The younger amateur researchers naturally originate a good portion of the livelier chicken-watching anecdotes. One observer is fond of telling how a hitherto unintroduced couple was put together in one of two blinds on a booming ground. Now, a pinnated grouse blind, as built in Wisconsin, is a tight fit for two. After some hours of propinquity the student scientists got vastly more interested in courtship inside the blind than out. So intense did the interest become that suddenly, before the eyes of the startled occupants of the other shelter, the entire canvas blind—scopes, stakes, seats and all—violently tipped over backward, spilling its embarrassed tenants onto the grass and into a flushing flurry of indignant prairie chickens.
But persistence was the best virtue of a rather elderly and definitely corpulent couple who spent hours in a blind, crouching on their hands and knees, peering out of peepholes unaccountably placed only inches above the ground, without ever getting a good look at a bird. It was not until much later that they discovered the blind was upside down.
Another bit of madness is one of Fran's favorite anecdotes, partly because it illustrates the rural friendliness of the locality. "This couple," says Fran, "telephoned to say they would be a little late. We delayed the evening briefing, then held it and they still hadn't appeared. We all went to bed a little worried. As it happened, the couple had gone to the Potton farm up the road. With true country hospitality the Pottons let them in, not even asking who they were, and talked weather for hours. Finally, about 10 o'clock, they gave them cake and coffee. That is the country signal to go, but the couple just settled down, obviously staying. Finally, about midnight, they realized their error, jumped up full of apologies and came down here. The house was dark, and by that time they were pretty rattled. Being city people, they somehow thought the thing to do was to crawl through a window as quietly as possible. Unfortunately, of all the possible choices in this house, the one they picked was our bedroom window."
As befits any group dedicated to nature's finest soft-shoe shuffler, the Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus has its own vaudeville moments, too. Oh, mostly the members restrict themselves to the simple pleasure and light entertainment they find, after a hard week of managing large sums of money, in driving around Buena Vista Marsh and rearranging its 50,000 acres. But sometimes they conduct business meetings consisting of five to six minutes of businesslike business and 300 minutes of cocktail party for 600 people. Or they write bylaws containing sections like "5. Ruffled Feathers" (pertaining to voluntary withdrawals from membership) and "6. Day of Reckoning" (governing annual contributions). And the club quasi-quarterly, BOOM!, runs heavily toward quotations from odes of John Marston (1575-1634), letters to the editor in Latin and such announcements as: Fuzzy Thurston, Green Bay Packer left guard, is the newest member.
Some well remember the time a non-member was invited along to watch birds dance. The party on the evening before had lasted much longer than 300 minutes, so everyone had intended to spare the man the obligation of struggling into hunting clothes and hip boots before dawn by not waking him. In the first faint light of morning, however, the guest, a very British Swiss gentleman raised in India, was seen walking across a burn. Homburg on head, Savile Row suit coat framing silk tie and starched collar, he was impeccably dressed to the waist—and wore nothing below.
Tympanuchus Cupido's friends succeed pretty well in demonstrating Fred Hamerstrom's most quoted maxim: "Good works," Fred Hamerstrom says, "don't have to be done in a sepulchral atmosphere."
One random incident from last spring's booming conclusively and finally reinforces that conviction. A bearded chicken-counter's small son had come running to the Hamerstrom house, breathlessly recounting how he had seen a mysterious creature, neither animal nor vegetable, neither feathered nor furred, hanging from a tree limb.
"In all likelihood," someone said, "the beast the boy has seen, from its description, is either a bird watcher or a conservationist, and it is probably both."
The hanging thing turned out to be a fungus.