Thursday, June 29, 2006

The World Where The Birds Are

I have been asked -- Why do I bird?

I have never not watched birds. My earliest memory in life is me about age 3. My parents had taken me in wintertime to a big local park to feed the ducks and geese. I was in one of those zip-up-mummy-style snowsuits. I stretched out my hand with a piece of bread in it and this big white duck waddled over and much to everyone's surprise, took it out of my hand. I was transported with joy. For some reason it made me absurdly happy. I can almost recall the sound of my own laughter.

My parents always fed birds at home. There were always birdfeeders and binos; the green hard cover Audobon bird book could usually be found next to one of the downstairs windows. In the winter we bought giant bags of birdseed from the fed store, and hung suet up on tree limbs in empty onion bag. In the summer the birdbaths were always filled.

But that kind of passive watching was only the beginning.

Years later it took a visit from my wacky and wonderful sister-in-law to clinch the deal.

Nancy is a birder. In her teens she would sit and memorize birdcalls from 33 rpm records. She would drive for 3 hrs to Cape Cod in the dead of winter to freeze at the shore in search of a sighting of some rare wandering gull. She knew what various birds did in their spare time. She would tromp through swamps, climb rocks, and skulk through forests to see some rare reported bird.

I thought she was nuts. Charming, but nuts. I loved her dearly, but this "bird thing" seemed odd.

One summer my (now ex) husband's brother and his wife (Nancy the bird lady) came out west to visit us. She had never been that far west and was anxious to go birding. I thought this would be the most boring and stupid way possible to spend time. Birding. Tweet Tweet. Where is my martini? Can I feign illness? Can't we just watch the feeder from here? But I loved Nancy a lot, so I went. I was prepared to be bored witless.

But I loved it.

There I was, skinning my shins bloody on thorny bracken trying to creep up on some wickedly unidentifiable warbler. And loving every second.

It was quiet. It was exciting. I could hunt things and not have to kill them.

There was this whole intellectual layer to it, too -- right alongside this wonderful aesthetic thing. Right brain-left brain-right brain-left brain.

And the stress relief was astonishing.

When I bird, everything else goes away. There is the bird. And there is me. That's it. I am not a great birder. To say my skills were "good" would probably be a stretch. But I love doing it.

When I bird, every sound I hear, each scent I smell, or motion I see is geared to this instant of bird and me. The entirety of my life shrinks to the size of the aperture on my lenses. The focus removes the past, eliminates the future.

I am rarely as present, as fully in the Now as I am when birding. And it is instantaneous. The binos come out and I can feel my heart beat level out, and my breathing become even as the rest of the world falls away like so much chattel.

There is a Birding Groove that one falls into -- a state of grace where one becomes an extention of the motions of a feather. Part of the brain magically picks out the relevant field marks - leg and bill color/length, markings, tail shape, color pattern - and the rest of the brain gets to sit back in ultimate and absolute wonder.

The Birding Groove is that instant when the everyday world turns inside out and all those things I focus on usually, vanish. And snapping into sharp focus is suddenly The World Where The Birds Are.

That world is there all the time, but it only leaps up when I let my everyday focus fall away. And suddenly it comes in its full glory, The World Where The Birds Are - full of dramas and tragedies, comedians, bullies, scoundrels, rapscallions, acrobats, villians, heros, drudges, dupes and ballerinas - painted with every hue of the rainbow, flitting, flying, chirping, singing, soaring and gliding -- a world that is there and fleeting all at once. A world that commands my total focus, vanquishes all care, and yields bounties of limitless delights.

Why do I bird?

How could I not?

(Thank you, Nancy!)


Blogger beth said...


11:27 PM  
Blogger Ben C. said...

Thanks to 'I and the Bird' there is yet another blog out there that must be read!

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.

7:27 AM  

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