Monthly Archives: July 2016

How to Cope with a Heat Wave

Beloved Birders,

It’s no secret that here at Birds and Words we’re not exactly heat lovers. But I’ve developed a few coping strategies for this sweltering summer. In fact, I’ve come to love my coping strategies so much, that this is turning into one of the more delightful summers I’ve ever had. Here is a partial list:

  1. Swim as much as possible. This includes indoor pools, outdoor pools, lakes, oceans, ponds, whatever strikes your fancy. In the event that there isn’t a body of water in your vicinity, take frequent showers.
  2. Find the best cardamom buns in town. Eat them all. In a fit of Nordic nostalgia, I discovered two exquisite Swedish/Finnish/pan-Nordic bakeries in Toronto. I’m rather partial to Karelia Kitchen for their Marimekko posters, but Beaches Bakeshop is lovely too. As I suspected, consuming a cardamom bun brings me straight back to my last trip to Norway and Sweden where it was never humid and sticky. The Norse Gods chose their turf wisely. Had Proust discovered the cardamom bun, it would have trumped the madeleine.
  3. Pretend your an Arctic Tern. (I won’t expand on this strategy lest you think I’ve officially lost my mind. But seriously. Just try it.)
  4. Immerse yourself in Dickens’ Bleak House where it is wonderfully foggy and eternally drizzling, and at this point nothing could seem more inviting and becoming to me.
  5. Cover your walls with maps of Iceland.
  6. Visit any island in your vicinity. Islands tend to have a breeze. For the more intrepid among you, visit an island with breeding terns off the coast of Maine and don’t forget to walk around while pointing a stick up in the sky or else the terns will poop on you. No joke. More on this experience later.
  7. Wage a war with moths in your closet and do a bit of belated spring cleaning. It doesn’t really help with the heat, but helps redirect your frustration and for a minute you’re so fanatically angry with the moths that you manage to forget that it’s hot outside.
  8. Take a book making class as CBBAG, come home with a handmade crown-binding book and life will feel beautiful, heat notwithstanding.
  9. Learn to make a whole panoply of new summer salads. I recommend kohlrabi salad and this recipe in particular. Invite friends over. Eat yourself into a stupor. Trust me, you’ll forget how hot it is.
  10. Complain about the heat with wild abandon. People will commiserate. You might even make a new friend due to unfortunate meteorological circumstance.
  11. Bird. Bird. Bird. Always bird. Even if it’s a common backyard bird. Look up. Look. Just remember not to walk while looking up because you might end up falling into a concrete well.

Nemesis Bird and the Chronic Nostalgiac

Beloved Birders!

My excuse this time is the heat. Veritable, insufferable all-consuming heat and humidity. This morning at 7am on my morning walk I could have sworn I was in the Caribbean; the only thing missing was a glorious ocean.

For the past three years I’ve been dying to see a Pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)and the bird has eluded me at every turn. I caught it in flight a couple times, and heard its call, and caught sight of its enormous, oval-shaped holes, but I wanted a more intimate experience than that. I craved a face-to-face encounter, or at the very least a full-frontal view. The Pileated woodpecker is a majestic specimen to behold — probably the closest we can get to the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker.

I’ve gotten so used to dreaming of a Pileated and then being disappointed that I’ve kind of stopped hoping. This weekend, on the way to the Nonquon sewage lagoon with friends, I was expecting a shorebird bonanza, but didn’t even have pileated woodpeckers on my mind. (By the way, what do birders do for fun when it’s so hot any normal human would just sit in a dark air-conditioned room and pray for arctic climes? Birders go to sewage lagoons for a good time. Lagoons with NO SHADE whatsoever. Partially because birders are a masochistic lot, but also because birders have untainted optimism and refuse to believe that they might succumb to heat stroke. And in the end, optimism paid off: nature rewarded us with an overcast morning so that we could bird in peace for four hours. And then geography rewarded us with a fantastic visit to Blue Heron books in Uxbridge and a delightful tea/coffee stop)

Imagine my surprise when we walked into the sewage lagoon and the first bird to greet us, high up in a dead (or bare  — i really haven’t yet learned the difference between the two) tree was none other than a PILEATED WOODPECKER! I screamed, my friend Monika wept a little (it turned out to be her nemesis bird, too!), and we stared in disbelief. Here of all places! When we least expected it.

Image from here.

Image from here.

There’s such joy in finding one’s nemesis bird. In all honesty, my heart raced a little faster. I tried so hard to memorize the bird and commit the entire scene to memory — and of course it’s a day later and the jagged edges of experience are already being smoothed by time.

And there’s a tinge of sadness, too, in seeing the bird that I had longed to see for the past three years. Because there will never again be a time when I will LONG to see a pileated woodpecker for the first time. And that longing is perhaps a feeling I’m slightly addicted to.

Ah well, longing for longing notwithstanding, I’m happy I saw the pileated. He was both regal and glorious, poised, concentrating fiercely, neck thrust upwards, head gazing toward the horizon, and beyond, toward the heavens — come to think of it, a little bit like Vladimir Ilych Lenin addressing the proletariat crowds.

I could list off all the other birds we saw, but I’m embarrassed to say they all paled in comparison to the moment I stopped counting the pileated woodpecker as my nemesis bird.

What will I long for now? A penguin? The six bee-eaters species I have yet to see? Or maybe I’ll start longing for the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker, so that the chronic nostalgiac in me will never be robbed of longing?