While most folks were busy grousing about the late snows, longtime Hiwan Hills resident Marilyn Rhodes was busy glorying in them.
“It’s a birder’s paradise,” explains Marylin. “Birds on their spring migration get temporarily trapped here by the snow, and you get to see a lot of birds you ordinarily wouldn’t.”
Marilyn loves birds, you see. She also loves live musical theater, gardening, photography and Shakespeare outdoors on a thick green lawn. But, even as a child, Marilyn's heart was ever given to the creatures of the air.
“Growing up in Oklahoma, I’d always been interested in wildlife,” she says. “Oklahoma has the best raptors you’ll ever see.”
Although personally satisfying, bird appreciation doesn’t necessarily pay very well, so Marilyn enrolled at University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. She studied economics and finance, earned her MBA, and became a certified public accountant. It was a considered choice of field.
“In the 60s, one of the few things women could compete with men in was accounting.”
She was an excellent competitor, spending the next 25 years working the books for Hertz Corporation and ending her tour as the operations manager of that company’s DIA facility.
The way Marilyn tells it, her avian fascination really took wing in 1989 when she moved to Evergreen and ran across celebrated local naturalist Sylvia Brockner’s column in the Canyon Courier. Before she knew it, Marilyn was hip-deep in The Evergreen Naturalist Audubon Society (now Evergreen Audubon) and soaking up everything she could about the mountain area’s native plant and animal species.
In 1995 she moved her professional flag up the hill to Aramark Educational Systems in Genesee and, ten years later following a successful battle against breast cancer, settled in with the Mentor Financial Group working from home. It wasn’t until she closed her ledger for the last time in 2011 that she realized she’d been charting an uphill course all along.
“I’d been moving closer to home, to Evergreen,” laughs Marilyn. “And as I moved closer, it freed up more time to do other things.”
Marilyn used some of that new-found leisure becoming a Master Gardener through Jefferson County Extension and co-founding the experimental group Foothills Organic Gardeners. She found time to employ her hard-won Wildlife Master credential manning Jeffco’s wildlife conflict line. But Marilyn devoted her best time to the birds, immersing herself in Jeffco’s rigorous Master Bird Program.
“It’s an amazing – a college-level – class. You don’t just learn how to identify birds, you learn their seasonal plumage, their behaviors, their habitat – you become sort of a citizen-scientist.”
It’s been two years since Marilyn retired, but she hasn’t spent them in the nest. She’s traveled across the United States and into Mexico seeking quiet communion with birds of a different feather, and sailed far into the Pacific Ocean to get a first-hand look at curious species that dwell upon the water.
“Now I’m planning three pelagic trips to the Atlantic.”
These days, when Marilyn’s not taking in a show on the Denver Botanic Gardens lawn, or off on a photo-safari, she might be teaching newbies the ABCs of birding at Evergreen Audubon’s lovely nature center at Evergreen Lake, or guiding groggy birders on a sunrise tour of Mount Evans for the Denver Audubon Society.
And when she’s not spending a sunny afternoon with Joan Baez at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, you might find her penning her monthly birding column, “Bird Business,” or digging in at the Evergreen Community Garden in Buchanan Park.
“In the lottery I got two plots,” she says. “I’ll work one, and the other one I donated to Rocky Mountain Academy.”
Fact is, birds of a feather really do flocks together, and Marilyn’s loves birders almost as much as she does the objects of their affection.
“Birders are a really friendly, generous community, and people from all walks of life are drawn to this crazy hobby.”
“I lead night-time owling expeditions,” she grins. “Not that many people go prowling around the woods at night making owl sounds.”