As I was about to move along, the bald eagle shrieked at me.
Surprised, a little excited, I stopped, looked back and pointed my iPhone at the bird on the other side of a fence at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County.
It was an awkward transition, switching to the camera. The phone was new to me, an upgrade from my old iPhone 7, but the camera handled differently, and so I fumbled with it while the bird kept squawking.
Getting a little video with an eagle call sounded like such a cool souvenir, something I could share with friends, family and bleary-eyed women working the counter at Tudor’s Biscuit World, none of whom asked or wanted to know what I was doing in their part of the world and maybe didn’t need to see a bad video of what might be an eagle screaming.
Probably, I’d just take my Golden Eagle biscuit and go find a seat next to a window — or if that wasn’t available, maybe try the view from my car in the parking lot.
But as I figured out where I’d gone wrong with the camera app on my phone, the sleek, white-headed bird went silent. He wasn’t even looking toward me.
So I waited. I watched and waited maybe half a minute or so, before deciding it was a fluke.
The moment I put my phone away in my front pocket, the bird turned his head, looked me in the eyes and shouted like I owed him money.
I tried for the phone again, but knew he’d stop before I even had the camera open, which he did.
We could have gone back and forth like this for hours maybe, but I just laughed, shook my head and moved on. Maybe I’d have better luck with the wolves or the bears.
I just wanted to take home something more than a picture.
By accident, I’ve become a collector of mementos and souvenirs. I didn’t start off that way. When I began writing professionally and spent time backstage at the Culture Center Theater for “Mountain Stage” shows, executive producer Andy Ridenour gave me some advice.
“Don’t ask anyone for anything,” he said. “Don’t ask for autographs.”
As a music writer, I was in a rare position. The experience of meeting notable people and having a few minutes of their time should be enough was what Andy meant — at least, that’s what I got from what he said.
So, I’ve never asked for an autograph or a picture on my phone or requested anything beyond what was needed to do the work I was supposed to do. I wound up with a lot of ticket stubs and some free CDs here and there, but most of those were passed along or thrown away when they weren’t needed any longer or the memories they were attached to ceased to be helpful.
When I started “One Month at a Time,” the souvenirs began piling up. I’ve had a lot of amazing, funny and occasionally unlikely memories and I keep some of the tokens from those things to sometimes remind myself how fortunate I really am.
I have the program from when I played with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and a doll given to me by Charleston Ballet for my part in their production of the “Nutcracker.”
I have a flyer from when I appeared as a guest on Jeff Shirley’s “Three Things” speaker series and a stack of hand-drawn thank-you cards from the 30-some second graders I read to through West Virginia Read Aloud.
I have my medal from the Spartan Beast Race I completed, some baking equipment I bought while I was learning about making pies and a group picture with the Kanawha Kordsmen from when we went to the district convention and won our division.
I’ve been collecting things as I’ve gone along this summer, too.
My first souvenir was a penny I turned into a Braxton County monster token. It cost me 51 cents to make at the Braxton County visitor’s center and monster museum in Sutton, and I’ve carried it in my car for the entire trip for good luck.
I picked up a ball cap from the Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant (I wear it every time I hit the road), a tasting glass from Devil’s Due Distillery in Charles Town and an assortment of stickers for my laptop.
Those are getting hard to keep up with, but I have stickers from the Coal House in Mingo County, Hilltop Coffee in Raleigh County, and the Bloom Gallery in Tucker County.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, I haven’t bought anything from actual gift shops.
I couldn’t find anything I wanted at West Virginia’s largest gift shop at Smoke Hole Caverns, though I went through the place twice while waiting for the tour to begin. I didn’t get anything at Tamarack, though I did end up buying things I first saw at Tamarack, like a bottle of honey mead (a wine made from honey) directly from the crafter, when I visited.
I haven’t bought a lot of things at shops, either.
Lost River Trading Post in Hardy County sells a little bit of everything, including antiques and some cool art, but I settled for a coffee and a scone.
I wanted to take home something from Dolly Sods and Seneca Rocks, but those are state parks. Taking so much as a pebble or a stick from a West Virginia State Park is against the law (I looked it up). Besides, a cool-looking 20-ton boulder wouldn’t fit in the trunk of my Chevy Cruze anyway.
Along the way, I’ve picked up several state maps, which I’ve ruined by folding badly, tearing, or spilling coffee on.
When the summer is over, I hope to frame whatever map survives as a poster and hang it up in my home office with my other “trophies,” like the framed program from one of my few public speaking engagements (I kept it because they spelled my name wrong and I thought it was funny) or the poster from Mark Scarpelli’s day-long Beatles tribute show (the first and only time I got to front a real rock n’ roll band).
I want to be able to look at that map, remember where I was, what I saw and maybe think about what I missed that I wished I hadn’t.
Not every experience I’ve had requires some sort of reminder, of course. Some things just speak for themselves.
Back at the wildlife center, I found the exhibit for the black bears. There were two in the fenced area. One bear slept in the shade, while the other paced back and forth in the front of his pen, seemingly uninterested in the tourists who stopped to gawk at him.
I watched for a while, hoped for a growl or some bear-like noise to come out of his mouth, but there was just the smell.
Silent but deadly.