For the Birds Radio Program: Human Connections
A few weeks ago there was a flock of Bohemian Waxwings crowded into some mountain ash trees near my local post office, which I happened to notice on my way to mail some Christmas packages. I’m gregarious enough that when I went in I couldn’t help but announce it, and a couple of people actually stepped out of the long line to check them out. I noticed that several more people looked up as they headed to their cars.
Birders from all over the state make a trip or two to Duluth each winter to see our specialties, like Bohemian Waxwings, and search the berry trees until they find them, but people living in town don’t necessarily notice them unless they’re paying attention. From the time we are little children, we learn to filter out extraneous data in our lives–otherwise we wouldn’t be able to focus on or accomplish anything. But sometimes we need to relearn to pay attention to some of the lovely things in our world. I get so focused on birds that I often miss flowers. It wasn’t until I started taking my little dog Photon out that I ever even noticed a salamander, but she’s shown me about a dozen.
Sometimes it’s a beautiful revelation to notice something lovely in a place we thought of as dark and drab. One time when I was walking in downtown Los Angeles, I wheeled to a stop when I heard some White-throated Swifts flying overhead. A homeless man lying on a bus stop bench sat up and asked me what I was looking at, so I told him “White-collared Swifts.” He looked up and couldn’t see them, so I handed him my binoculars. He searched the sky, and when the birds suddenly appeared in the binocs, his whole face lit up.
On that same trip, I ran into a homeless man up in Griffith Park when I sat down to eat my lunch. I split my lunch with him as we sat together on a bench. He clearly hadn’t eaten in a while and gobbled down the sandwich with gusto, so it touched me to my soul when he broke off a piece to share with a scrub jay that hopped in. Somehow it made me proud to be a human.
The friendly crowd of people searching out the Ross’s Gull in Ashland a couple of weeks ago, sharing spotting scopes and ensuring that everyone got great looks; old friends reconnecting at the Christmas Bird Count compilation dinner; the smiles of recognition when one person with binoculars notices another in a good birding spot–all of these warm associations come from a common bond, love for the natural world we share. Birding is sometimes the way I escape the world of humans to retreat to nature, but it’s also a lovely and reassuring way of connecting once again with my fellow human beings.