One day in high school, a teacher of mine went around his class and asked my classmates what they would be if they weren’t human. “My dog,” someone said. “A camera,” said another. “A bird,” I said. He asked me why I wanted to be a bird, a tinge of disappointment in his voice. “Because I want to fly far away,” I said. That tinge of disappointment made me feel bad then, like I lacked the imagination those around me seemed to have. He didn’t press me any further, and I haven’t thought of that moment until now.
Last year I read Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, and in it she describes her journey toward slowing down and noticing the things around her. “When I travel,” she says,
I no longer feel like I’ve arrived until I have “met” the local bioregion by walking around, observing what grows there, and learning something about the indigenous history of that place (which, in all too many places, is the last record of people engaging in any meaningful way with the bioregion). Interestingly, my experience suggests that while it initially takes effort to notice something new, over time a change happens that is irreversible. Redwoods, oaks, and blackberry shrubs will never be “a bunch of green.” A towhee will never simply be “a bird” to me again, even if I wanted it to be. And it follows that this place can no longer be any place.
I took this picture of an osprey flying around her nest near my school, and I’ve felt this connection to her and to the wildlife around me that I’ve never truly experienced before. When I was a firefighter, I felt this connection to the land that I mostly kept in my periphery. Like so many things in my life, it has stayed there while I focus on the trivialities that make modern life so mundane. Most everything I’ve ever experienced has stayed in my periphery, and what I want to do is to slow down and notice the things around me.
I went on Wikipedia and learned that ospreys are piscivores. Her nest is between the Ninepipes reservoir to the east and the Flathead River to the west, so she has food aplenty. I saw her chicks flying around the nest for a bit and then flying back, her gaze motherly and loving. I heard her sing as she flew around. She is no longer just “a bird” to me, but a mighty osprey.
What else is out there that I haven’t seen or paid attention to? How many different species of birds are within my radius? Of insects? Of living souls in general? We share this world with so many living beings, but how many of us ever truly connect with them?