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Do You Know? Kermit Cummings

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Photos by Lisa Saleme

Kermit Cummings has many loves in his life. One easily perceived is the love he has for his wife, Dorothy Giroux Cummings. Another began with roots laid in the summer of 1966.

I was living in Augusta, Georgia at the time working for Procter & Gamble. They had previously had me in places like Dallas and Sacramento, California. At any rate, I was now in Augusta, Georgia and, as fate would have it, I needed surgery in that summer of ’66. A friend of the family who lived down the street and worked for Procter & Gamble was a bird watcher. She went on to explain to me about her life-list, which is a list of birds one has personally seen.

She gave you something that summer. What was it?

She gave me a copy of the book Song and Garden Birds of North America. I had to convalesce for several weeks recovering from my surgery. During that time I read the entire book. I can’t express the pure amazement I felt after learning of all different types of species of birds that were all around us. I was just amazed at how oblivious I was to all the beauty that was all around us.

How did the events in ’66 inspire you?

Things took place gradually. At first, I really didn’t think too much about a life-list. But soon it took on a competitive type nature to it. I began to take it as a challenge. Six hundred was considered the gold standard at that time. That became my goal. I began my quest, and the family took trips with the thought in mind of what new types of birds we’d see. And that led to the book I authored called A Backyard Birding Adventure: What’s in Your Yard?

How did that come about?

Not long after 2004, I began to write a series of poems to my wife. She just kept urging me to write. She’d say, “You just ought to write a children’s book.” Finally, I thought to myself that I could write some rhymes about birds—I think I know a lot about them and could make it work. By 2014, one thing led to another—I wrote the poems and got the pictures together and contacted a publisher, Brown Books out of Dallas, Texas. They went on to do the layout, along with beautiful pictures by the illustrator Holly Weinstein.

Those must have been some poems you wrote for your wife.

They were fun and lighthearted. I never in the world thought I’d ever be an author. But I am. It gives me a real sense of accomplishment when people are appreciative and say nice things about the book. I really feel great when I hear the children really love it and want it read to them over and over again.

What makes your book so special?

It comes with an app that is free to download that allows you to actually play the sounds of the birds featured. There are ten birds featured in the book, with the first being the American Robin. Simply point at the picture of the bird you want to hear and just like that, instant atmosphere.

Wow, the book really comes alive!

There was a young man going to Sam Houston State University at the time by the name of Winston Hoyle. He was majoring in advertising, and he had this app that if he showed you a red pick-up and focus on the truck and the wheels would start spinning. I thought that it would be great if we could do something like that for my book. Part of birding is to know and be able to recognize the types of sounds birds make so as to know the type of bird you are trying to identify as part of your life-list. Winston took one look at it and said, “I think I can help you out.”

He came up with this Aurasma app. Once you download the app, you then can hear the sounds. We are really indebted to him for helping us make this such a special book. Also, I’d like to thank Dorothy’s son James Giroux for providing several of the stunning photographs featured. His wife Debbie, daughter Julia, and son Aaron all pitched in with very helpful suggestions. Equally helpful were my daughter Cathy Cummings Powell, Dorothy’s daughter Jennifer, and her son Aiden, who suggested the name of the book.

Your book seems almost autobiographical in its warmth.

That’s not by accident. The book is a story of a little boy with his father sharing his love of birds. It begins like this…

“Let’s learn about birds; it’s not all that hard. Let’s start with a few we can find in our yard! We’ll look, and we’ll listen; oh how to begin? Let’s make a list and find our first ten…”

Each bird is pictured with its own personality. I particularly noticed the picture of the Cardinal. If you look closely, what you see is a family looking down on their young. It is that type of atmosphere that we felt needed to be displayed in a book of this type.

Whenever we have book signings, we are so happy to demonstrate what this book can do. It’s also an added bonus to see the children’s eyes light up when they discover this book is not like any of the others they may be reading.

What’s your age, if you don’t mind me asking?

I am 83. Most people at my age are not writing books. Over the last fifty years, I’ve lost a lot of my birding skills. It takes a good sense of hearing and sight. As I have gotten older, I don’t do those things as well as I once have. But this is a way to pass on my love of birding.

What type of feedback have you gotten about your book?

I love the feedback that we have gotten from parents who tell us their kids are now interested in birds like never before. They tell us their children are going outside and are listening for the sounds of the birds they’ve learned about in the book. We hear that little children are able to recognize the sounds. They might say, “That’s a Blue Jay,” and be absolutely correct. In a way, it is the beginners guide to birding. I hope it leads to a lifelong love for what I like to term the sport of birding. It’s great to know kids are now getting interested in birds.

Where are some of the places that you have had book signings?

I’ve had several signings at Wild Birds Unlimited stores, The Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas twice and the Huntsville Public Library, as well as a number of private signings. I’m always thankful for all the people who are moved by what is truly a labor of love that can bring so much joy to children and adults alike. Most people genuinely like birds, because birds are fascinating. If a person can learn to see birds through this book, it can lead to something truly magnificent.

Back when you started, the standard was to have seen 600 birds; how many have you now seen?

I have over 710 now, and my brother and sister have reached that mark also. By the way, my sister (who started late in the 80s) beat me to 700 after I’d beaten her to 600. She lives out in California and got in with a real good birding group out there.

Where can the public find your book?

People can order the book through Amazon or go to any bookstore like Barnes and Nobel. But because birding is so personal I like to give signed copies.

Really! How can a person get a signed copy?

They can contact me direct. I really don’t mind. They need only to call me. My number is (936) 295-4905. Just call me and I think we can make arrangements to provide a signed copy made just for them. They may also visit me at kermitcummings.com.

It is my sincere hope that this book will serve as an impetus for families to engage in this pleasurable outdoor activity together. A Backyard Birding Adventure: What’s in Your Yard? is a whimsical story about exploring, with the expedition and the adventure taking place right in your own backyard. Be careful, because the enthusiasm can really be contagious once you’ve got the bug!

kermitcummings.com

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