|Gandalf seeks his old comrade Bilbo for a birding adventure|
I knew I had found him, pulling up next to the battered Subaru. There was no mistaking the “Do You eBird?” and “Sea Level is for Sissies” bumper stickers. The lad himself appeared a moment later. Marcel and I were both cute and nerdy high schoolers when our paths first crossed. I hadn’t seen him in years.
|Right to left: Marcel Such, Joel Such, me. June 2010|
Some things never change. He still saunters. Anything mildly funny still shatters his smirk into a goofy grin. But other things change. Now he’s a longboarding hipster dirtbag who uses lingo such as “dank” and “straight G.” I suppose I could be described in a similar fashion, just with a less edgy parlance and no longboard.
Arguably homeless between leases, Marcel explained that we would head to BLM land in the hills for the night. That was fine by me. I love camping. And! These hills seethe with Gunnison Sage-Grouse, only described as a species within our short lifetimes, rare enough to make the palms perspire.
We jolted along dirt tracks, hoping for a road grouse. Then we switched our strategy and walked into the sagebrush, dust underfoot, desiccated branches clawing our calves. I eyed the buxom Leicas riding Marcel’s hip.
“Sexy bins,” I said.
It took a moment to register. Then I realized that Marcel was brandishing a celebrity binocular, Travis the Traveling Trinovid! I was star-struck. My own tattered Trins fawned in the presence of greatness.
|Can't refuse a photo op with celebrity optics|
Light receding, we returned to the car for further cruising. Up a hill, down a two-track. Darkness fell. Meadowlarks warbled in the gloaming. I noticed a smudge in the two-track ahead of us—a bush? No—an ambulatory smudge! The grouse scurried into the brush, then flushed as the car approached. It was the first Gunnison Sage-Grouse I’d ever seen. Marcel punched me in celebration.
|The desolate haunts of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse|
We repaired to our bivouac, a site we shared with Marcel’s friend Cam. Around the fire, Cam recounted Marcel’s stint as a mercenary in the World Series of Birding. A Wall Street sugar daddy flew him to New Jersey at the last possible moment to join his team. From Cam’s perspective, he was losing Marcel forever. Young Marcel, foolish Marcel, boarding a plane, beguiled by the promise of making a few bucks, only to be dismembered in a dark saltmarsh, losing his vital organs to the black market. At least in his last moments he would hear Black Rails…
We swapped stories late into the night. Then we peed on the coals and the three of us retired to Cam’s two-man tent for the night. Road wearied, I slid into a gradual sleep. Breeze battered the fly. As my neurons punched the clock, I questioned the real purpose of the rain fly—to repel droplets or amplify night sounds.
Marcel and I awoke when the strengthening sun raised the tent’s temperature to a swelter. Cam had left hours earlier for an epic bike ride. We spent the day the way you might expect from hipster dirtbag birders—nursing coffee at the café from which Marcel lusts employment, eating poptarts garnished with peanut butter, bumming around the university, and, of course, looking for birds.
After another night of three-man spooning under the Sound Amplifier, Marcel and I absconded well before dawn for grouse espionage. Cam did not come. He cited exhaustion from his bike ride, but Marcel and I both well understood that he would not allow himself to be seen birding. In the end, it’s a good thing he didn’t come—we didn’t see any grouse. I dropped Marcel off at his fantasy coffee shop and headed east.
I wondered when I’ll see him next. Whether it will be three years again. How we will change in that time. Where our paths will cross, and what birds we will see. Only time will tell.
|Marcel, me. May 2016|