What do you say about the most wonderful daughter in the known universe?
- The pre-schooler who helped me care for a cat-injured baby Pine Siskin. It stayed indoors for a couple of months, then went out with Katie every morning, sat on her finger when she played on the swing set or rode her tricycle, and learned to socialize with the neighborhood siskins while still under our protection.
Katie and the Pine Siskin--it always flew in at bedtime.
Every night it came in to sleep in Katie’s room until one sad day the little siskin moved on with the neighborhood flock. The piano song Katie was learning that week just happened to be titled “Little Bird,” and she was supposed to sing the words as she played to develop her sense of the rhythm of the music. I remember coming in on her, her tiny legs dangling at the piano bench as she played each note, singing, “Little bird, little bird, please don’t fly away. Little bird, little bird, stay and sing all day,” tears flowing from her eyes. The following spring when Katie was riding her tricycle, in flew an adult Pine Siskin, wild and free, who alighted on her finger and looked into her eyes as if to thank her or tell her it was fine or to make sure its little girl was doing okay. We never saw it again, but that sublime moment gave us everything we needed.
- The first grader who wrote about her mommy when she was supposed to write about her biggest hero.
- The little girl who was there at my side whenever an injured bird came in, who happened to be the only one home with me when a nighthawk with a badly mangled wing arrived. She held it in her tiny hands, just firmly enough, while I taped its wing in place. Blood poured from the wound onto her pink “My Little Pony” shirt and pants but she didn’t flinch. She was holding her head awkwardly to the side and I asked if something was wrong, but she just said she wanted to make sure her tears wouldn’t drip on him.
- The teenager who recorded a bunch of songs on the piano simply because I needed background music for some of my silly “California Ravens” songs for my radio program. If she found the odd assortment of songs I needed peculiar, or was mortified by her mom singing "Bohemian Rhapsojay" on the radio where people could hear it, she never mentioned it.
- The high school student who spent a week with me in Costa Rica. When we crossed a long suspension bridge in Monteverde, her natural inclination was to run across, but she moved slowly and deliberately to keep the bridge from swaying, knowing my fear of heights. We explored several places, enjoying butterflies, sea turtles laying eggs, lizards, monkeys, and of course birds. A handsome young waiter named Juan Carlos at the hotel where we stayed at the beginning and end of our trip was utterly smitten with my pretty daughter—he would sit at our table with us and practice English every evening, and he gave us each a little souvenir—I still keep that Keel-billed Toucan on my desk.
- The sweet young woman who remembered how much I loved the Michigan State basketball team of my college days and managed to find an autographed trading card of my all-time favorite player, Gary Ganakas, for my birthday.
- The cool and clever daughter who brought home in her checked luggage from New York City nine bottles of beer with birds on the labels as another birthday gift. She created “The Bird Beer Game” by drawing a map of the world with nine places labeled, and photocopied the birds from the labels. I had to match a bird with its place on the map to win the bottle of beer. That was the start of my bird beer bottle collection, to which she has furnished the majority of bottles.
It’s not just a simple page—she’s set up the database so anyone searching any species can find a link to all my photos of it on flickr, any articles I’ve written about it, any sounds I may have recorded, and any past radio programs I’ve done about it. She currently has the entire system integrated with the American Ornithologists’ Union Checklist of North AmericanBirds, but will soon have it integrated with eBird instead, so it can tie into my photos and recordings of birds on other continents as well. And it’s so functionally designed that now after I produce a new program, it will be several steps shorter for me to put it on my webpage and podcast it. I have a ways to go to digitize and upload programs from past years, but as I do, it’ll be quick and easy to get them integrated into the database.
If the database is extraordinarily well built, the design of the page is just as wonderful—Katie chose a color palette based on chickadees, and asked her partner Michael to design some chickadees for the background using some of my chickadee photos that she selected. Now they’re both tweaking the page so it shows up as well as possible on tablets, phones, and all browsers.
It’s astonishingly cool to realize how much this dear baby, little girl, and now woman loves me and respects my work, to have invested so much thought, time, expertise, and painstaking work into creating something this extraordinary, just because I’m her mom.
The first time I held her in my arms, I felt so strongly what a gift this tiny person was. Day after day, year after year, she's been the gift that keeps on giving.