Two friends of mine are embarked on a singular mission. They are
determined to become world class birders. I figure they will make it; at
least by the year 2050.
Iíve known Willie and J. C. for many years. As you read this story
you will probably think Iím having a laugh at their expense. I am, they
would do the same for me.
The three of us grew up in South Alabama in the finest southern
tradition. We always said "yes sir" and "yes maíam"
to our elders. Still do on the rare occasion when we run into somebody
older than us. We were well schooled, especially in using grammatically
correct southern English. I remember at our high school graduation party
olí J.C. said "yíall ainít really gonna eat Ďem chitlinís1
In the summer of 1961 we sailed out on lifeís sea. I went to college
to seek the meaning of life. J.C. and Willie acted more sensibly. They
went to work. While I was learning to philosophize and write music they
were learning to drive tractors, fix leaky faucets, and install electrical
wiring. Who would have thought that heavy equipment operators, plumbers,
and electricians would be better paid than philosophers and classical
Willie and J.C. never left the old home town. I didnít stay gone all
that long. When I returned I found Willie and J.C. working at "The
Lake". The Lake is actually two fishing lakes built in the early 1950ís
when the Governor, or somebody, decided that every county in Alabama
should have a public fishing lake. The two lakes are still there. They are
now surrounded by 100 improved campsites and a multi-million dollar golf
course designed by some fellow named Jones. Itís a big deal, but to me
and Willie and J.C. itís still "The Lake".
I never did for sure find the meaning of life but somewhere along the
way I discovered birds. Thatís been even better. The Lake was (and still
is) one of my favorite birding destinations. I visited a couple of days a
week with binoculars and bird books. Willie and J.C. noticed right off.
They figured that all college had done for me was turn me into a sissy.
Willie got hooked first. I found an Orchard Oriole nest and he was
fascinated by it. Pretty soon he and J. C. were taking bird walks with me.
They started to pick up birding jargon. J.C. would say "man, just
look at all Ďem little brown jobs" (he hasnít forgotten his
grammatically correct southern English. Me and Willie ainít neither).
Before long they had a life list going. Now The Lake has bird houses and
bird feeders from one end to the other.
Through the years Willie and J.C. have provided me with some valuable,
and a whole lot of worthless bird information. In August a few years back
we were standing beneath a rack of empty gourds. J.C. mused, "seem
lak the martins left sorta early this year. Whaíchaíll think about
that?" Willie mumbled, "J.C., you know them martins got a
mind of their own. They just come and go as they please."
I was going in the Walmart store one afternoon and heard somebody
shouting my name. J.C. came running across the parking lot. "We got
one of them "distinct" woodpeckers up to the lake" he said
breathlessly. "You know itís one of them thatís stopping folks
from cuttiní timber." I asked him what the bird looked like.
"Heís black and red and white and about the size of a banty
rooster." When you realize that in J.Cís vocabulary
"distinct" is synonymous with "extinct" itís not too big a jump to
figure out that this was a cross between an Ivory-billed and a
Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It doesnít bother J.C. that extinct (and even
non-existent) birds are pretty hard to see.