Thursday, October 22, 2015

Best Birding Article Ever!

Whenever I'm at the doctor's office, I drop off some magazines from home and pick up others.

I do not call this stealing. I call this recirculating, which is a step above recycling: By moving magazines from office to office in the Vancouver-Portland area, I am giving more people more opportunities to read magazines they would otherwise never have even seen. (And I do not take home the magazines that belong in the office; only the ones that, like the ones I bring in, have obviously been left there by people like me who have cut off the subscription label. And I bring back all the magazines, plus the ones from my own subscriptions.)

The other day, in an emergency room of a Kaiser hospital in Happy Valley, Oregon, I found the September 2015 issue of  "Conde Nast Traveler," a magazine I would never buy for myself. My first impression was negative, but that was because I opened the mag randomly to an ad for Hermes. The lovely Hermes Jardin d'Hiver scarf in silk twill was advertised for $395; and if I were interested in the Bolide Secret bag in Mat Crocodile, I could find out the price upon request.

So, I thought, why even recirculate this magazine? But I glanced through it again, flipping through the many pages of ads for Giorgio Armani This and Fendi That and the photos of way-too-thin people lounging at resorts in the Bahamas, Bahrain, Cape Town, Los Cabos, Maldives, and so on.

And found the Best Birding Article Ever! "Postcard from East Africa" caught my eye because of the illustration and its caption: "Jonathan Franzen trains his binoculars on the tiniest bipeds in the bush."

Illustration by Jason Holley, in Sept. 2015 "Conde Nast Traveler"
I didn't pay attention to the author's name, though, busy wondering what this rich-people's magazine would offer of interest to serious birders, most of whom I'm guessing don't frequent the finer resorts nor buy the kinds of products advertised here. So I started reading:

"When I was home and talking to my brother Bob, he asked me whether an East African safari was something a person had to do. Certain well-traveled friends of his---competitive vacationers; proponents of the Bucket List---had assured him that it was. Did I agree?"

Now I was interested. The writer goes on to consider "...the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard's theory of the simulacrum---the idea that consumer capitalism has replaced reality with representations of reality."

And then he gets to the birds: "I'm told that most people prefer mammals to birds because we ourselves are mammals. This seems to me both reasonable and questionable. If the great attraction of nature is its Otherness, why do we need our close kindred to make it interesting? Isn't this sort of embarrassingly self-infatuated? Birds, with their dinosaur lineage and their flight capabilities, are truly Other. And yet, being conspicuous bipeds like us, and responding, like us, primarily to sight and sound, they're arguably more similar to us than other mammals, which tend to be furtive and four-legged and to live in a world defined by smell."

At this point I did look back to see who wrote this. Ah! Jonathan Franzen. Novelist and essayist, author of "Freedom A Novel," "The Corrections," and "Purity: A Novel." (Yeah, I looked this up on Amazon. Where I found a book of essays by Franzen which I'm ordering...)

Okay, so, then, I kept reading. And here is where I realized I was reading the BEST EVER article on birds, birding, birders, why we go out in strange places and our own neighborhoods just to look at birds.

And then, while Jason was lying on a bed in the emergency room of the Kaiser hospital in Happy Valley, Oregon, waiting for someone to come and finish the admitting process, I started reading it aloud to him. Someone did come in halfway through and, when we finished dealing with that person and started waiting for the next person to show up, he asked me to read the rest of the article to him. And he loved it!

That's why I think you will enjoy it, reading it online --- if someone who is lying on a bed in a strange place, in pain, and wondering if he's going to get through this --- enjoyed it that much.

So, Dear Reader, this is why I'm telling you about this article. I found that it's available on line, so you can read it for yourself without my having to recirculate this copy of this magazine to your home address. Please follow this link and read it. It will make your day, I promise.

I'm thinking the likelihood of my ever going to East Africa to look at birds is about negative 99.99%. But if I ever get there---and wherever I do get myself to, with binoculars and bird book in hand---I'll appreciate these beautiful creatures even more than I ever have before.

1 comment:

Laura Pratt said...

Good writing transports you to another time and place. This is good writing.