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A Chickadee Heads to Florida
(The radio version is now here.)
I’m sitting in the Duluth International Airport waiting for a flight to Florida for the second time in less than two weeks. This feels horrible as far as my carbon footprint goes—after any trip, I always contribute to a non-profit like the Rainforest Trust to assuage my guilt. Carbon offsets are not the panacea travelers would like, so in addition, I find other ways to do penance. When it doesn’t impact my family, I lower or raise the temperature of my house or at least my home office into the uncomfortable range for a while, and I try to drive even more slowly than normal when it’s safe and courteous to other drivers. Virtually everything I do involves a carbon footprint, whether it’s using my computer, eating food that was grown anywhere but my own backyard, or sleeping on a bed made from natural resources next to my phone and smart watch charging on the nightstand. Being mindful about the environmental costs of so many things in my life can be depressing, but it helps me consider new ways to conserve energy.
I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to—most of my presentations now are via Zoom rather than in person and Russ and I have prioritized reducing our home’s carbon footprint above new adventures. But last year I noticed that my continental North American birding list was just shy of 700—a milestone I’ve long yearned for—and so I signed up for a Victor Emanual Nature Tour to South Florida and the Keys that will almost definitely bring me there. We’ve been to Florida many times because our son lives in Orlando, but Russ wasn’t interested in getting up at 5 am every day looking for birds and I would need an awfully compelling reason to be willing to drive in and around Miami, and so I’m leaving the driving and guiding to Rafael Galvez.
Florida is a place where 71-year-old white women are welcomed with open arms and eager cash registers. But many of my birding friends are being made to feel very unwelcome there now. Boycotting the state won’t help—I’d rather businesses realize how many customers are awake to issues of equality and fairness for every human being. So I’m getting into the habit of wearing a rainbow pin wherever I go there. Some birders have told me that we should never get “political,” but the injustices we’re talking about right now affect treasured friends of mine, and even if they didn’t, we’re talking about what should be our American community.
Whenever I’m trying to figure out the right thing to do, I look to Black-capped Chickadees, extremely woke little birds who welcome into their feeding flocks a rainbow of neotropical migrants, never excluding any bird because of its colors, pronouns, or what country it came from. When a shrike, small owl, snake, or other potential danger appears, chickadees mob it, giving it a piece of their mind even as they warn everyone within hearing range of the danger.
When we were in college, Russ had a poster on his dorm wall with a quote by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (misattributed to Abraham Lincoln) that made a huge impact on me. Wilcox wrote, “To sin by silence, when we should protest, /Makes cowards out of men.” No cowards, my little chickadees.