Taking cues from Woody Guthrie
Loving everybody, including birds and people
My pal Susan sent along this inspiring list of resolutions and determinations from Woody Guthrie, circa New Year’s Day 1941. I’m more making more intentions — to complete unfinished business, revise my fitness plan, etc — than resolutions this New Year’s, and I gotta say Guthrie’s list, as charming as it is on point, is an even better guide. I’m especially taken with #18 “Stay glad” #19. “Keep hope machine running” #23. “Have company but don’t waste time” and #31 “Love everybody.”
Susan is a fellow bird lover and she invited me to be on her Christmas Bird Count team in Southern Marin on New Year’s Eve. The CBC in an annual census taken by volunteers that’s been happening each year since 1900, making it the oldest citizen science effort in the world(!). It’s also another ‘rain or shine’ event and with an atmospheric river on its way to California, it definitely wasn’t going to be shining on Saturday.
While I was enthusiastic about the event, I tossed and turned in the wee hours fretting about whether to go or stay home. Were the roads dangerous? Could I tell the difference between a Lesser and Greater Scaup in such conditions? I woke up and decided I could do it, and left the house dressed in foulies, long underwear and wool socks.
There was already a lot of water on the highways. All the other drivers out at that hour, were thankfully, driving 15-20 mph under the speed limit. Twice, I passed cars that had skidded off the road. Nonetheless, I arrived at Blackie’s Pasture in Tiburon two minutes before the appointed meeting time.
Just as I was about to text Susan, a woman in rain gear appeared at my window.
“You came!” Susan said. “Get in my car!”
There’s been some debate about moving the count to the next day — it was forecast to be clear on New Year’s — but different interpretations of the Bird Count rules meant we were on duty, despite the conditions.
Three of us, Susan, myself and another Marin Audubon member, Maggie, spent the next several hours wrestling with umbrellas, recalcitrant ballpoint pens and misty binoculars seeing what we could see. It was, unsurprisingly, pretty slow going. Dependably, we saw a nice compliment of Crows. When the rain lessened, flurries of foraging Golden Crowned Sparrows and Yellow-Rumped Warblers would appear. We found a Great Blue Heron hunting gophers at Paradise Cove along with two very drenched Red-shouldered hawks. When we walked back to the car, we found a Hermit Thrush perched on top of the roof. Down another street, we found covies of California Quail, cowering under shrubs; more mixed flocks of sparrows, and a trio of undaunted Ravens.
But we were soaked by 10, or in my case, very damp (between the long underwear, rain pants and winter sailing jacket, I fared the best). Susan cued up Eliza Gilkyson’s ‘Before the Deluge’ from a Jackson Brown tribute album, and we drove back to Maggie’s house for hot coffee, cookies and a dryer. By the time Susan’s clothing were dry, the local Audubon powers that be had decreed that teams could resume the count on Sunday…forecast to be sunny and clear.
But I wouldn’t be joining them. Along the lines of Guthrie’s #23 ‘have company but don’t waste time,” and #25, “play and sing good” (or at least as good as possible), we were cooking up Indian food for some songwriter pals, which, like finding birds in a rainstorm, naturally fed the project of “keeping the hope machine running.”
Here’s to more hope and love and goodness in 2023!