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June 13, 2011

I was struck down by a virus this past weekend (the kind where you’re neither sick enough to garner proper sympathy nor well enough to do much other than lie in bed feeling utterly sorry for yourself). Instead of contributing to my own Life List, I stayed home and did the next best thing. I engaged in some serious armchair traveling and read The Big Year by Mark Obmascik — a riveting page-turner of a book about three obsessed birders’ quest to see as many birds as humanly possible in North America. (In case you’re not familiar with the meaning of a Big Year — it’s a year long, highly competitive super-human birdwatching marathon. Not for the weak.) Obmascik took me all over the US, from New Jersey to Florida to Arizona to Alaska to Minnesota, to BC and showed me a grand total of 745 species!

The book is nonfiction and the characters entirely spectacular in their ambition, drive, unwavering concentration and total obsession with their quest to see more birds than any human before them. I loved getting to know the birders — watching them in the field, living vicariously through their excitement as they added to their list, fearful of their competitors, terrified of losing their standing. These men stopped at nothing. Mark Obmascik does a great job of adding humor to the Big Year enterprise; he highlights the absurdity of obsessive birding but also emphasizes its sincerity. In the end, the Big Year becomes a noble pursuit, and I found myself rooting for all three protagonists, not wanting their journey to end.

And, guess what? This October, The Big Year is coming to a theatre near you, starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson. Diane Wiest and Anjelica Huston!

It wasn’t quite the same as being out in the field, but it was a decent substitute.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 11:51 pm

    Julia, I am stalking your blog. You are such a great storyteller!

    Perhaps, one day I will take the time to bird watch. I will probably find it difficult, which is a shame of course. For me, it is a way of living in the moment and God knows I really suck at that. I think it is the OCD part of me that gets in the way.


    • June 15, 2011 11:16 am

      Thanks so much for reading, Oksana! That’s actually one of the reasons I started birding — to work on patience and living in the moment.

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