Birds: Lone Star Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
Funeral in Abilene
The wind swept across the Permian Basin occasionally interrupted by a nodding donkey, lone tree or outcropping of elephant-ear cactus. The landscape was cold and flat as far as the eye could see. Sighting one hovering bird on the way, I did not know what it was. It dove into a thicket of naked tree branches before I could positively identify it.
The freight-laden trucks kept barreling along, exceeding the marked speed limit and buffeting my small rental car with hydraulic shoves as they zoomed by. Headed to a funeral that would be held in Abilene, the land knew of the grief and played its part. With gloves and scarf in my brief case, I was prepared for the bluster and chill of the wind.
Arriving at supper time, the Moore family welcomed me as the lone representative of our Men of Wednesday. We meet at each other’s homes in Portland most Wednesday nights for prayer, reflection, and support. It is a solid fellowship of five pilgrims. I had not met Wilford Moore, but knew it was right that I be there. We forgot the cold as the occasion was a celebration of life. The Moore family is very intentional that way: life is a daily gift. So do the right thing. That Friday night allowed me to ask myself some existential questions: What is the best way to live life? Should we be in constant motion? Should we struggle against the approaching storms? Should we flutter through various jobs and volunteer positions with little down time? Or should we slow it down? Should we sail on the surface? Or, perhaps, leave the surface all together as if in mid-air?
Wilford Moore was married to his sweetheart, Marian Vaughter, for 56 years. They raised four children to be remarkable citizens, who dedicated their careers to teaching, coaching and philanthropy. Earlier in his life, Wilford had been a man of service, enlisting in the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As a flight training instructor, he knew more about flying than most others in the Army. Wilford flew with the 323rd Bombers Group in the European Theatre as squadron leader and received numerous decorations for his service.
He had been a gifted athlete as a school boy and joined the football coaching staff at McMurry University after the war. Wilford Moore’s hallmark was that he held his players to the highest standards of excellence both on and off the field. He coached at the high school and collegiate levels and Moore was voted Texas football “Coach of the Year” many times. McMurry University and Hardin Simmons University each enjoyed Moore as a successful coach and they give the Moore Trophy to the winner of the intercollegiate rivalry game each year. During his career Wilford Moore held various positions. In addition to coaching he was also a successful stock broker and teacher. After Marian’s death Wilford reconnected with and married a high school friend, Bernice Armistead. They were married for 14 years, making it 70 years of marriage for this remarkable man.
Wilford Moore Stadium, McMurry University, Abilene, TX
I know and highly esteem one son, Steve, and his wife, Thanne, who live in Portland, Oregon. The funeral brought together families, neighbors, friends, and hundreds of former football players, whose lives had been shaped and honed by Wilford Moore. The family has deep Texas roots and adjustable light wings. I felt blessed to be there to mark the memorial.
Wilford Moore with son, Steve, in background
On the drive back to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the weather turned colder. The temperature had dropped by 20 degrees overnight and the gloves and scarf came in handy. The sun was out, and so were the trucks again. My attention went back to Oregon and the activities there. Finding a moment from my reveries, I called my dad and we spoke for about an hour. We talked about his current health challenges and his move to assisted living. He recalled the time when he took my brother, Ned, and me to Virginia Beach to attend the Granby School of Wrestling. But mostly, I wanted to hear his voice.
My dad’s life has a service component to be sure; however, his story has been less about service and more about survival. Growing up in Maryland, he was the second of two boys in a competitive household. Everyone had to go to Princeton for college and to work in the family business. Summers were the only time to relax. The family spent the hottest months at “The Cabin” on the Sassafras River of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The cabin was their oasis. There dad learned to catch and pick crabs, row a boat, paddle a canoe, and read the tides. Venturing further into the Bay, Laurie adjusted to open water. On the Chesapeake Bay the weather was the teacher, as it schooled him to read the wind and to sail into it.
Laurie on a skiff with Uncle Virgil Anderson
The struggling younger brother of a confident bully, Laurie Hooper was a good athlete and popular classmate. He was a crew jock and wrestler in high school and, as expected, enrolled at Princeton. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He signed up for the Navy, and instead of attending Princeton, he was sent, courtesy of the US Government, to the V-12 program at the University of North Carolina. At UNC he was a three-time Southern Conference wrestling champion. His naval service included training in the Caribbean and some post-European assignments in the Mediterranean. Laurie went to Turkey and Italy during his tour of duty, and he returned to UNC for his degree.
He became engaged to and married Eleanor Evans, a woman he had met and fallen for in Baltimore. They raised eight children, all of whom are accomplished in their own way. They were married for 38 years before Eleanor died of cancer.
Henry Hooper and his dad, Laurie Hooper
Laurie never had a job he loved, nor one he liked particularly: it was a matter of navigating the waters, shallow and deep, and providing for his family, no matter what. He spent his working years in Maryland with his brother and father in the family textile business, Wm. E. Hooper & Sons Company. Laurie was regularly challenged to reef the sails on the cost-side of the business equation to make budgets square and ends meet.
Despite these work trials, he nearly always found time to be in the stands to watch his children at those wrestling matches or swim meets or lacrosse games to their delight. Life to Laurie was a daily fight against the winds and waters of time. He found safe harbor after Eleanor died through the good fortune of meeting and marrying Dicky Oliver. They have now shared over 22 years of marriage and live in Sarasota, Florida. That makes 60 years of marriage in his life and sailing time still ahead.
Sailing and Flying Lessons
Returning to Dallas, upon entering Eastland County, Texas, I spotted that fluttering bird again. This time it was hovering, wings flapping rapidly, as its torso remained stationary in one place. Its tail feathers appeared banded brown and white, like those of a Cooper’s Hawk, but Cooper’s Hawks don’t normally hover. Hummingbirds are the best hovering birds followed by Kites. Driving further, I saw another and another of these birds as there was a collection of them. It looked like a Kite, but I could not identify it for sure. I was stumped by the stripes on its tail.
One of my favorite Kites is the Swallow-Tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus), which we have seen many times in Florida, while visiting my father and Dicky. It is one of the most graceful fliers I have ever seen and with its 3 ½ to 4 ½ foot wingspan it is a magical bird to see playing in the air.
Returning home and looking through my bird books I found the bird; it was a Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis). The birds I had seen several times in Texas were immature Kites, as the stripes on their tails identified. Fully mature Kites lose the stripes and have solid dark colored tail feathers and an unusual red eye. Mississippi Kite has a large range across central US from New Mexico to the Carolinas. In winter it migrates among these states and to Mexico and South America, as far south as Argentina. It is a prolific flier that seems totally at home while in the air. In some of my research I discovered that flocks of these Kites start aloft in the morning before the mist has dissipated, and they wait for the warming air to carry them skyward. They weave through the treetops, sometimes soaring on outstretched wings, their tails fully fanned. At other times they glide, drawing in their tails and wings. When the mood strikes, the Mississippi Kite can fly like a bird possessed, twisting and turning, parry each gust of wind, then snaring the unsuspecting dragonfly right in mid-air. 
Taking notes from the Mississippi Kite, there may be some life lessons worth considering. The Mississippi Kite is prolific; it is not endangered. The species has learned to live in urban areas (fewer predators there), and it is a beautiful flier. It is very protective of its nests and will dive bomb anything that gets close, even humans. A hat and bright coat can protect a human from getting hurt, but those protections will not stop the dive bombing, so beware. Only half of it’s clutch of eggs will survive to adulthood, so it has to be extra protective of its nests.
According to bird books, their diet consists mostly of insects which they capture in mid-flight. They eat cicada, grasshoppers, and other crop-damaging insects, making them economically important. They are omnivores having been known to eat small vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and occasionally other birds. Their call is a high-pitched squeak, which sounds like someone squeezing a squeaky dog toy.
Mississippi Kites also have their nests in treetops, perhaps 100 feet above the ground. They seem loathe to touch the ground. “Only two powers of nature can defeat the wings of the Mississippi Kite: one is rain, the other is darkness. As for landing on the ground, a star would be more likely to fall to earth than a Mississippi Kite.” 
What do Wilford Moore and Laurie Hooper have in common? Fatherhood, coach, pilgrim. Service? In the air and on the sea. So why introduce a common Texas bird to the story? On reflection there may be more of me that I can project into their example to serve as an example to move ahead.
The striking image I have of Wilford Moore is him in a plane in mid-air. He is floating, darting, diving, and being thrilled to be of service to his fellow men. He is a gatherer of boys, warriors, women and families. He is a leader who elevates those around him. He lifts them off the ground.
In Laurie Hooper the image is of a sail boat. A one masted boat that is constantly buffeted by storms and choppy seas. The clouds are haunting nearly every day, and the winds rage at all hours of the night. Midshipmen had the same calls to war and Laurie enlisted. His mission, however, demanded batting hatches and reefing sails. Life, after all, is exhausting and treacherous.
Where is the joy in these two men’s lives?
My prayer is that I glean those pure lessons from Wilford Moore and Laurie Hooper. All in all, I long to have my journey with more hovering than tacking, more enjoying than grinding. In this next chapter especially, it would be grand to find my way like a kite floating in mid-air.
Mature adult Mississippi Kite
 Cassidy, James – Editor. Book of North American Birds. Reader’s Digest, Pleasanton, New York, 1990, page 15.
 Cassidy, James – Editor. Ob sit.
Beautifully written. Thank you for this reflection and honesty.
Eleanor, fly like a kite. You are light and airy, tough and durable. Stay flexible.