Bird Camp 2008!


I just returned from driving down to Bird Camp with Amy and helping with some of the initial setup. I’ll work up my notes and post an account of the trip in the next day or so.

In the meantime, here is a little something I meant to cook up last year but never got around to, a sort of backgrounder I like to call About Bird Camp. It should answer all of your Bird Camp-related questions. (If you are ever looking for it in the future, it’s listed over there in the left sidebar of the page.)

Short Back and Sides

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It’s hard thinking of things to write here since I don’t ever really leave the house. That leaves only my personal thoughts, which I try to stay away from publishing on a blog with my name on it.

It’s raining snowing in Missoula and the locals have all gone into shock since the sun disappeared around the end of last week. After the neighbors’ BBQ a week ago last Sunday, at which I actually got a little bit of a sunburn, A. and I thought nothing of planning our own BBQ for this past Saturday, as a house warming.

The snow started falling in the late afternoon.

Nonetheless, a fine time was had by all, even if I had to hold my hands over the grill to keep them from freezing, and even if I did manage to utterly incinerate twelve bratwursts right off the bat. I laid them out on the grill, closed the lid, went inside for a beer and became distracted by conversation. Twelve minutes later, I went back outside and shamefacedly scraped the smoking remains into the trash.

By the time the evening drew to a close, I think about 15 people had cycled through, which is really about all you’d want to try to host in a house this size, unless you were to break some people off into groups and send them to my office or the bedroom. (Quiet, you Freudians.)

We hadn’t expected very many guests, honestly, since we only gave people three days’ notice. But fortunately we had overstocked in the meat department, and – what with some steaks our realtor brought and a few other contributions from other guests – we had more than enough. In fact, I ate leftover hamburgers for lunch on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Not to mention one for dinner on Sunday. (What – is that unhealthy or something?)

One guest we met for the first time that evening. He was the friend of another guest and lives catty corner across the street from us. He would have been welcome anyway but came bearing two more bratwursts and two toothpaste-style tubes of fancy German mustard, one sweet and one spicy. (In Sweden, they sell caviar in these little tubes, too.) He and I told WWII stories via our grandfathers: his was a Luftwaffe pilot, while mine saw action as an infantry man on the Eastern Front. Another guest’s father had been a USAF pilot who turned back on his second bombing run ever due to a mechanical problem; only one other plane from his squadron returned that day. He flew 24 missions before being shot down and spending the next 13 months in a POW camp. At the age of 23.

On Sunday, A. and I slept in then walked to Broadway Bagels, literally the only bagel shop in Missoula. (I think. But I’ll be glad to be proved wrong, not that there’s anything I don’t like about B’way.) Then, a day of errands as A. made final preparations for Arizona. (A SAM splint for the first aid kit, some field pants from Goodwill, pipe cleaners to tie around the necks of nestlings so that they can’t swallow their food.)

On Monday, I went for a haircut at my new favorite barber, an old-fashioned place where they leave Playboy magazines lying around the waiting room (but also Cosmo!) and don’t offer either to wash your hair or put anything in it. When the owner is there, his two pugs have the run of the place. I got my hair cut by the other guy, a big fellow with a patch of white hair and a little white mustache. It took us a while to get talking, but when we did I learned that he had wandered by chance into Missoula after leaving Washington, D.C. 35 years ago and just never left. “Hippy days, you know,” he said, in his deep rumbly voice. He really couldn’t have looked like less like an old hippie. “We just loaded up a VW van and took off. We ended up in Missoula and decided to stay. There weren’t any jobs, so I went to Seattle for a year and went to barber school.”

I wonder how many hippies wandering the country in the early 1970s ended up going to barber school? I wonder if barber schools saw a drop in enrollment during that hairy time?

“Things sure are different out here in the west,” he said.

Amen, brother.

Here Comes the Sun

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The sun has finally returned to Missoula, although unlike just about everyone else here I can’t say I’d gotten my fill of winter yet. I didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the balmy temperatures and blazing bright desert (yes, technically) sun at first, having to work all day Saturday and then being stuck in a class on Sunday. But late on Sunday afternoon I noticed some neighbors out on their front porch, two houses down, and I decided to walk down and re-introduce myself. Before I knew it, I was ensconced in a lawn chair with a beer in my hand, looking forward to the BBQ they were cooking up. (Actually, I contributed a steak I had in the freezer. Sutton’s BBQ steak recipe: (1) Place on the grill still frozen. (2) Remove when cooked to desired level of doneness. (3) Eat. Turned out pretty well.)

Amy sort of got to enjoy the weather. On the one hand, she was outside in it. On the other, she was taking a wilderness first aid class, so she was having to diagnose imaginary head trauma and sucking chest wounds. Apparently the instruction was very dramatic, including little pumps the instructors used to spurt blood out of their fake wounds. One scenario was further enlivened by one instructor’s ability to hold and produce a surprising amount of fake vomit from his mouth.

Sorry if you were just eating breakfast.

Amy’s class is part of her last-second, desperate preparations for another field season. She leaves in just over a week. Actually, I leave with her: I’m now an official sworn USGS volunteer deputy (you can just continue to call me “deputy”) and will be piloting one of the government SUVs down to Arizona. It won’t make me rich (there’s just a piddling little per diem), but on the other hand Amy says we can use walkie talkies to talk back and forth between the vehicles, so it all evens out.

I’ll hang out for a few days to help set up camp, and then I’ll fly back to Missoula.

In other news, I quit drinking coffee (I took the week I went without it while sick and decided to run with it), and my hair is now long enough to comb. (Normally, I wouldn’t include such a trivial piece of information, but whenever we do our reader surveys, the one subject everyone always says they want to hear more about is Sutton’s hair.)

Keeping Up with the Internets

I know, I know, you’re damn tired of missing updates here. Nothing happens for weeks and then all of a sudden there’s TWO WHOLE POSTS TO READ.

Did you know there’s a way to keep track of new posts on all of your favorite web sites? It has to do with that funny orange symbol up at the far right of the URL bar. What that means is that there is an RSS feed available for this site, and what THAT means is that you can “subscribe” to this site and any other similarly equipped site (most are, including my New West page) and learn of new posts in one central location called an RSS reader, in which new posts from all of the sites you “subscribe” to are displayed almost as if in a sort of email inbox for the internet.

The best thing is, you can do this for free, especially if you already have a Google account (i.e., a Gmail account, which are free). There’s this thing called Google Reader, and you can learn more about it by watching a short video here. You can also buy slightly more sophisticated RSS reader programs elsewhere. Be careful, though. Stare long and hard enough into the Internet, and the Internet stares into you.

By which I mean that the potential for wasting time on this stuff is enormous.

New Notebook: Give Me Fever

My latest piece is up over at New West.

My cure involves Nyquil, that syrupy sickbed absinthe. Amy shudders and gasps when she swallows it, and requires a chaser of chilled juice, but I find I quite like the taste and prefer to let it linger, so that I can savor its bouquet. Nyquil tastes to me sort of like Jagermeister mixed with a little cough syrup. Perhaps the bars should offer this combination, with a thermometer in it as a swizzle stick. Back in high school, a friend of mine and I were two of the only people who ever bought Dr. Pepper from the hallway soda machine. “But it tastes just like cough syrup,” I remember someone saying, to which my friend replied “What’s wrong with cough syrup?”

Well, That Sucked.

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Flu, that is, which I’m just getting over. We moved into the new house and then promptly succumbed, Amy first and then – just long enough later that I began to think perhaps I was immune – I went down, too. There’s an immunological point of interest here. Amy had received her flu vaccine, while I had not. All told, it seemed I suffered slightly less than she did during the peak of it, although my cough is lingering longer. I know, I know, the real question is how I did compared to how I would have done if I’d had the shot. Now that I think about it, I haven’t gotten around to getting one of these shots for years. But let’s just say I’m highly motivated to get one this fall.

Because the flu sucks.

So, when last I wrote, Amy was not even home from Venezuela yet. She made it, obviously, although I suppose it goes almost without saying that one of her flights was delayed coming back and she missed a connection. Not too bad, compared to what’s happening with the airlines these days.

In the next few days after Amy’s return, we cleaned the new house and decided one night to repaint the living room and my office. Anyone familiar with our Baltimore living room will find the color familiar. We are trying to establish a nationwide “Sutton and Amy’s Living Room” brand.

We finished packing the house and moved that Saturday. I had put a local “lumper,” or mover, on hold to help us out. But a friend showed up early and helped me knock out so much of the heavy stuff that I ended up cancelling the lumper. He sounded more disappointed that he now would have no excuse to miss the baby shower his girlfriend was hosting, as opposed to missing out on the money. I promised to buy him a beer sometime.

As we moved in, we had offers of help from not one but two sets of neighbors; we sent the blearier looking couple – still holding coffee cups – home, however. But our immediate neighbors helped out for a couple of hours and even joined us for pizza and beer in the box-choked living room afterwards. A nice change of pace from the hide-behind-the-blinds types up in the South Hills.

That Sunday, we cleaned the old house. Spent almost 8 hours at it. Nice big place, that house.

And we had five or so days to settle in and unpack a little before the flu arrived. Two weeks ago, on Saturday morning, Amy was all abuzz with unpacking and related project goals. Then I realized I hadn’t heard her moving around for a while and found her huddled under the covers in bed, wracked with chills. At first we assumed it was some Venezuelan bug, but after a day or so it became clear what we were dealing with. I fetched cold drinks and made tea, waiting for the first signs in myself. While I waited, I proceeded with working on a business case study I’m doing for a new client. Unfortunately, this wasn’t complete by the time I got sick, but on the plus side I learned that I can still write decently well with a fever.

But goodbye to all that. Today is my third day of feeling healthy again, while Amy’s been back at work since Monday. I took my first morning walk since before getting sick, something I’m looking forward to making a regular practice of now that we live in an interesting-looking neighborhood again. (I keep forgetting to bring my camera, but wait until you see this place.) Today I walked down to the California Street foot bridge, across the recently undammed Clark Fork River, and looked at the mountains to the west, their tops lit up by the morning sun. It was so picturesque, it made me nauseous. Or maybe that was a little lingering flu.

Well, now that we’ve got the move out of the way, and with no serious illness to hold me back, look for updates nearly as scintillating as this one on a little more regular basis.

Meanwhile, Neale sends the following word from the Golden State:

I’m assuming you read something about the Olympic torch being diverted from its planned route yesterday in San Francisco. Apparently it disappeared into a waterfront warehouse, only to reappear elsewhere in the city hours later for a truncated relay, far from the thousands that had gathered along the planned parade route (including both protesters and families that just came to see it). Well, in this case “elsewhere” was none other than directly in front of my bike shop. I arrived for work at 2pm to find a chaotic scene of police motorcycles rushing up and down Van Ness Avenue, blocking traffic and shouting at pedestrians to get out of the road. It took almost an hour for anything to appear over the crest of the hill on Van Ness, but eventually two large charter buses, surrounded by hundreds of police on foot and in various vehicles, pulled into view. The buses stopped on the block in front of the bike shop, and a fairly decent sized crowd, mostly from neighborhood businesses and houses, grew along the side of the road. The bus opened, and the torch emerged. At this point me and my coworker were standing in front of the shop, me with the cordless phone. I answered a call from a woman that explained that she was with one of the local TV news networks, and was wondering if I could see the torch, because they had had reports of its location and looked up businesses in view of it. She insisted that I go on the air and answer questions. I was reluctant but thought it might be amusing, so I said OK. After a few confusing moments on hold, I could hear the audio from the newscast, a pro-tibet protester speaking his mind. Then one of the anchors said my name, and asked me some questions about what I was seeing. I gave a brief description of the scene, and noted that the torch didn’t look like it was actually lit. The anchor snapped at me. “Oh I assure you, it’s lit.” Ok, I said, whatever you say. Eventually the torch passed, surrounded by a phalanx of police and bodyguards. A few people booed and some people cheered. Everyone snapped pictures. The swell of people following on the sidewalk knocked over our display of bikes, domino-style. And then it was gone. So thousands of people showed up to see the torch yesterday, and I’m one of the few hundred that actually got to see it, just by showing up for work.