Monday, February 4, 2008
I began biking to get into shape, respect the environment, and save money. This Schwinn Le Tour II was my Grandfathers. I used it first while finishing my undergraduate program. My advisor saw me trekking on campus one day with a plant press in tow. He said, "You look like Don Kroodsma." We had a good laugh. Last summer we bought my mountain bike. A beautiful green and beige Schwinn Mesa. It was a plot-hopper on the research sites in the mountains and my reliable transport to work and birding. Recently it was stolen. The scum-bags took not only a bike I had really loved, but they took my pannier with GPS, Datalog book, Sibley's guide, military issued rain pants, and my trusty leatherman. If you see my stuff, let me know. I'll skin the theives alive. Now I have this old schwinn and it gets me to the same places, with the exception of off trail use. Nothing allows greater access to quality Knoxville birding like a bycicle. One can travel anywhere, quickly. From Sutherland Ave to Forks in the River WMA there are countless birding spots. What a great way to stay in shape. Peddling an old bike with out the lower gearing of modern 21-speeds is more strenuous, but as long as you keep the rpm's up, It's a quality workout. I carry a 3 litre camelpack for unlimmed hydration, a snack or two, bird guides, a camera, binoculars, GPS and weather gear. Most notably, I carry a pocket-sized, Hemingway style notebook to talley daily bird lists and keep notes. I wrote a piece on biking the greenway.... Zooming down the greenway on my mountain bike is a pleasure. All too often it’s a matter of getting from point A to point B under time constraints. Still, the adrenaline surge heightens my senses and I’m keen to observe everything I can. Reflecting back on my earliest lessons in observation I recall my dad reiterating and old Native American proverb, “never move more quickly than your eyes and ears can perceive.” Since my youth amid northern Appalachian plateaus, I’ve practiced this mantra. After years of research in the woods and hiking I thought I was in tune. This Spring I learned even more. I took a colleague from the Bronx to the birding wonderland of Cove Lake (35 min north of Knoxville on I-75). Rich immediately paused at the beginning of the trail to observe one of the many birds to be found there. He crouched down and peered through the underbrush at length, just as he had down on countless forays to Central Park. I wouldn’t call it patience; he wasn’t waiting for anything in particular. It was simple pleasure ad enjoyment without the modern habit of moving forward constantly. Rich could have more sightings and observe more behaviors of birds in a few square meters than most people see in a 45 minute hike. Of course, I already knew this was possible; I’ve spent countless hours motionless in the field in the past. Why didn’t I practice this method of taking in nature more often? Why don’t we all? Back on the greenway zooming along, I know what I’m missing with my haste. I hear each mockingbird, chic-a-dee, cardinal, duck, wren and others. I listen to each one linear succession and recognize how they sound in comparison to others. In passing, I note sometimes note whether they have a mate or territorial rival nearby. Mockingbirds constantly defend territories and female wrens sometimes duet with a chatter overrunning the males’ phrases. Weaving around startled gray squirrels, I peddle from birdsong to birdsong with the fall leaves flowing in a blurred river of green and yellow beneath my tires. Herons in elegant plumage pose statuesque with a patience and poise I envy. Turtles slip to the depths from submerged logs, rabbits cruise the thickets and patches of insects brush my face. Finally, I reach point B just off the greenway. Urban noise ensues; I become part of the normal and constant movement of my fellow humans, but my heart is with the birds and their world beyond our sense of time. We all have something to learn from Rich and the herons. Will we act on it? If not, what good is knowing?