Talk of the Quad: Small and beautiful things
I would love to go birding with all of you. I’ve developed this obsession, and I’m finding that I now need some friends to enable me. I can promise, first, that it really won’t take much work to start. Even binoculars, although helpful, are not required. All through the year we can find birds on campus or a short walk away, or take an easy drive to the coast for more excitement. When we arrive to school late in the summer, the marshes are full of herons and travelling hawks. Tiny shorebirds crowd beach edges, nervously out-stepping waves and falcons. As the heat fades, puffins and razorbills dissolve into the deeper Atlantic. Soon after, boldly colored winter ducks gather their breeding forces in the snow—a casual and apathetic audience to our holiday travel.
As the inland lakes freeze and the non-coastal ducks scatter south, remnant bands of black-capped chickadees (singing cheese-bur-ger, my cellphone text alert) and nuthatches (which I call meeps) supply more consistent comfort. Lonely brown creepers offer the occasional errant song (trees, beautiful trees!). After several weeks of frozen breath, it’s a relief when early spring birds trickle back towards our campus. Vireos and black-throated green warblers (zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee) begin their hopping in the Commons. By May, the Pines are heavy with singing warblers. Some ovenbirds (teacher-Teacher-TEAcher) and black-throated blue warblers (I am laz-ee-eey) stick around to commiserate with students during finals. The summer begins again.It’s now been a year—perhaps a little less—since I really started birding. I’ve forgotten about twice as many songs as I remember and misidentified more shorebirds than I’m willing to count. Each time I go looking, I’m accompanied by a fear born of 20—plus years slogging through precisely marketed hobbies, each of which promised about 10 minutes of entertainment and supplied five. I mean to say that I have a millennial nervousness that the whole thing (the activity? The birds? The soil and the trees?) will sort of deconstruct like all my other products. About ten minutes ago I saw a fish crow (UH-uh, like an American crow with a cold and some sass). It remained solid and almost inexplicably realized.
And so there’s this other part to the whole birding thing. The objects of birds develop a form in and of themselves. We can step away from two near—equal transgressions. In the first crime, we capture an avian aesthetic as lifeless color and shape. They cover our hats, decorate our hair, fill our coats. We allow them status only as an image. In the other, more well-meaning offense, we regard them as patterned objects worth conserving.
“The role of avian fauna cannot be overstated in regards to seed dispersal, pest control and ecosystem management,” spoke one beleaguered scientist. But to gaze at them shifts something in the head. Their eyes become really like eyes. Beyond aesthetic, we allow them substance and sentience and will—as though they ever needed our permission. Conservation takes its rightful place as the protection of existence, of feeling, rather than the maintenance of equilibria.How nice, Liam, how quaint. But the craziest part of all of this affection is how naturally it arrives. It takes the smallest gap and the whole thing breaks wide open. In some ways, I’m asking you to trust me. To trust that a glance away from the five-minute lights and noises that attend our lives will not fundamentally shatter our millennial philosophies. To trust that it really, really won’t feel silly to stand there and stare at a robin. It will be such an easy love. So come birding!
Liam Taylor is a member of the Class of 2017.
If you’re interested in joining the Huntington Bird Club or are interested in birds/birding in general, please contact Liam at firstname.lastname@example.org or Isaac Merson at email@example.com.