The Dude celebrates another bird-day

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‘Whooping it up, the nerdy birdy way’

You’ve heard how there’s a bumper crop of babies nine months after a power blackout, haven’t you? There was a famous blackout in New York City in July of 1977, complete with a baby boom the next April. I didn’t move to New York till 1979, so I missed out on the action that time. I was around for the blackout of 2003, but the most exciting thing I remember was being so engrossed in a client conference call — planning a Huggies shoot! in Africa! —  that I almost missed being evacuated from the Ogilvy building.

Anyway. I bring up this blackout-then-nine-months-later baby boom thing because The Dude’s family is, well, “organized” somewhat along those lines. Out of six total Whitmore siblings, four have birthdays within a few days of each other at the end of May and the beginning of June. I guess, in their family, Labor Day was kind of like a New York City blackout. If you get my drift.

Three of the five Whitmore kids here have birthdays in late May or early June. Not pictured: Older Sister Wendy. Birthday? May 31

If that weren’t coincidentally wacky enough, Close Cousin Charlie has his birthday two days after The Dude’s. Though I don’t think a blackout — or Wayne’s Dad’s Labor Day vacation — had anything to do with it. This cousin is so close, birthday-wise and just regular chummy-friendly-wise that he and The Dude often celebrate together. And this year was no exception.

Older Bro Bill looks on as Close Cousin Charlie and The Dude make friends with a snake. All three have birthdays within days of each other. Not sure about the snake

So, for this joint birthday bash, I grilled up some steaks, popped open some wine, and whipped out (of the freezer) a big ole Carvel Cake, the Whitmores’ celebration cake of choice. I served one of these babies for the Fourth of July, and we famously had one for our wedding cake. Trust me, Carvel Cakes do not disappoint. Incidentally, Close Cousin Charlie and his wife are both vegan, bless their hearts, so I also grilled some tofu. It’s a good thing I got a large Carvel Cake.

Best (delicious and large) birthday cake ever. We even scared up a couple of candles

In keeping with the spirit of close cousinly cooperation, there was, in addition to a joint birthday cake, a joint blowing-out-of-the birthday candles:

Oh, and what about birthday presents? you may be wondering. Well, The Dude and I have gotten to that stage of our relationship where one of us looks at the other about a week before whatever celebration is coming up (anniversary, Christmas, birthday) and go, “Hey, you know that trip to Borneo? That’ll be our anniversary present this year. OK?”

But this year I thought I’d be different and give his Dudeness an actual present: a book I’m making (courtesy Shutterfly) commemorating our first Big Crazy Birding Trip, the one to Kenya and Tanzania. Well, I didn’t get it done in time, but he doesn’t know about it (and he doesn’t read this blog) so heck. Happy Father’s Day, Dude Man!

One of the pictures that’ll be sure to make the cut in the Dude’s Birthday (er, Father’s Day) Book

Oh. Speaking of birds. The Dude did get a very special gift, and he got it on his Actual Birthday too: he saw a Very Rare Bird on a bike ride that morning. (Thus combining two passions, biking and birds.) He went back later on his other bike to take its picture. (This other bike is the Zero, which is an electric motorcycle; he calls both this and his recumbent “bikes”, thus causing much confusion around the Amagansett manse: “Want to go for a bike ride?” “You know I can’t keep up with you.” “I mean on the motorbike.” “Oh.”)

The Dude birding on his “bike”. It’s electric, thus absolutely silent. The better for sneaking up on his avian quarry

He took his Good Camera, the one that contains zillions of photos that have never been downloaded or shared anywhere, and snapped this picture:

And here it is: The Sandhill Crane. Very rare sighting. Even more rare sighting? A photo from The Dude’s camera

Happy Bird-day, Dude! Here’s wishing you — and that Sandhill Crane — many more years of nerdy, birdy adventure.

Amagansett, New York. June 2019

“While we’re still young”

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‘When it comes to age, everything is relative.’

My Favorite Younger Sister Laura (at left above, smiling and be-hatted) has a lot going on and is often in a hurry. When someone dawdles, say, at a traffic light that has just turned green — or spends too much time chatting up the checkout girl at Costco, she is wont to mutter “while we’re still young”.

She does this so often that when her adorable daughter Natalie was only about two, she would parrot her, much to our amusement.

But, amusement aside, “while we’re still young” has begun to resonate with me, and not just at traffic lights.

See, we helped The Child celebrate her birthday last week. And I realized that she is now the same age I was when I pulled up my socks and moved myself to New York City. This was a pretty brave thing for me to do at the time. (And yes, there’s a story, called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.) I didn’t know a soul here, but I decided I needed to get my Ad Career into gear before I got too old.  Continue reading

Song of My Selfie

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‘A Whitman’s Sampler’

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” So sayeth the Internet, no doubt referring to those self-portraits otherwise known as “selfies”. Now I should point out, before I get too carried away with my mangling of Leaves of Grass, that the portrait at the top of this post is not actually a selfie. It may be difficult to imagine in this age of the ubiquitous hand-held device, but there were no cellphones in Seventeenth Century Holland. Though it sure looks as though those burghers are hamming it up for Instagram, doesn’t it?

Twenty-First Century Burgher Selfie. As you can see, I am not immune to the lure of the self-portrait. Even when being run down by a bike messenger

Speaking of hamming it up, I’ve been known to indulge in the odd selfie. In fact, I’ll be peppering this post with a few of my favorites — because why not? Continue reading

Planes, boats, and sorta kinda automobiles

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’Getting there actually is part of the fun. If you’re a Crazy Birder, that is.’

Our chigger bites from our Guyana trip hadn’t even healed when we were off again, this time to Western Panama. (See ‘Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid’ and ‘Up in the air, Junior Birdman’ for hair-raising Guyanian adventures involving hitchhiking bugs and bullet ants.)

The first Panamanian Plane. De-icing outside, pre-birding inside

A few years ago we started traveling with this company whose motto is “seriously fun birding”. (Look out: plug coming.) And I’m happy to report Truth in Advertising: Field Guides takes both the birding and the fun, well, seriously. Of course, not everyone has the same idea when it comes to “fun”. Take the travel — please.

Our 4-wheel limo. Standing-room only, but with terrific air-conditioning

We’ve found that there seems to be an inverse correlation between gorgeous birds and efficient transportation. The countries with the best birds have, basically, the worst roads. (The teeth-rattling tarmac in Kenya comes to mind.) Or no roads to speak of. (Amazonian Brazil and Downcountry Guyana, I’m talking about you.) Continue reading

Up in the air, Junior Birdman

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‘Just not upside-down, if you please.’

I amaze (and amuse) myself sometimes with the mere fact that I go on these Crazy Birding Adventures. (See last week’s “Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid” for gory Guyanian details.)

Not only are there bugs and spiders and scorpions to deal with (along with the occasional dollop of gecko poop on one’s pillow) but these trips usually have several of my own personal psychological bugaboos layered on top, including (but not limited to) an almost-paralyzing fear of heights. Oh yeah, and lest I forget, there’s The Snake Thing.

Before we move on to heights, here’s that snake — a big ole rattler, no less — that The Dude and Ron were trying to photograph in my story from last week

You may recall from my story “The Year of the Snake” that I have a particularly acute aversion to creatures of the slithery persuasion. Unlike, say, Intrepid Fellow Birder Linda (who snapped this snake), you won’t hear me cooing “That’s the most beautiful snake I’ve ever seen” about this specimen we found on a nighttime hike. Though I did have the gumption to take this movie. So there’s that. Continue reading

Nope. We didn’t drink the Kool-Aid

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‘But we did catch the Birding Bug’

If you’ve missed me (and/or my stories), may you find your reward in Heaven. Or maybe South America. Which is where The Dude and I spent the last couple of weeks — in Guyana, which is a country we had to look up on Google Earth.

We’d both remembered that movie Papillon, with Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen, where Steve’s character escapes from Devil’s Island in French Guiana. But we couldn’t decide whether Guiana was in South America and Guyana was in Africa. Or the other way around. (The Guiana/Guyana thing didn’t help.) And of course there’s Uganda (where we’ve been) and Ghana (where we’ve not), complicating matters even more. Turns out Guiana and Guyana are both in South America. But only one of them is famous for its Kool-Aid.

It drove our new Guyanian Pal Francis — here with me atop the Georgetown Lighthouse — crazy to realize that The One Fun Fact we knew about his homeland was The Kool-Aid Thing

Yup. Guyana is where the Rev. Jim Jones took his followers and, ultimately, treated them to a Kool-Aid Party. Grape, it was. (Take a sec to check out Jim Jones’ Wikipedia entry. It actually lists his “Occupation” as “Cult Leader”.) Continue reading

“There go the roses”

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‘Life as a series of passionate obsessions’

The Dude and I went out on a “bike ride” yesterday — me on my Vespa, he on his electric motorcycle, which is called a Zero. (He purchased it on a hilarious expedition to the wilds of Williamsburg — the hipster Williamsburg, not the colonial one.) He wanted this Zero because it is virtually silent, as in “Zero noise”, and therefore ideal for Biker Birdwatching.)

Dude, in background, stealthily examining some ruddy turnstones he was able to sneak up on — upon his super-silent Zero

Anyway, as we were dusting off our bikes for this jaunt, I couldn’t help but notice various relics of The Dude’s former obsessions: the ping-pong table, the archery target, and the windsurfing gear — all looking rather sad and neglected in the dim recesses of the basement.  Continue reading

Gorilla My Dreams

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‘The Silverback makes my previous Ape Alpha Male look like Chimp Change’

You may recall my relatively-recent story about that Playboy Monkey the Alpha Male Chimp. (It’s called ‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’.) Mr. Alpha was one fascinating fellow; he postured, he posed, and he made satisfyingly movie-sound-track-like crazy chimp sounds as he ran around slapping tree trunks to show off his chimp cojones.

One of our merry Birding and Chimp-Tracking band made a little movie on his iPhone and was just about to play it back when the leader of our Primate Patrol cautioned him against doing so. The crazy chimp squeals on the soundtrack would cause Said Alpha to attack us. Oh.

But intimidating as he was, Mr. Head Chimp was an organ-grinder’s sidekick compared to the Silverback. Who is Head Dude of the gorillas, and well, a whole different animal. (The ‘gorilla’ featured in the picture at the top of this post is about as real as a unicorn. Though we did get to see Real Gorillas. And we were much much closer to them than we were to that silly gorilla statue.)

No, we weren’t camping. Nor were we in ‘executive budget rooms’. But we did find us some gorillas

This get-to-know gorillas experience occurred when we were in the Buhoma area of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our tour company, the inestimable Field Guides, had warned us that the Mountain Gorillas were hard to find, even though they were “habituated”. Which meant that they were (sort of) used to people. We could spend an hour with a gorilla troupe, provided we could find one, and, um, provided with suitable protection.

No, she is not a guerrilla leader — she was our gorilla leader. And yes that is a machete she’s holding

Continue reading

Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol

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‘Keeping an eye out for migrants from Mexico’

I was on the phone with my Mom the other day and she mentioned that she almost bought a set of camouflage sheets at her church rummage sale. She said she decided not to because she was afraid she “wouldn’t be able to find her bed.”

That’s my Mom (!) Not only did she get me laughing, she got me thinking about camouflage.

We saw a lot of camouflage when we were in Texas recently for one of our Birding Excursions. We saw camouflage-bedecked guys zooming in boats along the border waters, cruising in vehicles along the border roads, and even sipping lattes in the border Starbucks.

Border Guys in camouflage along the Rio Grande, just upriver from us Birder Guys. (Photo by Lynsey Addario for the NY Times)

Note how the Border Guys are doing exactly the same thing as Birder Guy Dude in the photo at the top of this post. Scanning the shoreline with binoculars, looking for Mexican migrants. Except ours were Summer Tanagers, not “bad hombres”. Continue reading

Like oil and river water

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‘We’re one crazy mixed-up couple’

They say that opposites attract. Well, The Dude and I have been married more years than most of you Dear Readers have been alive. Which is pretty amazing in and of itself. But it’s even more amazing given how, well, opposite the two of us are.

In fact, I’d call us bi-polar opposites, given that our differences often drive us crazy.

Okay, there’s the easy stuff. I’m coffee; he’s tea. I’m radio-on-in-the-car; he’s I-want-to-appreciate-the-silence. I like parties; he’s I’ve-worked-hard-all-day-and-want-to-crash-at-home. I like novels; he only reads non-fiction. (‘Why would I want to read something that someone made up?‘) I love art; he only likes art that looks like what it’s supposed to be and/or looks like it was very hard to do.

Pointe Hilton by Jack Mendenhall. Meets both The Dude’s criteria: looks like what it is, and indeed looks like it was very hard to do

And what is it with hot and cold? Has there ever been a married couple who agrees on the thermostat? There he is, in the dead of winter, wearing a tee-shirt and turning up the heat; I say put on a sweater — preferably one of the many I’ve knit for you. Continue reading