I have become a person who watches birds.
For as long I’ve known him – my entire life – my father has been a birdwatcher. Growing up, we always had bird feeders in the yard and birdhouses (which he built himself) on our trees. He could usually, immediately, name any bird that happened by; if he couldn’t he’d pull down our 1965 copy of A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America. When he passed that book on to our family this past year, I found that he’d taken notes in felt-tip pen of precisely where and when he’d seen each bird.
I never paid much attention to this peculiar birdwatching habit: I didn’t see the point. Birds were always just part of the scenery, hanging around in the background. They were nice, but far less important than studying, socializing, or going to the mall. Why should I bother to learn their names?
My dismissive attitude towards birds and birdwatching continued for nearly 20 years. I lived in cities for most of that time, where everything was too loud and too busy to even notice birds. Birdwatching, when I thought of it at all, seemed like a hobby for “old people:” people who had time on their hands, pricey binoculars around their necks, floppy-brimmed hats on their heads, and chunky hiking boots on their feet.
Change began gradually, after our family moved to Vermont. I can pinpoint the moment my interest in birds shifted: I was walking the dog, and I heard a mockingbird call. I didn’t know it was a mockingbird at the time, but I recognized the sad, haunting call as something that I’d heard often during the long, lazy afternoons of my childhood. When I got home, I looked it up. Now I knew one bird.