So, why birding? asked my tall, willowy niece as we walked along one of Vermont’s quiet country roads after dinner. She slowed her gazelle strides to match my short ones. Why not ‘frogging,’ or any of the other nature things?
I glanced at her as we strode up the hill, then filled my lungs with the scent of pine and sweet rain. Vermont has had more than its share of storms this summer, making the sodden fields behind my sister and brother-in-law’s house too wet for an early evening stroll, so we had chosen a dirt road for our walk.
I smiled, knowing she would wait for my answer. She would neither hurry nor prompt me. Being with her was like walking with the safe part of myself, the part that relaxes in the woods because whatever I happen to be in the moment is freely given and just as freely received. Such is this special young woman, youngest daughter of my sister. She had also just become a “new aunt” at the recent birth of her own sister’s daughter, whom I had traveled to Vermont to see for the first time, and to celebrate the new life in our family. I cherish the brief touches of time that allow conversations like this one.
Why birding? Well, I said; in fact, it all fascinates me. It is all connected. Birding is just an entry point. Once you study one creature, you learn about the next and then the next. You learn about where they live and what they eat to survive. You learn about who they fear and who they fight. You see things differently. When I first saw the overgrown fields around my sister’s new house, I did not think “messy, must be mown, where’s the lawn,” but rather, “What great habitat for grassland birds….” But there is something else about birding that keeps me coming back, and is probably why I am not an avid lister or chaser of life birds.
There is just something about birds, I said, that lift me off my feet of clay. Somehow, I am assured of my place in the scheme of things, that I DO have a place, despite occasional doubts. I am thrilled to spot a Lovely Cotinga against a blue Belizean sky, but I can also watch a family of crows cavort from tree to tree in my back yard and marvel at their other world, their pure assumption that they can fly away whenever they sense the need. Birds take me beyond myself to a place I cannot name, but always need. That’s why.
A wood thrush sang.