There are people known to some of us as non-birding spouses. They share neither interest in nor enthusiasm for birds. If you’re just filling feeders in the backyard, no problem. If one of your favorite vacation destinations is Nome, Alaska, then it’s something else. Nome is a wonderful place for birds, but offers few diversions for someone trying to kill a week while the birder birds.
I’m about to celebrate the beginning of my 34th year of marriage to my favorite birding companion, my wife. She likes and has a lasting enthusiasm for birds. She also understands being married to a birder, an important thing. When I tell her I’ll stop birding and be home for supper at six o’clock she knows that more than likely means seven or eight. Years ago, when we were partners in business, she never blinked when I left her to manage things alone while I took extended trips to Alaska or Arizona or Texas.
Sometimes, she came along. That depended much on the quality of the accommodations involved. She wants basic travel amenities, not always available in certain birding locations.
Early one summer she went with friends and me to Nome. The first part of the trip was to be spent on St. Lawrence Island, 200 miles off the Alaskan coast in the Bering Sea. She chose to stay in Nome and bird by herself. By telephone she booked a room in a bed and breakfast. The plane from Anchorage, on which we arrived, and the plane to the island, on which I was to depart, were separated by an hour. Jude and I quickly rented a well-worn Chevy Suburban (it had about 30 degrees of play in the steering wheel). We went to find the b&b. Neither of us could remember its name. We drove around. Departure to the island became very soon. This looked like it might be an ultimate test for us as birding spouses, her sleeping three nights in the Chevy.
We stopped at a randomly chosen b&b to ask for a telephone book. When she introduced herself she heard, “Good to see you, Jude. Your room is ready.” I made the plane with 10 minutes to spare. (Would I have stayed in Nome to help her find a place to stay, and missed the daily flight to the island? Would I have asked her to work it out after she waved me goodbye? We’ll never know.)
She had a good time in Nome, birding a couple of those days until two or three in the morning (it never gets dark in Nome in the summer). She found a Rosy Finch, a bird I’ve never seen and probably never will. It’s the only bird on her list that’s not on mine.
When friends and I returned we all rode the Suburban 70 miles out of town, to the end of the Kougarok Road for a long slog into the tundra wilderness to look for a Bristle-thighed Curlew. That’s a target bird if you get to Nome. We found it, too, one of the better birds she and I have seen together. And when on the way back to town I fell asleep and drove the van off the road into a very rocky ditch, she did not say, “Give me the keys.” (Actually, she might have, but someone beat her to it.)
I’m a most fortunate birder to be married to someone who not only shares my life but also one of my passions. Birding – and life -- would be a lot less fun without her.