It usually surprises people to learn that I’m not all that interested in birds. I actually find them a little boring. The misperception of my interests is somewhat understandable. Going back a few years when longtime Reader “Aunt Wendy” accused Readings From The Northside of “overdoing it with the birds” to recently when longtime Reader “weegipup” commented that “I think we lost RFTN to the birds”, these pages and posts clearly have had no shortage of birdies.
But if you look carefully, you will quickly realize that they are all Shorebirds, Seabirds, and Raptors of the Coast. I consider all other birds to be “regular birds” and they barely even get a “meh” out of me. Because I am not a Birder. I’m a Beach Bum. Plain and simple. I love these birds because I love the Beach.
My interest in conservation is just a natural outgrowth of my extreme selfishness and wish to prevent people from screwing up my good thing: the Beach. Spending your best moments engaged in any of the various beach activities from surfing, to sunbathing, to fishing, to watching the sunset, you get plenty of time to think. For me there has never been better use for that time from engaging in Ultimate Beach Bum Philosophy and trying to answer the deepest question of all: Why is the Beach so AWESOME!!11!????
In conservation, answering the “why” is always the trickiest part. You can easily tell people they can’t legally kill Piping Plover, but how do you effectively tell them why they shouldn’t? Why nature at all? Why wildlife? Or simply, “Whyld?” From one perspective, it is the easiest thing in the world to answer: “Just Because! It’s Awesome!” or “If you can’t see you’re a moron!” More erudite minds have spent vast brain cells attempting to categorize various approaches, like Utilitarian (it can be useful to us) or Rights Based (things have rights to live). But truly useful answers to “Whyld?” remain elusive. The difficulty is confounded by emotional aspects of the subject, aspects indescribable… even, spiritual. At the end of the day, I love my thing, you love yours, and we only have so much time to fight our tiny battles in a big, big world full of people who don’t care about our thing. Even with the best arguments in your mouth, you’re only going to talk so many people into so much.
Thankfully, one thing is certain. “Whyld?” is a question easily answered through experience. We are creatures living mysterious lives in a beautiful world. We were created together, we will be destroyed together, and we have only our brief experience in between. If we can find those places where we can experience that simple truth, then there is no need to ask, and no need to answer “Whyld?” The simplest “just because” answer is something we all can experience on this planet. We’re supposed to experience it. We were created to experience it. Those places where we can experience it are always natural places. Wild places. For me that place is the Beach. For you it might be somewhere else.
So go to that place. Enjoy it. You don’t have to be a Birder. Just a Beach Bum. I believe the true answer to “Whyld?” is “because all of the answers you seek to far more important questions are waiting there for you.”
OK, so let’s talk about this photo. You might be thinking it shows a lack of judgement to publish it, and you’d be right. Some photos simply must be published, no judgement involved. You see, these young spirits were trampling through the endangered species Wilderness Area on LBI and taking endless, sunset selfies. After they scared off Jo Durt, probably destroying his last chance at a meal for the day, I did what I always do when I see folks illegally destroying the last bit of wild area left on the Island: I pointed my huge lens at them. If they know they are being naughty, the camera is usually enough to crank up the guilt, or paranoia, and make them exit. If they don’t know they are doing something very naughty, they will usually come out to yell at me for taking pictures of them. It is curious that in an era when we sheepishly allow our own government examine and store every private phone call, email, web click, and credit card purchase we make, we still haul off if someone takes our picture in a public space. No matter. Either way, they get out the Refuge and stop killing things. Mission accomplished.
But these were birds I had not experienced before. When these young ladies realized I was taking pictures, they turned things up to eleven. They clearly saw me. They clearly looked at me, giggled, and waved. Then they clearly whispered to each other. And then clearly began disrobing. And for that, they make the Readings.
But to the point: Where did these young women choose to celebrate their femininty and glorify their beauty? Of all the places on this Island, they chose the Wildest place of all: the totally off-limits, protected wilderness area at Holgate. And tonight when they post their photos to Facebook or Instagram, and someone inevitably comments “Why would you take that picture in the marsh at sunset?” they will probably respond “Just Because! It’s Awesome!”
While it is always saddening to see humans trample the refuge, we can find hope in this: these ladies will one day ask themselves why these photos they took are so much more beautiful than the other hundreds like it they probably took in the past. Perhaps they’ll figure out that it is a protected Wilderness Area. Perhaps they’ll ask why and they’ll learn about the things that live there. And if they keep asking “Whyld?” we might just be looking at some half nude future conservationists. That’s all it takes.
Find your place, and keep asking yourself, “Whyld?”