In Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which hit shelves this past April, she makes a case for paying attention to what claims our attention. What rules our headspace? Some of us find ourselves, more often than not, falling into the spirit-sucking whirlpools that are our phones. Some of us dip into our work email inboxes off the clock. Many of us are “optimizing” -- turning our casual macaron-baking or pottery-throwing hobbies into side hustles, say, or scheduling our social lives, consciously or not, around Instagrammable photo ops. We live in a fast-moving world that’s getting faster-moving all the time, yadda yadda yadda. We know this. But if you’re a born contrarian like I am, you may snap out of the matrix every now and then and wonder: How can I resist?
Odell’s answer: Look around you. Right now. Can you name what you see? Can you explain why it’s there?
Bird watching -- birding -- is one avenue she’s found that addresses these questions.
To bird, she says, is to recognize that we are physical beings in a physical world. Birds are our neighbors, frequenting many of the same places we do, making noise and taking up space, and yet we tend to gloss over them, much the same way we do the trees and waterways and mountain ranges we pass by every day. Once we stop to notice them, though, we unlock what may feel like a whole new universe: a layer of meaning that was always there, but that we’re just now aware of. We notice the birds that live their lives alongside ours so that we may notice ourselves, and notice the parts we play in our communities. We see that we’re accountable to forces beyond the digital grid. We’re accountable to our ecosystem.
And, admittedly, the internet isn’t all bad. It’s given the birding collective a real leg up in one regard: It’s more diverse than ever. Young people are -- excuse the pun -- flocking to the pastime in visibly greater numbers, and with the rise of groups like the Feminist Bird Club and media personalities like Jason Ward and Charles Holmes, we’re seeing people of color, women, and LGBTQ folks embrace a pursuit that was once seemingly the exclusive territory of white male retirees. The democratization of the airwaves has amplified fresh voices and shown us that birding really is for everybody. Because we are all Earthlings, we all have reason to ponder Earth’s machinery.
Curious? We invite you to join us in paying attention to the birds that are our neighbors here in Denver. Birds at Your Branch, which I hope to turn into a citywide series, kicks off Saturday, March 28th, at Central Library. We’ll meet on the North Lawn by the big red chair, then head across the street to Civic Center Park. A field trip leader from the Denver Field Ornithologists will be our guide. Here’s a few of the species we’re liable to see -- by and large everyday birds you’ll find in your own backyard. So break out those binoculars (if you have them!) and swing by, whether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned pro. You’ll leave with something you can turn to when the world feels a little too fast.
In the meantime, here’s some recommended reading:
- City Birding: True Tales of Birds and Birdwatching in Unexpected Places by Kenn Kaufman et al.
- Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife by John M. Marzluff
- The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal about Being Human by Noah Strycker
- How to Know the Birds: The Art and Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd (a local!)
- The Thunder Tree: Lessons from an Urban Wildland by Robert Michael Pyle (also local!)
- Rewild Yourself: Making Nature More Visible in Our Lives by Simon Barnes
Guest blog by Lainie F.