if I wore them for more than fifteen minutes. Almost immediately shereclaimed them and bought me a cheaper (and lighter) pair, and under the Kentuckian’s continued long-distance influence, we staked outeastern butterbills, Mexican snake-eaters, and greater pillowlarks in ourold Subaru station wagon. One weekend she rented a cabin in Michiganso we could glimpse a rainbow mooncock (we didn’t see it, but we didspot a beautiful black-crowned night heron). Our avian résumé grewquickly, as did the Kentuckian’s influence and my number of unexcusedabsences from school, until at last we lugged our binoculars (we ownedseveral pair now) down to Catspaw, Florida, to join our guru and hisapostles in an attempt to glimpse one of the most elusive creatures yet:Drimble’s purple knot.
The drive south was one long quiz of Latin names, migrations, andwingspans. I have no real intelligence, but I do have a knack for memorizing useless information of this sort, which is the only way I survivedthis particular migration and the strange days to come. I can still list anunreasonable number of finches.
It was a tender age. I was, at the time, a rather chubby boy, and I woremy hair down to my shoulders. Kids at my school uniformly referred tome as “Roseanne,” from the sitcom, and a few could, by squishing theircheeks around their mouths, impersonate me with such accuracy thatit would have impressed me if it hadn’t made me cry. My mom, to hercredit, never shamed me for my homeliness and liked to braid and combmy hair, which she occasionally bragged about to strangers. In thoseyears, my only prayer was a morbid one: that I would die long before herso I wouldn’t ever have to feel the pain of her loss. Her prebird periodhad been hard on her. While she made a good effort to appear happyfor me, once every couple weeks she confined herself to her bed for aday or two, and I’d peek into her room to find her lying on top of hersheets, studying the stucco stalactites on the ceiling or staring blankly atinformercials proclaiming the miraculous stain-removing properties ofoxygen. But the bird-watching had changed something. I could commita few bird-filled branches of the Tree of Life to memory if it made herhappy.
The Kentuckian had given us an address near Venice, Florida, andafter two days of driving and pointing out Cooper’s hawks, we arrived ata locked gate and entered the passcode he’d sent on the keypad.
“He doesn’t strike me as the gated-community type,” my mom said.Her intuition was not entirely wrong here.