Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, October 5, 2007

Cartersville, Georgia

Wow I'm tired. I left Chicago at 7 am CDT, and got to Cartersville, Georgia at 9 EDT. I'd have gotten past Atlanta except for two accidents that put traffic at a standstill for quite a while--they both looked really bad. Plus there was a horrific accident going the opposite way outside Chicago. I've reached a point where I don't even mind going at a snail's pace in these situations--it hardly seems an inconvenience in light of what the poor people IN the accident are going through.

How did I occupy my mind during the long, lonely drive? I always watch for birds, of course--lots of Turkey Vultures and a couple of Black Vultures, lots of Red-tailed Hawks, a kestrel and a Broad-wing, plenty of Blue Jays and crows, a few blackbird flocks, some robins, bazillions of starlings and pigeons. My favorite bird of the day was the Pileated Woodpecker that flew over the highway in southern Indiana. I tossed out a few crumbs at a rest stop for the House Sparrows. I did my first ornithology class paper about House Sparrow foraging behavior where people toss them food, back in 1975. Today's House Sparrows follow the same pattern, with the female investigating first, and males coming in after it's clear she has a suitable meal. Reminds me of Betty the New Caledonian Crow, who makes tools to pull food out of a tube. Her mate gets food the easy way--he waits for Betty to pull it out, and then he "shares."

While on the road, I played "the odometer game." This is a game of my own devising. It is impossible to play with a brand new car--you need at least 3 digits on the odometer, and it gets easier when you have 4 or 5 digits and easiest when you have 6, which is what I had today. You have to make an equation using those numbers, in order, adding whatever symbols you need to make both sides equal. For example, if the odometer reads 113709, you could write 1x(-1+3) = -7+0+9, or 1=1x(3+7)+0-9 The trick is, if you're going exactly 60 mph, you have exactly one minute at most from the time you notice the numbers till you have to have a workable equation--then the odometer clicks to the next number. It's a quintessentially geeky game, but it keeps the extra spaces of my brain occupied while I'm tooling along singing to my iPod, watching birds, blinking my lights at passing trucks who need to get in in front of me, and overall trying to drive safely. I love how Birdchick tries and succeeds at "show[ing] the world that you can be a birder without being a geek." We NEED non-geeky role models in birding. But just because you can be a birder without being a geek doesn't mean you CAN'T be a geek, and I am living proof.

I'm getting shockingly good mileage. From Duluth to Rocky Rococo's in Arlington, WI, I got 50 mpg. From Rocky's to somewhere in Indiana, I got 54. From there to close to Chattanooga, Tennessee, I got 57. The first ten miles after that fill-up, I got 99.9! Well, that was all downhill. But I'm 120 miles past that fill up now and still averaging 60 mpg. Not bad, Toyota. I do wish the company was supporting efforts to raise the American auto fleet's overall mileage. Oh, well.