A weekend in the country — at the lake, actually. Ah, the country. All my favorite colors, your greens and blues, dabbed here and there with the orange of tiger lilies. And, of course, my friends the birds.
I’ve probably said it here before, so go ahead and skip this paragraph if you want, but for a low-stress hobby made for midlife, you really can’t beat birding. And if you want a high-stress hobby, you can make it that, too; you can travel all over the world and bag beaks for your life list like any extreme-sports nitwit, but I don’t recommend it. Not when merely lying in a hammock with a good novel and a sharp eye for movement in the trees overhead can be so rewarding.
I got into birds about the time I got out of movie stars, when I realized I could no longer summon a care about who Jack Nicholson was sleeping with or whether REM’s next album would really be a throwback to “Murmur,” or what. I watched a pair of cardinals practice mate-feeding in my back yard, in which the male takes a safflower seed in his beak, turns to the female and gives it to her, the movement very much like a kiss. I was entranced. Alan gave me a feeder and Roger Tory Peterson, and we were off.
I added the Stokes guides to bird behavior, the perfect step up from your basic crow-robin-blue jay identification. Stokes taught me about crows, although it couldn’t explain the goose-macking I saw last year, nor the sparrow-whacking later in the summer. Still, very useful.
This is the thing about birds: They really don’t care about you. While you’re down on the ground thinking your small thoughts, they’re living out a complex drama 30 feet overhead, and to be a witness to it, all you have to do is look up. How can Jennifer Aniston’s love life hold a candle to this?
Here’s another thing: You get better with time. You learn to identify birds the way you identify family members when they’re just out of sight or earshot, through their posture, distinctive movements, silhouettes. Yesterday, just before we got on the freeway, we passed a wetland at 50 miles per hour. I did a speed-ID of a belted kingfisher perched on a wire overhead.
Which doesn’t exactly make me a black belt, to be sure. But I remember the time, years ago, when we went to a friend’s lake house. His wife was lying on her floatie with a pair of binoculars. “I’m looking at the most amazing loon,” she said. Wow, a loon? Not unheard of in northeast Indiana, surely, but unusual at that time of year (June). I borrowed her binocs, and focused on the spot.
It was a great blue heron. Even I, way back in the day, knew that.
I’ve come a long way, maybe.
Kate asked me the other day if there were still pirates in the world. I said yes, but added they weren’t the cutlass-and-argh pirates she was thinking of. I’ll say.
Crossed fingers, good thoughts, prayers or your chosen change-the-future incantations, today, for the hardest-working man in show business, Roger Ebert. He’s recovering today from emergency surgery.
In the Department of It Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Guy, a self-described KKK leader got his ass kicked this weekend. If he dies, maybe I’ll tell the story of the day he led a rally in downtown Fort Wayne. If he doesn’t, I expect it’ll hold for another day.
Finally, after enduring “Bully,” I didn’t think anything could change my mind about sleazebag filmmaker Larry Clark. This doesn’t, exactly, but it’s a good essay just the same.