The Kentuckian met us at the door. His name was Stilt Sandpiper,after the bird. A name I of course knew already but have so far neglectedto say because it was so embarrassing. The name made sense, though.The man in front of me looked like a squash on stilts, the stilts being twolong, calfless legs tanned the color of peanut butter.
“Dorothy! Finally! You look sensational.”
He gave my mom an awkward hug and squeezed my hand way
too hard, as if he needed to demonstrate his superior strength to the
fourteen-year-old boy before him. His fingers left long white marks on
my fat hands, like the ghosts of bratwursts.
Stilt helped us with our bags and told us to make ourselves at home.
“Welcome to the Nest,” he pronounced (I could hear the capitalization).
The walls were covered in 3D letters spelling words like beach andocean. On an end table sat a single shell glued to a blank canvas. Stiltcommanded me to take my bags up to the condo’s second floor, a littlemezzanine with a queen-sized bed and an old computer. As I listenedin on him hitting on my mom below, I noticed a framed photograph onthe nightstand. A family of four: a man, a woman, two blond sons withtrapezoidal heads. None of them resembled Stilt.
The next morning I was christened “Least Tern.” My mom was given themore elegant “Whimbrel.” And by the end of the day our flock nearlydoubled. At noon a pair of former nuns arrived—Godwit and Yellowlegs—with matching binoculars that looked like they’d once belonged totwin generals during World War II. And then, just before dinner, American Coot showed up. He had a glass eye and, oddly enough, just one’nocular, a telescope he wore at all times like a pendant.
They were all Stilt’s disciples, his flock, all here to see Drimble’s purple knot. So far my mom had failed to explain just what was so specialabout this particular bird, and there was nothing about it in my guide.As Godwit and Yellowlegs made their first exploratory patrol of thebeach, which sat just twenty yards from the sliding doors, Stilt sharedwith me his file on the species.
Out of a fat manila envelope he pulled a few photos of the bird printedin strange arrangements on computer paper, along with pages and pagesof charts, maps, and other ornithological data.
“Drimble’s purple knot is one of the rarest birds in the continentalUS. Of the rarest species, it is undoubtedly the most elegant and stun