Story Sent in by William:
Have you ever been birding? It's less about the birds you see and more about the person you're birding with. I found that out on a date with Melinda. I wasn't any sort of bird aficionado, but Melinda was, and she suggested it as a first-date activity. There were worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than walking around the woods, looking for birds with a pretty girl. I wanted to take an interest in her hobbies, after all.
I guess the problem began when I arrived at the forest where our day of fun and feathers was to commence. She was there already, at the edge of the parking lot, with a pair of very big, expensive, and shiny binoculars. That was her pair. She said she'd bring me a set, and she did... blue and red, plastic, and seriously looking like they came out of a kids' Happy Meal or a Cracker Jack box. These were joke binoculars, and one of the lenses was fogged with dirt or dust or a design flaw that rendered them basically inoperable.
I accepted them with a smile, though, as she clearly took this all very seriously. Our first hour or so in the woods was actually not that bad. We spoke in very hushed tones and I followed her lead completely, pointing the binoculars at empty branches, shrubs, and just plain old sky. Aside from a few chickadees and a robin or two, there weren't too many birds that day.
"There should be way more than this," Melinda grumbled, "It's a weekend." I nodded to make it seem as though I understood, but to be honest, I don't know what that meant, with regards to the birds. Was the woods their weekend home? And if so, how did birds know it was the weekend? Did they have little wooden calendars and mark the time with seeds and bits of worm? Still unclear on that.
Then she started sniffing the air and asked me if I was wearing cologne. I did have a little bit on. When I say "a little bit," that genuinely means "a little bit." As in, a literal two drops. The very fact that she had to ask me if I was wearing any should've been an indication that the amount I had on was low.
I told her, "A little."
She said, "A few birds are attracted to bad smells, but most take off whenever something new, like a smell, invades their space."
"Or bird watchers?"
Of course not bird watchers. She said, "Birds can tell birders from normal people. Why do you think birders rack up such high tallies on their watch lists whereas the average hiker won't encounter more than a handful in a given walk?"
"Not this birder. Just stay quiet. That should make up for your weird cologne smell."
This was becoming less and less fun for me. It would soon be lunchtime, and I looked forward to it.
At once, she gasped and brought her binoculars to her eyes. In what had become a private joke with myself, I brought the little plastic binoculars (for real, they barely spanned an adult human's eye-width) to my own eyes and tried to see what had so amazed her.
After staring at an empty collection of branches for a good few minutes, I whispered, "What are we looking at?"
"Quiet, cologne boy," she said, "I can't believe it."
"Can't believe what?"
After another few minutes of looking at nothing at all, she put her binoculars down and said, "I thought I saw an osprey."
I said, "An osprey? Aren't they supposed to be big? I didn't see anything."
"You're not a pro birder."
"Did you actually see an osprey?"
"Ready for lunch?"
We drove to lunch, had it outside on a nice patio, and she spent most of it watching the nearby birds through her binoculars. Maybe it's my own fault for not being interesting enough. Or for wearing too much cologne. Or for not seeing invisible ospreys. Or for not being a bird. Whatever it was, we didn't go out again.
Story Sent in by William: