Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Birder

Once again, I invite you to joint me as I guest blog for my dear friend Gabrielle.

My parents were not readers, so there were few books in our house. I, however, craved books, and devoured those that were on hand. One made an indelible impression on my young mind: its ravaged cover and tattered, oft-viewed pages testify to the love it has known. My painting is a tribute to its glory days.

The book is a green, cloth-covered 1947 edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s classic A Field Guide to the Birds. It was my father’s book. He grew up in the Camden neighborhood of Cramer Hill. Ah, the life of a young river rat along the Delaware! In a teen-age duck-hunting adventure, he was mortified when he shot and killed a bittern, and realized some education was in order. From this book he learned his ducks, and when I was only five, he sat me on his lap, opened the guide, and taught the ducks to me.

For years, it was simply a book that I liked. I would have liked almost any book, I suppose, if it was about nature. From it, as well as from a similarly beloved book of Audubon plates my dad received for a 10th birthday gift in 1945, I copied pictures of birds. A summer morning in the early 70s would find yours truly, over a breakfast of King Vitamin or Quisp, the Guide open in front of me on the kitchen table, planning the day’s art.

Except for enjoying the birds coming to our feeder, I hardly dared dream that such things as warblers could be real. When a merry band of spring-plumaged Myrtle Warblers came migrating through our yard, fly-catching at just above eye-level and oblivious to me as I stood very still, it hit me: the birds in the book are real! They live in South Jersey! I can see them in my own yard!


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