Monday, February 18, 2013

The Bluebird Effect

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickerfoose is a jewel. There is a lot about this book that I admire.

A) The author's artwork! Zickefoose's sketches, illustrations and paintings of birds are remarkable. If it were just a book of art, we'd be richly rewarded.

B) Her writing style is personable, she leads with her heart, her stories flow like friends sitting around a front porch swapping their bird remembrances.

Zickefoose writes, "In the early 1980s, I spent six weeks in Newfoundland, and I hiked its cool, rocky paths on what passed for summer days—in the fifties, with a fine rain falling. The heady scent of balsam rose around me whenever the sun dared peer out. The wistful songs of white-throated sparrows—stronger now, not wavering, since the birds were on breeding grounds—seemed the perfect aural embodiment of the aroma of fir: sweet, elusive, nostalgic, and intoxicating." 

And finally, C) The uncommon bonds. And this probably goes to the heart of what it is to be a birder. As an avocation, birding is a lifelong passion. A lifetime of garnering information, little clues. You can read all the books, attend classes and workshops but ultimately each birder spends long solitary hours in the field with heightened senses, pulling together the pieces, the sounds, the flashs of color, the awareness of surroundings, the Thoreauvian attentiveness, the sensitivity to the season.  

As Zickefoose's writes, "Learning about birds, for me, like piecing together a puzzle that lasts a lifetime. I chase down their songs, one by one, spurning audio recordings in favor of hearing that song coming from an open bill. I pick up and store random fragments of information: bits of songs and calls, foraging and breeding behavior, flight style, bathing behavior. I piece them together in memory until I begin to see the bird take form. I may never be granted an entire image, but occasionally I have an interaction with an individual that grants an unusual and unexpected insight, a glimpse into the imponderable."

Birding is a lifetime of private epiphanies spent out-of-doors, far from the madding crowd. And what better place to be? Hours and hours and hours and a thousand a-ha moments. 

In a word, birds are wondrous: they fly, sing and come in a Crayola Crayon boxful of colors. They can be found any and everywhere. Any day is a good day to go birding, a good day to refine your awareness, tweak your radar. 

But, here is the extra verve Zickefoose brings to the table. As a licensed bird rehabilitator, a self-confessed "compulsive nurturer," her firsthand observances are far more intimate than ours can ever be. The birds we see in the bush, she has seen in her hand, often sick or wounded, at their most vulnerable. When they let down their guard. 

Having nursed numerous individual birds back to health and raised many, many more nestlings to their fledging into the wild, Zickefoose has gotten to know individual personalities, create uncommon bonds. This is some of what she shares with us: her 15 year relationship with a broken savannah sparrow that refused to give up his wildness; a limp-winged orchard oriole that still longed to migrate throwing itself against the bars of its cage; a white turkey vulture totem; and a one-on-one bond with a wild ruffed grouse that followed her like a spaniel on her walks through the woods, plus there's her long hours of being an avian mama: her playing parent to orphan teenie-weenie-weenie hummingbirds and chimney swifts. (Is this even humanly possible?) 

"I live for the moment," writes Zickefoose, "when my gaze meet's a bird's—that exchange of awareness of the 'who' in each of us, the spark of understanding leaping from the bright bead of its eye to mine."

This is why I admire this book so. Because of the life that Zickerfoose has lived, she's talked-the-talk and walked-the-walk and—thank goodness—through the pages of this book, shared the stories. Bravo!

Thank you, Janet Lee for your gift. As usual, you were spot on!

1 comment:

Janet Lee McKnight said...

You are so very welcome! I love you so much!!!!