September 15, 2011

Nancy's legacy



The internet is no doubt the most impressive technology since the combustible engine. It flies us through space and time, leaping continents, archiving life’s tremendous and minute moments and compressing conversations into 60 character burps. I recently typed the name of my bird watching mentor into Google. Nancy passed away prior to the internet’s full blossoming but I remember sitting down at her new computer trying to explain to her the difference between a cursor and the mouse (a surprisingly complex concept for the PC un-inducted). The purpose of my search was to see if a scholarship or tract of land had been named in her honor. I waded through the typical Google detritus of Facebook links and white pages and after some digging stumbled upon a strange and sweet reconnection with a friend no longer here, Nancy’s entry on the American Kestrel for the Breeding Bird Atlas 1 (BBA 1). After a four year survey of the entire state the data from the BBA 1 was published and bound by Mass Audubon. Although containing some methodological oversights the work served as an early example of citizen science and it’s data is being compared to the current data from the BBA 2 (State of the Birds is due for publication in 2011).

Finding Nancy’s entry on this little falcon the “most colorful of North American hawks” was like finding an unopened letter in a locked drawer. Her voice buried under the Internet’s leaf litter now leaping up into flight. I remember Nancy’s fearless commitment to see birds. She would pull off the onramp to Route 93 in Medford, a daring and highly illegal move. She’d hop down from the seat in her Jeep and scan the grassy terrain from the salty, hubcap graveyard of the breakdown lane. The onramp created an island of nature in the sea of concrete and cars and more often than not a tiny sparrow hawk would be frozen in mid air making “forays into the open, heading into the wind with the body tilted diagonally upward and hovering with the tail fanned out.”

She would utter a slow, calm inviting, questioned “Ohh..?” and I’d instantly know she had seen something good. Inevitably, the state police would pull up behind us and she’d quietly hand me the car keys, “Tell them your grandmother was about to be sick”. We’d tuck our binoculars into our jackets, apologize to the trooper’s unflinching face, and with my paper driver’s permit carefully folded into my nylon and Velcro wallet start the Jeep up the onramp, onto 93 North towards Plum Island or some other far off adventure.

To be continued…
           

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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