Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

It was the last Sunday in May. I had agreed to survey birds in connection with the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds’ Common Bird Monitoring Scheme. I wasn’t quite sure of the territory I was supposed to survey, so I got up at the crack of dawn and went out toward the general area I was supposed to cover. Along the hour or so walk to my territory I saw not a soul; but for some domesticated roosters crowing and the many wild birds singing, the town was still asleep. As I climbed a small hill on the edge of my territory, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk zoomed by low overhead. Moments later a Hoopoe flushed from the trail, flapping away like a giant butterfly with its black and white wings and tail contrasting with its buffy pink body. As I continued, all the expected species were out marking their territories with much vigor: Skylarks, Red-backed Shrikes, Black-headed Buntings, among others. Then I saw something approaching from behind. A dog? No. It was a Golden Jackal, and it hadn’t seen me. I moved up the hill behind some vegetation and waited, hoping to get a photo. Unfortunately, when the jackal turned the corner and came into view it saw me and immediately fled through the long grass. Both thrilled and disappointed, I continued on … encountering more birds, a plethora of wildflowers (pink, red, purple, blue, yellow, and white against a backdrop of green), clean, crisp morning air, and just one old man. It was a brilliant way to start the day.

Being Sunday it was also market day in town, so I stopped into our local market on my way home. The end of May in Bulgaria is, among other things, cherry season, and the cherries looked amazing. I bought a large bag of them and headed home.

When I arrived home, as is usually the case, Baba Ristena was tending to her garden. She often offers me food and insists that I take it, so, when I asked her if she wanted any cherries and she declined, I simply gave her a handful. She washed the cherries and then devoured them – clearly a welcome and unexpected treat. I went inside and washed the rest of the cherries and put them in a couple bowls. I ate one bowl for breakfast and saved the other one for later.

After lunch and a nap, friends began arriving for the town’s first ever rock festival. I had friends in two of the bands and was looking forward to it. The plan was simple: grill some meat and veggies, drink beer, head to the rock fest, eat more, and drink more beer. As we sat around enjoying the first round of BBQ and beer, another volunteer who had arrived commented about my interactions with one of my Bulgarian friends, “That’s awesome. You guys talk to each other like you’re brothers.”

At the concert, the mayor came up and welcomed my friends and me with a warm and genuine greeting. My friends had no idea who he was, and when I told them afterward that they had just met the mayor, the response was, “You need to tell us when we’re meeting the mayor.” I just laughed. The opening act's lead singer was a girl who had attended my summer school classes my first year. When I congratulated her on her performance, she told me I should stay in Bulgaria one more year. And when the two headlining acts finally took the stage, I was there with them one after the other. Apparently, I was the only sucker among their friends who was willing to stand on stage and videotape them playing live rather than enjoy the show from the audience. Oh, well. It was fun, even if I am now partially deaf.

When the show ended, we headed home and grilled up some more food and drank some more beer. I crawled into bed full, content, and smiling.

The next morning, as I savored the second bowl of cherries, I couldn’t help but thinking, “Life is a bowl of cherries.”

One of the bowls of cherries.

Black-headed Bunting.

Yellow Wagtail.

Red-backed Shrike.


Common Cuckoo.

And some flowers.

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