I’m new to birding; two years to be exact. I’ve been going to Cape May, New Jersey for over 60 years and—this is so embarrassing—I never knew it was a birder’s paradise. Four trips most years from my home in New York and I had no idea. I am not truly an observant writer.
My grandchildren suggested birding as an outlet I would enjoy since I had stopped my whirlwind traveler’s life. My wife, the Beautiful AP, asked them “What could Grandpa Scobe do instead of being a hermit?” Grandson John (11) said, “He should get out into nature.” Granddaughter Danielle (9) said, “Go birding, Grandpa.”
Birding? Aren’t the people who do that a little off? But the Beautiful AP liked the idea and one-two-three she had signed me up for our local South Shore Audubon Society. Birding? Me? Seriously?
And I found, despite my total ignorance, that I loved our weekly bird walks; and I loved coming to Cape May and birding in the various parks and sanctuaries. And I actually liked the people with whom I went birding.
And I started to read many books on the subjects, from academic books (often dreadfully dull) to personal stories (some extremely compelling). I even became a book reviewer for our Audubon chapter.
And my birding friend, Paul Stessel, gifted me with several books written by Pete Dunne, an amazing writer. I dove into them and then I read many of his articles in BirdWatching magazine.
My word, this guy could write! His articles and books were informed not only by great knowledge but by a distinct voice. Yes, the subject matter fascinated but the person behind the writing was just as fascinating. You learned the subject and you learned about he who taught the subject. That is great writing. In short, a true voice spoke to you in his books and articles.
So, we were in Cape May last week, during the end of the great raptor watch, standing on the hawk observatory, being told which raptors were flying nearby by a member of the Cape May birding society. Then I heard someone say, “Pete, Pete?” It was kind of a dreamlike moment since I was intent on the sky. Pete? No. Could it be the Pete Dunne? I knew he birded in Cape May but was he here now?
I saw a man being engaged by several people. These several people had stars in their eyes. Pete Dunne? These people soon left him to continue watching the skies.
I turned to me wife. “Ask that guy in the green jacket over there if he is Pete Dunne.”
“Why don’t you?” she asked.
“I don’t want to act like a fan,” I said.
“You are a fan,” she said but she did walk over and ask him. He said “yes.”
I casually walked over; that is, if sprinting can be considered casual. I wanted to get to him before anyone else could. I introduced myself. I think I was tripping over my words. To meet someone that you respected; well it really doesn’t get much better than that, now does it?
He is a gracious guy and invited my wife and me to sit down with him. My wife arranged to have a couple of pictures taken with him. We discussed birds and writing and writing and birds. Throughout, he’d point to the sky and call out exactly which birds were flying by exactly where.
I explained to him why I thought he was a terrific writer.
He pointed to the sky, calling out the name of the raptor right over our heads.
I explained to him, again and again, why I thought he was a terrific writer.
We sat together for about a half hour. And I was unselfconsciously effusive. I have no problem telling people who are great that they are great.
In my life there are some people I wished I could sit next to: Shakespeare, Mark Twain and my literary love, Emily Dickinson. Let me be at the Globe Theatre watching the first rehearsals of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Or with Mark Twain when he penned the greatest line in American literature; Huck Finn saying “All right then, I’ll go to hell.” Or a Sunday afternoon listening to Dickinson’s poems in the glow of her garden instead of in the cold confines of a church.
Those could never be. But now Pete Dunne, in his element, in the world of birds and birders, and I was right there with him; sitting right next to him. Wow!
Frank Scoblete has written 35 books, several television shows, and has his own web site at www.FrankScoblete.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at book stores.