Let me tell you a story. I’m a birder. Until recently, I thought I was simply the daughter of a birder. Growing up, my mom would suddenly pull the car over, rattle off a list of very-specific characteristics of the bird she was looking at, then tell us to remember what she’d said so she could look up the bird in her Audubon guide when she got home. I knew a lot through osmosis.
Then a few weeks ago I headed to Sauvie Island with my friend Tony, his two boys, and the Fairy Pig. After a focused ten minutes spent discussing shorebirds with our binoculars pressed to our eyes, I realized a) I am a birder independent of my lineage, and b) I have my first birder friend. Tony and I were looking at a group of western sandpipers.
Upon reflection, it’s possibly not the casual nature fan who can differentiate similar-sized birds in-flight. The bald eagle flaps its wings like it’s lifting weights at the gym; the turkey vulture soars like it’s the Platonic ideal of a glider plane; the great blue heron flies so slowly you think it might fall out of the sky.
This time of year on Sauvie Island (the country’s sixth largest river island, sitting near Portland in the Columbia River, attracting thousands of migratory birds), apart from the farms and locals, you’ll find a lot of birders and duck hunters. We occupy the same areas. But the birders keep outside the hunting borders because we like to stay alive and not bother the hunters.
You can tell the birders because we’re usually not driving trucks, and we pull over at seemingly unexplained spots.
On Sunday I took a crew to Sauvie: the Fairy Pig, Boy Woww, our new au pair, and me. We hopscotched viewing spots with a few other cars. At one point, a swoop of sandhill cranes took to the air right over our heads. I jumped out and started to video. It’s magic to watch anything take flight, but a group of sandhill cranes with their dinosaur-like rolling calls, their gangly spindle legs, and elegant opera-glove wing tips, well it makes me have a childlike sense of wonder and joy. And I’ve been video recording some of my favorite times in nature for mini-meditations on my Instagram page (@EvelynShoop). 2022 knocked me over with a coronavirus tidal wave and is demanding that I hold on and find moments of peace wherever and whenever possible.
As I was walking back to my car, another birder car pulled up with an older man inside. He rolled down the window. “Can I give you some advice?” he said.
Now if you’ve known me for a while, you’ll be sucking in your breath. I welcome advice if I ask for it. I welcome advice if you have walked a rough path of parenting or grief or self-discovery with me. If our lives are entwined and I reach out, I am all ears. But otherwise, no. N.O. I have to hold this boundary for self-protection as a human who parents. I have received so much unsolicited parenting judgment, errr… advice… that I am not interested in your advice even if it’s life-altering. Most often your advice comes from your own personal experience and it’s helpful and comforting to you for me to receive it. But not for me. And I already have a frickin’ awesome, all-star slate of advice-givers… some professional and some personal.
So when my new friend The Anonymous Birder rolled up and asked if I wanted advice, it was very easy to just say, “No, thank you.”
This was not what he was expecting. So he decided I should hear the advice anyway. It was something about not getting out of your car because you scare the wildlife. He didn’t get all the way through his monologue, though, because I repeated “NO, THANKS.” And I walked away. At which point he yelled “FUCK YOU,” and sped away. Which for birders in the wild is like 15 MPH.
Advice is a lot about assumptions. He assumed I didn’t know what I was doing, that I hadn’t been to this exact spot five times since November, that I wanted to birdwatch like him. His advice was about his frustration that I wasn’t doing things like he does and that because of it I had altered the experience he wanted that day.
So here’s the thing. On a normal day, I would be proud of myself for setting boundaries, but I would also be boring holes through Anonymous Birder Friend’s skull with my laser beam eyes. I would add the karmic insult he enacted upon me to EVELYN’S INVISIBLE VAULT OF GRIEVANCES. I always have it going. But this time I stopped and had a little chat with myself.
I’m not taking this personally. It’s about him. I’m doing a great job raising little birders, and he can go shove it.
Confetti and marshmallows and dark chocolate did not rain down from the sky, but maybe next time. Or the next. Maybe you need to fill your punch card with 10 zen moments before you get your reward. Or maybe somewhere down the line I’ll be a less angry person in general and that’s the reward. [scratches forehead and ponders]
In case you have a lingering wonder about me scaring the wildlife, well, getting out of your car definitely annoys the song birds: the sparrows, the chickadees, the finches. They are fickle and often prey. Generally being alive scares them. But my experience is that the sandhill cranes, the snow geese, the cackling geese, the Canada geese, the great blue herons, the American coots, the mallards, and the great egrets could really care less. I mean, like, don’t chase the birds. But at this same spot back in November, my husband and K-Pants played football, the Fairy Pig and I ran up and down the road, and Boy Woww chilled in the car reading a book. The only thing that bothered the birds were three bald eagles dive-bombing them, which frankly created the most beautiful soaring cacophony I’ve ever seen or heard.
(For a video of sandhill cranes in flight, check out my Instagram page, or request to follow me: @EvelynShoop.)