But today I read a very satisfying essay in the New Yorker by Jonathan Franzen, "My Bird Problem," (August 8 & 15, 2005) that someone clipped out for me. The essay is about learning to love, dealing with death, what we do to the environment, the hell that is other people, and a love of birding. It did not go unnoticed among the nature bloggers--Rexroth's Daughter at Dharma Bums writes about it here.
Here is one passage from the essay that particularly struck me, where Franzen describes his "proper introduction" to birding, on a walk in the park with two "serious birders."
We started at Belvedere Castle, and right there, on the mulchy ground behind the weather station, we saw a bird shaped like a robin but light-breasted and feathered in russet tones. A veery, the brother-in-law said.It's an eerie feeling, an epistemological miracle, when you see a bird for the first time the day after you learn it's prevalent in your region; it's a startling revelation to find that there are 40 different species observable in a morning in your yard in the spring, where you would have guessed 4 or 5 before making the count. Birding shows you something important about the complexity of the world, watching birds grounds you firmly on the earth, in the moment.
I'd never even heard of veeries. The only birds I'd noticed on my hundreds of walks in the Park were pigeons and sparrows and, from a distance, beyond a battery of telescopes, the nesting red-tailed hawks that had become such overexposed celebrities. It was weird to see a foreign, unfamous veery hopping around in plain sight, five feet away from a busy footpath, on a day when half of Manhattan was sunning in the park. I felt as if, all my life, I'd been mistaken about something important. [emphasis mine]