It was spring. Sue Johnson was working again. It wasn’t her dream job, even though she had often wished she were working outdoors in nature. For years she had been enclosed in skyscraper-high corporate offices, bending over desks, sitting all day, staring into computer screens. She used to stop at a window to look out at the sky and watch the swirling clouds. She used to wish she were out there somewhere. Anyplace but this office.

As luck would have it, a quake in the financial world released her from the cage of the corporate office and, after six months, she found a new type of job. Not that there were a lot of choices, but this job would have her working outdoors. All day. In rain, wind, snow and blazing sun. What had she wished on herself?

It was now Sue’s job to direct tourists to the boat that would take them to the Statue of Liberty.  To do this effectively, she had to stand in the concourse of the Ferry Terminal Building by the gate and welcome the tourists, then scan their tickets. The concourse had large doors that allowed views of the park. Sue could gaze out at the green lawns and open sky. It was a wonderful experience on sunny days, but on windy rainy days, it was brutal.

“This way to the Statue of Liberty,” she called.  She looked official in the blue jacket and red cap that the company had given her to wear. Fortunately, the jacket was very warm and she could wear lots of layers under it if she needed.

So, this was it, her new job, outdoors. She looked across the river at the skyscrapers of New York City. She looked across at the very building she used to work in.

From this new perspective, Sue noticed that in the mornings, the job could be very busy. Bus after bus would come and drop off hundreds of visitors. By mid-morning, the students and tourists were well on their way and the concourse was quiet and peaceful.  Except this chilly spring morning was different.

Three blue jays were in the concourse. Sue figured that the birds had dodged down under the roof before last night’s rain. The concourse was an historic rail shed that stood about two stories high with several glass ceiling panels and four doorways. These opening led out from opposite sides of the building toward the historic train tracks, ferry pier and open fields and trees of the park.

All morning, as Sue answered tourists’ questions and directed students to the boats, she had seen the three blue jays flying back and forth calling frantically to each other. She watched as the birds rose up from the rafters and bumped their heads on the glass ceilings at the top. Up and down they went seemingly dumbfounded that they could not get to the clear blue sky above. They would consult with each other, try again to flutter against the glass then return to the rafters to sit and look up.

As Sue was pulling back the gate to let another batch of tourists to the boats, the blue jays decided to leave her end of the concourse and head down to the rafters at the other end. From this location they spent another hour attempting to fly upward and out to the blue sky.  Sue watched as each time they failed.

After the morning rush of tourists were on their way, Sue leaned on the gate and wondered what would happen to the blue jays. She liked having their companionship and wondered if there was anything she could do to help them. Trying to see life from a bird’s perspective, she figured that the jays believed they were in a forest and should be able to fly up to the sky where they could continue their travels and find food. But the human world they had become trapped in did not operate the same as a forest.

Another bus load of tourists pulled up to the entrance, this time, senior citizens got off the bus and came into the concourse.  Sue waved at them. Their big smiles indicated they were excited about their sunny day-trip to the Statue of Liberty. She answered some questions then put them through the gate.  Back she went to her post to continue her observation of the blue jays.

The jays had flown back across the concourse to her end of the building again and were now sitting in the rafters where they had probably entered the evening before. She looked at them and thought their heads seemed to hang and their shoulders seemed to slump. They looked discouraged and hopeless. She worried they would become victims of another human-made obstacle that had destroyed hundreds of birds over the years. She kept watch over them as she took her lunch, sitting at one of the vendor tables.

Returning tourists were soon stopping by to have lunch in the concourse next to her. This brought an eager flock of about twenty-five house sparrows who danced around the tables chirping and fluttering their wings. Amused by the birds, the tourists tossed bits of potato chips and cookies to them. The little brown birds dashed around and gathered every crumb. Sue finished lunch and returned to her post.

By mid-afternoon, no one was left in the terminal, except for Sue, who was leaning over the gate and giving her wristwatch a quick glance every five minutes.

With the floor cleared of food, the little brown house sparrows flitted about playing with each other. They perched on the railings and even on the guardrail next to her. They were so bold and inquisitive. When a feral cat crept out from the old train sheds and strolled across the concourse, the birds set off a warning call and escaped out the concourse doors to hide in the weeds.

Above in the rafters the blue jays were still perched, looking somber and hopeless. They bent their great blue, white and black heads downward and watched as the cat sauntered along. The jays observed how the sparrows had all escaped, then returned for more mischief on the concourse floor.

One jay decided to go down and investigate. The other two stayed in the rafters and watched.

Sue was thrilled to see this beautiful large blue bird land on the concourse floor right near her.  She watched it as it gave out its shrill call as if trying to ask the sparrows, “What’s wrong with this place?” The sparrows ran up to the jay, looking at its tremendous size, maybe six times the size of a little brown sparrow. It arched its head and looked at quizzically at them.

Suddenly a wind came in from the harbor and blew down a ticket price sign. The sparrows dashed outside again and hid in the tall weeds. The blue jay lifted its head and watched them depart through the door. Beyond was blue sky.

The jay called again and looked up at the other jays in the rafters. They looked down to see the jay on the floor lift up and fly out the door to freedom.

The two jays in the rafters came down, swooped over the floor and followed the other birds out the door. Sue heard their shrill calls breaking the silence of the park on a warm sunny afternoon. They had gotten a late start, but now they were free. Thanks to the little brown helper birds that showed them how to escape the human-made forest. Sue thought of how her life at work had changed so much over the past year. Seeing the jays made her realize how great it was to have a job outdoors. And best of all, her wristwatch said her work day was done. She was now free.

Patricia Hilliard is a naturalist who has written many stories about birds and nature discovery. She is the founder of the Bayonne Nature Club and has worked for the NJ Park Service.