Sunday, March 12, 2017

Birding: Just Another Pecking Order

This Eastern Screech-Owl is a celebrity in Newburyport.
I've started birding and, yes, I am as surprised as you are.

Birding is for old people with funny hats.

The truth is, though, it pushes all my buttons.  I love taking pictures.  I love to hike and snowshoe.  I love being on the hunt.  I love doing the reading and studying.  And since November, I've been looking for reasons to avoid my Facebook and Twitter feeds, if only to preserve my sanity.

I call it trading Tweets for tweets.

My introduction to birding has been through my backyard feeder, Henry at Wildbirds Unlimited, Carol and the great people at Audubon, The Big Year, H is for Hawk, my new Sibley and Peterson, my e-bird alerts, and a bunch of group excursions looking for owls and eagles and hawks (oh my).

And I'm still a complete rookie--which is good for the soul.  My life list has 38 birds.  They even place me in the front seat of the van when I head off with a group of experienced birders so I "don't miss anything."  When I was first to spot an eagle a few weeks ago, I heard one of the charming older ladies in my group whisper, "Beginner's luck."  So, I'm starting in right field--but at least I'm in the game.

And, as in every human endeavor, with birding, there is a pecking order.  Just like at the office, where there is a clear pecking order.  At the gym.  At the local diner.  At church.  My wife plays in bell choirs and, yes, even when nice people are swinging 3/8-inch thick solid Aluminum/Titanium alloy, polished tempered tone chimes, in unison to Bach, there is a pecking order.

Today's rare bird alert.  It's hard
not to want to drop everything
and go looking.
We are, after all, just apes.  In the case of birding, apes with Swarovskis and scopes and tripods and cameras.  But just apes.

Here's one recent example.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Yuval Harari's "Sapiens": I Think I Finally Get It

At the start of 2017 I checked the actuarial tables and determined, at 12 books per year, I had about 168 books left to read.  Give or take.  That's not a lot.  So I decided then and there that I would read only books that had the potential to delight, change my mind, or change my life.

I read Sean Carroll's The Big Picture, which certainly changed what I knew about the universe.  Then I read Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others, which I should have read before I saw Arrival, but liked even better.  Next, I finally finished Zinsser's On Writing Well, which I should have read 30 years ago.  So I'm three-for-three.

And then I picked up a copy of Yuval Harari's Sapiens which, I now believe, explains nearly everything that has confused me about life and my fellow human beings, especially since November 2016.

Here's just some of what I learned: