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Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder

Kenn Kaufman

Top 10 Best Quotes

“But in the early 1970s, we were not birdwatching. We were birding, and that made all the difference. We were out to seek, to discover, to chase, to learn, to find as many different kinds of birds as possible — and, in friendly competition, to try to find more of them than the next birder. We became a community of birders, with the complications that human societies always have; and although it was the birds that had brought us together, our story became a human story after all.”

“ Dreams and coffee and sunrises make up the rhythms of the road. Music is a part of it, too: the popular music on the jukeboxes and radio stations. You hear it constantly, in diners and on car radios. The music has a rhythm that fits the steady drumming of tires over pavement. It seeps into your bloodstream. After a while it ceases to make any difference whether or not you like the stuff. When you’re traveling alone, a nameless rider with a succession of strangers, it can give you a comforting sense of the familiar to hear the same music over and over. At any given time, a few current hits will be overplayed to exhaustion by the rock & roll stations. In hitching across the continent, you might hear the same song fifty or sixty times. Certain songs become connected in your mind with certain trips.”

“Haunting the library as a kid, reading poetry books when I was not reading bird books, I had been astonished at how often birds were mentioned in British poetry. Songsters like nightingales and Sky Larks appeared in literally dozens of works, going back beyond Shakespeare, back beyond Chaucer. Entire poems dedicated to such birds were written by Tennyson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and many lesser-known poets. I had run across half a dozen British poems just about Sky Larks; Thomas Hardy had even written a poem about Shelley’s poem about the Sky Lark. The love of birds and of the English language were intermingled in British literary history. Somehow we Americans had failed to import this English love of birds along with the language, except in diluted form. But we had imported a few of the English birds themselves — along with birds from practically everywhere else.”

“Where would the would-be “purists” draw the line between native and alien elements? This whole planet was altered by the hand of man. A birder who scorned the alien Sky Larks might stand on San Juan and salute the native eagles . . . but some of those eagles had been released here; and they were living on an unnaturally high population of rabbits, from another continent, introduced here. The rabbits, in turn, were probably feeding on alien plants from other lands that were naturalized here — if the San Juan roadsides were anything like all the other roadsides in North America. And we birders of European descent were introduced here also, a few generations back. Even my Native American friends of the night before could claim to be “native” in only a relative sense; their ancestors had come across the Bering land bridge from Asia. None of us is native here.”

“This is the West. We expect things to be tough out here.”

“The list total isn't important, but the birds themselves are important. Every bird you see. So the list is just a frivolous incentive for birding, but the birding itself is worthwhile.”

“It is now late August 2005. He has interrupted work on his ninth book to go to Sweden with his beautiful fiancee, Kimberly, and right now he is standing with his Swedish translator, getting ready to deliver a rousing bilingual speech to a crowd of hundreds at a grandstand next to the Baltic Sea. How far will this ride take him? If he had just checked off his bird list and gone home, the ride would have ended long ago. That’s the main thing I’ve learned from the young man I once was and from his still-continuing adventures. Yes, it’s good to go on a quest, but it’s better to go with an open mind. The most significant we find may not be the thing we were seeking. That is what redeems the crazy ambivalence of birding, As trivial as our listing pursuit may be, it gets us out there in the real world, paying attention, hopeful and awake. Any day could be a special day, and probably will be, if we just go out to look.”

“As I walked in the front door, with the glare of early morning sun still in my eyes, I had the illusion that I saw someone I recognized. She was sitting in a chair near the door, reading a magazine, and she looked for all the world like-- But it couldn't really be her, of course. She would have had to talk her protective father into giving her permission. She would have had to drive all night from Baltimore, taking the freeways and turnpikes north through New Jersey and New York and New England. That was the only way she could be here now, putting down her magazine and rising and coming toward me with a smile on her face. If I could have looked down the years then and seen everything from beginning to end--the good times, the best times, the bad times, the bad decisions, the indecision, and the finally the divorce--I still would not have traded anything for that moment.”

“We did not know that within twenty years Ted would be recognized as one of the greatest field ornithologists of all time, the ultimate authority on the ultimate bird continent. Mercifully, we did not know that those twenty years would be all the time he had. His career would end abruptly against a mountainside in Ecuador while he was flying surveys for bird habitats, working to protect the birdlife he loved. We did not know any of those things; we were just kids, we thought we would live forever.”

“The spark for a relationship might come for free—a look, a word. But the fuel to keep it going would always be expensive.”

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Book Keywords:

am, nature, meaningfulness, ornithology, life, birds, naturalist, inspirational-life, science

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