Tuesday, June 14, 2011
What I'm Doing
There's a fable about a powerful king who assembles his sages and asks them to render an object that will make him happy when he is sad and sad when he is happy. They ultimately forge a ring for their king bearing the inscription "This too shall pass." For me that object is a bird. When I visit a woods or prairie filled with birds I know I'm generally seeing them at their best, which is how I like to capture them with my photography. Before I was a serious birder, however, I had no idea how much trouble birds are in. As the naturalist matures, it's a rather depressing moment when realizing all is not so well.
Whenever I come upon a Dickcissel, I can't help but think about how badly they're treated by farmers in Venezuela where they're considered agricultural pests. Because Dickcissels winter there in huge concentrated flocks, it wouldn't be difficult to wipe out a substantial portion of their entire population with a single poisoning event. Sometimes I'm amazed any exist at all, so I'm very grateful when one is perched in front of me singing away the afternoon at a panoramic grassland. It gives me a little hope.
On some days (the lucky ones) I'm able to trek down a path and get into a groove where it's just the sound of my footsteps on grass or dirt, my breathing, wind, insect sounds, and birdsong. As I’m walking, my mind catalogues all the birds I hear almost subconsciously; it’s just me, the ground, and the bird. There’s a Field Sparrow! Who was the first person to hear a Field Sparrow’s song and knew it belonged to the little bird with the pink bill?
During such treasured moments I forget the plight of birds, the city where I live, the fact that I can visit a place like this because I have a good job, etc. But there are reminders, like a siren or airplane that can pull me out of my meditation, but only temporarily. The hypnotic rhythm of my step quickly returns me to my zen with nature. I love losing myself like this and imagine what these experiences must have been like for early explorers and naturalists. Isn’t this what we should all be doing?
All images © 2011 Mike McDowell