Matters of Life and Death

If there was one thing I could change (and there is, in fact, only one thing I would change) about Bernd Heinrich’s Life Everlasting; the Animal Way of Death, it would be the subtitle. For while a portion of the book does in fact directly address the manner in which select members of the animal kingdom die and their remains are “undertaken” – e.g., Nicrophorus beetles burying mice, oceanic bottom-dwellers deconstructing “whale falls” in the total darkness of the deep – there is a far larger story being told by Dr. Heinrich than is encompassed by the word “death.” (Keep reading.)

Artifacts of a Naturalist Childhood

The other day while digging through a cabinet in our garage, I stumbled upon a shoebox that had been shoved to the back and that showed signs that it had been there for some time. When I finally cleared everything in front and on top of it away in order to extract it and investigate what it contained, I noticed immediately upon lifting it from the shelf upon which it rested that it was very heavy. Opening it, I found that it contained an assortment of rocks, shells, and other curiosities wrapped carefully inside a bandanna. These were the artifacts of my first explorations into natural history during my childhood.

From where they all came I cannot correctly say. One, a piece of obsidian, I recall being given by the husband of my piano teacher, an amateur “rock hound” himself. Another, a hunk of brain coral, likely came from one of the people with whom my mother worked at Bumble Bee Seafoods (the tuna boat captains had been to such interesting, far off places). A large piece of agate I recalled finding in my grandparent’s backyard. The origins of the rest were, and at present still are, mysteries.

I remember greatly treasuring these items when I was a boy. I kept them prominently displayed in my room, spread out atop my dresser like some prized collection in a very small and poorly funded museum. So important were they too me that even once the tempestuous teen-age years hit, I still kept them safe. Did I perhaps subconsciously know that one day the Sturm und Drang of youth would subside and I would find them interesting once again?

Now once again unearthed, or at least un-cabineted, this childhood collection now rests prominently alongside the books in our library to help me remember that as our own daughter grows older, she may one day find that the things she once found so fascinating, things in which she and I now share interests, uninteresting. However if the interest was well supported when it was alive, even a hiatus from it will not extinguish it and one day it may very well return and continue to grow once again.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

As I sat in my Astoria hotel room yesterday afternoon looking out on a flock of Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls that was perched on a deteriorating portion of a long-abandoned dock that the Columbia River had yet to fully claim, I suddenly found myself wondering what would have been had I taken up bird watching while still a boy living in that very same town. The spot where the hotel room now sits is the same place where decades ago my father and I sold the salmon we had caught; we were Columbia River gillnetters. What would it have been like to have been a young bird watcher with such an abundance of gulls, ducks, cormorants, terns, and other coastal birds so close at all times?

Taking up bird watching as an adult as I did, I often feel I missed something by not having had the experience as a child; something important that so many bird watchers I have known recall so fondly but which to me shall forever be a mystery. How much television did I watch when I could have been studying the ducks swimming on Young’s Bay? How much time did I waste “hanging out” when I could have been puzzling out the gulls in flying about the West End Mooring Basin? The very thought itself strikes pain in my heart when I consider too deeply.

Such is mid-life. The “what if…” questions come all too frequently; most without answers – or worse, with answers the truth of which one cares not to admit. Lingering too long upon them will most certainly lead to despair, thus it is best to pause only briefly to acknowledge the lesson to be learned from them then begin making plans for the future to act accordingly.

I generally do not make New Year resolutions; they are too soon forgotten and left unaccomplished. Better simply to set a general course for personal improvement and let the details emerge as they may. Time once lost can never again be found; thus paying closer attention to the choices I make each day shall be my motto so that upon the dawning of the next year my answer looking back upon the one just completed shall be simply “better.”

May 2010 bring all of us the answers we seek.

Contemplating the Grand Cycle

“If you love birds as much as I know you do, how can you possibly eat them?” That was the question I was recently asked by a friend for whom I have great respect and whose interest in the answer I trusted to be wholly sincere. Truth be told, this is not the first time this inquiry has been made of me, sometimes in earnest and other times in sarcasm. The first time it was asked was by a colleague who was a life-long hunter from a family of life-long hunters and who worked for a hunting product manufacturing company. Even though his tone was somewhat challenging (my non-hunting ways made him a bit suspicious of me), I could sense that he was genuinely confused at what he saw as a contradiction in my activities. His hunting of wild animals was the perfect correlation (as he understood it) for his belief that those proclaiming “animal rights” (among hunters a phrase synonymous with “anti-hunting” and therefor “anti-gun”) were wrong in their beliefs; therefore as I watched birds with the same intensity as he watched the animals he stalked on hunts, my not killing them must have meant that I was against eating them as well. (Keep reading.)

David Sibley Interviewed by Jill Owens

PowellsBooks.Blog blogger Jill Owens has recently published her extensive and insightful interview with David Sibley. In their discussion, Mr. Sibley discusses at length his latest book, The Sibley Guide to Trees, as well as his thoughts about some other notable recent publications, including one of my own favorites, Jonathan Rosen’s The Life of the Skies.

Sharing the Love from Seattle

While I’m here in Seattle for a few days to represent Wingscapes at the Wild Birds Unlimited Vendor Mart 2009, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a little “blog love.” (Keep reading.)