It’s winter. -15 degrees celcius. You set your alarm to 6:40 am on a Saturday. You wake to near-blizzard conditions. You stare out the window in a semi-stupor and evaluate the road conditions (with the help of the weather channel, Google, various traffic alerts). You determine that visibility on the roads are not ideal, but not horrendous either. You put on your long underwear, pack your rain pants, and stammer out the door. You stop for a second and wonder whether it is wise to venture out in such weather, whether you’ll see anything today, whether it’s worth it.
Before you know it, you’re driving to meet your bird group. You load up on coffee and head north, to a small hamlet called Glen Williams, where rumors of a Spotted Towhee lure you. Those two words develop some sort of magnetic force. A vagrant from the West accidentally finds himself in Southern Ontario, in unfamiliar terrain. A wiser person might have turned back when road visibility disintegrated and snow began to blow fiercely. But the words Spotted Towhee draw you in. You can almost taste them, in Latin — Pipilo maculatus. And off you go. Because you know all too well the whims of geographic error. You too spent a few years in a landscape you couldn’t figure out how to call your own.
There is no way not to see this Spotted Towhee. The fact that it’s a life bird for the list you haphazardly keep draws you in, but the fact that it’s a bird who’s lost its way keeps you from turning back.
And you arrive in Glen Williams, an unexpectedly beautiful three-street town with a fantastic used bookstore (which the owner opens 2 hours early just so you can have a look and breathe in the first editions of Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drews and relive your childhood for a minute) and a coffee shop (where you regret the coffee you purchased at Starbucks; nevertheless, you opt for a green tea), and you find the house with bird feeders and you look. And there on the ground by the front door, next to a fat Mourning Dove, you see the unfamiliar bird. The gleaming black head with a brilliant red eye and white polka dots on its wings. He’s out of place no matter how hard he tries to commune with the Tree Sparrows. You watch him hop about, feasting on seeds, perhaps wondering how it is that life brought him to this place he never knew existed.
And you marvel. First, you marvel because you can recognize the ravenous Dark-eyed Juncos and the aggressive Chickadees and even the nonchalant Tree Sparrows and the lone Song Sparrow and the coquettish White-Breasted Nuthatch and the monumental Northern Cardinal. You marvel because four years ago those names would have meant nothing to you; conglomerations of sounds was all they were. And then you marvel because you recognize that you are where you need to be. It’s Saturday, you’re watching birds, and it’s as simple as that. And though you understand that one mustn’t anthropomorphize birds, there’s a connection you feel with the Spotted Towhee, this misplaced avian stranger whose accent and demeanor are just slightly other. You’ve been there. You know.
There’s nowhere else you’d rather be.