In my junior year of college, I asked my parents if I could stay three extra weeks and take bird watching. “You must be crazy,” they said and repeated it for the next fifteen years. “Bird watching, just not practical, all that money, forget it.” Then I met my husband, Radames, who showed me how to watch birds. I believe in bird watching.
As we back into the driveway, I stop, look ahead, and observe an American Crow descend from high on a tree to the left over French bread waiting for her in the driveway. She waddles toward it, head jutting left, then right, looking for danger, and then beak forward, she plucks the bread from the ground and flies off. Deliberate, cautious, her stealth sustains her. I drive out of my parking spot, glance in my rearview mirror, a Great Blue Heron bombs for a fish in the pond, it hears the wheels on the gravel, spreads its wings out six feet or more, and pumps himself to the heavens. I know dinosaurs lived. In summer, surrounded in twilight by sweet smelling flowers, I hear a buzz, I glance to see a hummingbird, wings in constant motion, gathering nectar with all its might, it holds steady in mid air on an invisible tightrope. I watch the American Goldfinch move in sign; the natural rhythm holds my eye to the yellow dazzling creature until it voluntarily stakes to a sunflower for feeding. I begin to see the signs around me. I go to the pond in the cloud-drenched sunset, hear behind the green stage, the mew of the catbird. What biological directive created that sound? A woods walk, a rustle in the trees, its coming to get me. No, a grouse that heard my foot fall and thumps to safety stirring the brush in its wake. We have a miscommunication about danger.
And one day, on a snow lit sunny morning we approach a wild flock of turkeys trudging through a stand of pine trees, marvel at their cohesiveness, watch them walking westward together, alone for the moment, the center of their universe, their feet imprints in the snow and I believe I am lucky to have learned bird watching. The birds give me something to wonder at larger than myself, they teach me to be deliberate, that all things have rhythm, and that survival requires energy, focus, and the balance of a tightrope walker. I believe in bird watching, it is magical and makes the practical worth doing.
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