He took my sister and I on hikes where we would walk about 10 feet, then stop for 20 minutes while he wrote down the names of all the plants around us. He showed us how to find shy salamanders under rocks, and how to be quiet and respectful of nature.
The past week I have been feeling particularly unwell and was stuck resting on the couch more than I’d like. I took joy in watching the leaves start to unfurl on the trees and shrubs out my window. Even more exciting was the activity around the bird feeder my parents gave us for Christmas. We are in a new home and these are our neighbors — groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits, deer and birds.
My husband installed a screen door so now I can taste the early Spring breeze, and hear the birds singing. We also have a huge picture window to watch them. Naturally, that led us to wonder more about these feathered friends. At first it was humorous, with conversations like, “What’s that black bird with red on its wing?” And my response, “A red-winged black bird,” made us laugh. It seemed many were equally obvious, but others were more subtle. I wanted to know more.
At the library, I found a copy of The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and set to work trying to identify all the birds I could see. I talked to my Dad and learned that he started bird watching in fifth grade, when he was knocked out for a time with an illness. His dad brought him birding books from the library.
From Observation to Experience
I don’t know why we feel a need to name, or even list, the flora and fauna around us. I think, though, that when we are experiencing nature more personally, we feel they are worthy of knowing in a more intimate way. The same as if you walk into a room full of people and feel a desire to know who they are.
I didn’t really get it before. I loved being outside and learning about nature, but the names of everything eluded me. I’m sure my dad must have repeated the same few names over and over throughout my life. He never minds though. He is always patient and is just happy to see us interested.
Now that it is the critters and plants in my own space, I am mesmerized. Today I mentioned to my husband that binoculars would make it easier to identify the differences between the teensy birds at the feeder. He got a pair from his hunting backpack and handed them to me.
The difference was incredible. I moved in space from seeing the bird, to being there with the bird. I stared through the lens at a cardinal, watching every tilt of his head, saw him chewing and the way he cracked open the shell to eat a seed. Now I see what he sees, my Dad, when he spends countless hours in the field or woods, just watching and listening. What a joy to be able to experience the natural world, to be allowed to hear the variance in bird songs, to observe quietly as a parent prepares a safe nest for her eggs.
My Dad’s love of nature is one of the greatest gifts he has given me. I am so thrilled to be enjoying it on a deeper level now that I am able to slow down and take the time to observe. I love sitting here with binoculars, bird book, pen and paper beside me, as I have seen him do for my whole life. It makes me feel not just closer to my new friends outside, but to him as well. Thank you, Dad.
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