by Diane Porter
stonework walls ramble alongside rural roads. They run cross-country
up and down the hills, accenting the contours of the landscape.
And on top of such a stone wall, at eye level, was one of
the first birds I learned by name, the European Robin.
It was a plump little
bird with a red breast and face. Don't picture the American
Robin, which is a different species entirely, and a giant
by comparison. The European Robin is only half as long from
bill to tail as its American namesake. It's about the size
of a chickadee and could fit in the palm of your hand, if
it would. I almost thought it might do that, it was so friendly.
Linda and I were hitchhiking from London to Scotland, on a
college semester-abroad program. Of course I realize that
the merest mention of hitchhiking is enough to make any parent
shudder. However, hitchhiking was considered quite safe in
Britain in the early 60s. We were actually encouraged by our
college advisors to travel by thumb while visiting sites that
were significant to English literature. Linda and I were just
doing our schoolwork.
we went on foot between rides. One day, as we walked beside
a rock wall, a little bird with a red front kept pace with
us, skipping along the top, as if it liked our company. An
old man we met on the path noticed our interest in the bird
and told us it was a robin, a great favorite of the British,
and the most familiar bird in English gardens.
did I know that one day I would keep a life list of all the
birds I'd ever seen, and that the European Robin would hold
a place of honor at the top of the list.
bird watchers keep such a life list, noting each new species
they discover, along with the place and the date. Birds are
creatures of location, and no two locations are exactly alike.
So when you travel to a part of the world that you've never
been before, you can be sure you'll find birds that are new
to you. Even close to where you live, a habitat you have not
explored before will provide fresh birds for your life list.
After a few years, the term "life list"
takes on a new meaning, because the list becomes a chronicle
not only of birds but also of one's life--travels, past homes,
old friends. Adventures that the years might have erased remain
alive because they are memorialized in an entry on the life
list. It's only a list of names, places, and dates, but to
me my life list reads like a novel.
© 2007 Diane Porter