Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Today I am a birder.

I got up on Sunday at 7am to spend the whole day watching birds. Usually I only get up early on weekends to go skiing, so this is a big deal for me. Tonia somehow got me interested enough in birdwatching over the last couple of years that not only did I get up, but I was the one who actually discovered this trip and signed us up for it. We went out to the Sac. River delta - specifically, to the Isenberg Crane Reserve and Cosumnes River Wildlife Reserve, about a 90-minute drive from SF. A group of about 25 was guided by knowledgeable and friendly guide, Harry, who does this for fun. You wouldn't think it would be entertaining to walk around and look at birds through binoculars--in fact I used to think it would be boring--but it's actually pretty interesting. As Tonia points out, they are interesting to look at, often cute, don't ask anything in return, and have remarkably modest resource needs--even a bush in a park often yields an interesting bird or two. And the financial barrier to entry is surprisingly low--there's all kinds of volunteer groups, Yahoo groups, etc. about local birding, and even city dwellers tend to live fairly close to interesting birding areas--making a pair of binoculars and a The Sibley Guide to Birds a good Christmas present for a curious person. The amazing thing is that not only did I find it fun, I've actually learned to identify some birds on my own, and not just pigeons. A partial list (from memory!) of what we saw, with italics meaning I identified it, include sandhill crane, snipe, red-tailed hawk, marsh hawk, peregrine falcon, common yellowthroat, ruby-crowned kinglet, short-billed dowitcher, black-necked stilt, Canada goose, white-fronted goose, moorhen, coot, cinnamon teal, bufflehead, northern shoveler, western meadowlark, marsh wren, wigeon, golden-crowned sparrow, American kestrel, and some kind of plover which I don't remember. Today's lesson: be willing to try anything once. I had a surprisingly good time even though it was an all-day (9am-3pm) outing. And I'd go again.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'm getting a new piano today!

2007 non-resolutions: blog more, code more, do a great job as an Altarena Playhouse board member, do great research in the Berkeley RAD Lab. Yep, I'm upgrading from a really good piano (Steinway Model M) to an insanely great one (Steinway Model A). How can I justify the added cost? I can't. It's a luxury. But hey, people spend more money than this on cars, and this will last longer, get used more, and bring us a lot more joy. The big lesson from this experience is how hard it is to let go of an instrument. As much as I'm looking forward to the superior tone and action of the Model A (hey, it better be, for the trade-up price!), Tonia and I were both surprised at how attached we've become to our little M. It's hard to dissociate the physical instrument from the memories that surround it - we've celebrated three Christmases with friends singing around it, had impromptu concerts and jams, rehearsed musicals, and I've certainly poured out my sorrows to it over the occasional bourbon. I even wrote a Paddington-bear-style "Please take care of this piano" letter to accompany it to the Walnut Creek Sherman Clay store, where it'll be touched up and sold as a previously-owned piano. I think it wouldn't be quite the same with a smaller/portable/solo instrument - the piano is necessarily stationary, so the action comes to it. It becomes part of the scenery, part of the house, part of the furniture. And as much of a Steinway fan as I am, I have no doubt, knowing what i know now, that it would've been the same with any brand that was at least reasonably good. You'd think after playing piano for almost 35 years, I would have known to expect that level of emotional attachment to a particular instrument. You learn something new every day.