Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
A Daughter Learns the Love of Outdoors
September 05, 2015
By Steve Grinley
I have repeated the “Father’s Day Tribute”, about yours truly and written by my daughter, Melissa Carthum, a few times since she wrote it back in 2002. But a customer requested a repeat of Melissa’s 3-part saga of a wedding, a couple of pairs of binoculars, and some exotic Hawaiian birds. In my absence these next weeks, and with Melissa and Matt’s 7th anniversary this week, it seems appropriate that I share with you her Words on Birds once again:
This column will appear in three installments. My disclaimer: this first installment has very little to do with birds, but is more of a set up for the other two installments which are much more avian in nature. Please don’t send nasty notes to my Dad or the editor that the ‘Words on Birds’ column didn’t contain enough birds. They’ll be back next week.
There we were, standing in front of loving smiles, my heart pounding in my chest and my hands clutching my mint and roses bouquet, trembling and clammy. My dad got up to speak. “Melissa has never really been an ‘outdoors’ person.” It was my wedding day and my Birdwatcher-As-Career father was addressing our friends and family and describing how his beloved daughter had not really followed in his footsteps as an outdoor nature-lover. My fiancé and I had asked our parents to speak during the ceremony because marriage to us was a coming together of our families, and the creation of a new family of our own. So our parents as speakers made perfect sense to us as a send off from our born family to our new, chosen one.
You must understand that my dad’s usual everyday voice is as quiet as a sandpiper treading through coarse sand and sea grass. Often I find myself repeating “What’s that?” again and again as I try to catch the low tones of his whisper. I expected my dad to say a few quiet words in his usual low, Bostonian brogue. I had clearly underestimated him. “When Melissa was young, I used to get her up early to come out to the woods and look for birds with me. It’s safe to say she ‘wasn’t into it’.” The crowd laughed at his snide wit. “I tried and tried but Melissa was always happier sitting inside with her nose in a book.”
“Great Dad, please be going somewhere with this” I thought to myself.
His words brought to mind my childhood days spent reading a book in a corner of the house, oblivious to the sounds of the neighborhood kids playing outside. I remembered cowering under a blanket at a family trip to the beach in Santa Cruz, cold on a 75 degree day, escaping in a book while my sisters played Frisbee ten yards away, teasing me whenever they were close enough for me to hear them. He wasn’t wrong about my ‘outdoors’ challenges during my youth.
My dad continued “When she first told me about Matt, she told me they were going camping! Needless to day, I was shocked.” More laughs. “Then she called me and said they were going hiking! ‘Can this be my daughter?’ I asked.” I shifted uncomfortably in my barely worn heels. The crowd loved it, they thought he was hilarious. Who was this ham and what had he done with my father?
I hadn’t much thought about this “outdoors” question before, but he had a point. Since Matt and I met, I have certainly become more “outdoorsy”, traveling and camping along thousands of miles of road trips, effectively living outdoors for weeks at a time. And our plan to go to Kauai was due to my main request to lay on a beach during my honeymoon. Alright, Dad, some things have changed, and for the better.
After the ceremony, my dad reminded me that he wanted us to open our wedding gifts from him before our honeymoon. When I saw the gifts, identical rectangles about the size of a thick pocket dictionary, beautifully wrapped in white paper with silver bows, I noticed their symmetry. It brought back memories of Christmases when my sister and I would receive identically wrapped packages and were always told to “open them at the same time”. It was two of something, whatever it was. I told Matt we had to open them at the same time.
We pulled off the bows, tore open the silvery paper to reveal dark green boxes. I opened my box to reveal beautiful, black, compact binoculars. Matt was gleeful as he began using his right away to look out the window, adjusting them to fit his vision. I held mine in awe for a while. I loved their sleek design and yet heavy feel of thick metal and glass. I smiled at the intent of the gift, knowing the giver and the hope within. Here was my dad, again gently prodding me to share the bird-love. To go to Kauai and find these elusive creatures which would cajole me into a lifetime of outdoors, of mudwalking and nature-loving joy. I have to admit, I fell for it. I pictured myself trodding through tropical jungles, listening for calls, picking up on species, and making a life list. I heard the sounds of the songs in the canopy, and imagined that just as the performer in me may have been passed down by my dad, so had the thoughtful listener, the incredible bird-finder. I thought that my new tool would give me that edge, that superhuman ability to spot small creatures and hone in on them effortlessly, and I would find a new world.
And we traveled to Kauai, that land of warm floral breezes, the sounds of ocean waves patting the beach again and again with love. A land of contrasts: warm blue ocean, sandy beaches, jagged cliffs, hot dry canyons, rainforest-covered rivers. Kauai is referred to as the ‘Garden Island’ with good reason: the whole island is covered with foliage. Beautiful lush green plants, trees and bushes everywhere. There were blossoms of fuschia, brilliant scarlet, and gold. Hibiscus, plumeria, orchid gardens growing wild. Varied species of trees, including tall thin palms, wide spreading mango trees, the many-trunked banyans, kukui nut trees with thin crooked twisting limbs and wide canopies. I’ve never seen anything like it. With all of the gorgeous garden existence around me, I thought, “Wow! Seeing birds here will be a piece of cake! Look how many places they have to land and sing and do their thing!”
I wasn’t wrong, but my expectations were a bit off the mark. Stay tuned.
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