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Birds of a Feather
by Tom Thomson

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There is a kind of rare magic evident in the lives of a growing segment of our population today. It has to do with their interest in wild birds and the numerous spin-offs that originate from that interest.

This sorcery enables those affected to transcend everyday life and, at least partially, to escape the humdrum work-a-day existence. It beckons one from his or her own backyard to the great outdoors. The call of this siren is so strong that on a weekend spring day for those affected it is well nigh impossible to work indoors or, for that matter, stay at home. The study, or the pursuit of birds, inevitably leads to ever greater adventures and to trips further and further afield.

For such neophytes, hundreds, if not thousands, of books are available in bookstores and libraries on every aspect of ornithology and birding. And then, it doesn't take long to discover the vast array of books on other phases of natural history.

Attending natural history lectures and going on organized field trips is also an excellent way to broaden one's interests and pick up a lot of useful knowledge. But in the long run, for hands-on-learning, there's no substitute for just going out-of-doors at every opportunity and opening one's eyes.

In this collection of essays, along with relating my own experiences, it has been my pleasure to introduce a number of naturalists I have had the good fortune of knowing, and others who I have encountered through my own reading.

As I lament in the pages to come, there is so much to learn that one lifetime is barely enough time to scratch the surface. No wonder that the best time to get interested in birds - or any other discipline of natural history - is at an early age. The early teens would seem to be ideal. In my own case, I was fifteen.

Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that the world-just as it is-is miracle enough. It is a fantastic place and the process by which it came about and continues to function is equally amazing-and equally absurd and beautiful and abhorrent and wonderful and intriguing and unbelievable and sad and enchanting.

It is absolutely more incredible-just as it is-than all the myths and allegories invented by the minds of human beings.

To my way of thinking, the secret of abiding here with any satisfactory degree of happiness is to accept everything as it is. Most of all- and this is a hard lessen to learn-this earth is a place where birth and death are the sole arbiters. Perhaps that's why, for me, birds have come to symbolize the beauty-and the fragility-of all life on this mortal coil.

For a good many years, I have had the good fortune to share my thoughts with many other people. Sometimes ideas would materialize or restructure themselves in conversations with friends or impromptu discussions on birding hikes that I have led in the Clear Creek Valley and up on Lake Erie. At other times, inspiration would come in the middle of the night or, not infrequently, in the early hours of morning.

Some of the essays in this book are drawn from articles that appeared in The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus Citizen-Journal, and a number of periodicals. Other material is derived from commentaries that were aired between 1988 and 1995 on National Public Radio's Columbus outlet, WOSU-AM. But the preponderance of material was written expressly for this collection.

A good many but not nearly all of the pieces in the book concern themselves in one way or another with the Clear Creek Valley in Hocking County, Ohio. But, I would like to stress, a considerable number don't, because like in the old song Don't Fence Me In, that's just the way things should be.

Basically, everything in this book is true-even the flights of fancy are true in their own way because if they didn't happen, they might have, somewhere, sometime.

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