It’s almost December, and that means that it’s fall cleaning time at Hacienda Hudson. About this time every year, my bride gently reminds me that it’s time to sort through all the lovingly acquired treasures that I have managed to accumulate during the previous 11 months. Well, okay, she may not describe them exactly that way, and there may be a little more force behind that gentle reminder than I’m letting on here.

But you get the idea. The coming of December means it’s time to clean things out.

I always start this annual adventure in neatness with the very best of intentions. I have a plan, and I’m on a mission. But my good intentions usually last only until — wait. What’s that? Are those my old binoculars?

Sure enough, that’s exactly what they are. Man, I haven’t seen those in a while! I got them many years ago when my friend Price finally convinced me that it would be fun to take up birdwatching. 

Ellie the Mini Schnauzer is helping me do the cleaning, and she wanders over to sniff the old binoculars. There’s a little dust on one of the lenses (that’s the lens cap I lost in south Georgia back about 1985), but a quick touch with the lens cleaner (yes, it’s still in the binocular case) and everything is again bright and clear as new.

Those binoculars bring back memories. Price and I used them in Arizona on an epic week-long (or was it two weeks – it’s hard to remember the details) birdwatching adventure that took us into the mountains one day and across the desert the next. Price was leader and chief birder. I was documentarian with a case full of camera gear and lots and lots of Kodachrome. Yes, film. Ahh, the good old days.

We found and observed all sorts of birds, and we encountered other things too. One was a place thick with hummingbirds, so many that they seemed to fill the air with buzzing, flitting, flying gemstones. No ruby or emerald was ever as spectacular.

And then there was the rattlesnake.  

It was the day after the hummingbird extravaganza. Price and I were booking it down a backcountry trail, bound for what we had been told was some of the best birdwatching we’d find. Price was moving purposefully about 10 feet in front of me when suddenly he froze mid-step with one foot in the air. Then slowly he went into reverse, backing up…backing up…and then I saw what had stopped him, coiled in mid-path, its retreat blocked by a fallen log.  

I got some really good photos of that snake. 

Later, showing them to my wife, I first basked in the oohs and ahhs and affirmations that “those are great shots!” Then she got quiet for a minute, realizing just where I had to have been to get those photos.

“Just how close were you to that snake?” she asked me. Wisely, I changed the subject.

I put a lot of light through those binoculars on that trip to Arizona, and I used them many times over the next couple of years. Florida…California…even Alaska…they traveled with me, and I never got tired of their ability to compress distance and space. It never failed to amaze me how they’d put me right next to birds, every feather revealed in razor-sharp detail.

Hefting the binoculars, I notice that there’s a robin hopping around in the back yard not far from the basement door. Why not? I ease the door open and slip outside, the binoculars hanging around by neck. I raise them to my eyes and twiddle with the eyepiece adjustment. It’s sticking a bit, not surprising after all those years.

Eventually the bird eases into focus, center-stage in a magnified universe that’s bolder than reality itself. I’ve seen a zillion robins in my day, but looking at one through binoculars never gets old.

And then comes the fateful thought: What else needs to be seen today? 

“Let’s go see what we can find!” I say to the pup. I clip her leash to her collar, grab a sweater, and off we go to the wilds of Wills Park. Ellie is remarkably well behaved as we walk the main loop around the park, diverting at one point to follow the footpath along the little creek that meanders through the park’s disk golf course. I spot birds, and I look at them. Ellie spies a squirrel, and I look at it too. Those old binoculars remind me how much fun it is to see things, to really see them, and pretty soon a couple of hours have clicked by and are gone.

Uh-oh, I tell myself as the pup and I turn at last for home. I could have gotten a lot of cleaning done in that couple of hours. 

But I sure did have fun with the old binoculars.

As we cross Wills Road on the last leg of our adventure, it occurs to me that my bride was asking me just that morning what I’d like for Christmas.

Hmmm. That was fun, looking for birds. And these binoculars really are kind of old, and I hear they’ve come a long way with optics over the last 30 years…

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