Sans le Nom: Cookery, Rhetoric, and Other Forms of Pandering

"Now I call this sort of thing pandering, and I declare that it is dishonorable."Plato

"When a name comes, it immediately says more than the name." —Derrida

December 6, 2008: The Accidentally, on Purpose Birder

I'm lucky to have several friends who are REALLY into birding.  I've learned a lot from all of them about the hobby—where to find painted buntings, how to tell the difference between a common crow and a fish crow (fish crows say, "Nuh-ugh" with such remarkable ease, I wish I had their capacity to say "No" to everyone), why juncos are often called "snowbirds," (because they migrate to the U.S. to get away from Canadian winters), etc.  I hope that I've been able to exchange enough valuable information on the creepy crawlies (snakes and bugs, save one) that I love so well to repay them for all they've taught me about birds. Yet, as much as I've learned from my own observations and their knowledge, I cannot truly say that I'm an dyed-in-the-wool birder.  There may be several reasons for this. 

One might be the equipment situation.  I was sorely tempted for one mad minute to buy a pair of the good (i.e., expensive) binoculars.  But then, as I was getting ready to whip out the old credit card to type in the number online, I recounted how many pairs of pearl earrings I've had to buy since I was 16 (I'm on Pair #5—all the rest were lost, eaten [thanks, cat] or broken).  I remembered what happened to the super-duper lightweight monocular I bought for backpacking and canoeing (dunked in the Buffalo before I had even used it), the first cell phone I ever had (ditto the Buffalo thing), and a copy of the Buffalo River Handbook (ironically, similarly baptized in said river).  I recalled how The Hubs had lost the extra SD card and battery for our digital camera in Colorado by forgetting them in the camera case on top of the car as he sped away from a road-side picture-taking frenzy and then, subsequently (and thankfully before I had replaced the card and battery) left the camera itself (a $500 purchase) somewhere out in the Ozark National Forest.  Better to stick with the cheap binoculars from Wal-Mart and the monocular (which I fixed), despite the fact that I have astigmatism in both eyes and could really use a good pair of binoculars.

Another problem could be my disabling fear of heights: You won't see me in any treetops or flying off to Central America to take pictures of toucans any time soon. 

Begin Digression-->I am a woman who urgently urged a friend to argue with hotel staff to give us a room on the lowest possible floor (which she did, and thank you M.; I can always count on you!) and said a prayer to God-only-knows-who-because-I'm-a-freethinker every time I stepped onto the elevator that it would not get cheeky and take me to the 25th floor.  As a matter of fact, my doctor's office is on the 9th floor, and I won't get onto the express elevator (which goes only to the 5th through 10th floors) with other people because I'm afraid they'll make it stop at the 5th, then the 6th, then the 7th—well, just picture the car hurtling down the shaft at the speed of light after the old hay rope that moves it up and down breaks and you'll get the idea.  (And, by the way, why does one set of elevators only go to the fourth floor and another set only go to the 5th-10th floors?  Did some contractor add on to the building by constructing upwards? Is it possible for the top half to tump over?  Why does it bother The Hubs so much that I repeatedly press the "1" and "doors together" buttons throughout the trip to get down?  And should I switch to a doctor on the first floor?)<--End Digression     

Then there's the problem of my bad case of AIMP (ants in my pants).  I just can't sit still long enough to do the Christmas Count or to get site of the ivory-billed woodpecker—no matter how much I would love to be one of the few human beings in existence who've been able to ask, "Great God All Mighty, did you see that bird?"  I just love to GO, man!  I've got to be doing something.  That's why I'm good at backpacking, hiking, and canoeing but really suck as a birder.

And, finally, it could be that I'm in a different paradigm.   I just can't do "The Life List."  I can understand how that motivates some people to keep going, to search further.  But, for me, I might as well be ticking off how many times I pick lint out from between my toes after pulling my socks off.  What exactly is the point?

The Life List. 

Ultimately, the list is about rarity.  Seeing something unique, that few others have seen. 

And, while I value rarity, I think I may be looking for a different kind:

I'm reading a book lying on the bed at my in-laws' house, and out of the corner of my eye, I see some kind of strange movement through the sliding glass door.  I put the book down and go to the door.  Suddenly, a large brownish bird seems to drop out of the trees, lands on the ground, and grabs at something.  Then it jumps up and takes off in a crazy flight pattern, as if it's chasing the thing it had dropped down to catch.  Then it flies back down with purpose to a nearby shrub.  There are no binoculars around.  No monocular.  Just my "nakeds."  If I want to see it, I'll have to get close.  I gently open the door, creep out, close it.  Take the halting steps The Hubs (the stalker who claims he can sneak up on a deer and slap it on the rear) taught me to take.  I settle quietly into the underbrush.  The bird knows I'm there.  The bird knows I know it's there, too.  It waits.  I can see the unusual bill—holding something the size of a lizard or large earthworm.  It blinks.  I try to notice its crown, ear patch, wingbars—anything distinguishing.  It jumps to another branch.  I bend slowly down so that I can catch a glimpse of its breast, belly, and flanks.  Suddenly, it flies up and I see this incredible flash of orange orange as its wings unfold.  And a tail that reminds me of a Mississippi kite.  Now it's up in the branches far above my head and I can barely make it out.  But I wait as it waits.  Hoping for something more.  But then it takes off across the valley to the bluff on the other side of the mountain.  I run back to the house and grab the old Golden Birds of North America that my Aunt and Uncle (two more birders I love) gave me back before I was even in high school.  And in about 10-minutes or so, I discover that I've just seen my first yellow-billed cuckoo.  Surprise!   

I love those accidents—they're like crushes—little flickers of romance, the infatuations we get over when we realize that a kiss from our 7th-grade sweetheart isn't going to save the world and may not have had any actual impact on improving it at all—you know, when we become grown ups and start to care about what's outside of us.  Still, it's nice to be interrupted from being grown up once in a while by something totally unexpected.  I can't imagine seeking out the experience the way my dear friends do (it seems kind of like speed-dating, in a way), though I know they find whatever they're searching for in pursuit of The Life List.  More power to them.  I prefer to be surprised.

But the accident is not actually the best part for me.  The best part is that I know once I've seen a bird for the first time, I'll now see it all the time.  And then it is no longer an infatuation but an old friend.  One who argues for the lowest hotel floor.  Or one who gracefully reminds me that the bird we've been listening to this lovely summer evening is not a whip-poor-Will but a Chuck-Will's-widow (dang, those Wills—they got around, didn't' they?).  The cardinal who advises me to be generous to anyone who comes along (seriously, male cardinals are like the Salvation Army of the bird world—they'll feed anyone, from one of their own offspring to a male house finch who just happens to be sitting on the windowsill: "Want a sunflower seed?  Here, let me give you one").  To the English sparrows who've taught me that one person's trash (both the leftover bits of food people leave around Sonic and the English sparrows themselves) is another person's treasure. Mine, all mine.

I think there's rarity in repetition.  Human beings have a certain kind of amnesia—we too often forget what we've learned.  I think it's refreshing to wake up to the same thing, having forgotten it, and see it once again, for the first time. I look forward to the next time I see the "rain crow "(a.k.a. the yellow-billed cuckoo—because they seem to utter their call during foggy and rainy weather—a fact I learned from The Dear Old Hubs—another birder I love) again. 

It will be like meeting a dear old friend in some place unexpected—accidentally, but somehow on purpose.

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About Me
I teach; cook; write; hike; read; dally; canoe; eat; write; rock 'n roll; eat some more; tumble and fall; dawdle; complain; bento; write; organize; watch movies; ignore e-mail;  renovate; write; curse computers; brew my tea dark and bitter; herd cats; live in Arkansas; Plato, Derrida, and rhetoric (yes, those are verbs); remain overly cautious; persuade; imbibe; GTD; and oh, yeah, I write a little. 

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E-mail me at sanslenom at msn dot com.

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