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A Bird’s Eye View: June 11, 2010

Rain Is June Theater

I find watching spring rain to be soothing, mood enhancing and something in which I can lose myself. Last June, however, the total amount of rain that fell was 10.06 inches, more than twice the average for the month. The constant rain took an emotional toll on people, which a New York Times article referred to as “rain rage.” However, for much of the month I saw the rain as something that created theater in non-theatrical settings.

Rain as Theater

On a Saturday morning while turning on the TV for the rain report, my wife and I accidentally come across the U.S. Open being played in the rain at nearby Bethpage State Park. We don’t know a thing about golf except that it’s a game played with a little white ball that grown men try to gently roll into a small hole after blasting it a few hundred yards with a metal stick onto a well-mowed grass surface called a green. We’ve both heard of Tiger Woods and are familiar with Phil Mickelson’s name, but that’s about it. That the game is being played in drizzle doesn’t draw my empathy as birders face the same elements, without caddies to haul their equipment or hold umbrellas.

The metal sticks have names like three iron, driver and wedge but all look the same to me. I perk up when the terminology turns avian. When an announcer refers to a “birdie” I wonder where the birdies are? At the mention of an “eagle” I’m genuinely surprised. What bird of prey with any sense of self-preservation would be flying around while hard little white balls are being launched higher than treetops? “Bogey?” Why are they mentioning the Hollywood icon who starred in the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon? But soon we both become intrigued because the game is literally being played in the shadow of rain clouds, as well as uncertainty about when the tournament will end. This is drama.

What initially gets me is that the conditions outside my window are the same as those perhaps 10 miles away at Bethpage. The trees really catch my eye. These look exactly like the same ones that I see while scanning for arriving spring migrant birds. The ”rough,” as overgrown grass is called, makes me wonder. These guys just step into it, whereas birders would be concerned about ticks. It isn’t just that the game is played in the elements, just as birding is done, that gains my admiration. It is the minimalist nature of a sport played over long distances, attempting to sink the most balls with the fewest strokes. By the time the round is over, I’m a fan of the people who play the game and those who came to trudge, stand and watch, some in raingear and boots, just like birders.

Rain as Dinner Theater

My wife and I sit with friends upstairs in a Roslyn restaurant, which faces a large pond. It’s early evening after a movie and tables are filling with families celebrating graduations, a reminder that June used to be known for graduations and weddings, not daily downpours. Outside, tall trees thick with leaves sway in the wind. The leaves turn pale as they are bent in one direction and become dark as they bend in another. The lake’s surfacing is wind-whipped except for a small smooth area. Is that the water’s surface?

Off to the north, impending rain is arriving on dark, ominous looking clouds, the edges of which are almost black. Canada geese fly from the pond with urgency. A lone gull patrols the sky above the pond. For what? The rain comes hard as drops rise up from the surface of the black roof just outside the window. In the water there’s a large oval mound of unmoving white feathers. If we could see below the rain pelted surface, there would be a long tubular neck attached to that mass with a face that has a prominent orange bill. A mute swan is dining on aquatic plants, and it didn’t need a reservation.

Occasional long, thin branches of bright lightning flash across the sky, assaulting one’s eyes. Some mallards fly in groups of two or five. The mute swan’s head is up, being peppered with raindrops as our food arrives. Maybe it likes the rain? Maybe it tolerates the rain? Maybe it’s eying our turkey burgers? Our window seats for the downpour have made us momentarily forget our hunger. As we eat and wait for the rain to pass, I keep an eye on the pond. The best show in town is still playing.

Caught in a Downpour

A mile from home, I feel the first drops. Not to worry, I think, Channel 61, “Know Before You Go,” said it would rain this afternoon and it’s still morning. I find that reassuring. However, no one seems to have told the small brown birds that are hi-tailing it. They always seem to know when rain is coming. At worst I tell myself there’ll be a fine mist or light drizzle for the last mile. On Woodbury Road, Meyers Farm Stand and field look idyllic under darkening skies. The rain gets heavier, wetting the street, however under the canopy of trees where I’m walking, the sidewalk is bone dry.

Going up a hill, the covering isn’t as good, but I’m still relatively dry. At the top of the hill, less than a quarter-mile from home I run out of trees and luck at the same time. Drops come down so hard that they bounce back up. A lone robin stands near some cars looking shocked. Maybe it also believed the forecast. Once home, I watch as the heavens open up. Perhaps someone, cozy and dry, may be looking at the street beginning to flood and think it’s theater. At the moment I’m just wet.