Thursday, January 16, 2014

A-Birding on a Bronco

Lately while working on paintings, I have been listening to audio-books from librivox.org.  Librivox volunteers record books that are not under copy write laws which you can listen to for free on-line, download, or even make CDs.  So far, I've listened to Around the World in 80 days, Utopia, and most recently A-Birding on a Bronco.  I will definitely be visiting this website regularly since it allows me to enjoy good stories and the classics while working on various projects.

I gave A-Birding on a Bronco at try because I found it at the top of the list starting with 'A', it had birding in the title, and I grew up riding horses in Arizona.  I'm glad I stumbled across this enjoyable story.  Florence A. Merriam wrote this sweet narrative of her bird observations with a focus on nesting activities in Southern California.  Her gentle descriptions of loving birds in the act of nest building, brooding, and chick raising making the birds feel like old friends.  You can really tell from Merriam's words how much she enjoys finding the birds, and getting to know the secrets of their lives. Merriam describes the birds as if they were people calling them husband, wife, and loving mothers, giving them emotions, commenting on the funny things the birds do.  I think the personification of the birds was important to help her audience connect to the birds as living things instead of a museum specimen.   A-Birding on a Bronco was published in 1896 when the common way to go birding involved a gun, and little was know of the birds' habits.  Merriam's story not only helps readers learn about birds, but also helps the reader enjoy the horseback ride in the sunny California climate.  If you enjoy birding, riding horses, or classic naturalist's accounts then I think you would enjoy this story as much as I did.

Mountain Billy from A-Birding on a Bronco,
Project Gutenberg scanned image

While listening to this story, I wondered who Florence A Merriam was.  There aren't many women naturalist authors out there from 1896.  Why was she riding around on a horse observing bird nests? (and doesn't that sound like fun!)  I am happy that A-Birding on a Bronco brought this lady to my attention.


The Phainopeplas on the Pepper-tree,
from A-Birding on a Bronco,
Project Gutenberg scanned image
Florence A Merriam was a remarkable woman well ahead of her time.  She attended college earning a certificate, the equivalent of a degree for women in 1886, was active in bird conservation, and was an author.  According to a bio by the NY Branch of the American Association of University Women, "By 1885, she began to write articles focusing on protecting birds. She was horrified by the fashion trend which not only used feathers, but entire birds to decorate women's hats. Five million birds a year were killed to supply this fashion craze." and "she eventually involved the students (Smith College) in a campaign to open the public's eyes. She sent out 10,000 circulars by enlisting the help of one hundred students, a third of the college, and wrote articles of protest to newspapers." Here's the whole article  Tuberculosis sent her out west where she wrote several narratives and field guides.   I was happy to learn about Florence Merriam's accomplishments, and to connect with her love of birds and the natural world through her words written almost 120 years ago.

A- Birding on a Bronco is also available for free on the Project Gutenberg website for e-readers.