I was traveling for a week, and had just returned home.  Opening the front door, I entered a small hallway and touched the voice mail button on my telephone.  There was only one message, from my gardener, who watered the newly planted perennial beds during my absence.  She is also my neighbor, and my daughter’s closest friend.  With only a few years experience she has become a dedicated plantswoman, and has grown to appreciate the wildlife population that my garden has to offer.  Past encounters include, discovering baby opossums in an empty five-gallon container, looking eye to eye with hummingbirds while watering, happening upon red-shouldered hawks bathing in the fountain, and fox climbing in the oak tree.  Her message was long, and began with the usual update, but as she continued, the timbre of her voice changed.  Higher in pitch, it rose to a crescendo, almost shrill, relaying what had happened while I was away, and saying the word "Chicago" over and over again.  I had to replay the message in order to grasp her story.

Walking across the pasture from her yard, on the weekend, she had just entered my garden gate to irrigate when she came upon the birds.  
“That’s when I saw them…a covey of quail”, her voice said in the message, “scurrying from the fence to the rosemary hedge!  Two parents and their babies…maybe twelve…..ooooh they were soooo cute!  But then I saw our neighbor’s cat… crouching nearby!  The babies got separated from their parents.  They went the other direction!  Towards the cat!!  Then I remembered when I was a little girl my best friend told me how a mother and father quail call their babies.  They call ‘Chi-CAG-o, Chi-CAG-o, Chi-CAG-o’. So I tried it!  I kneeled on the ground where the parents went under a bush, and I said Chicago, Chicago, Chicago….and those babies came running to me, up my arms and shoulders…oooh it tickled….it was wonderful!” she said, her now mellifluous voice riddled with giggles. Laughing aloud, I listened again. 

Midway through, my husband walked out of his office and into the living room.  He was working on a symposium to be presented that night, for a local garden club.  The topic was birds and native plants. "I'm having trouble with the introduction" he said, not so much speaking to me, as he was muttering to himself.
"Well, listen to this" I insisted, pressing the button again to play the voice mail from the beginning so that he could hear it in its entirety.  No convincing was needed for him to incorporate my gardeners story into the beginning of his presentation.  That evening I sat in the second row listening to the introduction  What followed were audible "ooohs" and "aaahs" rippling throughout the audience.  

Several days later a package arived in the mail from one of the guests who had attended the symposium.
I opened the brown box and found inside a soft quail stuffy- complete with crest or topknot.  On the breast a tag read "squeeze me".  When I complied with the instructions, out came the sound ‘Chi-CAG-o, Chi-CAG-o, Chi-CAG-o’.  I placed the stuffed animal on my daughter’s dresser, as a reminder to tell the story of how her dear friend, my gardener, had saved the baby quail in our garden.

Rainie Fross 1999