The Green Mill: Sam Burckhardt
The Nerd: With Jen being on the Art & Design side of the Krebs Cycle of Creativity, I thought it very appropriate that she should meet Sam Burckhardt. Not only does Sam, as a musician, have a presence like Jen on the Art side of the Cycle, but I felt that the two of them would share common interests and a number of basic sensibilities, including about birding. One day early in our friendship, Sam and I were birding together at Montrose Point, and Sam was talking to me about a young pianist, Dan Nimmer, who was a rising star with whom he’d played. He said how impressed he was that Nimmer was focused more on exploring music rather than indulging in flashy playing merely to showcase his talents. “He plays whole notes!” Sam said to me. Quality, not quantity, just as The Bird always tells me. Sam’s approach to birding (and everything!) also pursues depth, understanding, and appreciation. Sam’s gig at The Green Mill with Oscar Wilson and the Joel Paterson Band seemed a great place to get together.
Well, it was an amazing show at The Green Mill, and I learned all over again how much I really love the blues, but Sam wisely suggested that we also arrange to meet another day for a bite to eat where it would be much easier to talk. Great idea! In the process of arranging to get together both at The Green Mill and later The Smoke Daddy, back and forth messages about the logistics also contained questions and observations about plumage details of sapsuckers and some odd individuals of this type of woodpecker that he’d recently seen. Sam can seamlessly shift between detail and big picture. Maybe too he has a footprint on the Science side of the Krebs wheel!
Big Picture. Sam commented that his father was a complete naturalist, interested in and knowledgeable about all aspects of the natural world. Sam said it was a shame that this holistic approach to connecting with the environment had become so scarce today, and perhaps had disappeared. This reminded me of how The Bird spoke of her grandparents and how they knew the names of the plants and animals in the world around them. How they were connected. Sam too certainly finds connection back to the natural world, and joy in experiencing it, in all aspects and all ways. He expresses appreciation for the different ways that people react to nature, telling us for instance how his musical mother and scientific father process bird song in different ways. To me he seems a complete naturalist just like his father. He is curious, always asking questions, always seeking answers. As we ended our time together at The Smoke Daddy, Sam was off to the Field Museum to examine study skins of sapsuckers to try to understand better the unusual individual he had seen in the field. As Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
The Bird: When The Nerd invited me to go to the CD release of Oscar Wilson's new album, One Room Blues at The Green Mill, I said “Yes Please!” His friend and fellow birder, Sam Burckhardt plays saxophone on the album. I went to my first jazz club as a sophomore in high school - the Blue Wisp in Cincinnati when it was still in O'bryonville (RIP Blue Wisp). I’m by no means a jazz expert, but I love it (I just love music)! Big Band Night at The Green Mill, along with Fat Babies and The Uptown Poetry Slam! are some of my favorite things. I was excited to meet Sam because he’s a musician and a birder. I was wondering if birding also nurtured/inspired creativity in him. I was also happy to have a discussion with him that included Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. I shared that my grandparents, where I grew up, lived across the street from Philip Johnson’s “underground” Geier House. The night was fantastic, but not conducive to a Nerd and Bird interrogation, and rightly so (also, perhaps too many tiny bottles of La Marca!). What a fantastic show! Instead, Sam suggested we all meet for lunch.
Smoke Daddy’s BBQ was the perfect place for our lunch. It was wonderful to get to know Sam: the man, musician and birder. I noticed a stunning green stone in a statement ring Sam was wearing. He said it was a gift to him from his music mentor, Sunnyland Slim, that was given to him shortly before he passed away. He said that hand represented his love of music and his other ring hand represented the love of his partner of 35 years. Beautiful. Sam is originally from Switzerland, and had been birding with his father since he was young. I could relate with the fact that his dad did not drive and went birding via public transportation or when the birds came to him. Sam also told us a story about the pioneering ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice who documented vocalizations in female Song Sparrows. I was once told on an organized bird walk that ONLY male birds vocalized - which totally broke my heart at the time! I also learned recently at "Bird Sounds Decoded” presented by Nathan Pieplow that male blackbirds will start a song and then the female will start singing midway through and then he’ll trail off...she finishes their duet. Sam further discussed his primary residence in Northern Michigan where he and his partner have 170 acres - which includes jack pines - breeding habitat for Kirtland's Warblers! I’ve never seen a Kirtland's Warbler and missed the most recent sighting at Montrose, but I learned about them. They winter in the Bahamas and only breed in the jack pines of Northern Michigan! This is why they’re so rare! Sam told us about a male Kirtland's Warbler that has an extra note in his song, and seems to be quite the ladies’ man! How cool is it that Sam to be able to get to know individual birds at this point! I absolutely loved all of our discussion - Thank you!!!
Joel Oppenheimer Gallery Opening
Joel Oppenheimer Gallery Opening:
The Nerd: Thinking back on this evening brings so many pleasant memories it is difficult to focus on just a few. I had not previously spent much time in the Oppenheimer Gallery, so that when Jen invited me to go to the opening in its new location, I of course said Yes Yes Yes and was very excited about the opportunity. I am so grateful to The Bird for this experience! Shortly after entering the gallery, I caught sight of Audubon’s depiction of the extinct Carolina Parakeet, which brought a mixture of pleasure and sadness when viewing the work. Armed with glasses of prosecco, we made our way through the cozy, art-filled rooms. We made several circuits of the gallery; I felt increasingly familiar with Audubon’s American Crow each time we passed the watercolor print in one stairway (which stairway by the way also provided a good view of the bar, reminding us to refresh the prosecco). One thing I learned this evening was that the soles of Whooping Crane feet are yellow! The same is true of Blackpoll Warblers, a bird on the other end of the size scale, and knowing this made me fonder of Whooping Cranes and added to the pleasure of the evening. Jen suggested champagne to cap off the gallery opening plus too the public launch of The Nerd and the Bird. Yes to that!
The Bird: I had asked The Nerd if he would like go to the opening of Joel Oppenheimers' new gallery space. I'd bought an original Audubon Black-and-white Creeping Warbler print I fell in love with there and had met Joel at that time. He does amazing restorations. I thought that this event would would be the perfect way to celebrate The Nerd and the Bird more on “my side of the wheel”. This was definitely a magical night that included unexpected procecco and hors d'oeuvre as we celebrated our birding adventures in a new way. So far, the image below is the only way I've ever seen a Whooping Crane. It was heartbreaking to realize how many birds had already gone extinct or were heading there. All of that life and beauty never to be seen or experienced again except as we were. We went from image to image, room to room, and then back again discussing everything we saw...because The Nerd and The Bird! Cheers!