October 16, 2014
Black-vented Oriole-2/12/11, my final North American chase
Black-vented Oriole
2/12/11, my final North American chase
Fasten your seatbelts and hang on for a wild ride.  I’m about to conflate the whole sordid Ray Rice affair with birding.

Back in the day when I was a hard core lister and made no apologies for it, I used to puzzle over what seemed a conundrum.  Whenever I led a field trip, women typically outnumbered men about five to one, yet when the ABA published its annual lists, the ratio of males to females in the top one-hundred was about ten to one.  One year around the turn of the century, when my name was atop the ABA’s list of North American birds photographed (see how hard it is to let go, which speaks directly to where I’m going with this), there were only five women listed in the top one-hundred.

One of my best birding friends, a lady who doesn’t give a rip about keeping lists and knows I no longer do either, has been literally travelling the globe the past five years, experiencing the natural world.  It is instructive to note here that I didn’t say “looking for birds.”  She loves birds and sets up her trips to find new ones, but knows that seeking them simply allows her to make an intimate connection with our entire planet in all its beauty and complexity.  The competitiveness that defines birding, particularly for many males, is beyond her comprehension and draws her ire.

The ego and competitiveness of the male gender is responsible for where we are today:  think Dire Wolves; Saber-toothed Cats; prehomonids who finally raised their knuckles to the stars.  That same ego and competitiveness has brought us to other kinds of places as well:  violence; domestic abuse; sports as war by another name.  Ironic isn’t it that large men, touted as “warriors” and paid to wreak violence on the Ray Rices, line up with their knuckles on the ground—down linemen they’re called.

Competitiveness taken to its most extreme is violence.  The up/down switch is hard to find, whether in the rage of the playing field or the darkness of an elevator.  Personal experience, social statistics, and birding lists all suggest to me competitiveness is a gender thing.  Few women see birding (and everything else) as competition.  For most women, birding is an experience of joy, a process without goals, a connection with the natural world.  For most listers, most of them men, birding is not about the birds or the planet as much as the success, the mastery, the ascendancy, the dominance.

My photography became a lifeline which ultimately pulled me back from the dark side.  I can’t wait until I’m perceived to be old enough for someone to ask me the inevitable question—What were the most profound changes you witnessed in your lifetime?  Social and cultural evolution, like natural evolution, is excruciatingly incremental.  Here’s my answer, aided by my political crystal ball.  In my lifetime I’m happy to have witnessed both a Black American and a woman become POTUS.  I think Hillary would have made an outstanding birder too.

We’ve come to a complete stop at the terminal.  You may unfasten your seatbelts now.