I’ve got too much stuff. That’s how I know I am getting old. I can hear my mother’s words of 20 years ago, still ringing in my ears: “I don’t want any more stuff for Christmas.” There comes a time when you realize that you are surrounded by clutter that is neither useful nor attractive, and more stuff is not welcome. Yesterday’s cherished mementoes eventually gang up on you and take over the house.
My mother’s “no more stuff” charge to the family suited both of us. My talent for holiday shopping is mediocre — abysmal, really. Even when I know what somebody wants, I inevitably get the color or the size wrong. Fortunately, for a few years, all I had to do was put a bright red bow on a large bag of sunflower seeds and celebrate success. My parents enjoyed feeding the birds, the birds enjoyed being fed, and the house enjoyed not being cluttered. Maine has a higher percentage of residents who feed birds than nearly any other state, so try out this gift-giving idea. You can thank me later.
Bird feeders and birdhouses make good gifts, mostly because they also don’t add to household clutter. In my experience, you can never have too many of either. Your spouse may disagree. Actually, the expensive way the woodpeckers are eating their way through my suet this fall, even I may disagree. Suet: that’s what to get me for Christmas.
If even feeders and feed constitute too much stuff, consider a membership in Maine Audubon. It takes up no room at all. Or make a gift of support to a local land trust. If there is none nearby, the Maine Farmland Trust is a good alternative. The Avian Haven wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom will gratefully accept donations for the holidays, and that can even be done by credit card on their website.
I poked around the store at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden this week, and I was struck by how many creepy crawly stocking stuffers there are for kids. Nothing brings cheer to the holidays like bugs, worms, frogs and snakes. An easy way to introduce kids to birding is to pick up a copy of “Maine’s Favorite Birds” by Jeff and Allison Wells. It’s big enough to include most of the common birds in the state, but not so big as to overwhelm youngsters.
Another good Maine-authored book is written by Philip Hoose of Portland. “Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95” tells the true tale of a small shorebird that has defied the odds. Red knots have declined precipitously in recent years, yet this tagged bird has survived incredible perils for over two decades.
Modesty prevents me from suggesting my own book as a gift — “The Official Guide to the Maine Birding Trail.” In fact, I would have removed this paragraph from the column altogether if it hadn’t already been sent in to the editor.
Pocket guides could make a handy gift for only about six bucks. I know a lot about birds, but I am a dunce about butterflies. I don’t want to walk around in the woods with a bunch of heavy guidebooks, but a waterproofed pamphlet — why not? I know I’d use one on animal tracks. I’d even use one on animal poop. Some people are just naturally curious.
If you do find yourself shopping in the nature store at Fields Pond Audubon Center, you should be aware that members get a 10 percent discount. Dec. 7 is Double Discount Day when members can enjoy 20 percent savings and free gift-wrapping. The member discounts apply to everything except optics.
Speaking of which, under no circumstances should you buy somebody binoculars. It isn’t just the variety in price and quality. It’s the fact that binoculars are strongly a matter of personal preference. Even the best binoculars may be too heavy, too big, too wide, too narrow, or just too difficult to use by someone with glasses. Serious users need to try out many pairs before settling on a favorite. About the only time that it makes sense to buy somebody binoculars is if they are using them to look out the window at the bird feeder. In that case, get cheap ones.
I will never be good at holiday shopping. Last year, I conceded defeat and tried giving cash. I got the color right, but the size was wrong.
Bob Duchesne serves in the Maine Legislature, is president of the Penobscot Valley Chapter of Maine Audubon, created the Maine Birding Trail and is the author of the trail guidebook of the same name. He can be reached at email@example.com.