I love you, Roger Tory Peterson
I should have told him how he changed my life. In Vancouver, British Columbia , I rode down in an elevator with him, and I was dumb struck. He told me he had seen his 700th North American bird species recently, the rufous turtledove. That's all I remember.
I should have sung a song for him. I should have said thank you for the hours of delight. I rode the Tsawwassen Ferry to Swartz Bay, and I saw a mew gull. Never would I have known its name without the field guide. Never could I have put a name to the wings that flashed white at the tip without that unique gift he placed between the covers of a book.
Six of his blue-backed books stand in the bookcase, one has the cover gone, some of them are more worn than others - all have papers sticking out the top. Before me hangs his cardinal print dated 1942. In 1949 I bought a blue jay print and had it framed. I wrote a poem for him in 1957, not a very good one; I never sent it to him. I have enjoyed for a long time the prodigious talents of his brush and pen.
Ten days ago, in Kaslo, British Columbia, my son mentioned the gray kingbird that perched on the utility wire in front of our house. The bird was with us spring and summer in Florida. My son remembered his song, and I was amazed. It had been 19 years since we heard it sing.
Thirty years ago, the birds that sat on fence posts and wires, I identified without binoculars. I studied the endpaper silhouettes in the field guide and could tell the kingfisher, the martins, and the shrike apart.
I have lost most of my early records, but in March 1961, dickcissels, four females and five males, came to the feeder. They stayed several days. We were excited, for they were accidental visitors in southwest Florida.
In 1966 I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and was able to introduce my husband to a mockingbird. He told me there was none in Ohio, but I found one at the southeast corner of McCoy and Mountview Roads.
He took me in early April to Green Lawn Cemetery. In a triangle of trees where traveled lanes came together, I saw three kinds of birds. Three. A small one started at the bottom of a tree and moved around it as it worked its way to the top. A brown creeper, he said.
The next bird was smaller still, a ruby-crowned kinglet. Hard to believe. This bird fluttered its wings, and I saw on the crown a tiny scarlet patch. The book instructed me to look for a broken white eye-ring, the best recognition mark. What did I care? Here was a bird called a ruby-crowned kinglet.
The third was a woodpecker, larger than the creeper, with a red forecrown and white patch on its black wing. This one's name was yellow-bellied sapsucker.
I had never seen these birds before. What a revelation. I never really recovered from April 4, 1971. Binoculars I had to have, and I found a pair of 7 x 35s for $35 at the local department store.
I met helpful, friendly people at Green Lawn, many of them strolling around with the familiar book tucked into a pocket. Since then, I have seen 34 different warbler species at Green Lawn, 34 kinds of ''wild canaries'' all dressed in glorious spring plumage. How would I have known about them if Roger Tory Peterson had not led the way?
I have traveled to McGregor, Minn., and Costa Rica; Wildhorn, Colo., and Trinidad; Amherst Island in Ontario and Ecuador. In all these places, wonders surrounded me different from those at home; friends, new friends, enriched my life; and, one by one, splendid birds furnished the corridors of my memory with unforgettable pictures. All because a long time ago, I bought a book.
Thank you, Roger Tory Peterson. Many happy returns. Merry Christmas, and I love you.