Keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life.
I was reminded of both of these snippets of Zen on the night of Thursday, June 26, 2008, when I received an award from The American Birding Association at its convention in Utah. It was the Robert Ridgway Award, named for the turn-of-the-century ornithologist who is perhaps most famous for creating a uniform naming code for bird colors, and for being the curator of birds at The Smithsonian Institution.
Previous winners of The Robert Ridgway Award include Harold Mayfield, Susan Smith, Steve N.G. Howell, Donald Kroodsma, and Bill Clark. It's hard to imagine my name being added to such an illustrious list. I suppose having written some bird books (with lots of help) and having edited a widely distributed bird magazine for 20 years might qualify me for this award, but to me, it seems like I'm still some young kid trying to make it in this biz. Who was it who said "Once they start giving you Lifetime Achievement Awards, your life is basically over."?
I knew in advance that I was receiving this award, but this did nothing to calm my nerves. I am rarely nervous in front of a crowd but on this night, for some reason, I was. Sitting there listening to ABA board member Erika Wilson read her introduction about me to the several hundred people in the banquet room, I did not know what to do.
Erika finished and called my name and I somehow managed to stand up and walk onto the stage. I'd prepared some remarks and even had a sight gag all ready. It took a moment to get a grip. I took a deep breath and was reminded of the first time, in 5th grade, when I stepped onto a basketball court as part of a team. My mouth went dry, my eyes began to swim, my stomach did a loop around my lungs. I felt like I was suspended in some sort of clear, oozy medium. Weird!
I collected my remaining wits and read my remarks, endeavoring to be brief yet comprehensive in mentioning those whom I needed to thank. Even my voice sounded odd, partly from the adrenaline and partly from what we call Thompson's Disease: a tendency to choke up at especially moving moments in life. This was one of them. I could not make it past my paragraph thanking my parents. I owe them too much and this award, after all, was theirs, too.
I sputtered to a close. Waved a big thank you to the audience and stepped off the podium. I was handed a shiny, impressively produced plaque and because this award was sponsored by Zeiss, a sweet new pair of 8 x 42 Zeiss Victory binoculars. We took some handshake photographs. I do not remember them.
Later that night a handful of friends gathered for an impromptu party. This degenerated into a raucous singalong in our hotel room with Jeff Gordon, Steve Carbol and I sharing guitar duties and a caveman chorus singing behind us, reading lyrics snagged on a laptop connected to the Internet.
At 2 am we waved the white flag. We were surprised that the hotel's night manager (or the po-po's) had not shown up. It wasn't until days later, as she was leaving the adjoining room, that Kathy Payne, the wife of Richard Payne, the ABA's president, remarked at how much she'd enjoyed the music coming through the wall—especially the music we played before midnight!
I suspect this will make them more careful in selecting future award winners...
All kidding aside, I was flattered to my core by this award. Thanks to all who helped make it possible, and thanks for letting me share it with you.