Let us Now Praise Famous Men

Birding Bill and I just got a call from our dear friend Jeff Gordon, who's on his way to Memphis to pick the Birdchick up at the airport this afternoon. Then they'll drive two hours more to Arkansas. Jeff narrowly missed an ice storm that has us shuttered up in our warm house, putting double suet and peanuts and suet dough out for desperate birds, and thanking our lucky stars we don't have to be anywhere right now. We talked for awhile about the fact that Jeff and Sharon may be without Internet access in Arkansas :-0 , about what it feels like to live in a world where ivory-bills are not just something to be mourned as lost, but looked for. Jeff said that reading over Tanner again last night was like entering a time machine. After growing up with all indications dictating that we'd never have a chance to study this species again, Jeff said that everything's cast in a whole new light now. It's all in the present tense.

Bill and I have done a lot of birding with Jeff, and he amazes us anew every time we're together. He's one of those supernaturals, able to discern identifying characteristics of flying birds that even he might not be able to articulate; he's generally got something identified, naked-eye, while the rest of us are saying, "Hey, what's that thing out there against the horizon?" I can't think of a better pair of eyes and ears to apply to this search. Jeff was one of the co-authors of Identify Yourself: The Fifty Most Common Birding Identification Challenges
Houghton Mifflin, 2005), by Bill Thompson, III, illustrated by JZ. We tried to make this book as fun to read as we could, so that our identification tips went down smoothly, not sideways.

Today, I'm unpacking from a frenetic trip to Zanesville, Ohio, that started at 5:30 AM yesterday. I drove my SUV, loaded with artwork, lights, display panels, books, prints, notecards and the like, up to the Ohio Ornithological Society's Raptor Symposium. Dashing in the door at 8 AM, I set up my display, all original art of hawks and owls. Both Bill and I gave talks, followed by lunch and a field trip to The Wilds, where we just barely managed to show 200 people a couple of rough-legged hawks and short-eared owls. It's not a vole year, and with the prey base way down, the raptors are down, too. At the symposium yesterday morning, I peddled saleable items for about an hour, then sat down to watch Jim McCormac and Bill speak on reclaimed strip mine habitats and Ohio's hawks, respectively. Get those two in a crowded room together, with a microphone, and you can guarantee that people will be falling in the aisles. In his grassland habitat presentation, Jim used a compromising photo of Bill singing karaoke, gleaned from this very blog. Eek. Bill fired back as best he could, but expect some retributional roasting of Ohio botanist/ornithologist McCormac in "Bill of the Birds."

I gave a 45-minute presentation on owls, which was seasoned lightly with poetry. There are some beautiful poems about owls out there. Here's my absolute favorite, by Ted Kooser of Nebraska.

Barn Owl

High in the chaffy
Taffy colored haze of the hayloft,
Up under the starry nail-hole twinkle of the old tin roof
There in a nest of straw and baling twine
I have hidden my valentine for you

A white heart woven of snowy feathers
In which wide eyes are welcome
Open to you
As you climb the rickety ladder to my love
Behind those eyes lies a boudoir of intimate darkness, darling
The silks of oblivion
And set like a jewel
dead center in the heart
Is a golden hook the size of a finger ring
To hold you always
Plumpest sweetheart mouse of mine.

Ted Kooser is Poet Laureate. Imagine that, someone who knows all about barn owls, nature, and the chaffy haze of haylofts. That's one thing that President Bush did right.