The large auditorium filled up quickly. True standing room only. Guests leaned forward and drank in the words.
Onstage sat their idol, Victor Emanuel, the Austinite who runs one of the world’s finest nature tour operations. He also puts together popular camps for nature-loving kids.
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I missed the introductory salute from former first lady Laura Bush and I might have taken the final chair on the back row.
Slender and soft-spoken, Emanuel appeared at the UT Thompson Conference Center because of his recently published memoir, “One More Warbler” (UT Press). A tremendous storyteller, he had never before written a book, in part because his business, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, takes up so much time.
So he dictated it to an amanuensis. I, like everyone else in the room, can’t get enough of it.
From the stage, he related a few birding adventures, apt for this gathering sponsored by Travis Audubon, including the time took the assistant curator of the Houston Museum of Natural History to Galveston and was about to give up on any special sightings when along a low dune line — flying behind other migrating birds — comes an Eskimo Curlew, a species now considered possibly extinct.
It’s kind of amazing that this is Emanuel’s first book, given his close friendships with key authors, including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton and Roger Tory Peterson, along with Austin literary virtuosos Stephen Harrigan and Larry Wright. This night, the former interviewed Emanuel on the stage, while the latter asked adroit questions from a house mike.
Emanuel, a South Austin almost-neighbor of ours, returned to one of his favorite themes again and again: Bird lovers are transformed by the powers of observation and thus become more integrated into the natural world.
Despite Emanuel’s demurrals, he is, as Harrigan averred, one of the greatest birders in the world.