A lesson in the amateur naturalist world…

A boreal chickadee is a new, but now regular visitor, to the feeder just outside my kitchen window.

Birds have nothing to do with today’s post.

Our feathered friends were not mentioned or alluded to in last week’s letter nor any letter in recent months.  I’d have to search (highly unlikely this morning) to find the last time a cardinal, common flicker or rufous-sided towhee or any other species – other than the Thanksgiving turkey – made a cameo appearance on any of the single pages.

Instead, last week’s letter lauds Reid for his pending trip to India and is hopeful for Ellen‘s current trip to Baja, Mexico, and other normalcies.

But I have a relationship of long-standing with birds.  The actual genesis of it rests with Ellen and Reid’s grandfathers, both of whom fed birds.   My dad, for most of the second half of his life, put out a daily spread year-round and enjoyed their visual company.  Heaven forbid a marauding squirrel would raid his feeders.  If dad’s aim was true (which it frequently wasn’t) the tailed robber would feel the sting of his aging BB gun.  Not powerful enough to inflict lasting damage (not what dad intended), but enough to teach a lesson.  Until the next raid.

My father never really shared with my brother or me how he came to adopt these friends or why he so warmed to keeping his feeders stocked.  As with many things you notice with your parents, you pick up the non-verbal lesson here and there.  One of the things my dad evidenced to me – and once I stopped shooting at game birds – is that there is something to tending to birds.  He was a back yard naturalist, he with his garden and his birds.

So now I have picked up on his practice.  And the kids know it.  They read short discussions about birds often enough.  Maybe they’ll pick up the unspoken lesson, too.  As I think about it, dumping a jar of black sunflower seed into the trough is one more lesson in their dad’s amateur naturalist world.  They need to see there is value to strap on a backpack, recycle plastic instead of pitching it, plant a garden and walk the golf course.  Just as their grandfather taught me.


January 9, 2012

Ellen/Reid: It is highly doubtful, Ellen, that this letter will make it to you before you and Tim depart for Baja.  In some ways it’s too bad that your Minnesota winter hasn’t totally sucked (i.e. unbearable cold and mountains of snow) before you shove off.  That way you could say you’ve left the worst of it behind for at least a few days of warmth and fun.  Still, it will be a good respite to get away and finally use sunscreen with plenty of SPF protection.  Both of you yahoos have nice trips coming up while your poor old man languishes in North Carolina, home to muddy, dormant Bermuda fairways and…  Wait, I can’t think of anything else bad (other than our politics).

Reid, I was wondering about immunizations before you shove off for India.  What’s the scene there?  What do you need to have, and what meds do you need to take with you in the event the local water or some strange food takes you down?  You should call up episodes of ‘Bizarre Foods’ with Andrew Zimmern that might deal with exotic foods in that part of the world.  It could be enlightening.  That would be half the fun to try local delicacies such as bugs and stuff like that as long as it looks cooked.  Your friend over there will be a good guide on that score.  And what’s the tourist dress code?  My guess is jeans and stuff won’t cut it.  Anything that you can rinse-and-wear is probably what will work best and travels well.  Patagonia will have some good nylon stuff that would do just the trick.  Minimal packed goods, one would think.  I just cannot wait to see the photos and hear the stories.  You really ought to try some Tweets or a blog if you can muster that while you’re over there.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall while you’re mashing about in the countryside or milling among the local street vendors.  I’m afraid as close as I’ll ever get to the reality that is India is “Slumdog Millionaire.”  That was a great flick.  Just make sure we know your total itinerary.

It’s cloudy and gray here today, with the threat of showers.  This is my sixth January in these parts, and knock on wood, this is by far the mildest of those six Januarys even though by Midwest standards this part of the Southeast is mild all of the time.  I bought an ice chopper in December just in case we get any of that damned black ice we are so famed for.  I hope to keep the chopper in reserve and unused.  The weather really has been sterling here and for more than just a few weeks, too.  That is probably the kiss of death to say that.  Now watch it really turn nasty.  Blame it on me.

Reid, some tragic news about Chicago with Charlotte ties.  The daughter of my golf buddy here, Tom, was not at home on North Michigan when a fire broke out on the 12th floor of her building.  The woman directly across the hallway stepped out of her unit to use the elevator, and when the elevator doors open, a blast of 1,500F heat and flame immolated her.  She was the only death from the fire.  That could’ve just as well been Tom’s daughter.  As it was, hook and ladder units had to fight the blaze, and to do so went through her apartment.  All her belongs and possessions were destroyed or damaged too badly to salvage.  As I told Tom, all that other stuff can be replaced, it’s his daughter that cannot.  Tom and his wife are trying to figure out where their daughter will sleep, where she will live, etc.  You ought to look into some cheap renter’s insurance.  It can’t be very much per month, but even with your meager belongings, it would still be a good deal and worth some peace of mind.

I have to slave on my church newsletter the next couple of nights.  12 pages of monthly penance.  Since my actions are still devious, I’ll have to hope the newsletter can atone for my missteps.  Beyond writing you two, it’s about my only creative outlet.  I guess the blog is too.  I’ll send you each a copy once it’s hot off the presses.  At least I’m thinking about atonement although, granted, I’m not very close to it.


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