Birders have an undeserved reputation as eccentrics. At least, I think it is undeserved, for I share their passion, and (of course) I am very mainline and normal! There are sports nuts, compulsive stamp and beer bottle collectors, golf and bridge addicts, and yet it seems that “old ladies in tennis shoes” who happen to sport a pair of binoculars and who get up early to look into treetops, oblivious to curious stares, suffer public deprecation. Certainly, that was Mary Lou’s view. The last thing she would think of doing was to go out and actually look for birds.
She always did appreciate the wonders of nature. We both loved hiking and exploring the Great Outdoors when possible, but she seemed to take a more expansive and spiritual view of God’s creation while I was staring at the Brown Creeper making its way up a tree trunk, trying to see what it was finding to eat.
Once retirement and release from the burdens of care-giving presented us with more leisure and the opportunity to travel, we decided to try out the Elderhostel program. We did not know what to expect, but our first Elderhostel, in the fall of 1996 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, was entirely enjoyable. We followed with outdoors oriented Elderhostels on Catalina Island, Yellowstone, the Navajo Reservation, and St. Mary’s, Georgia. The latter included canoeing in Okeefenokee Swamp, that provided marvelous close up wildlife viewing.
In the spring of 1999, the notice of a Birding Elderhostel in Southeastern Arizona caught my attention. I gingerly asked Mary Lou whether she might want to go on it. Her reaction was predictable. All our previous Elderhostels had not only introduced us to interesting places, but also many fine fellow student-travelers whose company we really enjoyed. Why should we go out before dawn looking for birds with a bunch of “weirdo” bird watchers? She relented, but only on condition that she could study my field guide and see if there were any birds she might enjoy viewing. As if she could just pick and choose! I happily tutored her and provided lists of the most likely sightings. She settled on only one bird that she just really wanted to see: the Elegant Trogon. I certainly agreed with her on that, as I had never seen one myself. (Continued in next entry)