Archive for December, 2012

Take Five.

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Dave Brubeck died a few weeks ago. Saw this while working at my computer. Hell. Brubeck.

Well, the guy lives on in a jazzy, smoky, boozy, sexy, moody and rhythmic corner of your mind.

What’s the connection between Brubeck and going hiking? Why mention him on a birdwatching website?

There’s not much smoky, boozy, jazzy stuff happening in the woods.

At least Charlie Parker, also a jazz great, was named “Bird.” But wait.

When I heard Brubeck split the scene, I decided to take a break and walk in the wild for a while. I left work, left my computer with its news of the day, and got into the day.

Brubeck’s quartet made “Take Five” immortal. Even better, it was on an album called “Time Out.” These escapist titles send a clear message.

Maybe they’re the connection. Or maybe it just feels right to put a few words down about a guy whose wild talent will never stop being appreciated.

In any case, I took five.

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Thursday, December 20th, 2012

By Nath Jones

Nath Jones is a writer in Chicago. She wrote that she grew up with bird watching parents. She explained that they listened to bird call records all day, planned family trips around migration paths, spent hours silent in idling cars, and almost all family traditions involved birds in some ways. She wrote to say that she’s got a bunch of ideas for guest essays. And sent the following…

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A year ago I took my mother to the Bahamas to see the birds for her birthday.

Our guide was a thin woman who’d raised her children on a sailboat. We definitely wanted to see as many species as possible. She had lots of locations for us: wetlands near Atlantis, quiet roadside stops near construction areas, a path with some grassy clearings at the headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust, and an elderly woman’s backyard.

My father was an avid birdwatcher so I’m familiar with behavior like standing stock-still and silent in a parking lot, looking up into dense trees, listening. I’m familiar with rushing along a path after a fluttering something. And scanning a focused area through binoculars came right back even though I hadn’t really been birding since well before my father’s death in 2005.

But going to this elderly woman’s backyard in the Bahamas was really something.

When you pay a guide for a tour—like, say, a winery tour, or a tour of local architecture—you’d expect to be ushered from one place of significance to another.

But when our guide made a quick cell phone call, turned down a residential street, and parked abruptly near a nondescript house, my mother and I just sort of looked at each other. Like, “What’s happening?”

Now. When I was a kid in a small town in Indiana, yes, we had a nondescript house with a bird feeder out back. And. Yes. Over the years many wonderful birds stopped in our backyard. We enjoyed watching them from the kitchen table during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But. Even if my father were a very good birdwatcher, even if that bird feeder were the main focus of our interest and afforded us almost all our mealtime conversation, our house was never a stopping point on any ecotour.

Anyway. Mom and I are curious enough and polite enough that, of course, we got out of the car in the Bahamas on this residential side street. And. Yes. Okay. Fine. We nervously followed our guide who rushed right into the backyard.

We took our seats in lawn chairs against the house. Five feet in front of us were about twelve different kinds of feeders. There were hanging columns like our finch feeders. There were flat, open, square-screened frames hung in trees. They swung gently under the weight of birds landing and taking off. Ropes and twine and clotheslines ran in all directions from bush to bush, feeder to feeder, so all the migrants had plenty of places to rest.

So. There we were.  At someone’s house in the Bahamas.

With hundreds of warblers and finches and little flitting, chatting, busy, hopping birds: Cuban grassquits, American redstarts, bananaquits, and several red-legged thrushes.

The elderly woman who owned the house came out for a few minutes. She was in her housecoat and slippers. Sat with us. Indicated a few favorites. Especially the bright, beautiful red, indigo, and green male painted bunting.

Mom pointed, thrilled. I took a picture.