Hitting balls at the country club and watching chimney swifts

by Rob Tiller

On Friday one of my Red Hat colleagues took some pictures of me for our website. In recent years I’ve got over some of the awkward self-consciousness of being peered into by a camera, though it is still slightly embarrassing. Anyhow, here is one of the pictures.

After work, I went over to Raleigh Country Club to practice at the driving range. I became a member at RCC a few weeks back. This is primarily a wonderful thing for which I am deeply grateful, but at the same time I have some cognitive dissonance. I do not come from a country club background. As a kid, I had friends who belonged and ones who didn’t, and didn’t see any systematic differences. But at some point I formed a view of country clubs as islands of unearned privilege, and of country clubbers as shallow, selfish snobs — people whose main political driver was paying less in taxes. Over time, I’ve known plenty of people who put the lie to that stereotype, but I still had trouble picturing myself wanting to join (to paraphrase Groucho Marx) any club that would have me as a member.

What changed? The most important thing was a deepening appreciation of golf. And the golf course at RCC is special. It’s the last course of Donald Ross, the legendary Scottish designer. The land rises and falls in a pleasing rhythm, with lakes and streams and bunkers, and mature trees, bushes, and flowers. It is beautiful, and also quite challenging. And it is less than 10 minutes from my apartment.

The staff has been really welcoming and friendly, as have most of the members. I really enjoy hitting balls on the driving range. When I hit a bad one, I just tee up another. I am playing with the concept that a more beautiful swing makes a more beautiful ball flight, and some of mine are flying well. But every now and again, I have an anxious moment when I feel out-of-place, and wonder if someone is about to quietly ask me to leave.

After hitting my quota at the range, I drove downtown and met Sally at the corner of Salisbury and Hargett Streets. She’d seen a story in the News and Observer about chimney swifts roosting in the Oddfellows Building there. We climbed the stairs of a parking garage across the street and looked upward.

Shortly before 7:00 pm, we saw the first few swifts appear from the northwest, and then there were more. Ultimately there were hundreds and hundreds, swarms of chimney swifts. They fluttered and veered, catching insects and making a high-pitched chatter. It was amazing. There was a kestrel that perched on the logo sign at the top of the Wachovia Building and occasionally swooped down, but the flock would counterattack. We’d hoped to see the swifts go down the Oddfellows Building chimney, but did not have a good angle to view the chimney. Finally it got dark, and we walked a couple of blocks to Dos Taquitos for dinner.