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An old-school hunt for truth and beauty

The Examiner

I look back at my school days, with its ups and downs, and generally speaking it was a fairly happy time.

Annie Dear

As you know, math was never my top subject, and I have made it known that algebra and calculus fit into the “what the hell use is that” category. Not once have I ever even been tempted to bring to mind anything at all about those subjects, other than the fact they were ones I had to pass in order to move forward. I couldn’t begin to tell you under what circumstances one might ever want to bring them to mind.

A subject I and all my classmates had to take for four years was Latin. I passed it, and actually didn’t mind the first couple of years of conjugating verbs. To be honest, I don’t remember doing much else, but I can say I love, you love, he/she loves etc. till the cows come home. How to say “I love you” is quite a different matter. Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amantis, amant. There you go. That’s pretty much the sum total of my Latin brilliance in two years. 

When we got into the third and fourth year, I remember sweating over page after interminable page of translating – into? – out of? Latin the mighty feats of Hannibal striding manfully across the Alps with his elephants. Now, even then at the tender age of 14, I did wonder what on Earth an elephant would be good for while striding manfully across the Alps. After all, elephants are not known for their rock-climbing ability, nor their mighty speed.

But what I did take away from all this was that Latin lent itself to much of our language; that Spanish and Italian are heavily based in it; and that it can come in handy when completing a crossword puzzle. Not bad for four years’ study, hey?

So, segueing away here, in my quest to find what that blessed bird was way across the way from my back door last week, I scoured the internet to come up with precisely bupkiss, so I decided then to go the old-fashioned route and look into books on the subject.

I hit pay dirt, let me tell you. After poo-pooing several weighty tomes on the subject of North American birds, I glommed onto “Birds of Missouri,” by one Stan Tekiela – no relation to the booze, I presume.

I particularly liked this one for several reasons. First, it’s small.  Second, it’s full of pretty pictures and a brief wordage for each entry. But you know what I loved the best?

The index. It isn’t organized among families of birds with fancy Latin names – after all, who am I to decide whether a far-off sighted bird is of the goose family, or the duck, or even a wader. I don’t know – you see – that’s why I’m asking you, dear author.

No, this index is absolutely brilliant. Chapter one: “Birds that are mostly black”; Chapter two: those that are mostly black and white. The book should’ve been titled Birds for Dummies.

It’s not until you get to the bird you’ve been after that you come across the fact that it is an “Anser Caerulescens.” Here we go. Latin again. Why is the animal kingdom identified in Latin for heaven’s sake?

To put you out of your misery – it was a “blue morph snow goose.” You may now go put your feet up, have a nice cup of tea and a nap.            

Annie Dear lives in Lee’s Summit. Email her at anniedear@icloud.com.