Tuesday, May 15, 2007

You Never Know

Ten years ago this summer, our family and one other -- one of my best friends, her husband, and their son, who was best friends with one of our boys -- headed west for a joint trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We had one of those Best Times Ever -- rafting and horseback riding and long hikes away from the summer crowds and fancy evenings in Old Faithful and Grand Teton Lodges and late nights walking the geyser boardwalks under a full moon. Kids and adults all thoroughly enjoyed each other and every day that we had. Both families have been through some rough, rough times in the years since, and I think that we all hold fast to the memory of that trip.

One of our Very Best Discoveries was a little lake with a family of nesting trumpeter swans. I don't know how many times our family had listened to E.B. White read The Trumpet of the Swan as we made long distance drives, and to have found a lonely pond in Montana with swans and cygnets just as he describes it was a dream come true.

And then one of the Very Best Things happened: our friends' son asked about the birding guide jammed into the back of my jeans. I pulled it out and showed him how a bird guide works: how the birds are portrayed in evolutionary order so that closely related families appear together, and how the paintings are created to highlight identifying features, so that birds that look much alike can be distinguished from one another. He was immediately captivated, so much so that I bought him a bird book of his own and listed 20 birds on the inside front cover as a challenge for his future travels.

What did I know?

He turns 22 and graduates from Cornell University this month, no doubt with many honors and with more ornithological field work behind him than most graduate students experience in several years of further education. Earlier tonight he emailed me an article from the Ithaca paper about some of his latest exploits, an article which includes this paragraph:

"Many birders start young, BW said. He had his first birding experience at 12 on a vacation in Wyoming, when a family friend handed him a field guide and he identified a Clark's Nutcracker when it flew across the trail. He was hooked. He chose Cornell because it has one of the top ornithology programs in the world."

His email relays the following:

"...as for that list of birds you wrote in the front of the field guide, I have only one left to see--Greater Flamingo (although I've never seen Swallow-tailed Kite in the U.S.--"just" in Ecuador). I'll let you know when I spot a wild flamingo."

I am almost speechless with pride. Way to go and Happy Graduation, BW!


Kathryn said...

This story is captivating. It is rare to see so tangible a result of an inspirational seed planted long ago.

My family has also enjoyed E.B. White's story on those tapes for long drives. It is the best audiobook that we have found - the combination of his voice and the music is perfect.

I never go on a hike without my bird book but am an rank amateur.

Carol said...

Congratulations, GG! And it's especially nice that he recognizes the source of his inspiration.

Magdalene6127 said...

Gannett Girl, I have just finished working as the interim chaplain for one of the (many) campus ministries at Cornell... I don't think I know the student you are writing about, but I do know many amazing, bright young people who are filled with excitement and learning about the world. I am so thrilled to read this story, about the ripples that spread from the small gestures and connections we make. You should feel such deep pride in this. This is a "Mothering Day" story extraordinaire.



Lisa :-] said...

What a neat story! How nice to know there are young people out there who can be and have been influenced by the "older generation," even if he's not one of your own.

My grandfather gave me my first bird book. And while it didn't lead me to a degree in ornithology, it started me in the direction of a life-long love of birds.

Lisa C. said...

This story just warms my heart. How cool that you were such an influence on his life.

Virginia said...

That's a wonderful story!

Peace, Virginia