A matter of perspective
I visited a new area last night before sunset. It finally stopped raining, and that was reason enough to be out, even if it would be a short time only. Other times, we'd be crying for rain, but this spring, we have had enough for now. It's rained pretty much the last two weeks. The sun and shadow were but a distant memory, and the fact that the sun was finally visible brought many people out of hiding.
I'd gone to this area in search of a new bird. Ah yes, that elusive list again! Though I proclaim not to care much about lists, I care enough to have the landmark pin all set to go, as soon as I hit the magic number. After last night, I am but nine birds away from that number.
Why, when my goal is to enjoy whatever chooses to share my space, be it birds, calling frogs or simply the scent of new growth, do I persist in keeping that list? I avoid traveling beyond my range with rare exceptions, thus limiting my listing opportunities. Birders with Big Lists usually have traveled in pursuit of those lists. I return, again and again, to the same few habitats, watching the march of the seasons, listening for birds announcing loudly that "this space is MINE!" in the spring. I enjoy looking for the subtle differences, guessing at the story of a Northern Cardinal I heard singing last week with a slightly different accent. Was this one blown here from Alabama, perhaps, singing with a southern drawl?
I think I have discovered the answer to my own question; it's a matter of perspective. I've been reading a fascinating book by Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods. He has put forth the idea that many of society's ills today are a reflection of the hurt we've done to our planet, and the subsequent alienation from nature. In one chapter, he refers to the work of Howard Gardner, best known for his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. As a special educator, I'm well aware of the variety of "smarts" students possess, usually not the linguistic smarts that largely determine school success...which is often why these kids become my students. However, it seems I haven't kept up with the theory, as Gardner has put forth an eighth intelligence--"nature smart." He suggests this ability to notice and recognize small details in nature likely evolved as a survival mechanism and has been hijacked in the modern world by our ability to distinguish among cars or brand name jeans.
In other words, making a list is simply a human response to a form of intelligence, noticing different birds and their habits, storing them in gray matter to recognize them quickly upon next encounter. A matter of perspective. I've learned quickly to keep an open mind to possibilities that might present themselves, and this approach has often yielded rich results. I went last night in search of a Least Bittern. I realized upon leaving I probably wasn't even looking in the right area of this wetland meadow, but that was okay. I enjoyed the symphony of calling frogs all around me. I saw a tiny brown flash in the cattail stand that sang the scratchy song of the Sedge Wren. Not the "new" bird I'd come to see, but still one to add to The List.
I enjoyed a common but very cooperative Tree Swallow sitting just off the dike in front of me, taking the opportunity to shoot a few photos. As I watched the sun dropping, my perspective suddenly shifted to another place...and my willingness to be open to that shift resulted in a wonderful serendipity.
Aaaahh! Taking time to pursue The List and then to throw that list away to enjoy a very ordinary bird in new light, surrounded by a remnant of nature...this is a moment to savor.