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Two Things

April 21, 2010

There are few things I love more than being on (or near) the water. I suppose the only thing that would compete for the “what I love most” slot would be my bookshelves (I guess that amounts to a whole lot more than ONE thing). Or my red 1969 Olivetti Typewriter (but that’s a story for another time).

As a child, I wasn’t really introduced to the natural world. My upbringing swayed more toward the cerebral end of the spectrum — I learned languages, memorized composers’ birth and death dates, developed a crush on  Franz Schubert at age 16 (who wouldn’t?), played musical instruments, knew all about Van Gogh and his poor ear and could differentiate between Monet and Manet by age 11. I was dragged to the zoo; I thought it smelled, and avoided going back as best I could.

It took until I was in my mid-20s for me to develop an interest in nature. And now that I think about it, there were birds in the picture! I was in graduate school and shared a house with a charming South African who had a dreamy accent and a bird fixation. We lived next to the river, and I spent many a Saturday morning pretending to read, while actually watching him watch birds from the balcony. What transfixed me was realizing that someone could stand still for more than two minutes at a time (a feat I hadn’t yet mastered). Watching my roommate watch birds gave me my first taste of peering into, and paying attention to, nature. The South African and I went our separate ways at the end of that year, and I never got a chance to tell him that watching him watch birds taught me more about the power of observation and attention than all my literary theory texts combined.

For some reason, until I went on my first bird watching outing, I hadn’t made the connection between birds and water. (OK — just chalk it up to my cerebral upbringing a few paragraphs above.) I had heard the word “shore birds” before, but had never put two and two together until I saw my first Red Necked Grebe:

I hadn’t realized that birding would enable me to do the thing I now love best: be outside, by the water, looking closely. And afterwards, once I got home, birding would force me to do the thing I love second-best: run to my bookshelf and look up pictures, descriptions and narratives of what I’d just seen. (Or, in my more prosaic moments, at the end of it all I just head for the dark chocolate in the cupboard.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2010 5:55 pm

    I love this. I also came to nature late, via books for the most part. Have you ever read The Creation by EO Wilson? It’s wonderful.

  2. Fireweed permalink
    April 21, 2010 6:14 pm

    Hope you are feeling better!! I hated the zoo too when I was dragged there on a school trip – what a terrible way to introduce children to nature. They DO smell horrible. Taking kids to see the dead stuffed animals at the museum is just as awful, if less smelly.

    You can come sit by our pond and watch birds one day – it’s very busy and noisy down there but a pair of flickers, who must be madly in love, are drowning out everyone else at the moment (how obnoxiously loud can two love birds be?) even the red-winged blackbirds have faded into the background. I’m also being dive bombed by newly arrived hummingbirds who want their feeder set up pronto.

    I started listening to Anne Lamott’s “Word by Word,” a recorded lecture she did after writing “Bird by Bird.” It’s REALLY good, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. April 21, 2010 9:59 pm

    Wow — things sure are exciting in your neck of the woods. If it’s not a moose, then it’s mating flickers! You really are in the centre of things!

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