In this second segment, we complete our conversation with birding raconteur Cass Grattan, a true creature of scumbaggery...
Your "companion" is a birder. I've seen her observe birds myself, you cannot deny it. How has this complicated your relationship?
Yes, she is guilty of correct bird identification, in the first degree...multiple counts, in fact. The main problem is that she has seen so many more mind-altering birds than I have, and is relatively content with her illustrious sightings and career achievements. The idea of a White Tern nesting on my front porch is not only inconceivable, but plunges me into a serious existential dilemma. I simply must move to a place where this might happen, even if it means complete financial ruin and social castration. Since my partner has had this experience, and provided photographic evidence and personal anecdotes concerning White Tern parenting philosophy, she has the power to induce dangerous levels of jealousy and feelings of inferiority within me. Can we move on to the next question please?
Clearly White Tern Complex is something to be avoided at all costs...do you have any additional mental problems? Demons to battle that would explain why you became a birder in the first place?
Sure I've got problems. It has always been unclear to me the relationship between personal strife and birding. Perhaps the answer is too horrible to bear. I try not to think about it often. At it's most benign, birding is a reason to go outdoors and get some air, exercise your brain, and take pleasure in the splendor and beauty of it all. But perhaps it is all you have, and the addiction has known this the whole time. Over the years it has slowly and gently herded you into isolation and obscurity until you have nothing else BUT birding. Hopefully The Truth lies somewhere between these poles, perhaps on the pole...which is where Truth belongs.
Cass tackles an art-laden tower at Slab City.
Why should people care about birds?
Because they are free. And I mean free in all senses of the word, except in that one way.
Favorite place to bird? Why?
Shit. These are really hard questions. Madera Canyon has been such a vortex of drama and joy in my life. That has to be on the list. Imperial Valley and all of its backwater joys and horrors. Patagonia and the Chiricahuas. That whole SE Arizona loop. In Washington there is Grays Harbor and Skagit/Samish Flats in the west. Locally, I go to The Hook (Ediz Hook, Port Angeles) with Coco often in the winter...a post-industrial wasteland with a wonderful sea/shorebird medley upon its toxic waters. I like those zones that are brutalized but beautiful. Salton Sea is a good example. Brutiful. A good place to drink Baileys and coffee and not be harassed for your habits or hobbies.
Perhaps that is one of the great defining traits of a favorite birding spot...that it allows one to be one's self. There is room for your flag to fly. In which case, the Beatty Ranch in the Huachucas is up there because it is well known that you can crossdress freely there, and still get a great seat from which to watch the hummingbird gluttony and be free of public ridicule. This is probably because the bird life is so much more gaudy than the large Asian-Welsh man in a sequin nightgown sitting next to you.
Nudibranch. Photo by Cass Grattan.
If you had to be predated upon by a particular species, what would it be?
Some sort of mixed flock of tubenoses would be ideal. Fulmars should be in there. I guess that's important to me for some reason. Or a skua. Okay...first by fulmars and Buller's Shearwaters, with a couple of storm-petrels in there. Then everybody is chased off my bloated carcass by a skua who eats my heart. Then my tatters sink down and I'm finished off by pelagic nudibranchs, who then live for hundreds of years. Yes...that is how I want to go.
It is well known that you have had intercourse with several birdwatchers. What was that like?
Speaking of intercourse, you have a young potential uberbirder fresh out of the womb. Do you have a vigorous training regimen planned for the wee one?
Well, being that we named her after the most fearsome bird in North America and her first vocalizations sounded eerily like a Common Nighthawk/Burrowing Owl love child, I'd say she is off to a pretty stellar start. We birdwatch a lot as a family, and I don't see that changing until she hits that rebellious teenager phase. But that is when Mom and Pop are going to pull the rebellious parenting thing, and Daughter will have no choice but to retreat into her bird study sanctum in an effort to cope with her apathetic and increasingly distant parents. Thus The Circle goes Unbroken.
Improvised Olympics at Joshua Tree National Park.
Do you have a spirit bird?
I'm with Muir on this one. Water Ouzel.
Who is your favorite birder?
I like that Laura Bush chases rare birds, but I think it's a tie between George Grinnell and the illustrious Felonious Jive.
That does it for this installment of the Human Birdwatcher Project's highly-acclaimed interview series. Hopefully, you will come away with some answers about how birders work...or better yet, even more questions. Until next time....