The Boopster

Published Jun 16th 2002 in History & People

Today I went home for lunch – a luxury the average workday doesn’t usually afford me. I'd spent the morning yapping and cavorting about in front of fifty folks, giving an hour-long talk on birds. Folks I had known all my life were there, and lots of folks I didn't know, too. We had a heck of a conversation about the avian culture of the urban forest. I had a great deal of fun.

When I got home, I got a cold soda out of the cooler and found a chair in the shade. A good east wind was blowing and the air was a cool, moist 75 degrees. The windmill was spinning at a good clip, and 20 mph gusts were zipping past "right regular." I was still wound up pretty tight. Every time I give a program I get jazzed up, even if I have been feeling poorly due to seasonal allergies and the like. I can understand why musicians are willing to spend years toiling for scraps. Having fun with a crowd of folks is an addiction!

I rubbed the cold soda on my neck, and was rewarded with an involuntary shiver. I closed my eyes as I opened the can, took a big swig and leaned back. I'm partial to cheap plastic Adirondack chairs. They remind me sitting in a swing as a kid.

"Stop! stop... stop... stop... slow down... hush... hush... listen." I used the same technique on myself that I use on restless, rambunctious kids during a nature walk. As long as they are chatty – even about what we are seeing – they are only seeing, hearing, or analyzing a small percentage of what surrounds them. They are "outside, looking in.” If they are "outside," then I only serve as a tour bus guide, at best. I want them in the world, not just observing it. At Sibley we sit quietly in the shade at the pond, and I ask them to tell me how many birds are near us. They cannot see the birds (except for maybe a brave one that comes to land on the tree above us) and must rely on their other senses in order to answer the question. Then I ask if they can tell me what the birds are doing.

With my eyes closed, I thought about the fact that my grandson is coming to visit. I was a bachelor until I was 44. My wife, Deborah, has three grown kids, not counting me. One lives with us and goes to college. Another lives and works in San Francisco, and the boy's momma lives in Sacramento. She just had a new baby, and four-year-olds can have a lot of adjusting to do for a while when that happens. The young'un and Arica were here last fall for about a month. We had some good times. This time, Arica is going to leave the Boopster here for the better part of the summer so he can enjoy some special attention while she and her husband get the new baby all settled in. That's what family is for, sometimes -- picking up the load so another member can "de-stress."

I am looking forward to it. I've worked with kids all my life. A number of years before I began working at Sibley, I worked in day-care for four years, goofing around for four hours a day, telling stories, building, painting, digging, getting messy, and all that fun stuff. I think everybody should have the incomparable experience of working with little kids as part of their education. It is good experience for parenthood, and interacting with little kids develops the souls of their caretakers.

I listened for the familiar. I sit outside every day. I am a "nosy Parker," curious about the doings of my closest neighbors, the inhabitants of the natural world. I listened to the mockingbirds that are nesting in the soapberry right above the dry streambed. I heard the dove in her nest in the Chinquapin Oak about 15 feet above me busily feeding the second pair of young. She makes a soft, grunting coo as she feeds the babies. The Cactus Wren was fussing about something – probably that I did not bring home any choice grasshoppers on the grill of the truck! And the two baby Canyon Towhees were talking with their parents near where the wild bird chow is spread across the driveway.

When I opened my eyes, I pretended to see the world from out of the Boopster's eyes. I was thinking about all the “scary” stuff that often gets kids and adults feeling a bit intimidated. We have lots of cactus, agave, krameria, lote, mesquite, black locust, yucca and many more species of plants with thorns. Sticker burs can be a shock to a little bare foot, too. I will have to tell him about snakes this time. We had a good time finding the black-widow spiders last fall. You can't go chasing a ball without double-checking for dangers, not out in the country. And you can't kill everything, just for safety's sake. The wild just keeps a-coming.

A lizard scampered along a big old tree stump next to me. With some of its root still attached, the log is used for bird feeding; it has all sorts of nooks and crannies in which to place sunflower seeds, and millet, and pecan and peanut pieces here and there. Ah-ha --the lizard just helped me and gave me a good plan -- something that I would like to do with the grandbaby boy-head man.

I think my first game with the Boopster will be to catch a southern prairie lizard. It will take him a while. He will have to watch carefully, and practice moving super slow. Before he gets to catch one, he will have to show me one doing push-ups, flashing the blue on his belly. I will ask him about the tree it is on, and what the bird is that likes to eat lizards -- and tell him we could put the lizard near that bird's nest, but then ask him if we should. She (the roadrunner) loves to eat lizards!

And maybe, if I am lucky, he will see the landscape's complexity, and see its endless wonder. What I pray is that he should never fear it, or even worse, hate it. And then... he will have to catch a butterfly. Without a net!