As I near the end of my list of seven joy-bringers, I appreciate serendipitous discoveries that indicate which item I should write about on a particular day. Today after browsing The Daily Dabbler and finding a post on birdwatching, I knew birds had to be my Day 6 topic.
Birds are free, grace and joy incarnate. Their flight, their song, and their seasonality are for me inextricably tied to the thrumming cycles of the natural world that we all firmly inhabit but so frequently neglect.
At times supremely loud (think crows and red winged blackbirds) and others so quiet one must stop breathing and remain perfectly still to event discover them (nearly every earth-hued female protecting its nest in the bush), birds cover the entire aural spread and demand every sort of attention.
I have long been enamored with Stargirl, an exquisite young adult book by Jerry Spinelli. Among other choice tidbits from the novel, I have long held the practice of noticing, of stopping to look at whatever ordinary detail of the world has captured my attention and spirit and pointing it out with zeal to whomever I am with (often Benjamin these days, who has delightfully taken on this practice himself). More than any other element of the world, I notice the cheery song and joyful plumage of birds.
Until the last few months I had always believed the chipper, nonplussed Black Capped Chickadee to be my bird daemon. A year round resident of the northern Midwest, the chickadee is a tenacious little bird, settling in blue spruce and barren branches alike, singing enthusiastically through even the coldest months when nary another creature dares to venture out.
I still adore the chickadee, and frequently pause to bask in its winsome warble. But a few choice encounters with a bird of an entirely different sort have led me to reconsider the identity of my bird daemon.
The Great Blue Heron is in many ways the polar opposite of the Black Capped Chickadee. Large, stately, and nearly silent, the heron stalks the shore, waiting patiently for a meal or merely observing the goings on of its domain. While the chickadee is who I am- enthusiastic, passionate, and vocal- the heron is who I wish to become- elegant and calm, a watcher of the world who contemplates deeply before acting. The photo to the right was taken on a walk down where Minnehaha Creek meets the Mississippi River, and I had another similar rendezvous on the shore of Lake Hiawatha just this past Sunday.
Upon sighting a heron I instinctively crouch, slowly dropping to the ground to avoid startling the magnificent bird. More often than not I spend the next five minutes watching it stand, perhaps turning its head a few times or languidly striding along a log. To an impatient observer, nothing much happens. But to my joyful heart these priceless moments with the heron are the epitome of presence.
Part of what makes birds so lovely and joyful is that every encounter is complete chance. While there are particular locations that one will likely find birds on any given day, specific species sighting is never guaranteed. Consequently, my future actions for more bird-joy must be rooted in an embracing of that unknown.
I recently learned that a friend of Ben’s goes birdwatching from time to time, and I hope to join him sometime soon. Similarly the Audobon Society has a Minnesota chapter that plans bird walks and other events (though I expect one must be a member to attend). In the same way that my daily personal yoga practice can be bolstered by attending group classes from time to time, so my enjoyment and knowledge of birds that comes from personal observation may be expanded by occasional events with others.
“I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”