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Bob White

Bob White
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
Bob White
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

I settled into a rocking chair on my front porch to take a break, and as a warm breeze caressed my face, I heard the call. “Bob-Bob-white… Bob-Bobwhite…” Suddenly, my mind moved backward in time, and I was a teenager again — sitting in a swing on the front porch of my grandparent’s farm outside of Metter. I remember the distinctive call of the quail coming from a grassy area near Papa Lanier’s pond, where a legendary big bass named “Moe” swam the waters and evaded being captured by my father’s purple worm lure.

“Bob-Bob white… Bob-Bob white…” The Lanier farm continued to play in my head — the crepe myrtles in the landscape, the towering pines on the property’s edge, a tobacco barn within eye shot, the smell of food cooking in the kitchen, Grandmother chasing a dirty white dog off of her porch with a broom (Whitey was always covered in fleas), Aunt Colleen sitting beside me rolling the newspaper into tubes with her hands, and the gentle birdsongs that broke the stillness of the day. I remember hearing the cackling of a hen in the chicken house telling the world she’d just laid an egg, the call of a distant whippoorwill in the moments before darkness fell, and the sorrowful tone of a mourning dove, but none stirred my imagination like the “Bob-Bob white” we often heard there.

The call of the quail was common back then. Not so much any more.

Quail populations throughout Georgia and the United States have declined dramatically, primarily due to land-use changes. The Georgia wildlife website states, “Quail in Georgia will likely never return to the widespread abundance experienced in the early 1900s, but their numbers have increased in many areas due to improved management,” and that’s thanks in part to a conservation measure called the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI), funded in part by the fees collected from the special “Support Wildlife” tag.

My mind calls up another memory — one from 1972.

The year my family moved from Warner Robins to Bonaire, my mother, siblings, and I went for a walk in our newly developing neighborhood. We came upon four young quail in the tall grass next to the road, and each of us picked one up. I remember the softness of their feathers and the whistling sound that seemed to come from their tiny beaks. One of the birds was not as healthy as the others, and Mom suggested we name that one, “Garfield,” after President Jame Garfield, who died in office in 1881, after declining for 11 weeks from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Mom foresaw the future — she must have realized that the quail would die soon, and it did. Actually, they all died. Some things — like wildlife — aren’t meant to be kept or confined. We should have let them be that day.

“Bob-Bob white… Bob-Bob white…” I heard the brown speckled bird’s call again — loud and sweeping upward in pitch at the end, like a question. I heard the quail, but I couldn’t see it. I chose not to try, because I want him or her to stay for a while and not flee thinking that I’m a predator, because I am far, far from a predator.

The quail’s call carried with it a sense of nostalgia and rocked me like a lullaby, soothing the worries of the day and awakening the deep connection I feel to the natural world.

And then it stopped. “Where’d you go?” I wondered. And just like that, the symphony was over. I hope to hear it again soon, but for now, the song will linger in my heart.

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