tie my ankle-high hiking boots.

Together, as though we had rehearsed our quiet exit in advance,
we cooked and wrapped egg sandwiches while the family slept,
then slipped out and slid into the old gray station wagon.
We heaved its heavy doors shut and rode into the black morning.

Mother sang with the radio as we drove through dawn
to the city sewage treatment plant. Cars congregated in the lot,
birdwatchers hunched within, nursing the thermoses they had brought,
savoring the last bits of warmth until the time to start.

Mother and I plunged out into the cold and earthy air, binoculars      dangling
from our necks, faces opening to morning light and the waterfowl      chorus of chortles
all around. I fell in with the grownups, whispered and pointed just like      them,
walking the labyrinth of lagoons. Far within we came upon a dainty      wading bird,

slicked with oil, stuck and flapping in the mud. Mother saw her first.
The leader strode out in tall farm boots, pulled the bird from the muck,
inspected her through squinted eye, then wiped her neck with his glove.
A Lesser Yellowlegs, he said. We need someone to clean her up then      set her free.

I clasped her in my lap, wrapped in a dirty towel, as Mother drove us      home.
I felt her pattering heart and feather-weight warmth; her frozen gaze
revealed no trace of gratefulness. I shivered with dread. Do you think      she’ll live?
The smell of wet wool and drying mud filled the space of our car.

We bathed her in the downstairs sink. Mother’s firm hands held her still
while I poured soapy water through the oil. We wrapped her in the      towel,
hurried to our car, then drove in bright sunlight down the hill to Crooked      Creek.
I held her on my lap, keeping still with hope, to soothe our beating      hearts.

Mother and I walked to the gravel sandbar where the creek bent west.
She stepped back as I stooped down and placed my bundle on the      ground.
My Lesser Yellowlegs stood paralyzed at first. Then her bright black      eyes
came alive, she took a step, stretched her wings, and flew away across      the creek.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author (fanning her skirt) at age six with her parents and siblings in Danville, Indiana, on Easter 1958.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As the middle of seven children, every moment with my mother was precious and guarded with a certain greedy need. Imagine the extraordinary delight I felt in saving a small helpless bird, Mother and me working side by side during our early morning adventure. Sometimes we save more than we realize.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Katherine Simmons
was born and raised in Indiana, but spent much of her adult life in New York. A practicing lawyer, she recently returned to her native state where she has had the good fortune to encounter other poets from whom to learn and with whom to share the art. She enjoys her three grown daughters, the Indiana woodlands, her very smart Australian Shepherd, the changing seasons, and oatmeal sourdough bread.