Monday, March 17, 2008
Addendum to Expertise
I'm reminded of a story I heard years ago: A park ranger somewhere in the west was out hiking when an excited birder came running up to him. Guy pointed at a feathered critter nearby and said,"Do you know what kind of bird that is?!"
Ranger said, "No, but I have a copy of Peterson's Guide in my backpack."
"Won't help," the man said. "I'm Peterson."
Second story concerns an argument I had with my father last time I went home to visit. My mother has bird seed feeders out, and she also hangs sugar water bottles for the hummingbirds, and we were watching a black bird. I mentioned as how we had some birds out west I had never seen in Louisiana. In eastern Oregon and Washington, there is a kind of black and white bird with a long tail, I said, called a magpie.
No, my father said, that's a barn swallow.
I learned a long time ago I couldn't argue with my father -- he is always right, and if you disagree, you are wrong, period. So I shrugged it off, and let it go.
My mother left the room. When she came back, she was carrying a copy of her bird identification book, opened to the page on magpies. "Is that it?" she asked me.
Triumphant, she flourished the book at my father. And he said -- and not the first time I had heard him say this -- "Well, the book is wrong!"
I tell these two stories together because a) sometimes the book is wrong -- or incomplete. (And even R.T. Peterson kept on learning, after he was the man to ask.) And b) sometimes the book is right, but people don't want to hear it. You have to be able to figure out which is the case now and again ...