More than any other month, December is famous for triggering nostalgia attacks. If for some reason you decide to clean files at this time, an attack is guaranteed. I was looking through the catacombs where old columns are filed (stored). I came across one mounted on a piece of colored paper. This was obviously something special to save. A small outlined box on the page had the heading, “New Columnist.”
December 1967, a young mother who aspired to be a writer got up the courage to approach the editor/publisher of the local weekly newspaper. Her presentation was an outline for a year’s worth of columns. Accompanying photos were also promised. The late Dave Averill gave me his full attention and didn’t laugh when I told him I wanted to write a birdwatching column. His eyes, however, were twinkling merrily. He was open to the idea but warned me the pay would be 10 cents a column inch. (It took two years to save up for our first dishwasher.)
The column’s introductory paragraph might well be written today.
“There was a time in this country when a birdwatcher was one who shot the bird out of the tree before he made a positive identification. No more. Now our members are in the millions and all ages. Most of us are people who just enjoy looking at and listening to, ‘that pretty little bird.’ ”
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A promise was part of that first column. Even though the subject has expanded into realms I couldn’t have imagined back then, that promise is still the focus of today’s columns. “The birds mentioned in this column can all be seen locally at various times of the year, some all year. They will be in the column at the time they are in the area.”
Memories attached to those early days of writing this column are just a lot of fun to look back on. Some will always make me chuckle.
To begin with, take the subject of my first byline. This was the ’60s. If a woman’s name appeared in the paper for whatever reason, she was identified as, “Mrs. Whoever.” I actually agonized over the byline I was going to use, but a rebel streak I was born with won out. This column would be written by Joan Carson, not “Mrs. Carson.” Laugh if you will, but did you know one of the local businessmen actually teased me about that? That only assured me I had made the correct decision.
The newspaper that gave me the opportunity to write a birdwatching column was the North Kitsap Herald. Located in Poulsbo and established in 1901, it was a paper I had grown up with. I once sold ads to the publisher when working on the high school newspaper. It was while working at the Herald that I met an aspiring young journalist who was just getting started on his career. I remember Seabury Blair Jr. very well because of his enthusiasm for my column’s subject.
“I wrote an article on birds once,” he said. “It was about a seagull that -----ed on my head. I sent it to New Yorker magazine, but they returned it.” That was The New Yorker’s loss as many of us who follow Mr. Outdoors know. Years later, he would be the editor at the Bremerton Sun who asked if they could run my column once a week.
This column has piled up more memories than I can keep track of. Thanks to its “archives,” I get to dredge up a few every now and then. It’s something I can’t resist during the holiday season. To my readers, my fellow birdwatchers, I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for the memories.