The Song Journal

Miscellaneous news and writing by Bob Franke, mostly about songs as a portable art form, and the process of creating them and enabling them to do their work in the world.

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Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

from Bob Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Walking with birders

I've been on the road a lot for a guy who hasn't left Massachusetts in the last three weeks, making multiple trips to Nimbit in Framingham to get the new CD in shape, having a great time last night in Pittsfield doing a show with Sally Rogers, and actually relaxing (well, more like exercising my body into a relaxed state) with Joan on a birding trip with the Hale Bird Club (and no, the club didn't come up in Google, or I'd post the link).

It was my first weekend with the club, although not my first trip--I'd gone climbing up Mt. Wachusett with them months ago without really realizing what was happening. But Joan's birthday was close to the Memorial Day weekend, and, knowing that there are no mountains on Cape Cod, I signed on to spend the weekend there with her and her club. I'm glad I did. Not only did the weather turn out to be fine, but the birders themselves turned out to be an intelligent and a fun bunch of people. They were very welcoming to me, and were also patient with me when I asked the obvious question or spotted the obvious bird.

I guess I think of birding as God's video game. When someone in the group spots and identifies a bird, no matter how helpful they try to be, you usually have only a few seconds to find the bird in your glasses, which is an acquired skill, for me a slowly acquired skill. Training yourself to recognize patterns in trees well enough to shift from watching with the naked eye to using binoculars is not easy. And that's just the beginning. Real birders also train themselves to identify birds visually from memory or from a field guide, and audibly from their calls. This is all second nature to Joan at this point, and these are just some of the many skills she has which I envy (don't even talk to me about Joan's gaming abilities).

What the trip did for me was to show me a vision of the world which is not centered on humanity, and to remind me that such a vision can be humbling in the best of ways. We share earth and air with birds and we are interdependent, sometimes tragically so from the bird's point of view. Like all living things we share certain issues. But some things that are important to us (road signs, money) are of no importance to birds. And some things that are crucial to birds (like seasons) are things with which humans, especially urban humans, are losing touch.

It's a good thing to be drawn out of one's own concerns from time to time by a sort of disciplined noticing. Artists do it. So do people with a certain kind of compassion. Birders do it, too.


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