the gould league bird study camp club

foreword: i apologize for the lack of capitalization, but i have as much time as it takes for dorothy to buy some chicken, strawberries, kiwis, and bread, so here goes.

well, i’m here. in the middle of nowhere. there is no life for 50km. nothing but flat, which is a generous way to describe this land. but let me tell you, it is stunning. the sky is bigger than i have ever seen it. i have never felt so surrounded by the entire world.

but first, the pub in weethalle. dorothy wished to stop for some coffee, so naturally we stop in the smallest town of all the ones we’ve driven through today. population 4, maybe. we walk into the pub, and there’s one white-haired bearded jolly-looking man nursing his beer. he informs us that he drives nearly 40km to sit alone at this pub and nurse his beer. we order some sandwiches, i receive a few stares after placing my order (earlier in another town: “i’ve never SEEN an american before!”), and a second man slinks in. we shall call him boomer. boomer is tiny, hunched over, and old. he has this face that looks as though he’s about to burst into tears. he’s donning a cap which is very obviously his special cap. upon his slow arrival to his seat, which is very obviously his special seat, the bartender has already placed his beer in front of him in a tiny glass. this is very obviously his special beer. after he finishes the glass, the bartender provides him with a SECOND tiny glass. why the bartender doesn’t just give him ONE normal-sized glass, the world may never know. boomer finishes the second glass, nods affirmatively to his neighbor’s “they treating you well?” and leaves as slowly as he came in. that scene pretty much encapsulates this entire area. that is actually all you need to know to understand this place.

back to the present. if there is such an occupation as a birdwatcher-watcher, kindly sign me up. altogether, there are 24 of these species, but i’ll just give you a snapshot of some of my roommates in the homestead (which is INDEED retro, but oddly comforting as such). keep in mind, their ages range from 63-84.

dick the doctor. 84 years old and still a practicing doctor. hmm. he offers a knowing, slow-forming smile every time he asks a question, as if he already knows the answer and is testing you. “where were you living in the states?” (smiiiiiiileee you better get this one right girlie!!!!). other than his questions, he doesn’t say much, but when he does it comes out slowly and SHARP as a straw-necked ibis’ BEAK. yeah i went there. dick the doctor dons UGG boots, a cane, and a puffer jacket. his eyes are eternally watering, so he always looks sad, even when he’s doing his smile. he is perpetually missing his yellow plastic plate. every morning he meanders into the kitchen, one slow step at a time, and asks, just as slowly, “has anyone seen my yellow plastic plate? (smiiiiiiiiiile)” he really wants that plate. we have a good time together. he was looking for something else earlier today, and after i found it for him, i asked “what would you do without me, dick?” his response: “oh i’d be completely lost (SMIIIILE).”

greg. can you tell what kind of person someone is by their diet? in greg’s case, yes. he refuses to eat 95% of the world’s products and has an irrational fear of plastic. “really, it just comes down to doing what’s healthy for your body,” as he takes a sip of cream soda. greg demonstrates bird calls without the slightest sign of amusement. “this one is like CuAH cuAH CUah (straight face).” he certainly knows his birds. he’ll interrupt very important conversations to point at and identify a bird. “that’s the whistling kite!” if you challenge, “but it looks like a raven,” he’ll say “no no no no no no no. it’s obviously a whistling kite.” obviously!!

john. he completes a sudoku puzzle every morning by the window, occasionally letting out a confused and surprisingly loud hmmrnp. he’s rather small but has a massive white beard, head, and set of glasses. he takes little tiny steps, not dick-the-doctor slow-mos but quick little ones as if the ground is hot. he doesn’t say much at all but asks many many questions that needn’t be asked and appears as if it’s the most important question he’s ever asked in his life. we successfully completed a crossword puzzle together, and i think our resulting high five was the highlight of his year.

bob. bob is my bestie. he just gets me somehow. when everyone else sort of thinks or pretends that i’m interested in birds, bob knows the truth. bob understood my sarcasm when i said “ooh i hope i see a eurasian coot,” whereas the others have been desperately showing me pictures of the coot, telling me about its origins, and offering to take me out to sight one. bob can tell when i’m tired and will volunteer to help just to give me a bit of a break. bob gets my american sense of humor. someone (probably greg) will do something distasteful (as he is wont to do), and with one look at each other, bob and i will be laughing our heads off. i don’t know what i would do without bob.

as for me, i am surprisingly enjoying the country life. i wake up at 5:30 every day, cook until about 1 or 2 and start back up at 4 to finish dinner. cooking for 26 people in a microscopic kitchen from the 50s is not easy, especially when you have to prepare special meals for those with dietary restrictions (not saying any names). during my time off, you might find me hanging clothes on the line outside, reading, visiting with the sheep, or—god forbid—birdwatching. i leave here on thursday and haven’t the slightest clue where i’ll be headed next. this lack of plan and control continues to terrify me, but it’s still liberating. there is actually time to smell the flowers or, as they say here, watch the birds (i swear, i have enough bird puns to last me a lifetime).

all in all, my favorite thing to do is ask the birders “what’s that bird up there?” because they will all fall out of their chairs to get a good look. of course, there wasn’t a bird at all.

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