This afternoon, I drove out to Concord. In the fields of the old prison farm, a Greater White-Fronted Goose was supposedly hanging around with the geese that usually live there; I wanted to see this resident of the arctic.
There stood the goose, looking odd with its orange bill. I looked at it for a while, and realized I had a little time before dark, so I drove over to the national wildlife refuge a few miles away. I climbed the observation tower there. As I got up onto the observation deck, a boy’s voice said, “Are you a birder?”
I said, “Well, sort of.” The boy was about 12. He was with a man who had binoculars and never used them, but just seemed to be looking at the scenery.
He said, “You see those ducks out there? –what are they? You can see them in the telescope.”
But I already had my binoculars to my eyes, and could see them well enough to say, “Well, they’re probably Ring-necked Ducks.” Then I looked through the big telescope mounted on the observation deck, the same one that was there when I was a boy. I said why I was sure they were Ring-neck Ducks, with that white streak in front of the wings, and the distinctive shape of their heads.
The boy nodded wisely. “Yeah,” he said.
We talked about birds a little bit; the Red-winged Blackbirds were back; ducks were on the move. I asked if he had seen the Greater White-fronted Goose. Behind me, I could feel the man politely rolling his eyes, the way Carol does when she has to endure listening to people talk about birds. The boy was pretty excited to hear about the goose, though he hid it. I told the boy where to see it, but, as is often the case for someone that age, he didn’t have a strong sense of how to get from one place to another. So I told the man, who knew where I meant. The man had a faint European accent; the boy did not.
“We better tell your mother about it,” said the man, which either meant that the boy’s mother was a birder, or this was a ploy to get the boy down off the observation tower.
“Just FYI,” said the boy to the man, as they began walking down the steep stairs, “a Greater White-Fronted Goose is not something you see every day.”
“Not around here, that’s for sure,” I said in parting. The man smiled, a little tightly, but didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t realize that goose had probably flown down here from Greenland.
I wandered over the dike between the two main pools of the refuge, well behind the boy and the two adults. I don’t think his mother was a passionate birder, because they didn’t seem to stop and look at the Northern Shoveler. I took my time, saw a lot of birds, and wound up getting to my car just as the man was trying to get the boy back down off the observation tower and into their car. “Come on,” the man said in his faint accent, “we have to go now.”
Like the boy, I didn’t want to leave. But I had to get back to New Bedford, and with the light fading fast I no longer had the excuse of staying to look at birds. I slid into my car, started the engine and turned on the headlights. When I pulled out, the boy still wasn’t in the car. Maybe he was doing the right thing; so what if it’s too dark to look at birds any more; so what if he was annoying two adults; any excuse to stay outdoors longer.
Maybe I’m getting too responsible.