For the Birds Radio Program: New Binoculars

Original Air Date: Nov. 14, 2000 (estimated date) Rerun Dates: Aug. 28, 2001

Laura just got a new pair of binoculars—10x42 Leicas.

Duration: 3′19″


Once every decade or so I buy a new pair of binoculars. I got my last pair in September, 1989. They’re expensive Zeisses, and when I bought them I figured they’d last me a lifetime.

They probably will, but they’ve now been relegated to serving as my emergency auxiliary back­ up pair, because I just bought a spanking new pair of Leicas. These, too, are a top-of-the-line model—one that wasn’t available when I bought my Zeisses. They focus closer, and they’re 10x42s instead of 10x40s, meaning the outer lens is 42 millimeters instead of 40 millimeters in diameter, allowing more light in and giving them a brighter image. Best of all, Leica has improved its eyecups, making it a simpler matter to pull them out and push them in. My old binoculars have rubber eyecups that got more and more cracked over 11 years of bending back and forth. The new Leicas have a totally different type of eyecups that you snap up and down rather than bending, so they won’t wear out with use.

This is the first pair of binoculars I’ve ever bought that came with instructions that clearly describe how to adjust them for the differences between eyes, and how to use the eyecups depending on whether or not you wear glasses. I’ve always wondered why optical companies assume people were born knowing every technical detail about binocular operation when appliance companies think we’ re so stupid that they even give instructions about not running a blender with your hand in it.

These binoculars are the ones I’m going to bring to Costa Rica when I finally go in January. Holding them in my hands, I imagine the exotic hummingbirds and trogons I’m going to see through them, and the Resplendent Quetzal I’ve been yearning to see since I read its name in an encyclopedia when I was four years old. The first bird I saw through them wasn’t quite so exotic, but was the perfect sighting to break in a brand new pair of binoculars—a Blue Jay.

A few weeks ago, a root canal I’d gotten 29 years ago finally bit the dust. The day after I ordered my binoculars, I got an estimate in the mail from my dentist with how much the repairs are going to cost-for that I could have bought two pairs ofLeica binoculars. It seems so odd to me that a few bits of porcelain could possibly add up to so much more money than such an exquisitely crafted pair of binoculars. If I’d known just how much the dental work was going to run, I probably wouldn’t have ordered the binoculars. I may have to skip a meal or two to swing it, but what’s food for the stomach in the face of the chance to see more clearly such lovely food for the soul?