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Incremental Progress

September 8, 2011

Birdful Readers! I have exciting uplifting news for you! While I am still very much a novice birder, unable to recognize and identify most things that come my way (what I lack in skill, I usually make up for in enthusiasm, which is something, isn’t it?), and still can’t tell the infinite number of vastly different sparrows apart, I am noticing specs of progress. The other day, for instance, I received a bird trip report from my group leader and I was stunned to realize that I could read it through without finding myself entirely lost! Usually, I stumble through trip reports looking for familiar words like “LUNCH”, “Break” or geographical markers I recognize. The birds themselves all typically blend into one. This time, however, I had mental images of most of the birds in the report: sandpipers, yellowlegs (greater, lesser, you name it — I’m down with the yellowlegs!), sanderlings, plovers — it was making sense to me! (Not an entirely whole world of sense, but a partially glimpsed, yet basically understood kind of sense.)

And the funny thing is that I haven’t been trying. I mean, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been showing up to outings, looking the birds up in Crossley or Sibley, keeping a running list of birds in my notebook (red, Moleskin, what can I say, bourgeois values are taking over my formerly-bohemian sensibilities, oh is it age?), along with any defining traits I can remember. I’ve been reading various Ornithological primers (and usually falling asleep mid-chapter, alas) and any Bird Memoirs/biographies I can get my hands on. (Highlights in that realm have been Phoebe Snetsinger’s Birding on Borrowed Time and Olivia Gentile’s biography of Phoebe Snetsinger Life List.) I’ve also been buying birdy objects, mainly in the form of calendars, bird friendly coffee (Birds and Beans is by far the best in town!), note cards (excusable, since I’m a thank you card-writing addict) and post cards, but sometimes stuffed animals and mugs, which is not something I should admit in public, I realize.

Mainly, though, I’ve been showing up. And it’s amazing how much that counts for. In much the same way, I show up to write every morning, and practice piano most days of the week, and, somehow, things happen and they move forward. The Chopin nocturne I’ve been learning suddenly sounds like music, I can play through the Beethoven sonata without stopping. I’m used to measuring things in terms of monumental events, but it’s good to learn to measure incremental progress and appreciate it.

This morning on my walk, I saw a Goldfinch (one of the commonest of birds), identified it, tried to keep track of it as it flew from tree to tree.

I walked home smiling. Progress has been made.

And on that note, I’m giving a reading at the Eden Mills Fringe on September 18th! So if you’re in the area, stop on by.

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