This itinerant life guided by two things: One, my whim. Two, the Texas A&M Wildlife Job Board. Society cannot comprehend, calling me directionless. (Maybe a failure, behind my back) Working jobs for no money. I'm here, outside Hauling a pack, watching birds, climbing trees Living with former strangers (Now dear friends) Eating good food, laughing in the sun. It's a good life, this itinerant one. * A literary critic informed me that a limerick is a poem with a specific structure and not, as I had thought, a term for a amateurish diddy. (Thanks, Mom.) So, this series gets a new title...
The Head and the Heart has some great advice for the birder-naturalist
I like to
sit in the woods (I have heard it called stumping, a term I adore). Considering
that you are reading this blog, you probably enjoy the occasional woods-sojourn
I spent the last hours of daylight sitting cross-legged in pine needles. The
woods were quiet after a hot afternoon. Listless Hispaniolan Woodpeckers chirred.
Breeze-harvested pine cones ricocheted through the understory and came to rest
on the ground. Something rustled to my right; I shifted my eyes, keeping my
body motionless. There, ten feet away, sat a Broad-billed Tody. It flycatched
its way through the brush, coming ever closer. I sat frozen, willing away the
pain of two mosquitoes on my brow. The bird—lime green and pink, like the
absurd progeny of a kingfisher and a hummingbird—stared at me for a few
moments, then flitted, snapped a fly, and disappeared into the brush. I
released my breath and swatted the engorged mosquitos.
magic to sitting in nature. I pondered my tody encounter and drafted three
reasons why I go to the woods to sit.
1. Sitting and watching is
a great way to learn more about an ecosystem and its function. Want to learn more
about beech-maple forest? Sure, you can read books, peruse websites, and
consult experts, but there is no replacement for sitting on a stump. Go and
sit! Sit in the morning, in the winter, at night, in the rain. Bring a notebook
and record what you see. If you are artistically averse, fear not—you don’t
need to write nature poetry or paint watercolors. Write simple observations and
questions: “Just saw a squirrel with a mouthful of leaves climbing up to a
drey” or “I see a skinny tree with lacy yellow flowers…what is it?”
Budget quality time with epiphytes!
2. You see wildlife. I believe the
sedentary naturalist sees more than the mobile one. We are clumsy. Branches
snap, Gortex swishes. Wildlife flees or freezes, never to be seen. Sitting
heightens the senses and diminishes the human presence. Invest thirty minutes,
an hour, two hours of sitting, and some animal will approach within a
heart-stopping distance. In these moments I wish to be Radagast the Brown, camouflaged
with lichen-encrusted cheeks, so still that I am habitat, birds nesting in my
3. It keeps you sane. Nature is
therapeutic—that is unquestionable. I always love going to the woods, but I am
especially drawn there when plagued with negative emotions. Anxiety, depression,
frustration—all of these feelings dissipate, lysed by the forest.
despite these wonderful reasons for stumping, I seldom do it. Why? Again, three
reasons (excuses?) spring to mind.
1. I do not always live in
spots conducive to wood-sitting. Last fall, I resided on bustling Wealthy
Street in Grand Rapids. The roof was a great spot to observe drunk hipsters
passing by, but the only birds I ever saw there were House Sparrows and
Starlings. It took significant effort to get to a natural area, and
consequently I seldom did.
2. I don’t have time! As much as I love
sitting on logs, it does not always seem like the most constructive use of
time. The reward is intangible. Stumping appears synonymous with idling when
other activities vie for my time. Work, sleep, friends, family, this blog—all
these things are important and do not always leave time for a sit in the woods.
You will see more caterpillars in nature than in your living room
3. We admire the intrepid. This is reflected in
the immense popularity of adventure birding blogs, like Noah Stryker's quest. Were
I to sit on the same log every day and write of my observations, would I
attract as wide of a readership as Stryker? Doubtful—but that doesn’t stop me
from wanting to try (I can already see it: The
Stump Year: An Effort to See as Few Species as Possible.) The point is, if
I have a morning free, I prefer to undertake some exploit that will net epic
birds and perhaps create some brag material for the blog. I have more to learn from the woods than I think, I think. The question is: will I make time for the stump? And the patience to linger? The observance to notice? And will you?