PreRamble: Today, Earth Day 2013, I want to take a moment to unplug from the continuous stream of work and news and social media, to be truly mindful of the splendor of this planet.
Walking around down here … our feet touching dirt, rocks, grass … (or, if you’re in the Midwest, the unrelenting snow) … We are privileged able to look around and see all of the wonderful, unbelievable things Earth has to offer … fields, plains, mountains, streams, oceans, skies … plants, insects, animals … you get the picture. It’s amazing.
And, I want to take a moment to plug into the continuous stream of often unheard messaging that the Earth sends our way every day … the “ecological media,” if you will.
Take birds, for example … inhabitants of the actual Twittersphere. If we listen, their Tweets are telling us things about our planet that we may not notice, or that we may not want to acknowledge that we notice.
In a piece on bird-watchers – a force of 5.8 million strong in the United States – NY Times writer, Brian Kimberling notes that,
Today’s birders are not exploring new territory geographically, as the early naturalists did; rather, they are contouring the frontiers of climate change. It’s April, and the kitchen-window bird observer is limbering up, too. Are the birds nesting early, nesting late? (Do they know something we don’t?) The reporting such observers do is crucial.
The Audubon Society estimates that nearly 60 percent of 305 bird species found in North America in winter are shifting northward and to higher elevations in response to climate change. The Audubon Society’s estimates rest largely on data supplied by volunteers in citizen-science projects like the Christmas Bird Count … the birds in question have shifted an average of 35 miles north over a period of about 40 years — seemingly insignificant in human terms, but a major move ecologically.
The ancient wisdom of fretting obsessively over bird behavior has obtained the vindication of modern science. Hawks and eagles do not appear by accident. When, where and whether they appear is, absolutely, a portent. The spotted owl is a bioindicator, a species that can be used to monitor the condition of an ecosystem. We can’t escape trying to see the future through birds.
But mostly, beyond harbingers of ecological peril, I like to experience birds as the fleeting, feathered wonder that they are – popping into my backyard, my world, without notice … to hunt and peck, or simply to flaunt their statement plumage.
Kimberling’s excellent take on the essence of bird-watching,
To see a new bird is to capture it, metaphorically … [and seeing] a rare bird is a kind of trophy. A list of birds seen on a given day is also a form of prayer, a thanksgiving for being alive at a certain time and place. Posting that list online is a 21st-century form of a votive offering.
The Take-Away: Today, Earth Day 2013, take a minute to get some first-hand “user-experience” and listen to what actual birds are saying.