Although the weather has turned cold, it is officially springtime. In the woods behind the school on the cross country trail, the first buds are appearing on the trees. Soon birds will be nesting and rabbits and squirrels will be raising their young. Over my thirteen years here, I have come to recognize a number of animals that are regular occupants of the campus. Have any of you noticed the mockingbird that lives in front of the Williams S. Henry Family Academic Center? He spends most of his time between the gazebo and the maple tree in front of the main entrance to the William S. Henry Academic Center. I don't know the life expectancy of a mockingbird. But our mockingbird has been here at least thirteen years. He is either the same bird or an offspring of the original.
There are other animals that share this space with us. There is a chipmunk that often scampers out from under the gazebo between the William S. Henry Academic Center and the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center. There is a pair of red tailed hawks that inhabits the woods behind the school. There are several cottontail rabbits on campus that--no doubt--are prey for the hawks. Then there is a small hole in the bricks in that part of the William S. Henry Academic Center above the Art Room and below the back west entrance that is home to nesting starlings every spring.
Several unusual animal encounters have happened over the last several years. Probably the most dramatic was the whitetail deer--a buck with cow horns--that came onto campus one morning several years ago. Officer Jack Brown and I were just finishing morning carpool duty when we heard a racket in front of the Pamela Kimbrell Visual and Performing Arts Center (PKW). The large deer wandered into the courtyard and became frightened. He jumped several times into the glass windows in the front of the PKW and left a bloody smear on both sides of the front door. Finally realizing how to escape, he ran down the main road in front of the school and within ten yards of Officer Brown and me. His eyes were wild with fear as he made fast tracks east.
Then there was another time that Hal Carpenter found an active bee hive in one of the exterior walls of the PKW. Luckily, the colony swarmed off before we had to exterminate them. We were concerned that they might sting students walking nearby.
The most famous animal on campus was domesticated: Ned the rooster. Ned wandered onto campus from the property next door to our west. For at least a year, he was a regular fixture around campus. Kristin Paxton-Shaw and Liz Minor then began to feed him regularly, reinforcing his fondness for Gaston Day. Ned became something of a GDS icon, inspiring paintings and bumper stickers. Eventually, his owner relocated him to a distant farm because he was in danger of being hit by a car.
Wildlife is likely to remain a fixture of campus life. Gaston Day School, the Gaston Municipal Airport, and the Gaston Country Club together form a wildlife refuge of several hundred acres. Wild turkeys are seen frequently on the Country Club Golf Course. Wildlife moves easily between the three properties and, consequently, Gaston Day shares this space with a variety of other creatures.