“…the best way out is always through.” -Robert Frost, A Servant to Servants
In June of 2017, in the wake of an especially painful breakup, I became a birder.
I didn’t mean to.
But a few days after the split, in a desperate attempt to feel normal, I woke up early on a Sunday, willed myself to stop crying, dusted off my binoculars, and joined a local, guided bird walk.
During the 2 hour walk, I politely conversed with the group, but I was feigning interest in the chit-chat, as well as the birds. Everything hurt. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from looping over the details of the breakup. And I kept plotting an early exit.
But I pushed through. And on the last leg of the walk, at the edge of a meadow, our guide pointed out a small songbird called a Bobolink. It was a male, decked out in his breeding plumage of black, white and yellow, and perched on a birdhouse in the middle of the field.
I knew what was next: the flight display that Bobolinks are famous for. The one where they fly out and back, rapidly flapping their wings, and singing an ecstatic, tinkling and rambling song. I had seen and heard my very first Bobolink just a week before, and it had thrilled me. But that was when I was happy and in love, and unaware that the end was only days away.
It felt impossible that I’d ever feel that happy about anything again. But I held the bird in view anyhow, and waited. And when the Bobolink lifted off, I snapped to attention, and I put all my effort into keeping the bird in my binocular’s field of view. I was suddenly rapt, and didn’t want to miss a moment.
For those few minutes, I was no longer aching. I even smiled a little. I was fully present, and happy to be sharing a moment of quiet awe with a group of strangers who knew nothing about my broken heart.
It was only a short spell of reprieve, but a powerful one. I was in that early stage of grief where the pain felt pervasive, and permanent. The fact that I got a break from it amazed me even more than the Bobolink did. And it didn’t matter (or bother me) that it was only a few minutes. What mattered is that it was possible. I decided to hang my hopes on that, and to start birding more.
Full disclosure: I’ve been into birds since my early 20’s. But until that day in June of 2017, any birding I had done was sporadic, casual, and unfocused. I owned a decent pair of binoculars and field guide, but I rarely got out. I barely knew a sparrow from a swallow.
But in the 18 months since that day with the Bobolink, I’ve learned so much. I’ve gone birding as often as possible. I’ve taken classes, read books, and gone to lectures. I’ve gone on guided walks, joined bird clubs and listservs and social media groups. My life list grew from 96 to 250 species. I’m fully hooked now. I am never bored, because there is so much more to learn.
I wanted to start this blog last year, during the Year of the Bird, but I lacked confidence in both my writing and birding abilities, and kept losing my nerve. In all my mulling about it, I kept re-reading a passage from a David Gessner essay titled “Sick of Nature“, where he makes a plea for amateurism, sloppiness, and honesty in the genre of nature writing. These things I can do. So here goes.
The bottom line is there is so much about birds and the natural world that I want to share with you.
And, really, why not have a birding blog? I mean, I’ve kept a personal blog about nothing for 7 years, and some of you people actually like it. This blog’s title – Birding Thru – pays homage to that other blog, Eat Thru the Pain. Granted, the content of Eat Thru the Pain hardly deserves the honor, but keeping that blog helped me get through some difficult times. It kept me writing, and connected, and laughing with the people I love. I left the word “pain” out of this blog’s title though, because there is mercifully much less of it in my life these days.
At the very least, I hope to entertain. Best case scenario is that I somehow manage pique your interest in the birds I love so dearly. They are worthy of the attention.
More birds, less pain,
The drawing of the Bobolink is originally from “The Home and School Reference Work, Volume I” by The Home and School Education Society, H. M. Dixon, President and Managing Editor. It was published by The Home and School Education Society in 1917.