Musin’s and Thinkin’s – July/August 2011

Musin’s and Thinkin’s – July/August 2011

Jack Pendarvis
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Were I to pen my autobiography, I would most likely call it Confessions of an Inveterate Bird-Watcher, but first I need to look up inveterate.

In any case, I think you will agree that the colorful parade of birds that graces us as the months go merrily by is our most delightful guide to the annual passage of time. But their bright and jaunty plumage is not the only reason to rejoice. Who does not like being awakened to the sweet song of a bird?

From the hacking cough of the northern milk-snatcher to the trilling ca-WOO ca-WOO cher-EEP-EEP-EEP of the rust-tailed bobbin, these feathery madrigals fall sweetly on the ear. Some old-timers say that if you listen carefully, the variegated gratch is calling, “Where’d you put the aspirin? Where’d you put the aspirin?” I don’t know whether those are the correct names that I am randomly assigning these birds, but they might be. I said I am a bird-watcher, not a bird genius. The important thing is to have fun. That’s good to remember no matter your preferred activity. Say you are the pilot of a passenger aircraft. Just get in there and shake some knobs around and see what happens! Surgeon? Same advice!

Unpredictability is the thing that gets people so jazzed about being alive, which is why bird-watching, with all its twists and turns, remains the fourteenth most popular hobby involving birds. You never know what’s going to take place when you go birding. Well, you know certain things, like that you will lose your eyeglasses at some point and that a large number of insects will nest in your crotch as you make your way through the perilous underbrush. No known medicine can rid you entirely of these constantly biting companions. Is it worth it? And how! The accessories alone are irresistible. Wait until you tell your wife, “Yes, I just spent ten thousand dollars on binoculars and kerchiefs, what are you going to do about it?” That’s the day you can really start strutting around and feeling like a big man, which in the end is what bird-watching is all about.

Maybe you think what I’m saying is “for the birds.” But before you rush to judgment, just remember the first lesson the novice bird-watcher learns in the field: however fallible and wretched we are, birds are a million times worse.

Oh, I suppose we humans think we’re pretty fashionable with our quixotic whimsies, but ornithological behavior is just as lively as any suburban “barbecue” or “sex party.” One of the most exciting events of my life was stumbling on a motley group of birds who were planning a heist. I watched them for days and eventually infiltrated their gang. My repeated calls to the authorities bore no discernible fruit.

No matter. By that time I had developed a grudging respect for the outlaw birds. I was particularly taken with “Chip,” the bird with a conscience. He was only in it because his brother needed an operation that the family couldn’t afford.

His mother was all, “I don’t like to see you mixed up with these hooligans. You have talent, son. It’s a sin to waste it. You’re the bird that’s going to put this bird family on the map. Your father worked all his life to buy you that piano.”

And Chip was like, “I’m doin’ it for Johnny, Ma! He could be the champ, I tell ya! If he don’t go blind first. I know you and Pop think boxing is a loser’s game. All you care about is fancy scholarships and famous sonatas and wiping the dirt of the old country off your feet. But what Johnny does in the ring, Ma… that’s music, too, see? That’s music, too! There’s specialists in Europe what can help him, Ma. It’s just this one time and I’m out of the racket for good. The conservatory will still be there when the job is over. All I have to do is poop on the guard’s head to distract him. What could go wrong? Don’t cry, Ma! For Pete’s sake, don’t cry.”

I think I am getting the birds confused with a black and white movie I saw on TV one night when I had insomnia. No, wait, I’m not.

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