VANITY SURFING

Sanford R. "Sandy" Wilbur
March 2006


  Once or twice a year, I find it interesting to "surf the Web," and see how many times I can find my name mentioned. The list is actually pretty long, because of my active on-line involvement in genealogy, history, bird study, conservation, book publishing, religion, politics, and so forth.                  Usually, the findings are pretty mundane: I'm going to give a speech (or gave a speech) to some group, my books are for sale somewhere, I asked or answered a question on a genealogy website -- that kind of thing. Occasionally there's something unexpected. For example:

  When I published "Condor Tales," my book on the history of the California condor research and recovery efforts, I tried out a variety of possible titles. I finally picked one that I thought would get across the theme of my book and also differentiate it from other condor books in print, or that might be published later. Imagine my excitement the first time I did a web search for "Condor Tales," and found that the search engine had pulled up several hundred references. Alas, it only took a few moments to discover that there was another "Condor Tales" out there -- apparently a book on Alaska Native American legends, and nothing to do with the California condor. I did find a few references that were about my book, but clearly the other author had a better publicist than I    do. The best laid plans....

   Another time, I found my name on a website that published summaries of law suits and legal cases. That one really confused me at first, as I've never been involved in a court case. That was my immediate reaction, anyway, until I discovered that the case was one brought against the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service a number of years before. A landowner living near one of our national wildlife refuges had filed a suit against the Government for activities on the refuge he thought were impacting his land. As I was one of the "responsible parties" in the government chain of command, my name appeared on the complaint along with those of the refuge manager, who I supervised, and the Regional Director, who supervised me. The suit never went anywhere, our government solicitors handled all the paperwork, and I think my only involvement was that some memos that I wrote were cited in the complaint. I had never seen any of the final papers; the summary was interesting, and brought back some (not completely happy) memories.

  Then there was the time that I found I had won an award that I hadn't known about. Well, it wasn't exactly an award; it was a recognition. And the recognition wasn't exactly "good," although I think it was good-natured. What I found in my surfing was that a certain mail group that I used to correspond with (but hadn't for a couple years) had done a little essay on the history of the group, and had picked out some of the highlights. I remember one was a recognition of the person who had made the most posts to the group (hundreds, as I recall; I had posted maybe twenty times). My acknowledgment came for having the longest (by far, I guess) post ever received by the group. Nobody said it was a bad post -- it stirred some interesting discussion at the time -- but it was unusual in the World Wide Web universe of one-liners. Hey, we take our fame where we can get it.

   One time, I saw my name mentioned in regard to one of my first books, "Birds of Baja California," that had been published some years earlier and was out of print. Several years before my surfing expedition, someone had written to one of the birding news groups asking if anyone knew where to get a copy of the book, as he wanted to have it for a birding trip to Mexico. Nobody knew where to find one (apparently they hadn't done a web search, because I think I had a copy or two on our used book site at the time), but the inquiry had kicked off a round-robin discussion on the author of the book. "Was that the Sanford Wilbur who went to Humboldt State in the 1950s? I don't think I've heard his name since I left school in 1965." Somebody else thought it was him (me), but wasn't sure. Hey guys, I'm out here in cyberspace; just "Google" me.

  One of the nicest surprises wasn't technically found in random web surfing. My daughter asked me if I had ever seen the post called "My Dad Rocks" on her brother's blog. No, I never had, so I went looking. It turns out that a couple month's earlier, Shawn had posted a pretty glowing recommendation for some of the politico-religio-philosophical essays I have on this website. It sounded like he thought his old Dad was pretty smart (about some things, at least).

  But there are dangers in Vanity Surfing. Before you go looking for yourself in cyberspace, be prepared to find things that you might not really want to find. I remember the sinking feeling I had when a Google search pulled up the line, "One of the worst things to happen to condors was Sandy Wilbur." I couldn't resist going to the source, which was a new blog here in Oregon, written by someone in dark glasses (his blog picture) who I'd never heard of. In a couple paragraphs imbedded in a longer article, the blogger mentioned my "self-congratulatory book" on the condors; noted that "on Wilbur's watch, the condor population had plummeted;" and that, when I was finally "given the boot, a far more competent field biologist" had established the "true causes of the condor die-off." What a downer. But I am not without a little self-deprecating sense of humor, so I wrote him a teasing e-mail offering to send a free copy of "Condor Tales" so he could read it (I was pretty sure from his comments that he hadn't). I also told him that my son had really liked the book. In fairness to him, he did write back. He said he had obviously got his info from sources other than me (obviously), but didn't ask me to send a book. He didn't apologize, or ask for "my side." He did say it was nice that my son liked my book.

  And so it goes. I will surf again one day soon, and I will take what I get.


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