August 23, 2012
Bald Eagle with prey
Bald Eagle with prey
A special vibe always pulses through the global community during the Olympic spectacle, and I’m going to infuse that vibe into my next two columns.  This one is a variation on the theme, which always comes up during the Olympics, “where were you when?”  I’m asking you to list, because listing is so much a part of the human DNA, five events you most wish you had witnessed but didn’t.  These events can be personal or global, private or public, joyous or sorrowful, and don’t have to have anything at all to do with the Olympics.  Just remember this is a birding column.  Here’s my list, in chronological order, with explanations but no apologies.

May 24, 1945—Lieutenant colonel James P. Burns, pinned down with his army battalion in the jungles of Luzon, is killed by Japanese sniper fire.  This event explains a lot about me, but shouldn’t need an explanation for its inclusion on this list.

February 2, 1980—Miracle On Ice.  Though I’m not a hockey fan and actually dislike the game, this is one of only two public events (John F. Kennedy’s assassination) for which I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.  Talk about vibration and group flashjoy.  And it still resonates thirty-two years later even with people who don’t know sports, let alone hockey.

November 9, 1989—The fall of the Berlin Wall.  I’ve never correctly predicted a major sports, climate, birding, or family event, but as an International Relations graduate student during the height of the Cold War I predicted the demise of Communism in a term paper.  Within a week after the Berlin Wall came down, three people I hadn’t seen in twenty years contacted me because they remembered my prediction.  This was a global human watershed, but unlike Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, it marked a joyous endpoint rather than a horrifying beginning.

November 5, 2010—At the Bosque in New Mexico an adult Bald Eagle, in flight, snatches two American Coots from the water at the same time, one with each foot.  Every birder has a favorite “just missed” story about a rare or spectacular sighting just around a corner in time or some trail.  This is mine, and I have the accompanying photograph to prove what I missed.  Count the dangling coot feet.  There are three.  Though the strike happened out of sight, I saw the eagle leave its perch empty taloned and return a minute later with double prey.  If there were an avian Olympics, no species would wrest gold from our nation’s symbol in aerial gymnastics, talon strength, bill shredding, or overall predation.

July 16, 2012—Barack Obama enters Verizon Center for the US men’s Olympic basketball exhibition game against Brazil to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”  Full disclosure here, I’m an Obama fan, a Springsteen fan, and I think birthers were born on another planet but, regardless of all that, I wish I had felt this fantastic vibe, seen the human side of our President, and witnessed this fun conjunction of sports and politics.

It’s not too big a stretch to see patriotism as the common thread on my list.  Olympic years always bring this out in us.  My next column will dive into the pool of paradox surrounding patriotism.  And, of course, there’ll be birds.