"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, February 26, 2012


My brother Mark asked me recently when my love of birds began. I couldn't really answer him. Couldn't remember a particular moment. Couldn't find a defining memory. Other loves in my life—reading, writing, cats, antiques, Walt—I could identify a genesis. If not a particular place in time, at least a general location.

Not so with birds.

I remembered the plaintive call of killdeer from childhood summers that somehow spoke to my own longings. My mom loved telling the story of the hummingbird that landed in my hand when I was two or three. There was the "cheeseburger" call of the chickadee announcing the end of winter.

But none of those memories accounted for how birds came to be so important in my life. I've never wanted to call myself a birder because I don't see myself as one of "those" people in baggy shorts, knee socks, and silly hats, with no life beyond a birding guide, spotting scopes and adding to a life list. But I own at least twenty guides, don't leave the house without binoculars in the car, and regularly interrupt conversations with friends to exclaim over a new sighting.

Yesterday during our walk I spotted my bald eagle perched in the snag across the river. He's been there every time I have in the last few weeks. As I greeted him I found myself thinking about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a book I first read in early adolescence, shortly after it first came out. That was where my fascination with bald eagles was born. Because of that book, I began to view the world as a larger place than the small town I couldn't wait to leave. Because of that story, I fell in love with the magnificent birds who were in such danger of extinction. Because of Rachel Carson, I felt for the first time a sense of both wonder and responsibility toward creatures of the air.

Over the years that followed, I read every article about bald eagles I came across. I followed the progress of their recovery with a sense of victory and joy and hope. Feeling somehow that their restoration was a message for me—a promise that my mangled life would be saved and restored as well. Thinking that someday, if I were very very lucky, I might get to travel to a place to see bald eagles in the wild.

When I first started seeing eagles along the Lewis River, it felt like a miracle. How could it be that I find myself living in a place where they are common? I've learned enough about them to know my guy's regular appearance has everything to do with the time of year and that particular bend in the river where fish are common. What I know as fact does nothing to diminish my sense of divine presence whenever I see the telltale flash of white or the exact symmetry of wings that declares the eagle's soaring presence.

I'm not sure I have the whole answer to Mark's question still. I do know that my connection to bald eagles is not accidental. I'm pretty sure the part of my heart opened by Rachel Carson all those years ago has expanded just a bit with every new bird I meet.

We're going to Belize this summer, in large part because of the more than 500 species of birds who live there. I'll get to see toucans in the same way I see robins here. And possibly the tallest flying bird found in Central and South America (the jabiru stork). And king vultures. And maybe even motmots. I have my own copy of Birds of Belize. We'll be spending several nights at the largest refuge in the country.

It's getting harder and harder to pretend I'm not a birder. I care less and less about the image (although I draw the line at knee socks), and more and more about the next miracle being offered for the widening of my heart.


Linda Myers said...

I never considered myself a birder until we went to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2005. I have never seen so many gorgeous birds! Now I watch for them when we travel - my favorite bird is the blue heron, followed closely by the ibis or egret. And we are an official habitat in our yard.

I don't have a single bird book, though.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Wow to see Toucans in their natural state. Yes!

I have only started to appreciate birds as I grow older. Here in MO, I have to admit, the birds sometimes get so happy that I think I will go mad with all the noise. Then I stop and tell myself to knock it off.

I have to chastise myself frequently for stupid moments.


Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Bwahaha, no knee socks for me either. If there's a chance of bug bites, I'll just wear long pants, thank you. I did buy my first pair of rubber boots (wellies) and my first rain suit, just last year, so I can tromp through muddy trails.

Barb said...

Once, when I was going through some tough changes in my life, I was walking along a river and looking up, saw an Eagle staring down at me. Its unexpected presence filled my heavy heart with gratitude. Now when I think back to that time and place, I can see the Eagle, and I still feel happiness. Your trip sounds magical - can't wait for the photos and stories that will take us with you.

Jessica Nelson said...

I'm fascinated by people who are so interested in birds! Intellectually and visually I see that they're interesting, but they've never drawn me. Yet I've seen such enthusiasm by people who love them. On the way to Costa Rica I sat next to a couple who were going for the bird watching. It was interesting!

Wanda said...

I love Belize! Have a wonderful time and say hi to everyone (I like the howler monkeys) for me.

Witmer Family Reunion said...

Maybe you are the next generation of birders--the no knee sock kind. :)

I can't wait to see your pictures from Belize. How exciting for you to discover the bird there. There is something about up close and personal that no picture can give.

Happy birding.

Wanda..... said...

I think you're as much of a birder as I am, Deb! It's Hawks, Cardinals and Carolina Wrens that have special meaning for me. Bald Eagles have just recently been spotted nesting in our area and Granddaughter Alivia picked Rachel Carson for her school report! Belize sounds wonderful!

Sally Wessely said...

Birds have always frightened me a bit. Then, I worked at a site right next to the Garden of the Gods where the eagles would perch high up on the rocks above our building. What a treat it was to spot them watching us as we would come and go from the building.

When we went to Alaska, it was the eagles in the wild that most inspired me. Truly, seeing an eagle is a magical thing.

Your planned trip sounds wonderful.

yaya said...

What a wonderful trip you'll have. I hope you get many beautiful photos and see all you're feathered friends! I was shocked when I came across an eagle down the road from my house a few months ago. I forget that we have many here in Ohio. I saw them up close in Alaska and just loved it. I think your hobby of bird watching is a great way to spend time. I often think that the airplane was probably invented because someone wanted a "birds eye view" of the world.


Love that you are going to Belize. I've heard it's incredibly beautiful. So enjoy. Birds and all.
I have the same vision of a birder as you. I see them tromping around in boots, knee socks, baggy pants, holding a guide in one hand and binoculars in the other.
I too imagined they had no other life. I have a feeling that we have them all wrong.
That they simply are misunderstood, gentle creatures same as you and I.
Blessings today and always,
We spotted our first Cardinal in ages and were so happy to see him at our feeders.

Donna said...

When I was young a favorite gift from a teacher was a book on birds. From that time on I have enjoyed bird watching.
Your trip will just be amazing. Can't wait to hear about it! Take lots of pictures so we can see what you are seeing. Just returning from a mission trip we were surprised to not see any birds in the Dominican. Hope you see many more than we did!

tricia said...

Precious post. Just. Like. You.

Sandi said...

Oh Deb, you've always been a "birder" to me, most definitely without the knee socks! Your love of all things bird has been part of you since I met you. I didn't know that birders dressed so funny, as to me, a birder is a beautiful woman with a wide easy smile and a laugh as big as the sky . . . who truly does stop and watch in wonder whenever a bird is present. I love being with you when that happens as you have opened my eyes to birds, simply from being with you.

I'll never forget the year you had Kailyn and we discovered great blue herons! You brought out the birder in many students and families.

I love you and can't wait for our next adventure over spring break!

DJan said...

I never even noticed birds until I retired to the Pacific Northwest. Of course I loved their songs, and I knew the difference between a robin and an eagle, but that's about it. Now I feed them and love them. Eagles are everywhere here, and I've become a birder, too! It's wonderful to find other birders across the blogosphere. And I love your posts and look forward to your adventure in Belize.

Dee Ready said...

Dear Deb,
I find I have run out of words to describe your lyrical writing. Somehow it touches, always, on what being human means. On how our hearts to get widened to include the world beyond ourselves. You are a true gift to all of us who have found--who have been gifted--with your blog.


Laura said...

I love the image of a hummingbird landing in your hand...that is amazing Deb!

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

I began to see the eagles 'bout three weeks ago 'round the Ponderosa.

I feed the birds year round and since we grow a multitude of grains on the farm we always have a vast variety of them.

God bless and have a magnificent day sweetie!!! :o)

Mark Lyons said...

Hmmmmmmmm...if she walks like a birder, talks like a birder and loves birds like a birder! I love that you have such a deep passion for tha amazing creation.

I love you

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I have some catching up to do. Belize - how wonderful for you. I've never considered myself a birder as I don't think I've focused in on one thing like that. I do like to sit on dock in winter and observe those visiting - the pelicans and sea gulls, the osprey and coots.

So happy for your upcoming trip.

Unknown said...

I knew I loved you!!
Although I am not nearly as knowledgeable.
There is just something enchanting and illuminating and inspiring about birds. I can't explain it .
Every year I am more and more smitten.
See you on a birder trip someday?

kario said...

I know there are practical reasons that your eagle shows up near you, but I know in my heart that there are bigger more majestic reasons.

I, too, have a 'resident' bald eagle that I see weekly and he never fails to take my breath away.

I am so thrilled that you are going to Belize! Can't wait to see Walt's phenomenal pictures of the trip.


Katie Gates said...

Beautiful post, Deb. When I'm working on a major writing project (or deep into beading), I often stay up all night, and I love hearing the birds begin to talk to each other at daybreak.

Amber said...

That trip sounds AMAZING! Wow! I can't even wait to see what you post after that.

Totem animal, that Eagle.


Terri Tiffany said...

Wow--you get to go to Belize and really see so many species! I have never been much of a bird lover until they began to show up in my yard in Fl. I got to feel as though I knew them and enjoyed their company.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

What a lovely vacation plan!!!

I'm sure you will enjoy.

To me, birds are divine creatures. How smart of you by reading about birds in Belize...following your passion!


colbymarshall said...

I'm not sure I was aware "birder" was a term until I read your blog! But that's exciting- Belize sounds beautiful! Have a lot of fun!

Deb Cushman said...

Maybe you're really a birdologist or a bird enthusiast.

Your trip to Belize is going to be so wonderful. Making bird memories...can't wait to hear your stories.

graceonline said...

What is it with those knee socks?

I once took a job because my desk would be one of three in a long bank of windows facing a river.

Every day while I toiled, I got to see golden eagles and, at certain times of the year, bald eagles, fly past, not thirty feet away. Sometimes they would stop and perch in one of the tall trees just outside my window.

Not once did I fail to gasp on seeing them. Every time was like the first time.

Even now, wherever I go, I look up, hoping to see a raptor. Mostly these days, in these environs, I see ravens and turkey vultures, and I am grateful for them, though I will stop and point whenever I see a red tail hawk or other of her sisters I do not as readily recognize and identify.

Thank you for sharing these images. Your writing always evokes clear pictures and never leaves me wanting.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Having had shortsightedness from day one my love for birds is mostly in their song. But in the past 2 years I put out bird feeders and became far more conscious of their activity. I even learned to recognize a couple. And one red winged blackbird seemed to follow along from on high when I went on walks. Sometimes I would stop, look up and just say thanks for being there and I felt blessed to be looked at.
It's a great thing that each of us is passionate about a variety of stuff.