I grew up without the sweet sentimentality of the East. All the literature talked about tracking grouse footprints or hunting or buck shards in the snow, but there were no grouse here, and no bucks, and definitely no snow, and therefore no literature to be written. There was never just become a nature writer. You had move to New England, in a little cabin in the snow, and then only could you become a nature writer like Bernd Heinrich or Julie Zickefoose. Not suburban Orange County, where I grew up in a comfortable home, with not even a leak roof or broken ceiling fan to tragically describe.
Even here, Eastern bias didn’t fail to find me. The kitschy decals in my childhood bedroom depicted a brilliant Blue Jay, standing majestically next to a noble Eastern Bluebird, wrapped up with a responsible Northern Cardinal. The whole triad was morally infallible. It was enough to build a child’s character up to the second grade.
And from the second grade and onwards, I did grow. I grew with the bittersweet sound of nonexistent cardinals and American Goldfinches. Among young nature lovers, I was not alone. I beg to ask the question of why children in California call Scrub-Jays “Blue Jays.” “Because they’re blue!” is the stupidly obviously answer - yet, if you ask a child here what a Blue Jay looks like, they’ll imagine a picture somewhat like this:
The image of a Scrub-jay likely doesn’t even leap to mind. And everyone knows what a robin looks like, but why? Robins are scarcer here than Hooded Orioles, which no young child here can comfortably draw, but you can bet they can imagine what a Baltimore Oriole looks like -- and no, not just because of the baseball team.
I live to relive the romance of Manifest Destiny. The romance of the Western wilderness did not end after Lewis and Clark, and it did not end after the era of transcendentalism. We just simply stopped writing about it, in favor of the reliably charming maple forests of the East. The oak forests and gleaming oceans of the West are alive as ever. Let us write about it.
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