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Levin: Seeing Long Distance

Now that deer season is almost over, I’m getting ready to reenter the woods in search of lingering waterfowl and early arriving winter finches. But my old and excellent binoculars, bought in the early nineties, light and durable, that yield a crisp, bright image, even in fading light, have been sent away to be repaired. For the lifetime warranty to apply, I had to ship them to a certified Leica-repair shop in Maryland. Waiting for a diagnosis was like waiting for a doctor. It was six weeks in the queue before my binoculars finally reached the technician’s table. The diagnosis: the binoculars had a faulty focusing ring and a loose prism. I accepted the cost of repair, calibrating, and cleaning, but it would be two months before I could have them back, and since my backup pair of Leica’s were in Colorado with one of my sons, I’d be without binoculars for more than three months.

So I did what any desperate naturalist would have done; I splurged on another pair, which to my dismay cost more than my first car - more than my parents paid for my Bar Mitzvah.

But these new binoculars are remarkable. They yield a crystal-sharp image and are rated 10 by 42. Ten is the magnification, or how many times closer the bird appears when looking through the binoculars as compared to my naked eye; forty-two is the diameter of the lens in millimeters; or the breadth of view. They also focus down to less than five feet – very helpful when observing rattlesnakes. Although the new binoculars are larger and heavier than my old pair, I can wear them all day. A harness strap takes the weight off my neck and keeps them from bouncing against my chest.

I didn’t think advanced technology could have altered such an axiomatic tool as binoculars very much. I expected more refined lenses that yielded a crisper image, perhaps, but not much else.

I was wrong. Even the barrels have changed.

An indentation on the bottom of each barrel provides a surprisingly comfortable rest station for my thumbs. I’ve studied the instruction manual, calibrated each ocular, attached the lens caps and harness, and I can’t wait to get back into the woods. But I’m fussy about the first bird I’ll allow myself to view with them, so as a test, I focused on one of my German shepherds in a field near the house.

The image was so good I could see a November tick attached to his lip.

Ted Levin is a nature writer and photographer. His latest book is America's Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake, University of Chicago Press, May, 2016.
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