Since I became a Grown Up, we haven’t lived in the same place (unless you count the awkward months of unemployment after college), so I’ve mostly birded alone. I just wasn’t really motivated to seek out new companions. One of the many ways in which I enjoy birding is as an escape, both from the sensory bombardment of urban life and from the pressure of trying to seem normal while interacting with strangers. So while I didn’t shun other birders, I didn’t go out of my way to spend time with them, either.
Now that I’m in a new town, experiencing a birding renaissance of sorts, I’m re-evaluating the idea of birding as a social activity. And by re-evaluating, I mean taking reckless, extreme action. For example: Next week, I’m attending my first ever birding festival.
That’s right – like comic-book fans, pornographers, ravenous gun hoarders… pretty much every group there is, I guess – birders come together to geek out. They talk shop, collect swag, and descend in swarms on the local parks. My destination is one of the largest such events in the country, maybe the largest: The 16th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, back on my old stomping grounds. Apparently, they expect over 5,000 attendees.
I’m excited about this for a lot of reasons. For one thing, going back to Central Florida means I get to see people I don’t see often enough, like my sister, who lives in our hometown. I expect her to roll out the red carpet – backyard barbecues, courtside seats for the Magic, helicopter rides to Disney World, and more. (This is a test to see if she reads my blog.) For another thing, there’s that sweet feeling that comes from laying eyes on home soil after a long time away. I haven’t exactly been out sacking Troy, but I haven’t been back in years, and part of me has missed the landscape of Central Florida – not the culture, the politics, the meager public transportation or the bland suburban sprawl – but the landscape. (The natural landscape.) And the birds.
Which brings me to my most topical reason for being excited. Florida hosts a dazzling array of wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, sparrows, warblers, hawks, etc. etc. Not only that, but thanks to the omnipresence of expert guides, I should have much better success than usual at finding and identifying all those gems. While I saw 265 species of birds in all of 2012 (actually a pretty good year for me), I expect to end January 2013 already pushing 200, thanks in large part to this trip.
It should be great. Still, I have to say my excitement is tinged with trepidation. I’m throwing myself headlong into the mysterious world of Birding with People. We’re talking four straight days of long hours in the field with strangers. Sure, these strangers are older, whiter, and more awkwardly friendly than the general population... sort of like Canadians. But I won’t know anyone. Who will I sit with at lunch? What will I talk about? It’s like middle school all over again.
And on the other hand, what if this whole experiment goes too well? Will I start hanging out with birders so much that I lose the grounding influence of my normal friends? Will I start to walk around town in a safari helmet and fanny pack? What will become of my street cred, accumulated over the course of decades of social binge-drinking, awkward dancing at parties and genuine interest in professional sports? The mind reels.
Well, if the internet has taught me one thing about how to succeed in life (aside from the power of the homemade sex video), it’s that sometimes, you just have to take a chance. It’s a new year, sort of, and maybe my thing this year is just to go balls-to-the-wall and see what happens. Maybe by dropping my guard, I’ll let something wonderful into my life, as suggested by noted philosopher and medicine woman Jane Semour.
Or maybe I’ll just be uncomfortable. Well, I’ll let you know.