By Marjorie Powell
Many years ago, when my husband and I were first living together, we went to a country auction and came home with seven items that we frankly did not need, all because we could not resist bidding. After that fiasco, I established a firm rule. No auctions! It’s true that the double wrench set we got that day was very useful when we owned our own homes. And yes, we used a waffle iron we bid on until it wore out. But the other items were never used and eventually disappeared. I made an exception to my rule this year. The GGAS bird art auction was “different.”
After all, both GGAS and this art auction was my life-line to the birds as we all sheltered in place.
Birdathon fundraising activities were canceled because of Covid. I was involved in some of the discussions about whether (and how) GGAS might recoup vital revenue needed for programs like habitat restoration and Eco-Ed. We decided to have an online auction just of art related to birds. I was on a mission to help any way I could. I reached out to a few artists whose bird art I have. One of those artists passed the information on to another artist who agreed to participate, splitting the final sale price of her painting 50/50 with GGAS.
After much work by GGAS volunteers and staff, the auction site went live! I looked at all the art, thinking about which pieces I liked. Then I glanced sheepishly at my walls, covered in art of various sorts, much of it with specific memories that made those art pieces special, some of it art of birds. Then I looked at the website again, and decided that I should buy one of the “Buy It Now” items as a holiday gift. And, of course, a packet of bird greeting cards for myself.
And perhaps another item after that. You can see why I established my “No Auctions” rule a long time ago.
Over the next days, I kept checking the auction website, deciding which pieces I might actually bid on. Dona Reed’s Yellow-headed Blackbirds were fun.
I remember where I first saw Yellow-headed Blackbirds in person at Washoe Lake north of Carson City, Nevada, one summer when my husband and I were staying at Lake Tahoe. We went back every year, but never saw as many as that first year. We did, however, spend 20 minutes watching them once off on Highway 80 outside Sacramento, at the base of the gravel road going into the birding area at the western end of the Yolo Causeway. I thought about the paper mache sculptures by Nancy Overton. I particularly liked the Black-crowned Night Heron, and I was already rotating small bird figures with other pieces like the Swedish painted horses on the credenza in my living room, so could add that to the rotation. But the Road Runner be David Tomb was also stunning. This is my sister’s favorite bird, and we’d seen some on the Salton Sea trip in January of this year, which might turn out to be my only birding trip for 2020. I liked the Lewis’s Woodpeckers by Rene Reyes, but it was really more than I had planned to spend on the auction. And Sopie Webb’s Common Murres nesting on the Farallon Islands really intrigued me. I’ve not yet taken the trip to the Farallons, although I’d talked about doing it for many years before we actually moved to the Bay Area, and several times since then. So her piece might be an option, and it was a size that I thought I could fit into a space if I re-arranged some other hangings. Would rotating wall hangings work? Would I ever actually rotate if I took some down for a time?
Every day I went to the website to think about my selection, then again to see which items had bids, and then again to examine which items had multiple bids.
I’d make my selection and place a bid, would look at all the other items. I was pleased to see emails from the auction site that I was the high bidder, and then went about my day. I was so pleased that I posted for my friends on Facebook that I had bid on a painting, and included a picture of the painting. And then I got an email announcing that someone had bid over my bid for “my” painting.
While checking the website I decided to buy one, or maybe two, of the “Buy It Now” items as house gifts, because I believe that we will eventually be able to travel again and visit friends who live elsewhere than the San Francisco Bay area. I’d been watching the number of each those items go down and did not want to miss the chance to be prepared for future travel.
Then I bid again on “my” painting and was pleased to be the highest bidder. Would my competitor respond? And if I was out-bid, maybe I should settle on a back-up item.
The more I thought about the auction, checking the website twice, and then three times a day, the more I realized that I wanted the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, because of the fun memories it prompted. So I bid on that painting after I was out-bid on the Common Murres. I decided that my strategy for the Common Murres would be to re-bid, but not until the last day, to give my unknown competitor less time to decide to out-bid me again. That would give me a better chance of being successful and winning that painting. But I still checked several times a day to see how each item was doing, watching bids for some items go up and up. As the days went by and no one bid on the Lewis’s Woodpeckers, I thought about it and worried that someone else was waiting until the last minute to make a bid. Then, on the last day, I re-bid on the Common Murres. Deciding that I’d saved hotel and food money I would have spent on the canceled Birdathon trip and the trip to the Sierra’s for the Birds of the High Sierra’s class, I also bid on the Lewis’s Woodpeckers. I was still high bidder on the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and I looked at all the other items one last time.
The next day, without the auction site to look at again and again, I had to come to terms with myself. The person who nixed auctions because my husband got carried away just let the process carry her away and bought two, oh, no, three new pieces for the already-full walls! And it’s not really fair to blame the weeks spent inside with only solo walks along the Alameda shoreline. I really need to re-establish the “no auction” rule in my household.
Over the next weeks, the auction items have been arriving slowly. One Buy-It-Now item arrived in a small padded envelope. The Common Murres arrived first, in a large flat envelope. Next came an email from Rene Reyes, alerting me that the Lewis’s Woodpeckers painting would arrive in a very large box because there was lots of padding to ensure the glass did not break. When I responded to a knock on my door, I was glad Rene had warned me, because the box was very large. The last of the large purchases, the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, arrived in a triangular package that contained a large cardboard tube with the hand-colored linocut block print wrapped around it.
The other Buy-It-Now items arrived, slowly but surely.
Each day when I checked the mail I also looked at the packages laid out under the mailboxes at the apartment building, sort of an extension of the daily checking of the auction website. Now if we could just travel again and if I could get the courage to plan a trip, so I could use the house gifts.
And maybe there will be an auction next year, as part of Birdathon or at some other time. What was that firm rule I had about “no auctions”?
Marjorie Powell, who became involved with the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve shortly after moving to Alameda in 2014, enjoys learning about west coast birds through GGAS classes and traveling on GGAS-sponsored trips. Marjorie is an active GGAS member and volunteer.