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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 82 too late. A blind person who regains her sight understands the preciousness of her eyes. She has the capacity to live happily right here on earth. The world of form and color is a miracle that offers blissful joys every day.” Like a miracle—that’s how the chicka- dees’ appearance felt to me. But most long-term birders in Nova Scotia wouldn’t describe contact with Poecile atricapillus in that way. Chickadees are common here, so common that a wing-weary birder might call them “junk birds.” As Guyette and White point out, birders frequently become consumed by their lists. They count up the number of bird species they see in different ways. They have life lists, state lists, yearly, monthly, and daily lists. And, over time, what begins to count is not actually seeing a bird but having seen a bird, and common birds are not worth a second look. To those who don’t inhabit the bird- ing world, extreme birders, also known as “listers,” are perplexing, ridiculous even. Why aren’t they noticing the other aspects of nature’s beauty that are right in front of them—the curious pink mushrooms, the yellow leaf falling, the mackerel sky? Why are they traveling so far and trudg- ing so doggedly through snow, swamps, and deserts just to get a neck cramp and a checkmark? These are good questions, but they turn a blind eye to the fact that there are a lot of other people—people who have no in- terest in birds—who are listers or collec- tors of some kind and, moreover, that their ambitions are equally inane. They make a list of all the books they read, or buy a T- shirt from each Hard Rock Cafe they visit. They compete to get into the Guinness Book of world Records. They collect coins, brand names, electronics, hockey cards, lovers, or good grades. Indeed, maybe this impulse to achieve or collect is not something that af- fects many people, but rather most people. I know I’m no exception. My listing mentality has long mani- fested in travel and food. In high school, just after my first trip to europe, I got a blank world map and began filling in the countries I’d been to with pink and purple and green—conquering them with col- ored pencils. As for food, if there is a fruit I haven’t tasted, I’m hungry for it. Trying to solidify the self through accomplishments or material goods is a natural impulse in our uncertain, im- permanent world. But it doesn’t help. It doesn’t make life perfect; it doesn’t make us immortal; it doesn’t lead to wisdom. In fact, achieving and gaining can cause new kinds of suffering; our responsibilities and our worries can be compounded. Much of Zen Birding is a warning to people who love birds: Don’t let that love turn into nothing more than a list, espe- cially as an attempt to solidify the self. knowing my own tendencies, I’m listen- ing carefully to this warning, for after just six months of low-key birding I can feel the draw to novelty and checkmarks. There’s a world of interesting birds out there that I have never seen—and I would like to. My husband searched the net for the world’s best singing bird and he stum- bled upon a clip on YouTube from a BBC documentary showing Australia’s superb lyrebird. Mouse-colored and with long, strong dinosaurian talons, this is not a pretty creature, except maybe its tail, which fans out almost like a peacock’s. But the lyrebird has the ability to mimic the individual songs of other birds, as well as the chatter of flocks and the sounds of mammals, including humans and the things of their making: musical instru- ments, explosions, and machinery. In that I sang for the chickadee, and it came—wrapped its little feet around my finger and took a seed from my palm.