Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The People Who Open Your Eyes

I threw a tantrum on the blog a couple of weeks ago.  (Just so you know, i'll do my best to limit them to an annual occurrence). I was feeling crappy, sure, but the main reason i was so mad was because i couldn't find Luis Baptista on the web.  It frustrated me now end, and bothered me all nite. Luckily, i found him on my first search the next morning.

 Who the heck is Luis Baptista? Dr. Baptista was a bird scientist who made wonderful discoveries about how birds learn their songs, how birdsong is like human music, how the songs vary geographically. Which is wonderful enough....but Dr. Baptista didn't stop there.  He was known for haunting Golden Gate Park, watching and feeding birds at all hours, and engaging any people who stopped by.  He pointed out different types of birds, knew many birds personally, could and did imitate the dozens of different white crowned sparrow neighborhood songs for scientists, children, birdwatchers, and the occasional TV reporter.  He discovered all types of wonderful things about birds but he never kept them to himself.  He constantly shared his discoveries and enthusiasm with others.  Here he is talking about a lady white crowned sparrow of his acquaintance:

"''This is where a white crowned sparrow I used to know once lived,'' Dr. Baptista said, pointing to an ornamental African aloe tree. ''She was very dominant to her husband, whom she beat up on all the time. However, one day, she divorced him, moved to a different tree a few hundred feet away and married another guy who then beat up on her. I couldn't understand what she saw in him. But they raised more white crowned babies than anyone else in the park. She must have realized there was something special about the new guy, in terms of evolution.''" 
 from A Conversation With Luis F. Baptista; 'Revolutionary Etude,' Rendered by a Wren by Claudia Dreifus, The New York Times, May 16, 2000

 Dr. Baptista died at age 59 in June, 2000. He was tending a barn owl who'd decided to roost at his home in Sebastapol when he collapsed.  I never got to meet him.  But i've known other generous birders. Dr. Bill studied the Wilson's Warblers at Jewel Lake. He always beat me there, no matter how early it got going, and was easy to spot with his hand-held parabolic dish, tape recorder, and earphones. He taught me to identify kinglets, and told me so much about how to spot orange crowned warbler nests that i was able to point a nest out to my husband before i'd ever seen one myself.

orange-crowned warbler nest

orange crowned warbler on nest by robbbinestridge. visit robbinestridge's flickr photostream to see more of robbin's wonderful photographs

Some birders just tally up the birds they've seen, competing with others for huge life or year lists.  You can't help but be amazed by their skill and dedication.  But you can't learn anything from them - they don't share. How to tell a Bufflehead from a Goldeneye by how the way they land in a pond, or a Sharpie from a Cooper's hawk by wing beats, where's the best places to see a Least Tern - they keep it all to themselves.  But other people open your eyes to a whole new world. Suddenly you divide your neighborhood up into towhee territories, and you can tell if a mockingbird is squawking about a cat or a hawk by call alone. You take your mom to a spot in the bug-ridden, swampy brush and say, 'Okay. Within ten minutes a Swainson's Thrush will show up there, worm in mouth.'  About seven minutes later, bird and bug appear.  Mom is amazed.

Some people are amazing. Some people show others amazing things. Other people show you how you can be amazing, too. Those last people are the ones who knock my socks off, the people who change how you see the world around you and even how you see yourself.  For me, that's the big difference between traditional 'style media' and bloggers. Vogue, etc. are full of pretty illusions and lovely pictures - but half the time they don't even reference the makeup or accessories in a shoot (not that the average person could afford it). 

 But bloggers!  Every item is lovingly sourced. Sheila shows you how to pin, use belts as bracelets, layer, and double up your stockings so you can incorporate these ideas into your own great looks. She also answers every single reader question.  And Sheila is far from alone in her generosity.  Academichic has a great variety of series on color theory, proportion, layering, and pattern mixing (among others). They go way beyond 'Here's a cute outfit, mow try to copy it' - they give you the concepts you can use to create your own original looks. V of Grit and Glamour just did a reader survey and came up with some very interesting results on what reader's look for and appreciate in style blogs.  Did she just keep all that juicy information to herself, so she could stomp on the competition? No! She went to the trouble to analyze it, summarize it, and publish it all on the web so everyone who wanted to could read it and benefit from all of her work and thought.

on edit: And of course Mrs. Underdog has been incredibly generous in providing me with information on clothing details. In addition to scoping out some truly hardcore jewelry resources previously unknown to us mere plebes.

I could go on and on. I'm sure all of you have been stunned at the generosity of style bloggers, not just with one-off or trifling questions, but with the effort they will put into big projects addressing key concepts and style secrets. I haven't seen any 'Here's my trademark recipe (except i secretly left out the key ingredient)' around this part of the web.

So today, if you have a minute, think about the people in your life who've opened your eyes. If they're still around, let them know you appreciate them! And if you're feeling particularly bold, allow yourself to contemplate how you might open someone else's eyes.....

Blouse: Merona at Target
Skirt: own design, inspired by The Hidden Seed

p.s. as many of you know, i take my own pics using a camera with a timer.  the bouch showed up for this shoot, and posed patiently while i walked back and forth to the camera, setting the timer for each of six shots....i especially like the one where we are both lying down. very Isadora Duncan. it's fun to have someone to photograph besides myself!


  1. You are so right about the generosity bloggers desplay .I was always amazed at how many women blog about style and I think it's a phenomenon about to stay.Mybe one reason is this sharing of realistic ideas that bliggers do.I really enjoyed your post.

  2. Hi Angie! i think you're right - style blogging is so much more applicable to women's everyday lives that i wouldn't be surprised to still see it going strong decades from now. not to mention all the fun people you 'meet' online! steph

  3. Hi Angie: For someone who never met Luis Baptista, you got him, spot on. I'm the reporter who did that last interview with him. A few weeks later, I had to write his obituary. But he was one of the most amazing human beings I've ever met: generous, imaginative, completely confident in his ideas. I'm sure he would have liked to have met you. Claudia Dreifus

  4. What a great post! I agree there's a big difference between the artificial, staged world of the glossy magazine versus the practical world of the average blogger. While the fashion magazines are fun to look at, I get very little from them, whereas I'm constantly finding inspiration and all sorts of great tidbits of information on other people's blogs.

  5. hi Ms. Driefus - i just noticed i didn't acknowledge your kind words here on the blog (i did send a note to your google account - i'm not completely without manners!). Dr. Baptista was amazing, and i guess he still is, the way we're talking about him here. Thank you for taking the time to comment here, i appreciate it very much.

    Hi Audi! thank you! it's true - there's a whole new world of ideas, inspiration and just fun out on these blogs that's so much more applicable. steph

  6. The day we were at Jewel Lake and you first acquainted me with a Swainson's Thrush was the song - the first time I ever heard a fluting in a birdsong. What a gift! Of course, you have been gifting me your entire life. A true treasure in so many ways.