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Archive for January 29th, 2007

Joseph’s Feathered Friends

My son Joseph, who is almost 7, unlike his older brothers Luke and Patric,
was not very interested in baseball when he was small. The older boys had begun
to play ball when they were toddlers, but Joey would just say "No, that ball is
too hard."

However, last spring he decided he wanted to play baseball after all.
Patric’s coaches convinced us that he would learn more in coach-pitch than in
Tee Ball, so we signed him up with Patric’s Little League team, the Mudcats. The
coaches no doubt thought they were acquiring a valuable player in Patric’s
little brother, for my older son’s early interest had shaped a skillful
ballplayer.

If they were disappointed in Joey the novice they didn’t betray it.

For Joseph was afraid of the ball, mostly looking away as he held his glove
in the general direction when it came near him. And he struck out at bat time
after time, even though he crossed himself before the pitch.

At 6, he was the youngest and smallest (and I dare say the cutest) player
on the team. After he struck out he would hang his head and walk slowly back to
the bench, dragging the bat behind him, to a chorus of "aw" and "he’s so cute!"
from the ladies in the stands.

I am happy to report that as the summer progressed he got better, and as we
continued to play ball after the Little League season ended he overcame his fear
of the ball to become a decent fielder and also began hitting consistently when
at bat.

Next season looks promising.

It was a very good year: the Mudcats only lost one game all season and made
it to the final game of the playoffs, which they lost, placing second in the
League.

My older son, Luke, played for the Aeros, a team that was undefeated until
the final game of the playoffs, which they lost, placing second.

Patric made the All Stars, and that team was undefeated until the final
playoff, which they lost, again finishing in second place.

I was not at all surprised when our favorite Major League team, the Detroit
Tigers, ended up losing the World Series. It was a second place kind of
year.

So, all in all a spectacular season.

But my favorite memory of baseball last year was one of Joseph, playing his
usual field position of Contemplative Field, ie, Right Field.

He looked tiny out there in the vast empty boringness of the loneliest
position in baseball, when he called out to me, sitting in the stands: "Daddy! I
think I hear a pecking bird!"

And he began looking off to the distant trees, trying to spot the "pecking
bird". I had to call to him to watch the game, provoking another round of "aw"
and "isn’t he cute?" from his lady fans.

For though Joey has not always loved baseball, he has always loved
birds.

From the time he was a toddler he has been fascinated by them, prevailing
upon us to put up feeders and buy him books. For a couple of years now he has
packed his binoculars and field guide on our car trips. He mostly sees the
common larger birds, of course: various hawks, buzzards and the like, though he
did spot a young bald eagle last fall. And once, driving to Michigan, he said he
saw a fairy fly up from the bushes on the side of the road. I don’t know what he
saw; a dragonfly maybe. Or perhaps a hummingbird. Or maybe a fairy.

Michelle, wishing to encourage his interest, got on the mailing list for
the local Audubon Society, and we saw in their newsletter that there was going
to be a slide presentation called "Woody’s Feathered Friends", featuring a local
photographer and bird lover. Figuring that Joey would love it, I decided to take
him.

I know that the National Audubon Society, like the other mainline
conservation groups- the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League- was on record
supporting legal abortion, a position arrived at by way of concern for
overpopulation. But I figured a meeting of local birdwatchers would have nothing
to do with the national organization’s broader political agenda.

As we drove to the meeting we talked excitedly.

"I wonder if there will be any other children", Joey said.

I said, "I wonder how many people there will be."

Joey said, "I wonder if there will be any sweets."

We arrived at the meeting place, a large Protestant church of the
"progressive" persuasion.

There were numerous meetings and rehearsals being held in the sprawling
complex and it took three or four tries before we found the Audubon meeting, a
group of perhaps thirty people, which had already begun. Joseph and I appeared
to be the only people in the room under the age of 60. We apologized for being
late, introduced ourselves and sat in the front row, so Joey would have a clear
view of the screen. We were warmly welcomed, and everyone seemed delighted to
have such a young bird enthusiast among them.

As the business meeting droned on I began to worry that my son would get
restless, and I was pleased when the moderator said "And finally, one last piece
of business."

My relief was short lived, though, for he proceeded to announce that one of
the members had recently attended a conference on population and the environment
in Washington, D.C.

My heart sunk. Joey would be disappointed if we walked out, and I was
irritated by a world where you take your young bird-loving son to something
called "Woody’s Feathered Friends" and you are confronted by the antinatal
globalist agenda.

"Of course, when you say ‘population’ people immediately think you are
talking about abortion, but that has nothing to do with it", the moderator said, and I
could hear the muttered "No, no"s and "Of course not"s.

The woman who had attended the conference stood up and told us all about
her excellent adventure, how the national organization had flown the delegates
to DC, how they had stayed in a nice hotel, all meals provided. And she gushed
about how wonderful it was to feel like she was doing something to help
bring family planning to developing nations.

When she was done I raised my hand. "But it’s not that simple, is it? I
mean isn’t someone flying on a jet plane to Washington for a conference doing
more environmental damage than the average third world peasant family does in a
lifetime? For that matter doesn’t an affluent American family with two children
consume more than several poor families with six?"

Sitting in the front row I couldn’t see the expressions my comment evoked,
but I heard a few chuckles and sounds of assent.

The chairman said that well, that may be so, but surely we needed to think
about ways to address overpopulation.

I granted that there are local instances of population straining resources,
but isn’t the problem globally one more of overconsumption by the West and
unjust distribution of resources? After all, there are densely populated
countries- like the Netherlands and Japan- that are neither impoverished nor the
scenes of ecological crisis.

Well that is certainly an interesting perspective, but we, uh, need to get
on with the program.

He proceeded to introduce the presenter, Forrest "Woody" Newport, with a
few words about his background and qualifications.

Woody walked to the front, a bespectacled pleasant looking man in his mid
60s.

He started by addressing Joseph, welcoming him and noting that his own
interest in birds and wildlife began when he was a young boy.

He then started the slide show and asked Joey if he could identify the
first striking photo.

"Yes, that is a female cardinal", said Joey to a murmur of approval.

The image, and the ones that followed, were spectacular. I don’t know if it
was the act of enlarging the photos to the screen, or the gift of a loving eye,
but Woody Newport’s photography vividly revealed the many hued and subtle beauty
of his subjects.

He spoke with contagious reverence and affection for the natural world and
for wild birds. He clearly was a patient and persistent photographer and his
work was outstanding.

Joseph enjoyed himself immensely, and whispered correct identifications for
most of the birds.

Afterwards there were indeed sweets, homemade nut breads and a heavily
sugared fruit drink that left my son’s lips bright red.

Many of the people came up, thanked us for coming and invited us back.

Woody encouraged Joey to begin sketching the birds he saw in a special
notebook.

The woman who had attended the conference did not speak to us.

We were invited to join the club, which we obviously cannot do, though I
plan on taking Joseph to other events that they sponsor, especially the workshop
on hand-feeding chickadees.

This is the dilemma for those of us who revere the natural world and
created things, who don’t want to see the fragile and tender beauty at the wild
heart of the world destroyed by bulldozers: the organizations that exist to
protect wildlife do not appear to recognize that human cycles are natural
cycles, too, that the human ecology- the ecology of the microcosm- should no
more be violated than the world ecology, the ecology of the macrocosm.

By chance, though, on the literature table we found a brochure for the Ohio
Ornithological Society, which appears to be more narrowly focused on
birdwatching and protection of habitats, without a broader political
agenda.

I’ll have to investigate further, of course, but if it checks out my son
Joseph may soon become the newest member of the OCC.

There is a photo of Joseph Nichols, about a year and a half ago, on the
bottom of the "About the Iconographer" page on the Eighth Day Icons website
here.

–Daniel Nichols

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