I spent the last few moments of 2016 not in Adak, not in some forest hoping for an owl but at Papagayo, in Club Orient Resort on the French side of St Martin, FWI well out of the ABA area (old or new). I was dancing in a throng of people initially wearing less in total than I had carried onto the island in my carry-on suitcase, and mind you it was mostly filled with books. I was dressed up, well sort of, I was wearing my signature red bow-tie, and well, I had on Crocks. By 1155 PM, the dance crowd, due to the heat and the inhibitory relaxing effects of alcohol, were wearing even less, if that could be possible. My wife and I danced to "Say you say, me" Lionel Richie's signature hit, one I could sing karaoke to from my days in college if I had to. We danced and people watched. You always subconsciously people watch here, otherwise you might miss something.
The manager came on and started the count down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6....finally in was officially 2017 at least in Atlantic Standard time, my year was over. My wife hugged me and kissed me. As we left the dance floor to walk out to the beach to see the fireworks, my wife grabbed my hand and said, "I'm glad to have you back."
I felt warm inside. "I'm glad to be back." I said as the first explosion of fireworks echoed near me. "I can guarantee you one thing....I'm never doing that again." I said and then thinking our kids were missing out I left her to find the rest of our family to enjoy the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 together. When it was over, I said, "I'm tired, it is the end of a very, a very long day."
It seems a little odd and surreal having a picture of me with my number on a sign celebrating a USA record wearing nothing but a Calgary Flames Hat and standing on French soil, but that is where I am today. My day is full of conflicts.
I spent the first day of 2017 like I have all but one year in the last decade, on the south end of Orient Beach watching tanned and red toned and saggy bodies walk past me while I lounged under my yellow umbrella. I watched some people with obvious tan lines, others proudly showing off their lack there of, and a few gawkers dreaming of having enough fortitude to do what the rest of us are doing...enjoying the beach and the ocean. I sat there drinking a Carib, toasting my life. I was really and truly living the dream.
Thinking about it with a detached reflection on what was...I had basically wasted a year of my life chasing and counting birds. I really had. It can't describe it any other way. Others had also done this, and spent much more money than I had. If I had expected some added sort of epiphany or revelation about the year or life, it wasn't forthcoming. I knew it would never come. I ended my 2013 nude big year saying in my book Boobies, Peckers, and Tits...
"On numerous occasions, my nude Big Year forced me out of comfort zone, and I believe we all need to push ourselves into something new at least once in our lives. If I have any advice after this adventure, it is to live a little. Try that new job, write a book, or start your own adventure. Life is too serious (I will add in 2016 birders are too serious), and we are often too concerned about what the neighbors might think or what something might cost. If that is the case, I'd advise you to get new neighbors, realize that life is worth living, and know that some things are priceless."
Here again 3 years later, after an even more involved effort, one that most of the local people here truly couldn't understand, I still agree with this.
As I said, very few people can or will appreciate what I did. My family would be included in this. There is no award, no call of congratulations, and I received and will receive nothing for this except....bills, Diamond Medallion status on Delta Airlines, a new cat, a significant ankle injury, and the worst, a cabin with significantly damaged plumbing. It will also take me some time to purge the bird chasing out of me and go on with life and onto my next fun thing, whatever that is. One just can't stop traveling cold turkey and besides, I have the highest elite status on Delta this year, I will never have that again.
Many of you may not believe what I saw, what I did, or what I write. Who really is this Olaf %%$$# anyhow? My answer to you is, I don't care. I got better things to do than to make up birds or to pad my life list for no apparent purpose. I am not writing a book on my year except maybe a how to manual on doing a big year as the one in publication is old and needs help. I raced through the non -coded birds fast and easily. My plan was sound for that. I am writing a birder mass murder mystery, which may or not be any good--too early to tell. "Counting Owls" I am 60% finished and I am using some experiences from my year for places to knock off birders. Back to my year though, in summary, this year was not about or for you, sorry there. This was not about the ABA. This was not about a record, this was not even about making sure anyone who beat me had to waste a lot of money (much more than I did) that could be used for better purposes than to get a number that coincidentally, the ABA inadvertently made somewhat meaningless and hollow by adding Hawaii to the area in 2017. Next year, with Hawaii, one could crush any ABA mark above 780 getting 725 old ABA birds and go to Hawaii and could do it by August 1 without breaking much of a sweat. I f I learned anything about this year, I learned this is my list and my hobby. 200 birds, 600 birds, 800 birds....in the scheme of life, really and truly...big deal.
This was not even about setting some sort of bar for those new 2017 checklist guys, and it wasn't even really about me waiting out a non-compete/quiet agreement I may or may not have signed in 2015. I can't say. To be honest I don't really yet even know what this year was about. I did it, I persisted and now, it is over. I'm a mostly retired 50 year old fat guy, with too much time on my hands. Now, this done, I can go on with my writing, my art history work, I can get my tan back, and well, I can catch more and bigger fish. Gosh I want a big pike on a line right now.
Further, I doubt very much that my phone will ring or I will get emails inviting me to speak (although it is said I have never met a podium I didn't like) but I am speaking in Minnesota in four weeks and later at my Alma Mater, so I better figure out what this year is truly about. I fully expect to talk mostly about Hawaii, and the plight of the birds there to raise awareness...that is the least I can do. Maybe it is about that? I will also talk about my grandmother Lucille D, still with us now nearing 92 years of age and she was able to participate last year and see the record Blanding's turtle with us. The best bird of the year will not even be a bird...it will be a turtle, a huge ancient turtle, so old, nobody can even guess how old it truly is. That will be the story to remember 2016 by. I hope to spend some quality time visiting her and her feeders in 2017. I may not have many winters left with her.
As I sit here reflecting about I saw where I went what I did....the numbers are a blur, I will post the total one more time.............I'm sort of embarrassed to do it.
AMERICAN (USA) Big year: 827 (plus one, pine flycatcher)
Bishop Museum established list HI
I sit here watching my personal goddess emerge from the sea looking more like Venus than even the goddess herself could and I smile. Life is good. I pulled up my bins to scour the sea for brown or the occasional red-footed booby (I have seen two here, and not just naked women wearing red shoes either) but then put them down. I reflect some more. I am sitting right where I belong, not at a wild life refuge in Texas, not a nearly forgotten Yupik settlement on a barren island, and not even camped out at a feeder in someone's back yard in Oregon. I belong here. Right here!
My goal for 2016 was to find myself and all along, it is here on this lovely beach with the sun kissing my pale sun-starved skin that I have. I have a wonderful life, and I am living a dream. My wife loves me and I have three great children. I still even have my grandmother around. One of my children comes up and give me a hug. "We miss you dad, we are glad you are down here with us."
"I'm glad I am too," I said. "I skipped Adak because I didn't want to miss New Years here if the weather got bad. That would have been the worst thing all year." It is true.
"We are all glad you didn't go, too, dad. It would be terrible if you weren't here." This happy young adult ran off to meet up with a sibling. They are ordering hamburgers for lunch. I shout an order. "No cheese!" I shout.
Then I see a brown booby fly across the bay, hugging the small, foot high waves, before heading off around the point and out to sea....it is bird number 8 for the new year.........but I guess, who really is counting?
Happy New (Nude) Year
PS. Thanks everyone for all of your help and support in 2016!!
Here again, is the bird of the year.......and it isn't even a bird.