Catbird Seat: Free as a Bird

by Pete Dunne; Illustration by Jeff Sipple
birdwatching is free

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I am an early riser. You know. Up with the birds. Early enough to catch what color sweater Sharon Resultan is wearing on the Weather Channel (a fashion statement mostly directed at West Coast viewers). Early enough to see all the “infomercials” that have taken the entertainment out of late-night television.

If you still think that Wee Willie Winkie hour TV is home to old John Wayne movies and Jay Leno types, then you’ve got Rip Van Winkle’s blood running in your veins.

Sorry to disappoint. But in this vain, material (but cash-strapped) age, off-hour spots on almost every cable channel are dedicated to trying to convince me that if I just buy whatever it is they’re selling, my life will finally be complete and I’ll be as smart, good looking, and happy as the person doing the selling.

Chuck Norris, for one.

What products?

Vacuum cleaners so powerful they can raise a hickey on a bowling ball. Pills that promise to arouse Freudian envy. Patented plans that will make me rich by buying the same real estate that made somebody else poor. Knives forged on the Klingon home planet that are big enough to fillet a dinosaur. A whole assortment of pills, exercise plans, and torture devices that will help me take the weight off that I put on buying the food preparation devices sold on bracketing channels, not to mention purging elixirs that will finally give me the innard peace that has so long eluded me.

Although I’ve long subscribed to the principle that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I confess I never considered that there was more than one route.

So there it is—all laid out in a single run through the channel menu. All the things I can’t live without in order to lead the life I never dreamed of.

All I have to do is buy something!

Horse feathers.

You want happiness? Go birding. It won’t cost you a dime. Birds are free.

Free. Spelled: F R E EEEEE . . .

Elixirs and pills and the latest thing in the 4,000-year-old art of cosmetics have got nothing on something as beautiful as a Northern Cardinal.

And what gut-busting exercise machine is worth the sight of a plunge-diving Northern Gannet or a boiling cloud of Broad-winged Hawks, or a bog-pumping American Bittern?

And when it comes to instilling envy, well, I’ll bet your average American Woodcock can raise more earthworms through its straw-like bill than you can suck up with any industrial strength vacuum.

Free! No strain on your credit card. No storage problem in the shed. No stress wondering whether exercise machines are accepted by curbside pickup.

The only thing that would make watching birds better would be for birders to receive a subsidy (which, in my case, sometimes is the case) or, perhaps, figure out how to watch birds from the comfort of your living-room recliner.

Which, come to think of it, you can! Exchange your remote for binoculars. Drag the recliner away from the plasma screen and up to a window. You even have your choice of four channels: north, south, east, and west.

Of course, for your ultimate bird viewing pleasure you’ll want to keep your window glass sparkling clean, and how much do you want to bet that there is something being sold on TV that is guaranteed to purge dirt from your pane?

Something that will make windows so clear that they make unpolluted air seem opaque. Windows so clear you’ll be able to see nothing better than anything.

Buy in the next 10 minutes and I’ll bet they’ll super-size that order for you.


Of course, you can always just open the window. Then you’ll be able to hear birds for free as well as see them.

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