Thursday, April 12, 2007

The ornithological trip that turned criminal!

When a good friend of mine asked if I wanted to go owling Wednesday evening of last week, I thought it would be a fun way to get a break from studying. Little did my friends (We'll call them Charlie, Linus, and Lucy*) and I know what was in store!

We arrived at the Chattanooga Audubon Society at about 8:10 pm. It had just closed 10 minutes before we arrived. But, of course, owls have no respect for fences or gates, and they certainly don't know when the Reserve closes so we parked outside the gate and turned up the owl sounds blasting from the speakers. Probably about 30-45 minutes later we began to hear a bird responding to the Great Horned Owl track. It would give a high screech (I'm not sure what the ornithological way of describing owl calls is) in reply to the high screech on the track. We waited about another 20 minutes listening and trying to pinpoint its location.

According to our personal field expert, Charlie, owls had been known to fly right up to cars that were emitting owl calls from their speakers. But this owl must have found a nice comfy branch to perch on and it was content to just screech back in response without getting any closer. Eventually we decided to go into the reserve a little ways to see if we could get a glimpse of it. (Note: this involved crossing through a locked gate.) It was mostly dark at this point but there was still a little bit of twilight off in the distance. We walked across the parking lot and were standing on some train tracks listening to the owl that was very obviously calling from a branch just a little ways in front of us. Linus and I saw it fly a bit closer through the trees and land on a branch.

Charlie, Lucy, and I were just getting a little bit closer when we heard Linus calling. Mistakenly thinking that he was saying "The bird is flying! The Bird is flying!" We didn't notice anything was wrong until I looked back and saw multiple cars surrounding our car outside the gate. We later learned that Linus had been calling "Their's people coming! Their's people coming!" We began to walk back over to our car, confident that as soon as we told the police that we were just looking for owls then everything would be alright ...not so.

As we neared the police they started yelling at us to put our hands in the air. We weren't going to argue, especially after seeing their upheld guns, illuminated by their long, metal flashlights, pointing directly at us. We were then instructed to turn around and get on our knees. I heard them hand-cuffing Charlie and Linus, who were behind me, and then my hands were jerked behind me and put in the metal cuffs. Not sure whether to laugh or cry, I dubiously knelt on the muddy ground.

Next they were yelling at us to tell them where the fifth person was. We replied that there were only four of us but they would not be convinced. "WHERE IS THE FIFTH PERSON?" they barked. "Somebody better tell me something or I'm gonna shoot somebody!" one policeman warned. That got me surprised. Why were they threatening to shoot us anyway!? "We know there's a fifth person because the guy that called you all in said there were five of you. WHERE IS THE OTHER PERSON!?" After responding multiple times that there were only four of us they stopped asking and searched around the area looking for signs of burglary and the alleged fifth person. Needless to say they didn't find anything.

Next they demanded to know what in the world we were doing. Linus, struggling to keep a straight face, replied that we were looking for owls. They loved that one. I think they were having a hard time grasping the fact that the extremely loud calls sounding from Charlie's car were actually owl sounds and we actually were there for the sole purpose of trying to find owls. After repeating the question several times and getting the same answer from all of us, they finally began to believe us. "You mean to tell me that you are out here, in the dark, at 9:15 at night trying to find owls!?" one officer incredulously asked. "Yes sir" we replied. He said the words "nine-fifteen" as if it were two in the morning. I was beginning to wonder just when these officers thought owls came out. Certainly not at noon when the sun is blazing down! Sometime during all this the policemen got really annoyed with the owl sounds that were still shrieking from the car so one of the policemen went and turned it off. Maybe they believed us then. Last I checked, cruising around with bird calls blasting from your speakers isn't exactly the most scrait thing to do!

Eventually the officers allowed Lucy and I to come over where the guys were (all still handcuffed) and they began to lecture us on the severity of our crime. After taking down names, collecting ID's, and asking ages, they removed our handcuffs and proceeded to expound upon the idiocy of our behavior. It turns out that we could have gone to jail because were trespassing and, according to the policeman, "beginning a burglary". I'm not so sure what he meant by that because we hadn't touched anything. Also, there weren't any "No trespassing" signs but I suppose we should have gotten the hint from the locked gate. I wouldn’t recommend trying this one at home!

While all this was happening, each one of us was responding in different ways. Linus couldn't keep a smirk off his face. I began to pray that he wouldn't crack up laughing because looked highly amused. Charlie has the most serious look on his face and we heard him humming a hymn. I couldn't see Lucy most of the time because she was beside and behind me. I was trying not to smile but at the same time I began to wonder what exactly these policemen planned on doing to us. When they threatened to shoot it really made me wonder what exactly they could legally do.

Eventually, after multiple warnings and stern scoldings, they let us go. The moment we got in the car and rolled up the windows, we burst out laughing. I've never had a gun pointed at me before. Definitely training for the end of time! Linus was disappointed that we didn't get to go to jail. I guess it's been an aspiration of his for a while now. Just imagine us in jail:
Big Tough Guy: "So, what are you in here for?:
Bible-preaching college ornithologists: "Birdwatching!"
Needless to say, it was quite the humorous event. If you ever decide to go Owling, make sure that you don't cross over any locked gates or you just might end up in handcuffs surrounded by gun-toting policemen.

This story of criminal ornithology reminds me of what God is NOT. God is not like the owl, screeching afar-off, giving us hints of what could be. He doesn't remain allusive when we search for Him. He comes right up to us (Just like what we wanted the Owl to do) and will live inside of us if we ask Him to. There does not have to be boundaries between us and our Savior. Sometimes we needlessly place our own dogmas and ideals as a gate, padlocked in selfishness. But God wants to rip those boundaries down. He's not going to stay on the other side like the owl. He will be right there when we cry out to Him, when we play our proverbial "owl calls". Don't be afraid to call out to Him. He will not fail to answer! Satan may try to throw in a few policemen with guns and handcuffs, but God IS there and He WILL see you through!

*Names have been changed


Vanessa said...

Omigosh, your bird watching story is so funny! What an adventure! That is certainly something you'll never forget. Great blog, by the way! Great story. You should send it to the Review or something.

Thomson said...

pseudonymns first, review second

CJK said...

lol, How about Thom, Diane, and Jeffrey for pseudonymns? any less incriminating?

Vanessa: I am honored to have you visit my blog! Just think, to have such a famous and renown author comment on my blog! and yes, i don't think i'll ever forget it!

Alex said...

I want to go next time... if worse comes to worse I might only get to add an owl or two to my bird list but having an 'innocent' run in with the police would be quite exciting.

Jan Robert (Robby) Heiberg said...

Haha, that's a funny story :D

Cindy said...

Who was the fifth person? An angel?
Ask the guy who called in what the 5th looked like? How about a report to the chief of police to complain about the actions of the policemen, threatening to shoot somebody is absurd?

CJK said...

well, we don't know what the fifth person looked like cuz we never saw him/her. and at the moment i'm not sure if the man who called in (the caretaker) would be very happy to talk to us ;)

Maybe it was an angel. There is one that likes to follow thomson around occasionally :) but whether it was or wasn't, there were plenty of unseen angels all around protecting us.

Cindy said...

Could you elaborate more on "their is an angel that likes to follow Thomson around occasionally"?
Would love to hear those incidents.

Kristin said...

Love how you slyly slipped in the word "scrait" ;) I think I imagined it being spelled differently though. I also liked the title you provided for yourselves- "Bible preaching college ornithologists" :D
Meanwhile... I'm still not sure whether to wish I had gone with you guys or be glad that I wasn't able to go.

CJK said...

well, Mrs.Paris, THEIR (thank you for the correction, I hate it when I do that!) could be an angel that likes to follow Thomson around. There was one incident once in an elevator that was strangely odd and providential involving a bum that could have been an angel. You'll have to ask Thomson for the details because it's quite a long and complicated story. I'm sure there are other examples as well but that's the only other one I know of :)

Kristin: of course you should wish that you went! Just think of all the fun memories we made! Someday when I'm old and have grandchildren that are asking me what it was like to live in 2007, I'll tell them about my owl story and they'll laugh at the silliness of it all. But of course, they will be asking me under the tree of life and they'll be able to go hang out with the owls anytime they want!

Paul said...

you needed a lawyer:-)

the nations finest actually shouldn't have done what they did. but they seldom behave unless you know your rights. for the next time:

they are not allowed to ask you any questions unless (1) you are not restrained, and feel free to leave (2) they fully arrest you and warn you of your right to remain silent, your right to a lawyer, and that anything you say can and will be used against you.

I'll think about your situation a bit more, and get back to you. did you happen to catch any of the officers names?

CJK said...

nope, no names. I was going to ask but then i didn't. Too bad you weren't there with us to educate us on the do's and dont's of what to do when you get arrested for birdwatching. Of course, we were trespassing so we definitely deserve some of the blame. I didn't know all that stuff about answering questions and stuff. I'll be looking forward to reading what else you find out! :)

Petraglyph said...

Christy, what an awesome story! I hope I get a chance to go birding with you sometime... :-)

Caitlin said...

Man! if it hadn't been for clinicals there might have been six people!
maybe next time :)

Lorrie said...

Hi cjk! It's me!! So I think I have read this post like...12 times or so (maybe not..) but each time I can't help snickering in amusement. I think the humming a hymn part especially. That is just too funny! All over owls. :)

Paul said...

from a legal perspective, you've got all kinds of rights, but from a practical perspective, the best thing to do is get the names (in a meek manner), then shut up and submit. police beatings happen rather regularly.
their failure to support your honor your rights just means that they can't bring any charges against you for whatever they say that you are doing.

Chopsticks on Oboe said...

Wow Christy! I think we will have an interesting year being suite mates next year! I loved the story though! :)

Christy said...

We are absolutely going to have an amazing time as suite-mates! It's going to be fun :D :D Don't worry, I'll try not to get you involved in any illegal activities ;)

Caitlin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caitlin said...

Hi chopsticks on oboe :) I'm incredibly excited about meeting you and being "sweet mates" with you next year! We are going to have the greatest of times! We have fun picnics, lullaby singings should someone be ill, surprise parties, Christmas lights in the bathroom, story times, back rubs, laugh at Christy times, Christy hugs, "sweet mate" searches for random lost items, caving laundry washes, singing along with Fernanda Ortega, Frank Sinatra, and Chris Rice, and recordings of whatever we are playing in orchestra at the time :)
tea / hot chocolate parties with silly/heart to heart conversations, and many other uncategorized activities! It will be a joy to have you join us :)

Johonn said...

Ha! Great story, and nice new layout! Looks good!

ScottCatskill said...

Excessive playing of taped calls can be very disruptive to nesting owls, and could cause them to abandon a territory/nest.

Owls call to attract mates and to advertise that the area they are calling from is their territory...when you blasted calls from car speakers the owl probably thought you were some kind of giant owl there to take over its turf.

If you are going to play tapes for owls in the future please play them sparingly, and make sure that the actual owl gets the feeling that it managed to drive off the intruding "owl."

And I'm sure if you had contacted the Audubon Society ahead of time you could have gotten permission to be there.

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