Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Passage of Time

Beginning at a very young age, I was exposed to nature magazines and television.  They introduced me to a larger world beyond my small town.

Never in my dreams did I expect to see the world. So I explored my own little world in my own little town.  But I wasn't satisfied.....

After 8th grade, I was sent to Flagstaff, AZ for the summer.  Two major events happened.  I discovered my love for this western state. And my Grandfather died.  It was the first time I understood the meaning of loss.  His final years were his happiest.  Every day was something new for him whether it be snow plowing a driveway, finding the perfect strawberry shortcake for Grandma, or doing some fishing on the lake in his boat. When he left us, I learned that I needed to make today count. I lost my best friend and role model. 

And I have.  There are sacrifices.  Pay this bill off ahead of time or explore a new space?  In life there are always so many choices to make.  And no matter what decision we make, there will always be pros and cons. 

Life passes by much too quickly.  We are all a collection of our memories and experiences. At heart, I was always an explorer.  I always wanted to be a naturalist but there wasn't any security or money in that profession.  So I chose teaching:)

Now let me explain. I found much more security in the education field because there were the benefits and retirement options.  All the things that grown ups are supposed to have. I still had to play by the rules. In the naturalist areas, my friends had to wait and wait to get into secure positions. I didn't want to waste time. Plus the summer vacations and holidays allowed me to nurture that inner explorer and naturalist. So teaching was my choice.

I had so many questions(still do). So into the world I went exploring places like Mexico, Central and South America, Europe and West Africa.  I tried to explain the world to my friends and family.  Sometimes they were interested but I learned to make my trek summaries short as their eyes glazed over with boredom.  Travel is something to be experienced and it often cannot be shared.  There is a spirituality fused within an experience that cannot be put into words.  So I found that the best way to make a memory is to share one with a friend:) And in all my journeys, I discovered adventure can happen anywhere, including your own backyard. But that comes with experience. 

Reading about the artist Greco is boring.  However, standing next to one of his HUGE paintings in Toledo, Spain ⇩ is unforgettable. Walking along the cobblestone streets of his home are tangible reminders of the past. Travel offers a physical reality that you cannot get from a textbook. 

After the terrorist bombing of the Atocha station in Madrid, Spain, I was reminded once again that life is fragile.  As we stood in this station, I watched as people placed red candles in the thousands to remember those killed after that attack. Hearing it on the news was shocking. But to witness it in person, watching 10's of thousands of people come together in Madrid's streets made me FEEL something.  

I have met so many people, some I wish to see often but can't.  We are given a moment.  What will we do with it?

 I owned such primitive camera equipment back then.  I didn't pay attention to the details, but I blame age on this:)

It's hard to notice birds and critters when the world is your international party.  And every day was like a big party.  

My Mexican niece in this photo is now a grown woman.  HOW?  HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??!!

We were so young ourselves.  My senior year of high school, I worked my tail off so that I could pay for a trip to Mexico. It was the only reason why I stayed in Spanish class for 4 years.  I wanted so badly to see this place known as Mexico. It was there that I became seduced by the Spanish gods.  The language fascinated me and I found myself intrigued by the cultural and linguistic challenges of this country. And I also discovered tequila.  

Over the years, I left tequila and replaced it with red wine.  One evening after several bottles in Paris, France, I spoke fluent French.  I don't know how but it happened.  I even had witnesses.  French is related to Spanish and Portuguese; both are languages I speak so it isn't a far stretch to say that my brain was relaxed enough to rewire a few things to get a conversation going. 

I learned Portuguese in West Africa.  There I taught English, swam in the US embassy pool staring at a gorgeous colored bird known as the Grey-headed Kingfisher.  Look at that photo documentation!  Film cameras were the best! Also note the trash on the ground!

It was here that I began to examine things closely. It was also here that I let my naive young self go. I became an adult and developed a sharp tongue. I do miss that part of growing up but I think if I saw my old self, I'd slap him across the face:)  My adventures were going to change.  After leaving my assignment with the Peace Corps, I went home and found peace and quiet.  They were the years of solitude. I moved back to Tucson and set up shop.

Oh, there'd still be trips but they wouldn't be two year assignments like before.  Gone were the days of renting an apartment over the summer in Mexico City. 

Language took over my life and so did my job.  I took it seriously for many years.  And then I realized the job didn't define who I was. The job became "the job". Oh I still like what I do but it has nothing to do with my marriage, bird trekking, and friends. 

Super geek here.  I love my glasses.  I only wear contacts when I'm out in the field.  At night, I gladly put my glasses on.  
 I have always been an explorer at heart.  National Geographic, Ranger Rick, Star Trek and Arizona Highways guided me. My parents believed in the art of camping and we explored our beautiful Wisconsin state park system. I studied at a university full of naturalists because I felt at home there. I couldn't explain it then.  Now, it all makes sense. 

I loved parrots and lovebirds. I grew up with them.  In fact, I always noticed the birds when I was a kid.  Both my grandparents had feeders and loved their birds.  My mother raised parrots.  However it was at the university with my lovebird that I discovered how much I hated caging up my friend. Often I would leave the cage door slightly ajar so that the bird could fly anywhere in the house.  In 1995, I came to the conclusion that no bird should be caged.  Now this is just my conclusion.  I know that there are many of you who love your birds and I've met several of you to know that they are loved.  I just didn't have the time to spend with them like others did. 

 And as I approached my 40's, I decided to take a trip to Panama.  I thought it would be boring.  Many of the people there speak English and they use the American dollar!  What is interesting about that?  Then I met Ivan at his Birder's Bed and Breakfast in Gamboa.  For the first time in my life, I discovered the secret community of birders. They were everywhere.  Smart. Quiet. Attentive. There they stood in the dark and beautiful spaces of the rain forest. Creepy. But cool. 

All of our guides in Panama also happened to be birders.  This Spanish teacher just wanted to "tick" off Panama on his list of Spanish speaking countries like birders do with their feathered friends. But I didn't expect that it would change the direction of my life. I fell in love with Gamboa so much that we returned to stay there on our way back to the US.  Ivan told me that I was a birder at heart.  No one had ever said that to me before.  I didn't have the camera equipment or binoculars.  How in the world could I be a birder?

Then, it happened.  On Coiba Island, I witnessed a magical moment.  Our guide called the Long-tailed Manakins out of the dense forest with his words and it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. Birds were amazing. My bird linguistic skills, like what had happened in France, kicked into gear. Speaking bird was a language. I now understood what Ivan meant. He had seen something in me that I had ignored my whole life. During our last nights with Ivan, I saw my future unravel before my eyes.  I didn't have to go far into the past to find out what had been building up to this moment of realization.  From ancient photos using a film camera, I retraced my steps and discovered that I had been a "birder" my entire life.  I just didn't know it was called that!  When I returned back to Arizona, I met Kathie Brown who trained me in the ways of birding. 

In Costa Rica, I chased flocks of Scarlet Macaws during a weekend outing. On this remote beach, I observed them for two days feeding from nuts and berries.  There were at least 2 large flocks of 20 to 26 birds flying mostly in pairs.  And there I stood in my own National Geographic moment alone surrendering to the experience. I didn't read about it; I experienced it! When I have this spiritual connection to the natural world, I feel goosebumps.  Sometimes, I tear up like I do after watching a sappy movie.  Or sometimes, I shout with excitement like people do during a football game. To be clear, birder "shouts" are usually done after an epic bird is found because we don't want to disturb them in their habitat. 

Taken 21 years ago outside of San Jose, Costa Rica
Today, we plan on returning to the magnificent beauty of Costa Rica. This time with the camera equipment.  This time with the language of bird.  This time with the razor sharp knowledge.  Over 40 years of experience has lead me on this spiritual path. I am National Geographic.  I am Ranger Rick.  And I will live this moment.  Dreams do come true when you work to make them happen.  Until next time.....


  1. That is epic, a wonderful story told with great feeling and emotion, lovede it, when is the movie comming out.
    Can't wait for the second chapter, all the best, Gordon.

  2. An incredible journey of travel in your (still young) life! You have so much to be thankful for...these are treasures that can only be kept in the strongbox of our heart!

  3. Recordando viejos tiempos. Una vida repleta de aventuras y experiencias que nunca nadie te las puede robar e irán donde quieras que vayas... Saluditos desde Madrid

  4. What a wonderful post Chris. You are such an inspiration. So enjoyed reading about some of your adventures in the past and so pleased you got into birding.

  5. Hi Chris. Just catching up after being away for 10 days. I enjoyed this post from you immensely. I reckon you're going to have a fabulous time in Costa Rica!

    With my best wishes to you both - - Richard

  6. We can never predict the twists and turns our lives will take, can we? This was a fascinating, illuminating account. Best wishes for a fabulous trip to Costa Rica.

  7. I can't wait to hear about your trip! We ran across a group of Scarlet Macaws fighting for a nesting tree in the Osa Penninsula on one trip. That was amazing. I hope you are going there. It is magical for birds and monkeys. One time, near the Orosi valley, we let a bird out a cage along a trail. And then threw the cage into the jungle. We were never sure if we did the right thing, not knowing the situation. I think we are going back to Costa Rica for the 6th time in 2 years. Next year, we are going to Guatemala. And at one point, will be staying near your top photo. We can't wait.

  8. What a wonderful story -- and for those of us unlikely ever to get to bird those places, it is certainly the closest to the thrill we'll ever come. Thank you for sharing.


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