Firstly huge thanks to you – the amazing birding community! Because of you there has been an overwhelming amount of beautiful things written, spoken and posted about Martin since he died in January this year. Here’s my humble offering. But how do you summarize a person’s life in a few short paragraphs? I’m not going to attempt to do that. Instead I just want to share a few thoughts in tribute to the amazing man that was Martin Garner.
I met Martin back in 1987 when he came to chat to my 6th form. (Yes – our eyes really did meet across a crowded room). Long story short we were engaged after 6 months and later married. We celebrated our 25th last year and I would have happily been married to him another 25!
Perhaps I’d failed to pick up Martin’s love for ornithology early on, or he’d failed to mention it…
Either way I was first introduced to it during a visit to his hometown of Frodsham, where he suggested we have a day trip to Anglesey…sounds fun I thought. What’s at Anglesey? ‘A bridled Tern?’… sorry a what? (The only bridle I’d had contact with was one you put on a horse). This was going to be interesting. So off we went with another birder, to see a Bridled Tern. When we got back apparently other birders were frustrated that they’d ‘dipped’ the bird and that we’d ‘gripped them off’!
We went on many ‘stop-starts’ together…
Yes, these for non-birders are walks. The difference when you go for a walk with a birder lies in the fact that a) it’s imperative to carry binoculars at ALL times and b) you may not get to actually walk that far. You just stop and start. Lots. And sometimes you just stop. Walking really isn’t the focus – but then you all know that.
As time went on it amazed me that not only did Martin have what seemed to be an encyclopedic knowledge of birds, but he could also remember specific dates, times, probably what he’d eaten, when he’d seen something special. There didn’t seem to be a place that we could visit where Martin wouldn’t say ‘I came here in 19… and saw a ……’ He had endless stories of how he’d slept under hedges, hitched lifts just to see a bird and I learnt that this was called ‘twitching’.
I remember very clearly when Martin toyed with the idea of writing the blog…
We’d been spending quite a bit of time at Spurn. It may come as a surprise to some of you but he initially thought a blog would be a crazy idea and didn’t think for a minute that anyone else would want to read it. Having learnt SO much from him it was a no-brainer to me – but somehow Martin just didn’t quite get how good he was. It was with a lot of encouragement that he began. He settled in his mind that he would do it for himself and have fun writing about one of his passions – in his words ‘download what’s in my head’. And if anyone wanted to read it, great – and if they didn’t, great. He never for a moment thought it would become as popular as it did.
We’d had the opportunity to live in many diverse places…
But we’d dreamed of living by the sea most of our married life. So when our girls had finally both finished school I left my job, we sold our house in Sheffield, and moved to Flamborough. Birding Frontiers was now more than just a blog. Martin began to travel and guide and I landed the job of personal PA – let the fun begin!
And then the worst happened…
We hadn’t been in our new home long when we received the revelation of something sinister that would alter our path forever. A path that nobody would choose, but sadly many have to travel. The big C – A terminal diagnosis. What a blow. Not the dream by the sea we’d imagined. Nor the next season of newfound freedom with children flown and adventures ahead – just the two of us. We’d faced many obstacles and battles in life but this was to be by far the most terrifying and challenging.
But Martin did NOT let that stop him!
The guiding had to end but it meant the Challenge Series was born. Most of what you’ve read in these books was written when Martin was in hospital. It became the ‘in joke’ when I used to visit with the latest list of books and journals he’d requested. The nurses would ask ‘had I made an appointment to see Mr Garner in his office today?’ And there he would be, laptop on the bed, chatting to someone on the phone. Inspiration just doesn’t quite say it.
…my husband, best friend, soul mate and an awesome Dad to our two girls. Life with Martin could only be lived in high definition with dolby stereo. One of his favourite phrases was ‘Carpe Diem’ – every day was a gift to be seized and lived! He didn’t just have a zest for life, he WAS the zest in life. I recall with a smile his frequent bursts through the door, excited by the latest find, whether found by him or somebody else made no real difference – it was all about the discovery.
But cancer has shaken us like an earthquake…
The landscape for my girls and I has changed forever and it’s as though the very ground beneath our feet now lies in ruins. We find ourselves in the rubble, searching round and wondering how to piece it all back together again. But it won’t go back the way it was – that option isn’t open to us. For as much as the birding world has lost a bright star, we have lost our champion. And life can never be the same. But Martin repeatedly said that there was a much bigger picture to all of this and to this we hold. One day we hope to see it in all it’s beauty.
So is this the final Birding Frontiers BOOM!?
That’s been the big question for us here – what should happen to Birding Frontiers? Well there is the potential of the next book in the challenge series, which we hope to publish. Martin was still working on this in the days and weeks before he died. And my main aim at this stage is for the blog to continue its identity as a place of sharing, encouragement and discovery. This in itself would be such a fitting tribute.
But I know if Martin were writing this, he would want to tag on the end to get out there, get discovering and be the best you, that you can be!
And in the end he’s demonstrated in the way he lived and died that there really are no boundaries, only frontiers!
So have that adventure, follow that passion and find the ‘Gold’ in every day. For it is there to be found, you just may need to sift through the rubble first. This is my promise to myself – especially on the tougher days. As this I think, could be the truest and most fitting tribute to him of all.
…and if you’ve got a few minutes – here’s the video montage his girls put together and played at his funeral – actually a lot of fun (just so he has the final word!)