Molly Fisk: Act Like A Post

I’ve just been invited to go to a ground-breaking ceremony in Trinidad. Not Trinidad, California – the island of Trinidad, in the country of Trinidad & Tobago, down at the bottom of the Caribbean near Venezuela. You’re wondering what I could possibly have done to get an invitation like this, aren’t you? The short answer is that I learned how to act like a post.

My grandmother, Jonnie Fisk, was a backyard birdwatcher who parlayed her hobby into a calling at the age of 50. She got a banding license and for years drove from her home in Massachusetts down the Eastern Seaboard to Miami, banding birds on the barrier beaches along the way. After a month or two in Florida, running the southernmost banding station in the country, she turned around and drove back again. According to a New York Times article I just found on the Internet, “she worked harder and longer studying one small bird, the Least tern, and spent more time and money trying to protect the species than anyone in the world.”

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with her on Cape Cod. She was the Cape’s “Tern Warden,” which meant that she studied the birds’ migrations, their population, and their feeding habits and did her best to keep dune buggies off their nesting sites. Many mornings we’d go out to some lonely stretch of sand and my grandmother would sit down near a nesting site and tell me to act like a post. There were many posts nearby, bearing signs to warn dune buggies that the area was off-limits.

After some minutes of stillness, we’d see a tern chick moving. It was my job to keep my eye on it while she stood up and walked over to pick it up and band it. The chicks were so well-camouflaged they almost melted into the sand. When I lost one, we both had to stay absolutely motionless until it moved again. Meanwhile, all this time the adult terns would be whirling overhead and dive-bombing us, trying to attack our heads with their razor-sharp bills, which was why we wore hats.

Along with defending terns, my grandmother made bird inventories of land newly donated to the Nature Conservancy and helped to found a couple of nature centers. One’s in New Jersey, and the other is, you guessed it, on the island of Trinidad. Sometime in November, I’ll get on a plane and fly to Port au Prince with my Aunt Amanda, to be present for the groundbreaking ceremony for a new building named in my grandmother’s honor.

I think she would be pleased as punch and also highly embarrassed at this idea — she wasn’t great at taking compliments, even though she liked them a lot. If she hadn’t died 27 years ago and could come with us to see the first shovel of dirt lifted where someday will stand the Jonnie Fisk Administrative Complex, I’d tell her to take a deep breath, put on a big smile, and act like a post.



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  • Jeanie July 8, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    Such a heart-warming story, Molly! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Molly Fisk July 8, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      😉 xo

  • Susanna Gaertner July 8, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    …another heart-expanding essay from “our” Molly, whom I view as a National Treasure belonging to all of us.
    Soul solace dispensed with humor: every post a precious gem. Many and continued thanks…..

    • Molly Fisk July 8, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      you’re so welcome, Susanna!

  • Mickey M. July 8, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Distraction of my son talking about the skills needed to cancel subwoofers and reading your post, essay?, blog? what does one call these words? Anyhooooo, I love it. A famous relative. That’s what mothers dream about, hope for with their children. Someday their children, or child, will do something worthy of kudoes and fame and recognition. So what award can we campaign for you, our marvelous Molly? Hugs and thank you more and more endlessly. What a wonderful life, what wonderful relatives? More hugs.

    • Molly Fisk July 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      These words are called an essay, but then the essay is posted on Women’s Voices for Change, so it is confusing. I can’t imagine how subwoofer cancellation factored into it all… 😉 Thank you for your kind words, and if you want to know about the real famous person in the family, my uncle’s name was John Updike. Not a blood relative, and no help with the writing life except as inspiration from afar and bon mots at the dinner table in summers when we visited, but at least at one time a household name.

  • Janna Zonder July 8, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Beautiful, well-written article from start to finish. Your grandmother’s wisdom and work helped both the birds and you to thrive.

  • Wendl in Manhattan July 8, 2017 at 9:49 am

    What a fabulous story and tribute! The layers of Molly just get deeper and richer all the time.

    • Molly Fisk July 8, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      Kind of like the Grand Canyon, in fact… 😉 Glad you liked it, Wendl. Thank you.

    • hillsmom July 8, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      You sure got that right! Thanks Molly