I’m in the kitchen and I hear Delphine call out, “Come here quick. Something’s happening.”
It’s remarkable how seldom those words announce an unexpected blessing. I run to the dining room where Delphine stands in front of the aviary listening to a glider crabbing with all its might. Something indeed is happening, something bad.
If you don’t know what a sugar glider is, think of a large-eyed chipmunk that can glide using its webbed armpits. Think cute, think playful, think curious, think a member of the family that will live as long as a dog. If you’ve never heard a glider crab, think about a sound from a cheap Halloween decoration that is so scary it can’t possibly be real. But it is. And it’s almost impossible to figure out where it’s coming from. It’s an urgent wah!-wah!-wah! sound that seems to be channeled straight from hell.
That’s the problem we now have. We hear the crabbing but we can’t figure out where it’s coming from. We have three gliders in a six foot wide by seven foot high room that I built for them. Delphine decorated the room (we call it an aviary) with autumn-colored leaves and a branch that serves as a highway between their nest bag and a feeding bin the size of a large shoe box. All this is visible through a six-foot wide sliding glass door in our dining room. And this awful crabbing sound is coming from – thin air. Wah!-wah!-wah!
I open the sliding door and two of the gliders dart into their cloth nest bag. Good. I pinch the top of the bag and ask Delphine to move it to a cage we keep in the guest room. Where is the third glider? Wah!-wah!
I look carefully at every corner of the aviary and there is no glider to be seen – yet the crabbing continues. Has it turned invisible?
I bring my ear closer to the handle on the sliding glass door and realize the missing glider has somehow gotten into the aluminum frame surrounding the glass. She apparently found a tiny opening at the top of the frame, squeezed her way three feet across the top, made a turn down the left side of the frame, and got stuck upside down just above where the door handle and lock mechanism are. And now there is nothing left to do but shout a warning to the other gliders that she’s in trouble. Wah!-wah!-wah!-wah!
It took three grown men to muscle that three-hundred pound sliding door into place when I was building the aviary. The door slides back and forth on a track. Removing it means unscrewing a half dozen stops and guides and other pieces before lifting this seven foot tall, three foot wide, hundred odd pound sandwich of glass and aluminum out of there. In addition, the branches and other decorations in the aviary make getting at the door a near impossibility. How long will the smell of a rotting glider in the frame last? Delphine says hurry. The glider says Wah! Wah! Wah!
We rip out the branches and other decorations we had so carefully hung so I can get to the door. I grab the edges of the panel and somehow lift it out of its track. I’m standing inside the aviary and I have to maneuver this thing out an opening shorter than the door panel. How? The diagonal! Delphine and I tilt the glass panel and slide it out of the aviary on to the dining room rug. The glider is silent.
I still don’t know how I’m supposed to free the glider from this trap. I remove the door handle and locking mechanism and see a tuft of fur through a screw hole. The fur is wet. She’s soiled herself in the channel. I look again but there’s simply no opening through which I can extract her. I hear a single Wah! She’s getting weak. She’s in that channel, terrified and exhausted and I’m running out of ideas.
She’s three and a half feet from either end of the channel she’s crawled into. I look at the bottom of the door and see a small opening at the end of the channel. It looks too small for a glider to pass through but it’s the only hope. I need something to push her to the bottom.
I run to the workshop while Delphine holds the door up on its edge. We have some thin fiberglass poles used to mark the end of the driveway when it snows. I need seven feet worth. I tape two of them together and run back to the door.
I ask, “How’s she doing?”
Delphine has tears running down her face. “I think she’s gone. I haven’t heard a sound since you left.”
My heart sinks. I’m working this as hard as I can but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. My rescue pole is now just something to push a tiny corpse out of the door frame. I insert the pole in the small hole at the top of the frame and push slowly. As expected, about three and a half feet in I feel resistance. I continue pushing slowly, gently. If I break the body into pieces I’ll never get all of it out.
Four feet, four and half, five. The pole seems to get hung up on something and won’t go any further. I try to shine a flashlight through the hole at the bottom to see where the body is. It appears only a couple of feet from the quarter-sized opening in the channel. Suddenly there is a single Wah! She’s very weak, but she’s still alive.
I hold my hand out and say, “C’mon girl. You can do it. You’re okay.” I can tell she’s looking at me. Her eyes hold all the sadness of the world in them. I can also tell she’s afraid – of where she is, of the light, of me. She’s been trapped upside down, drenched in her own pee for who knows how long. I urge her on. She takes a few steps and stops. It looks as if she’s trying to decide how she wants to die – suffocated in this damned tube or eaten by the giant monster peeking at her through the end of the tunnel.
She moves closer to the opening. Her nose is sticking out but it seems plain to me that the hole is just too small for her to pass through. I offer more encouragement but don’t see how this is going to end well.
She wriggles and squirms and in what I thought was a geometric impossibility plops out of the hole into my hands! What a relief. I take her to the guestroom cage with her nestmates. Delphine is shaking. We hug. Then we spend the next two hours lifting and screwing the sliding door back in place. I make a little plastic cover to block the small hole at the top of the door that caused all the problems.
Grace under pressure. I had just been through a three hour engineering ordeal solving puzzle after puzzle – all to get back to where we were in the first place. Well, except for the one-inch plastic cover that now seals the door frame against curious gliders – a rather modest improvement to the universe.
The image of that glider staring at me just before she decided to squeeze through the final hole and fall into my hands is burned into my memory. It was a gift of trust – that and the relief on Delphine’s face made for not such a bad payday.