Bird-watching, like all other forms of pursuit, has a lot of near-misses. Hearing a wistful trill, or glimpsing a flurry of feathers from the corner of his eye, the observer pivots in the direction of his prize, only to find an empty branch still trembling like an arrow fresh from its quill. A sense of narrowly eluded encounter also touches Oakley House, a plantation home in Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish where the legendary bird artist John James Audubon lived from June through October of 1821, and now operated as a historical site by the state of Louisiana. Though Audubon left Oakley nearly two centuries ago, it can seem to the visitor as if the renowned artist has just slipped out the door.
Audubon’s memory looms large at Oakley because he did big things during his stay. Summer beckons us all with its promise of discovery. For Audubon, the summer of 1821 would be just such a season of eye-opening experiences – indeed, one of the most formative summers of his life.