I’ll never forget the first conversation Bill Thompson, III, and I had about Reader Rendezvous. We had spent a week at the British Birdfair followed by some holiday time in England with good friends. As we were nestling down in our seats for the seven-hour return flight ahead, he said, “Hey, Wen, what do you think about starting some birding tours with our subscribers?” And from the creative genius himself poured the idea that became our Reader Rendezvous birding tours.
We formed the entire business plan on that flight from London to Philadelphia and were overwhelmed at the positive response we received in the months and years that followed. Bill and I both had a passion for hospitality, events, and sharing wonderful birding experiences with birders everywhere. We began quite simply with three birding events the first and second years, followed by four, five, six, eight, and now eleven planned tours in 2021! Our biggest bump in the road, however, has been the COVID nightmare of 2020.
We thought about throwing in the towel, stopping tours altogether, and hunkering down until the storm had passed completely. We asked our readers and fellow travelers what they thought about things. We gauged the pandemic, the economy, travel industry protocols, and the future of ecotourism. We talked to the CDC, doctors, and airline and travel executives. We spent months thinking, researching, and deciding. Our final decision was to regroup and restructure the tours completely, changing the way we handle birding tours and travel. We would press onward and upward with more safety protocols in place, but still give our subscribers and friends the opportunity to enjoy birds and birding in other parts of America and the world. Safety and health are now our first priority, but we will move forward.
Many of you have traveled with us in the past, and each event has been unique and wonderful. I traveled with and managed all our Reader Rendezvous tours in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and joined a select few tours with Bill in the years following. Emily Nichols has been our full-time tour coordinator and events manager since 2016, and she has taken our tours to greater organizational heights!
One of the things I have missed most about 2020 is the ability to travel. I was slotted to join half of our tours this year, and I had some other international travel planned as well, which was all canceled or rescheduled. For those of us who have the travel itch, quarantine and lockdown have been a huge change in our lives. I’m a social person by nature, so words like quarantine and lockdown are not in my “vocabulary for a happy life.” I’m an on-the-go kind of gal and have been that way my entire life. I spent my twenties and thirties on the go with my children. My forties and early fifties have been spent traveling all over the country and the world for birds, nature, conservation, and events. But like anything that’s removed from your life, it makes you appreciate it all the more when it returns. Thankfully, travel will be returning to my life very soon. It will be different, more cautious, safe, structured, small, and planned, but it is returning, and I am thrilled—and a bit intimidated—at the prospect.
Our first Reader Rendezvous tour in 2021 will take place in the Everglades and surrounding areas in early February. This is a place I’ve always wanted to visit for birds and wildlife—a place on my bucket list. It will be my first Rendezvous in two years, and my friends Marc and Eliana Kramer will lead the tour with me. They are wonderful people, excellent guides, and they live in the area and know it well. Marc is a veterinarian and bird expert, and Eliana is a wonderful guide, communicator, and burst of sunshine. If you have the opportunity to join us, I know you’ll love this tour! There will be masks, outdoor meals, no inside time together, and no riding in vans together, but we will enjoy birds, nature, and being together at a social distance, which is the most important thing. And there’s a whole host of specialties and (hopefully) rarities we will see during our days in and around the Everglades!
There have been huge blessings for me during lockdown, too, which are important for me to remember. I had a long talk with my wonderful boyfriend, Will, last night about this. I met Will at the end of January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit full force and lockdown began in earnest. Will and I have now been dating for nearly ten months and have spent more time together than I’ve spent with another adult in decades. That’s because quarantine has kept me home. In any other year, I would have been globe-trotting all year long with little time for developing a new, long-term relationship. We’ve jokingly said that, “COVID years feel like ‘dog years,’” meaning that one year feels more like seven because of the amount of time we’ve spent together alone. And for us, that’s been a good thing! He’s also started birding, loves hiking and outdoor time, and has made my inability to travel such a pleasure. It’s an unexpected “new normal” in my life, and I’m incredibly grateful for him.
I’ve also adopted Brian the wonderdog this year, and he’s now part of my family. This 75-pound Borador puppy with boundless energy has been my constant companion during the long days working from home. I’ve gotten to know my new home (I moved here in June 2019), new neighbors, and new birding patches in my area. I know you’ve had your quarantine blessings as well, and I look forward to hearing your stories in the coming months.
As I approach 2021 travel, I feel a bit like a mom going back to work after a long maternity leave. It’s time, and I’m ready, but I’m mourning yet another change ahead. I can’t believe it, but I’ve actually gotten used to being home! I’m looking at my calendar for next year and feeling excited, but also a bit overwhelmed. I may spend less time with Will next year, although he’s planning to join me on some of our tours. My sweet puppy Brian will either stay in our wonderful nearby boarding kennel or with our editor Dawn and her dogs when I travel, so he’ll be okay. (He loves visiting Frankie and Scout, Dawn and Tim’s dogs!) But I’ve gotten used to being home with my new 2020 “family,” and I know I’ll miss them. It’s my new normal, and although I never wanted to experience a shutdown year, I’ve adjusted to it, I’ve embraced it, and I’ll miss it.
Everyone jokes about 2020 being a wasted year, but I don’t feel that way. It certainly has not been what I had planned, and I’ve been burdened beyond measure at the devastation that COVID-19 has brought to our planet, and to so many people and families. But I don’t feel this year has been wasted in my life. I think the loss I’ve experienced this year will make me appreciate travel all the more. I’m cautious about re-entering the travel world and plan to be incredibly safe and careful. But there have been safety and security in quarantine that I’ve never known before. My sense of adventure is still alive and well, but it has been balanced by a renewed love of home and a quiet life—something that’s been quite foreign to this travel queen until now! Like a phoenix from the ashes, I will rise again. We all will. Humans have the amazing ability to adapt, to embrace change, and to find new ways to meet unprecedented circumstances. We are unbelievably resilient creatures, and I feel that the year ahead will certainly be a year of more adjustments, but also new heights, depths, and personal growth.
I’d love to see new birds and places with you, and experience yet another “new normal” chapter of this life with new and old friends. I’d love to hear your personal quarantine stories, and all the things you’ve learned over the past year. I’d love to walk this journey with you, to learn from you, and to share the joy of new beginnings with you.
Most of all, I hope you’ll continue to look ahead with hope in your hearts, and with birds in your binoculars! Whether we are home or far afield, alone or together, we can always find joy in the natural world around us. I say, let’s go birding together! We’ll be safe and socially distanced, but let’s go, and let’s do this together.
About the Author
Wendy Clark is the president and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, a career communications specialist, and an avid birder. She has three children and two grandchildren, and lives in Marietta, Ohio.