The combination of a traffic detour plus a classic import auto show two blocks away meant I spent a recent Saturday morning watching souped up cars cruise up and down our street and fearing for the lives of our cats.
Normally my instinct would be to sit on the porch complaining about the speed and the noise, and by “normally” I mean that’s exactly what I did.
“What’s the point?” I grumbled. “Sure, the cars are shiny but, by the looks of it, they’re nothing special, just Hondas on steroids. And what’s with the hubcap fetish?”
The car show itself seemed to involve revving engines as loudly as possible while burning as much fossil fuel as possible while wearing ball caps as backwards as possible.
But hang on, I thought, what if I could actually recognize that hubcap as a Pimp-Rad Oscillating Fin-Spin Gloss (with shafafa on the side)? What if I could loiter in front of a popped-open hood for indefinite periods and actually identify engine parts by name instead of “the battery,” “the oil place” and the “fan-belt turning thing.” What if “V8” meant more to me than just juice?
If I learned about cars, got a regrettable tattoo and developed a tolerance for exhaust fumes, would car shows and disturbing the neighbours be things I could possibly get into?
Knowing the details is what sets apart the observer from the connoisseur. It’s not enough to know what something does. You need to know what it’s called and why and how it works, the more detail the better. Seventy percent of the confidence we have in doctors lies in their ability to use words we don’t understand, as opposed to saying, “We’re going to go in and remove that green bile-pumpy doohickey thing.”
When I was a young teen, I collected stamps because that’s how cool I was. One of the reasons I didn’t (ha!) stick with it is because I couldn’t be bothered with the details. I was never sure whether my 5-krone Denmark cockatiel commemorative was a first-day cover or ribbed for her pleasure, and I didn’t really care.
I knew it was time to quit the hobby when, instead of applying the stamps to the pages with the adhesive hinges, I simply licked the glue and plastered them in. But it was really my lack of attention to detail that was my philatel flaw.
By contrast, for the last several weeks, we’ve had birds nesting in our backyard birdhouse. This is the first time in many years anything has been brave or stupid enough to risk the cats and make a home of it there.
At first I was simply amused by the flitting back and forth of the two energetic brown birds – smaller than sparrows, plump and stumpy with slender bills; tails often cocked over back. But then I had to know. I had to know what kind of birds these were, with their stuttering, gurgling song, rising in a musical burst, then falling at the end.
My mother was visiting at the time, and, as we pored over my Peterson’s Field Guide, she said, “I’m pretty sure it’s a brown creeper.”
“Of course it’s not a brown creeper,” I said, which is no way to talk to your mother.
After stalking the birdhouse with my camera and analyzing the photographs CSI-style, we settled conclusively on their being house wrens, distinguished from other wrens by their grayer-brown colour and the lack of any evident facial stripings! (I love it when Peterson’s gets excited…)
So now, knowing that they are house wrens, I feel a sense of ownership for the house wrens, protective even, as they feed their little house wren babies, and I do an occasional head count of the house wrens to make sure the cats haven’t eaten the house wrens. I can also bore everyone I meet by saying, “Did I tell you about our house wrens?”
Not that I’m going to become a birdwatcher, but I can see how a person could get excited, or at very least mildly enthused. It’s in the details that a hobby thrives, and that can only be achieved through patience, which is why I’m trying to be patient with the tricked-out cars that peel up and down my street.
Then again, a stamp collector never nearly ran over my cat.