Sometime back I made a list of No-No’s in my Rules For Old People posts. There was one I forgot. Bird watching. But the exclusion turned out to be okay, the reason being it would have been a rule broken.
I always said, “When the day comes I begin watching and classifying birds and their habits, just take me out in a field and shoot me.”
My wife’s father was an avid bird watcher. And I was subject to countless hours of torture having to listen to his latest sightings, their migration routes and times, mating habits…the list went on and on. But being the faithful son-in-law, I would politely smile and nod, even though boredom was doing jumping jacks on every fiber of my being.
Don’t get me wrong. There are birds I recognize by sight and sound, a knowledge that came naturally and totally unintended by simply living out in the country. And I will admit there were times I thought it sad that many young people wouldn’t know the difference between a crow and a coo-coo clock. But to make special trips to this or that location to see and photograph some species of bird, no no, not me.
Then one day I was looking out my kitchen window while sipping coffee, something I do quite frequently now that I’m retired. There on the fence was this bird I didn’t recognize and, for that reason, it caught my attention. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was mentioning it to my wife. On my next birthday she gave me a bird book. “Now you can identify those birds you see,” she gleefully said, obviously remembering her father’s love.
I forced a smile. “And I was just thinking about buying a bird book,” I replied, praying my wife’s razor sharp sixth sense wouldn’t pick up on my blatant lie. The book sat next to our picture window for days. Then one afternoon I glanced down at it. I then nervously looked around, making certain no one was watching. If one of my cronies saw me, I would never hear the end of it. I then casually opened it. While thumbing through the pages of bird photos, their names and habits, I was a little set back. I didn’t realize there were so many birds I didn’t recognize. And so many of them had bright colors I’d never seen before. Was I that blind to the birds around me? For days I furiously turned the pages when I would see a likely bird outside. Nothing, Nothing. Nothing. Then one day I closed the book in frustration. Suddenly I was staring at the book’s cover and its title. My wife’s gift was a book titled, “Birds Of The Eastern United States.” What? I live on the West Coast, about as far away from the Eastern United States as I can get without falling in the Pacific Ocean!
My wife thought it all to be quite humorous. Yeah, it was easy for her to laugh. She wasn’t the one ripping through the pages in a futile attempt at finding birds that didn’t even exist in our part of the country! That was it! I deserted the hobby, a hobby I wouldn’t admit I’d even taken up in the first place. That was until my wife bought me another bird book. “Birds Of The Pacific Northwest.” Living a few miles south of Seattle, one can’t get anymore localized than that. Once more I would wait until I was alone. Then, with book in hand, I would stare out the window by the hour. There’s one! Oh hell, its a stinking crow…Oh well, I turned the pages until I found it. Might as well check out its mating habits, ect. ect..
But the real frustration came when I would spot some unrecognized species. I would feverishly thumb through the pages. But, without exception, before I found a bird that even remotely resembled the one perched outside my window, it was gone. Stupid bird! Stupid book! And then twenty minutes later I would go through the same routine again. I was a hopeless case! Without realizing it had even happened, I had evolved into a…”Closet Bird Watcher!”
My secret remained hidden for a year or more. Well, except for my wife. I can’t fart three rooms away without her knowing about it, much less making some snide and totally uncalled for remark. Yeah, like she never farts! Oh, sorry, I forgot. Women “Pass wind,” or “Fluff.” And then it happened! We were playing cards with one of my bass fishing buddies, Clem, and his wife, Arlene….
“I was out fishing smallies on Lake Tapps,” Clem said as he stared at his cards, “and some jerk jet skier roared by ten feet from my boat.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
Clem shrugged. “I just gave him the bird.”
“Talking about birds,” my wife chortled, “Rick has taken quite–”
“Maxine!!” I screamed, my eyes instantly dancing in disbelief.
“What,” she innocently replied, “I think bird watching is cute.”
Okay, “cute” is not a word associated with anything concerning a man’s hobbies. Any hobby! Lord, when will women ever get that? Shock immediately set up a command post in my chest, sending out waves of embarrassment throughout my body.
“Wwwwhhhhaaaat?” Clem interjected, his eyes suddenly widening.
I didn’t know that one word could begin at such a low volume and yet rattle the walls by its end. “Noooo,” I replied with a casual wave of the hand. “I just happened to see a lousy bird the other day and, with nothing better to do, looked it up in this stupid book Maxine bought me. No big deal. Jeeez, I noticed one stinking bird and suddenly my wife thinks I’m a bird watcher! Come on! Give me a break. Pppssssstttt!”
My brain went into instant overdrive. I just knew my reputation among my bass fishing buddies was shot. I resolved myself to the fact that I might as well put a decal across the side of my boat saying, “Bird Watching Old Guy.” And then it happened.
“Don’t get so high and mighty, mister macho man!” Arlene shot back to her husband. “Who was the one out in the yard chasing around that…that double breasted sap sucker, or whatever you called it!”
Suddenly Clem’s eyes were nervous and darting. “Stupid bird,” he muttered.
So it is not only myself, but also Clem who is a “Closet Bird Watcher.” But after a quick and private meeting, we agreed to keep it our private secret. Of course, that’s if our wives can keep their flapping mouths shut, which is very doubtful. And the only reason I’ve shared it with my readers is I know you will all be discreet. Remember, our reputations are at stake….