Search This Blog

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yeah, I bird-watch...

Let's get something straight right off the bat - you're not going to see me tromping around through the bush, sporting a pith helmet and antique-y binoculars, reverently whispering the scientific names of rarely seen (and probably even more rarely noticed) bird species.  
Not a birder, just an old man in a pith helmet.
He looked fun, so here he is.

At least, not often. 

I wasn't always a birder --- there was a time that I thought it was for old people who split their time between playing chess/checkers in a city park, and stalking out avian species and ogling them through binoculars.

Probably a birder... that mouth-posture is not required for birding, though. 

For some of you - that might be reminiscent of the way you think of birding, even to this day -- if so, that's unfortunate, because you are missing out on one of the coolest and most inexpensive hobbies there is to be had. 

The truth is, I've been a birder since I was a kid - I just didn't know it.  I loved birds - and I loved watching them in my back yard, and in the 1 acre pasture we had.  I especially loved watching the crowds of birds that would appear every time we irrigated - flood irrigation would bring out bugs, and water birds from all over would flock to the neighborhood to feast, play, and squabble over territory.  

I didn't even know the names of the birds that I was watching so intently --- I suppose I might have been able to identify 3-4 of the dozens of species I must have seen.   I probably made up names for the ones I didn't know - which was just as fun.  That interested was only magnified as time went by - as I was able to travel a little, and see different species, and hear their different songs. 

On camping trips, road trips, bike trips, walks, and any other excursion into nature, I would be on the lookout for birds of all kinds, shapes, sizes, and colors -- sometimes to the annoyance of my traveling companions. 

Then, there was Biology 101 at Brigham Young University, as taught by Hal Black.  I'm not talking about the kind of Biology 101 with lectures on mitosis and the Krebb cycle that could put a caffeinated squirrel to sleep - Prof. Black taught the interesting stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff you always wanted to know about Biology, and were afraid that your teacher would never mention because cellular biology took up all of class time. 

Among other things, Prof. Black was an aficionado of all things birds -- he loved watching them, he loved talking about them, and his excitement about the topic was contagious.  Our textbooks for the class were 3 birding books.  I new I was in the right place! 

(side note: when I found out about the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in India -- it immediately took a prominent place on my bucket list.  For those who loves birds and nature - I would highly recommend looking into it). 

If you asked me to point to a time when I started telling people "I'm a birder" ... I guess I would say it was that singular biology class.  After that, I started taking binoculars everywhere with me - and my backpack with all the birding books I had.  I would go out to Utah Lake on Saturday mornings on the other side of the Provo Airport to look for water birds and raptors -- and there were/are a wealth of birds to be seen! 

Just to give you a glimpse of some of the stuff that I'd see: 

Belted Kingfisher

Black Vulture

Great Blue Heron

Mandarin Duck

Northern Harrier

Snowy Egret

Tufted Titmouse

Wood Duck

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (and... occasionally, I'd see the Black-crowned night Heron)

Yellow-headed Blackbird
 And that's just part of a growing list - and it keeps growing as I travel.   It's one of those hobbies that seem to be pretty international - you'll find people who are interested in it on just about every continent (maybe Antarctica would be a stretch?)  -- and it's an inexpensive and enjoyable way to enjoy the outdoors!  

Funny thing to me, was that when I'd tell people I was going bird watching... they'd want to come along - they'd just always been afraid of admitting they loved watching birds! 

-Alan M. Taylor

Monday, February 21, 2011

When you lose someone you love.

About 7 months ago my mom passed away after a 6 month battle with cancer.   I've found in that time that it is possible for one to feel both fortunate, and deprived.  Strong, yet afflicted.  Loved, but plagued with longing.

In my own experience there was a barrage of emotions that confronted me in the wake of the loss of my mother.  There were good days, when I felt like I had a pretty good grip on things, a firm hope in seeing my Mom again, and an optimistic outlook for the future.   There were also days that were not so good... when I missed her so much, when it seemed so unfair, and when there were things I wanted so much to share with her.   I kept reminding myself that life isn't designed to be unfair -- especially if you claim to be a Christian.  The Atonement was a dreadfully unfair outcome, even though it was a voluntary deed.  (could you honestly claim otherwise of the sort of justice where the party least deserving of punishment received the bulk of it?)

In time, you'll find you're made of strong enough material to regain a forward leaning stance in your life - especially if the one you loved taught you as well as my Mother did.  She left all of her children, and grandchildren (including those yet unborn) with a wonderful legacy. 

Once, years ago, my Mom told me she thought I'd never become an Eagle Scout - that she was giving up on trying.  She had tried hard to nudge me in that direction without much success.  She probably said it more out of frustration than anything else, and to be honest (albeit in retrospect), I couldn't blame her.  I don't know whether or not she realized it at the time, but that gave me twice as much drive just to prove her wrong (not the highest motive, I know... but it got the job done in time!).   I asked her later about that, she claimed it was her honest belief, that she wasn't just trying reverse psychology.   Either way, I made Eagle Scout.  

In losing her to cancer, it feels like the gauntlet was thrown down again -- almost like fate was sneering at me.  A man wizened through his own adverse experience said of his own determination. "I will take fate by the throat; it will never bend me completely to its will."   Beethoven penned those words in a letter, and if Ludwig Beethoven could produce timeless music even when deaf, then there's music of my own, yet to be written, on the untouched pages in my own life.

To conclude on a hopeful note, I'll share the words of Robert Browning:

GROW old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth’s smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;        
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!
For thence,—a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks,—
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,        
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i’ the scale.
And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone                                   
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armor to indue.
So, take and use Thy work:      
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o’ the stuff, what warpings past the aim!          
My times be in Thy hand!        
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gardening, Cooking, and Woodworking

There are certain characteristics about my family that I enjoy a great deal - and oddly enough, come to think of it, most of them are tied to what we spend our time doing when we get together around the holidays. Growing up in Arizona - Thanksgiving time was always outdoor project time - we loved doing things in the garden, in the yard, in the garage. Christmas time was about the same, with some baking of Christmas treats thrown in. It seems like we were always finding excuses to get dirt under our fingernails, or saw-dust in our hair - and that's stuck with me.

Even at college, I start filling blank spots in the apartment with plants, and looking for excuses to build little furniture odds and ends for myself, my roommates, and close friends. A good portion of my belongings consist of tools, both power and hand. From personal experience I can tell you that having tools, the know-how, and the willingness to help is a great way to expand your circle of friends. Same goes for cooking - feed a group of people a good meal and you'll see what I mean.

I've given some thought to this recently - given how much enjoyment I find in gardening, cooking, and woodworking... why I never really considered a career in any of those fields escapes me. Of course, I've been told that the best way to ruin one of your favorite hobbies is to try and turn it into a career. Still, you always hear stories of people who did the very same, and love what they do, and never look back.

Most tempting of the three is woodworking. I've remarked several times to close friends that saw-dust has an almost narcotic appeal to my senses... the sounds, the smells, the feel, the sense of accomplishment that go with creating beautiful pieces of woodwork are hard to beat - although I have to admit that I've cooked several things that smelled (and tasted) better than fresh sawdust (not that I've ever deliberately tasted fresh sawdust).

Since I enjoy so much about woodworking... I've tried to think of several ways that one could make it a going proposition for paying the bills and more. Short of building custom furniture, it's hard to imagine how one could build on a small scale and make any money -- assembly-line pieces may not have that 'heirloom' quality and look to them - but it seems like economy and convenience for relocation are pretty powerful arguments for finishing a home these days?

Another option, with it's own appeal, is timberframe construction of homes. That sort of work may not be easy - but it would certainly get me into the outdoors, and working with wood - both of them huge plusses in my book.

Ever since I found Google Sketchup, I've been creating designs of things I'd like to build, things I have built, and things I don't think I'll ever be able to build - but that process of creation, planning, and construction thrills me in ways I find hard to describe.

The thing that plagues me is that I'm pretty sure I would love doing this - just working with wood in general - but part of me keeps on saying "someday" when I know that if you say that enough it'll turn into "well, woulda coulda shoulda." Am I crazy enough to de-rail my university studies to chase after something like this? Not quite that crazy -- there's got to be a better way to go about it, I just haven't found it yet.

The funny thing (to me) is--- that I'm now positive I'm not the only one who has given serious thought to this -- several people I have mentioned it to have expressed a surprising amount of interest - "If you ever do that, keep me in mind." Words to that effect. They have no idea how much more tempting they just made that option sound by letting those words off the tip of their tongue. The thought of this thing 'snowballing' just makes it that much more tantalizing.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

May I recommend a book to you?

It's changed the way I look at situations, and has caused some deep introspection about the way I interact with others.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to read - not because the language or ideas are lofty (just the opposite, the ideas have been made extremely accessible) -- the reason this book was hard to read, is because it nearly forces you to take a hard look at the way you live, the way you treat others, and the way you navigate through business, personal, and other situations.

The biggest take aways from this book, in my humble opinion, are that we often are at least part of the cause of the problems that we *blame* on others. The blame game is how we deceive ourselves... and effectively undermine any solution to the problem. We then *need* things to go wrong in order for us to feel justified in that blame --- that's not a very easy truth reconcile oneself with.

You come away from this book not self-condemning, but enlightened, and with a renewed vigor in trying to mend personal relationships, and thence professional ones. This book *can be* deeply good for not only yourself, but for all of those who surround you. Read it, understand it, think about it, live it, and then pass it along to those around.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Seen @ BYU

So - lately, there have been two new rather faddish fan-pages on Facebook, at least for those who are familiar with BYU campus. They are "Seen @ BYU" and "Overheard @ BYU" -- where posters are encouraged to publicize odd, interesting, crazy, zany, or just plain whacked out examples of culture and life on BYU campus. I have to admit, having walked this campus for 3 years now, I have seen and heard some pretty weird things - and wished I had a camera or a tape recorder to keep those interesting tid-bits for posterity.

Interestingly enough, the first of the two to be formed -- "Overheard @ BYU" -- was inspired by a group named "Overheard in Vegas" ... a smaller attempt to subvert the conventional wisdom that "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Hopefully nothing as seedy as the commonplace occurrences in Vegas will rear their ugly heads at BYU.

While both are fairly new, they are rapidly acquiring a fan base - and the thought of having an army of thousands of listeners/photographers running around BYU, gleaning pieces of information is a daunting thought. The "victims" for the most part are ano
nymous -- people have been discouraged from providing identifying information along with the quotes or photos -- and it may end up that no one who become unintentionally famous will ever know about it. That is, of course, unless some 'friend' of their recognizes them, and 'tags' them in a photo!

So - for those of you who have enjoyed the peculiarities of BYU campus, and maybe think you might enjoy 'updating' your repertoire of BYU's unique quirks - go look these two up on Facebook. Who knows ... you might have a 'gem' tucked away, waiting for the right venue to share it in -- even if it's from a bygone era.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Where do we go from here?

For the past three years, I've spent a large part of my time in Utah - leaving only briefly, and rarely for a visit back to Texas, or somewhere else for the holidays. The strange part of it is, I don't really envision myself staying here after college is done - but I don't really feel like anywhere else is 'home' right now. Which leaves me in a sort of 'limbo' or 'purgatory' -- surrounded by friends, I still feel sort of ... homeless.

No, I don't feel exactly like those men women and children who are, quite literally, Homeless - I actually feel very blessed. I just don't feel that sense of belonging that you find when you live in a home, surrounded by those with whom you share more than just a bond of friendship. That's why I've decided that this 'homeless' feeling, mixed in with just a bit of wanderlust may serve a higher purpose than to just make one edgy when wondering "where do I go from here?"

In truth, I would hope that none of us feel as though we "belong" in our college years - at least not for the long term (obviously it helps to feel as though you fit in with your peers, age-wise, as well as regarding one's perspective on life). As Carrie Underwood's recent song admonishes... "This is just our temporary home..." This is not to say we shouldn't invest ourselves in lasting friendships, and cultivate the higher virtues that would serve us well for the remaining years of our life -- only that we should regard this time as we do our favorite seasons... they are wonderful in countless ways, but like the seasons they don't last. We take memories and friendships with us - but refusing to let this era settle comfortably into its place in the past would only needlessly take up room that should be reserved for the yet-undiscovered adventures that await us.

My conclusion? If you feel just a little on-edge whilst you finish your college years (especially while unmarried), then I'd say that's a good indicator your heart is in the right place. There are bigger and better things to accomplish - and to wish for its perpetuation would be to forsake all that lies in store for us. There's no great need to rush past college, if all you're after is to see what's around the next bend in the road, but neither would I have anyone sell themselves short, thinking that these are the best years of your life.

So... don't get too comfortable. You ain't seen nothin' yet. :-)

** P.S. One of my favorite Billy Joel songs goes along with this - it's called "Vienna"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Day Before Tomorrow...

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - James M. Barrie, The Little Minister, 1891

Flag day is always a sort of contemplative day for me - but perhaps not for the reasons that you would think. Yes, I would characterize myself as patriotic, but Flag Day is just one day before my birthday - and this year especially marks the occasion when I join the quarter-century club. 25 years of 'pura vida' ("nothin' but life") on this planet, having been places and done things I couldn't possibly have dreamed up, and living in a place I once swore to avoid like the plague.

I guess with most people out there, if you asked them (at age 15 or so) to imagine where they would be and what they would be doing at age 25, only a few would probably have the imagination to actually see that far ahead, and even most of them would probably be surprised out of their minds to actually "see into the future" and do a reality check. I think that would have been me, 10 years ago. So very much has transpired in my life that I'm left without words to describe it.

Tongue in cheek, I think I imagined myself as being much wiser! There are a few areas where I think I imagined myself doing better than I have - but I don't want this to seem as though every birthday-eve is one where I catalog my lifetime regrets. On the contrary - ... 'regret' is a word that I would recommend using only temporarily. Personally, I don't think saying "no regrets" is tantamount to saying that you've had a perfect performance up to the present. For me, it's more a recognition that you've lived and learned from life experiences along the way. Perhaps without making some mistakes, you couldn't have possibly gotten to the point where you find yourself. To be sure, I've made plenty of mistakes - but living with regret would only rob you of the value of each 'hard lesson' you've learned. So - as I turn 25, I say (with the above explanation in mind) that I have no regrets - but I've got a LONG list of ways I believe I can improve!

One of my professors, who taught us a great deal about family finance had an interesting way of putting things to us as a class. "N is a terrible thing to waste" he would tell us. 'N' being the variable in financial equations that represents 'time'. This, of course, was to be understood two ways. 1) Having time on your side when planning investments is a DEFINITE advantage. 2) You don't get to save it up, you can't horde it, you can't retrieve it - all of us get the same amount of it every day, and you have no way of knowing for sure how much 'N' you have left - so don't waste it! Even after being admonished thusly, some days I can't help but think of the words of James Barrie, quoted at the top here.

Another thing that has been at the forefront of my mind is that I have retained my slightly-unrealistically-optimistic outlook on life. I don't have to dig very deep to find that I truly believe that tomorrow will be better than today. To those who are of like mind, no explanation is required - but to those who have more pessimistic tendencies, perhaps no amount of explanation would suffice. Perhaps the reason why this sticks out to me is that of late my life has had it's share of 'bad news' days - days when my optimistic outlook was blurred by tears. Yeah, I know I've got it pretty good all things considering (living in the US, I have a job, I'm attending a good college, I generally know what I want to do with my life, I have a solid family and true friends) - but even the most blessed person you know is not immune to the pains, disappointments, and vicissitudes of life. Fortunately for all of us, most especially the younger generations, we get a chance to re-apply what we've learned in the coming decades of our life. I consider myself fortunate because I have learned a very great deal thus far. 25 years is only a beginning, and I certainly hope I am around to infect others with a contagious optimism when I'm 50, perhaps even 100!

Go ahead, if you like, and tease me about 'getting older' - you won't see the smile disappear into a grimace of dread. If I don't quip something witty in return, you can rest assured I'll silently reply "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"