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Catastrophes, Mishaps, & “I did not sign up for this shit.”
“‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!”
—Dead Parrot, Monty Python
You Want Me To Do What??
When I wasn’t screaming to the universe in a tiny tsunami warning shack, I was actually having a pretty good time on Midway, First Tour—that was my first solid six months on island. There weren’t many of us, we all got along, and we were all on an adventure. Except for Bring Out Your Dead Day.
I was reminded of Bring Out Your Dead Day the past several days here on the central West Coast of Florida, where we’ve had one of the worst red tides in years. The fish kill was terrible, and the stench filled the air, even at my house some six miles from the beach. I could only imagine people who lived on the beach, making a furtive dash from front door to car door, dry heaving all the way. Now imagine four hours straight of that.
A Mission I Would Have Liked to Have Refused
We’d had several days of serious rain when a typhoon stalled just west Midway for three days. Much of the island was under water. Thousands of birds were killed when the nesting sites were flooded. Had there been no infrastructure, the casualty rate would have likely been significantly less. On sandy atolls without infrastructure, the water mostly percolates through the sand. But pavement, roads, and roofs drained water into nesting areas, and many Albatross chicks died of hypothermia.
And then they started to stink. Midway normally smells slightly like a bird cage, but it’s not overpowering, and you get used to it. Ten-thousand dead and decaying birds is hard to get used to. And since there are no carrion-eaters, like vulcher, coyotes, rats, or eagles to perform their very important role in the eco-system, it was up to the only the only other creatures capable of cleaning up the yuck.
The entire island population was mobilized for four hours of collecting, transporting, and burning the dead. My staff and I were assigned the airport. It was the most disgusting four hours of my life.
One of my crew was a heavy-equipment operator, so he ran a small loader and we all tossed carcasses into the bucket. Some were mummy-like, desiccated and stiff as boards. Some were downright juicy, covered with flies and maggots. Others just fell apart and you were lucky if you were down wind.
On the first loader run to the dump, my guy turned and headed at a good clip, wanting to get this over as much as we all did—regretting his speed immediately when he was treated to a cloud of flying dead debris in his face. I nearly puked just seeing it. He donned a bandanna bandit-like after that.
All total, we estimated we had cleaned up several thousand dead birds, just our crew at the airport. I’ve never been more grateful for a shower.
That night, cook served chicken for dinner. None of us ate it.