Sunday, November 20, 2011

Birding is my Mistress

A neighborhood friend of my wife recently expressed to her, "So this 'birding' thing that your husband sounds kinda fishy, like something a man would say as a cover for cheating on you."

When Jessica told me about this conversation with her friend, I chuckled and wanted to say, "She'd certainly know better if she'd ever read my blog!" But judging by the look in my wife's eyes and her body language as she related her friend's comment, I had reason to be nervous. She was serious. Then Jessica reminded me, as only a scorned wife can, of a recent poor choice I had made - that I had hoped she had already forgiven and forgotten - but had cemented in her mind forever that birding is my mistress.

Here's what happened...

On a late-September afternoon, I saw an email appear on my smartphone from the local listserv reporting a Harlequin Duck being seen at the Antelope Island Causeway. Oh baby! A much-sought-after potential life bird and a Utah rarity in my home county! My racing heart started pumping adrenaline through my veins. Mentally, I was already seeing this bird through my binoculars and about to do the life bird dance when I glanced at the clock...and then I remembered...that darn Wednesday conference call meeting. Grrr! My excitement was deflated...popped like a balloon.

At work we have this standing Wednesday afternoon meeting, scheduled right at my normal going-home time. So I have to stay late for a generally ineffective conference call and I feel like a kid in after-school detention while all the other kids are out playing. Now I never had detention back in my school-boy days as I was a little "Peter Perfect", but I can imagine what detention might feel like, right?

At the appointed hour of the meeting another email notification appeared on my computer monitor: "CONFERENCE CALL CANCELLED". I was out the door in a flash. Oh joy of joys! I was on my way to see a life bird...and an inland Harlequin Duck at that!

As I zipped north from Salt Lake City on I-15 at a "safe-from-the-state-troopers" cruising speed of eight mph over the posted speed-limit, the thought occurred to me that I should call my wife and tell her that the meeting was cancelled and that I was on my way to see a freakin' awesome bird. Then the little devil on my shoulder told me that calling her was unnecessary and justified it with the logic that my family knew I was always late on Wednesdays. They'd never know...and what they don't know won't hurt them. The little angel on my other shoulder suggested that I should take advantage of this unexpected early arrival home for some quality family time. I rebelliously flicked that little angel right in the mouth and drove on for Antelope Island and that cool duck...Peter Perfect no longer.

Finding the Harlequin Duck was easy. Almost too easy. I didn't experience that extra thrill of finding a life bird after a lot of mental, physical and sometimes financial effort. It was right there on the rocks at the edge of the water at the first no-swimming bridge as indicated in the birding listserv email. But seeing a life bird is cool...even with a case of lingering guilt, right?

Even before I had driven off the causeway, my Peter Perfect guilt ridden conscience had me on the phone dialing the Mrs. to confess my sin. (Ironically, "Mrs." is a contraction of the once honorable title of Mistress) The phone call didn't go well. In fact, it took a few more days before we actually had a conversation about it. I had broken my wife's tender heart because I showed a lack of trust in her support of my birding obsession by trying to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Not that our relationship is one that requires me to get "permission" from my wife for any little thing I want to do, but you know what I mean.

Here's the lesson learned:  I should have allowed her to share in my excitement of the chase and to express her support...I owe her that. But instead, I had ignored the "better angels of [my] nature" and had done something behind my wife's back, almost like having a mistress. Maybe I do have a bit of Bostick Syndrome that needs to be monitored and kept in check.

So dear fellow birders, have you ever cheated on your loved ones with that seductive mistress "birding"? Have you ever played hooky from work or school to chase a rare bird? Come on! It's time to come clean. Father Rob's confessional is now open in the comments section below.


  1. Robert,

    Your article made me chuckle, then think reflectively. It's probably a good thing I am single and hang out with people who are as addicted to bird photography as I am. As for my family, there haven't been any interventions about my addiction...yet.

  2. Father Rob,

    I confess to having a fanatical obsession with bird photography. My only saving grace is that I have no one to answer to except another photographer who is at least as obsessed as I am and she's always with me on photo excursions anyway. If I ever sneaked off without her I'm sure there'd be hell to pay (and vice versa) but that's something I wouldn't do for lots of reasons - among them the fact that she's a better bird spotter than I am!

    So, I've been a good boy. So far...

  3. I thank any and all gods every day that my wife shares my passion for birding and is just as likely as I am to propose an ill-advised road trip. Birding for me is just the third person in a delightful menage-a-trois!

  4. @Mia & @Ron - you guys make a great bird photography duo. Amazing images you two churn out each week!

    @Kirby - I loved your comment! Hilarious.

  5. Thanks Robert, we do make a great team!

  6. Cheating is great. Probably the best time was when I skipped school to chase a Black Vulture (successfully, and after much effort) that was just a few minutes from my house. Back then, there were <5 state records...

  7. I've skipped class numerous times to chase birds throughout Centre Co, PA and most recently to see a Northern Wheatear about an hour and a half away!

  8. @Seagull Steve and @Tim - looking back on my college days, skipping class was pretty easy to do. Skipping work has a whole new level truancy. I've taken an early lunch or two to chase a bird, or even a long lunch, but my sense of integrity requires me to work my full hours. I loved how The Big Year movie showed the interplay between Brad Harris (Jack Black) and his boss when it came to requesting leave to chase a bird.

  9. Love your sense of humor but I have nothing to confess! My husband just knows I am obsessed! He's very patient for the most part and I appreciate that. But then, I have put up with his "football" and online "spades" mistresses for years, so the understanding flows both ways! He has gotten better, and I try not to blog on weekends so I can be with him...when he's not watching football that is!

    I don't blame you for chasing that bird, but I do understand that your wife would have liked to share in your excitement!