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Lost and Found: An almost eulogy

July 6, 2009

I woke up yesterday morning thinking it would be a fairly typical day for an short birding outing with Noah. I even had a plan, to visit Eno River State Park to look for my year’s first Louisiana Waterthrush, an avian oversight for the year that I had a good mind of rectifying. Danielle was happy to let me go, eager as she was to enjoy a quiet morning at home alone, and so, with all the ducks in a row, so to speak, I headed out the door into the cool summer morning.

On our arrival at Eno it was raining, and while it wasn’t so hard that I wouldn’t be able to get out in it, with a baby to consider, it was out. So I turned back, but on my way home the rain let up so I quickly changed course to Mason Farm in the hopes I could get some birding in this morning. In retrospect, this is the part of the story where things start to go a little wrong. My arrival at Mason Farm roughly coincided with the arrival of a big dark rain cloud. But not to be deterred, I grabbed my bins, hopped out of the car, and went about the business of trying to finagle Noah into the Baby Bjorn. To do this, I placed my bins on the roof of my car.

Crucial error #1.

Not long after I strapped on the baby contraption, the rain stated coming down in buckets, so I hopped in the back seat with Noah to distract him while we waited for the rain to pass. Leaving my bins on the roof of the car.

Crucial error #2.

The rain never passed. And at this point I figured we’d given the morning our best shot, so I took off the Bjorn, and jumped into the front seat and drove off home. My bins were still on the roof of the car.

Crucial error #3 (the crucialist)

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my binoculars were missing. I don’t mind tell you all this in the privacy of my freely accessed internet blog, we’re all friends after all, but this is the point where I freaked out a bit.

I love my binoculars. Love them in a way that’s probably looked down upon in several states. These binoculars, these Zeiss, were the product of two years of focused saving. Two birthdays and two holidays of saying, “No, no. No gifts for me, thanks. I’ll take cash. For the binoculars, you see”. Two years of planning, and checking prices, and finding the best place and finally…. finally making a purchase. They were undoubtedly expensive but never have I felt as though every penny wasn’t worth it. I know they are just “things”, and no one should love things as much as this. But I am a birder, it is what I love to do, and these tools have made that avocation so much more fun. And they were gone. It felt like a punch in the stomach.

I dropped off Noah, jumped back in my car, rushed back to Mason Farm and spent the next two and half hours walking the dirt road out to the entrance, kicking aside plants and trying to do my best at the amateur forensics that would help to figure how and when they must have slid off my car. Having had no luck I went home crushed and tried to pick up the pieces. The best case scenario involved another two year wait. Another long slog through mediocre, but adequate, glass.

But I was dogged, and I couldn’t give up without walking along the highway between my house and Mason Farm, 15-501. Four lanes of traffic and busy even on a Sunday afternoon. So out I went, and after about four miles I saw them. They were tucked against the curb at the top of a hill. Reunited at last.

Now they weren’t perfect, I certainly didn’t expect them to be. The fall from the top of my car to the asphalt was about 5 feet and I was traveling at around 45-50 miles per hour when they flew off, but they were in surprisingly good shape. One of the eyecups had been knocked off, I suspect that was where the impact occurred, and the other wasn’t working properly. One of the strap attachments had snapped off and a lens cover was long gone.

But the optics? I placed them to my eyes expecting a broken lens or at least a good knock out of alignment, but saw nothing wrong. The lens hadn’t even a single scratch in the rain and the road grit, the barrels and focus knob were as perfect as the day I’d gotten them, the drop hadn’t knocked them out of alignment one flipping iota. There wasn’t even a scratch on the rubber housing. I was shocked.

People may balk at the price of the really high quality binoculars and perhaps rightly so, but there are some situations where dropping that change seems worth it. Low light conditions, obviously. Long distances, certainly. As a check against your sleep-deprived brain when you leave them on top of your car to fly off onto the highway on a rainy morning, well, you can chalk that one up too.

My bins will have to go back to the main depot to fix the plastic parts that came off, and because it was my own dumb mistake I’ll likely have to pay out of pocket for that. But I’ll gladly do so if the quality of the binoculars is such that a worse incident was avoided. And a couple months without them while they’re in the shop is a far cry better than a couple years saving up for a new pair.

So you got me, Zeiss. All the way now.

  1. Jochen permalink
    July 6, 2009 8:29 am

    Whoa, pretty neat story, including you walking along a highway.

    Great to read about the happy end!!

    The same happened to me at the onset of my epic after-highschool-trip through Scandinavia, only it involved both my binoculars and my scope.
    All was fine except that the optical axis of my binoculars were a bit off, so I had to use them one-eyed. But as this was at the beginning of my trip and I actually saw them drop off and bounce around on the street in my rear view mirror, I can fully relate to you freaking out "a bit"!

    Again: geez! Happy it was a happy end.

  2. david permalink
    July 6, 2009 9:34 am

    Wow, I'm really glad you found them! What a relief.

    My old binocs are badly beaten up, having traveled with me to every continent but Antarctica. I will probably replace them later this year, but I'll have to bronze them or something. 🙂


  3. John permalink
    July 6, 2009 10:56 am

    I'm glad you found them in working order. I had a few scary moments with my older Swift binoculars when I fell (on ice & asphalt) on top of them. They always were fine when I got up. I never tested them at 50mph, though.

    I have long thought that binocular reviews should include crash testing. How hard of a collision does it take to knock the prisms out of alignment?

  4. Patrick Belardo permalink
    July 6, 2009 1:28 pm

    Everything you say about high quality optics is darn true. It sounds like they stayed on top of the car for quite a while. Did they make it through a turn before falling off? I had a nice thermos coffee mug fall off the roof of my car on the way to work once. I miss that mug, so I can relate. You know, a $6 coffee mug is basically the same.

  5. Ali Iyoob permalink
    July 6, 2009 6:58 pm

    Glad you found them!

  6. Nate permalink
    July 6, 2009 7:15 pm

    @Jochen – Yeah, so you know "freak out" is even something of an understatement.

    @david – But if you bronzed your old set, what would you do if you dropped your new ones off the roof of your car… : )

    @John – That's an interesting test, I'm sure the line between weight and durability is a fine one to cross.

    @Patrick – They stayed on the car for about 4 miles, along a dirt road, through two turns, and half the way home on the highway. They finally slid off as I was going up a gradual incline of an overpass. I found them on the other side of the overpass.

    @Ali – You and me both!

  7. dAwN permalink
    July 8, 2009 5:17 am

    Yikes..I was hanging off the edge of my seat here..I would have freaked out too and I dont have high ehd binos.
    Soo Glad that you recovered them.. i am thinking that most likely they will be repaired for free. the quality companies take care of their customers.

  8. noflickster permalink
    July 14, 2009 3:41 pm

    Damn, what a great story! Like the others, I've got a similar story — eerily similar – with a similar ending. Happily similar. Zeiss has me for life as well.

    As John Candy eloquently summed it up in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, "We can laugh about it now."


  9. Nate permalink
    July 14, 2009 3:56 pm

    @Dawn- Thankfully you're right. To my surprise, Zeiss fixed them under warranty. Apparently, user stupidity is covered to a limited extent.

    @Mike- I'm sure it's a common refrain, we're just the lucky ones, I guess.

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