I am not generally given to superstition. I do not, for instance, indulge in the strange tradition of saluting Mr Magpie. There is however one peculiarity that I will freely admit to. I talk to commemorative benches.
Is that a proper superstition, or merely an oddity? I am not sure, but I have raised many a passer-by’s eyebrow when they catch me in conversation with outdoor furniture. They possibly assume that the person for whom the bench has been placed, was a loved one cherished by a dutiful son who visits occasionally for a chat. More likely, they assume that I am making a hands-free phone call and ignore me entirely.
But the benches sit all day and night throughout the calendar, in all weathers, watching the comings and goings of everyone and everything that passes, so who better to seek information from than the spirit of the bench? If the benches could talk, what tales would they tell? If they knew the whereabouts of birds, would they reveal them? Do you know what? Sometimes they do. The cynics amongst you will suggest that the act of sitting still for a few moments is likely to aid in finding birds. Perhaps being able to lean back from the sitting position allows a different viewing angle.
I think my foible started out of respect for the person who was being remembered. After all, I am about to sit on them, so it seems only right that I acknowledge them. As age catches me in its arthritic grip, involuntary grunts are brought about by the simple act of sitting down. This provokes an apology to the bench, followed by a bit of a moan about my knees or back, then moves on to observations about the weather or the quality of the birding that day. Gradually, I came to realise that the bench was a fixed part of the environment with the enviable task of simply being there. Communing.
So as I sit down, I say “Hello” to Joe, who “so loved it here” and ask him if anything interesting is passing through (just as one might converse with a fellow birder who was already sitting on the bench). Perhaps the seat is slightly wet in the middle, perhaps it is damaged; maybe the trash can is conveniently placed at the far end. Unwittingly, I am positioned by the spirit of the bench in such a way that my gaze will fall in a certain direction.
So I raise my binoculars and cast a glance that way……..
….. Now, if I were to do the maths, my strike rate would be disappointingly low. Old knees put a heavy reliance on commemorative furniture and it is always a pleasure to take the weight off, so I use benches frequently. This puts a lot of pressure on the spirits to perform to keep their average up. There have however been a few notable hits. On three occasions, I have found owls from memorial seats after addressing the persons for whom they were dedicated. Non-superstitious birders would call these serendipitous, self-found owls, but what harm can come from invoking the memory of those who “so loved it here” and crediting them for pointing out the owls?