When I tell my friends that I am now a “birder” or, as people used to say, a “bird watcher,” they think I have lost my mind. My wife’s friends think what she is doing is simply wonderful. They will congratulate her on her enthusiasm and love of nature.
My friends? Here’s what they say: “Aren’t those bird people all crazy tree huggers? Aren’t they nuts? Why would you want anything to do with them? Are you nuts?”
Look, the birding community is made up of many different types of people; some are progressive, some liberal, and some conservative. It is a decent cross-section of American society obviously awash with those who care about birds and the environment.
I will admit it clearly; I like birders.
The Beautiful AP and I go on bird walks with our South Shore Audubon Society just about every Sunday from late August to the following June.
The talk is usually about birds that we are seeing and hearing – our guide Joe knows his stuff and is happy to teach us. I am, sadly, the birdbrain in the group. Of course, in the real world of birds a birdbrain can be quite intelligent with a host of parrots including the brilliant Kea, the magnificent African Grey, the Macaw, the Cockatoo, the Amazon, along with your backyard birds such Crows, Ravens and Jays – to name just some of the really bright ones. It is true, if I were a bird I would not be on this list.
But not all talk centers on birds, especially when we are walking and not seeing or hearing a specific bird or species. I have a few birders that I enjoy talking with about other stuff, sometimes trivial stuff, and sometimes earth-shaking stuff.
This moment was trivial: We were at my favorite birding place, The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens. The refuge is a study in contrasts. The world of the refuge is nature; lakes, ponds, woods, and a beautiful bay, but off in the distance is the epic city of New York, with skyscrapers trying to scratch the sky. The refuge was only a few miles from Kennedy Airport where planes take off to everywhere in the world.
I was walking with Bob going past the Bay side of the park. Bob is one of my favorites. He has some very funny opinions about the birding population. He thinks “we are like golfers, our scores are not always to be believed.” Birders pride themselves on being honest about the birds they are seeing and cataloguing.
“How much would it take,” I said, “for you to strip naked, call over all the birders here and run into the water up to your neck and then run out letting everyone see you?”
“I don’t know,” he said, seriously thinking about it.
“Ten thousand?” I asked.
“You got it! Ten thousand and I’ll strip, shout to everyone and they can watch me run into and out of the water.”
“How about five thousand?” I asked.
“Then I wouldn’t want to go up to my neck because that water is cold. I’m not one of those polar bear people,” he said.
“You don’t care if everyone laughs at you?”
“I laugh at him,” said his wife. I hadn’t noticed she was standing behind us.
“How about a thousand?” I asked.
“I’ll do it but I will only stand at the shore line. I won’t go in.”
“Will you jump up and down?” I asked.
“This is getting disgusting,” said his wife.
“How much would it be for you?” asked Bob.
“I wouldn’t do it unless the money was really, really big. People would really laugh at me.”
“Who cares?” he said. “At our age what does a little thing matter?”
“Not that,” I said. “It’s because I have gotten really fat. I wouldn’t want anyone to see me. I’ve become the human blob. There is no beauty in me anymore.”
We never did establish a price for me because at that moment a Peregrine falcon was spotted looking at all of us from a nearby tree. Now that is one beautiful bird! It captured our attention and immediately took us from the trivial to the sublime.