One Small Thing

I was mildly conscious there was some danger in my solo birding trips. There always is, for a woman travelling alone.

This is a very different blog post than I usually write, but it’s what I was thinking about for much of the day. I woke up yesterday mentally exhausted, from editing and book launches and promotion and marketing and my community newsletter responsibilities and reviewing and…..just too many words. My wrists ached from typing. My eyes were dry. My creativity was missing. So I went birding instead.

Alone. I needed space and silence. I drove up to a lake about an hour north of us, and walked around a pond and then along the lakeshore, and looked at trumpeter swans and blue herons and pied-billed grebes, and the osprey overhead and the swallows chattering over the water, and listened to yellow warblers singing. I took pictures of wildflowers. I startled a white-tailed doe, and a lot of turtles. And I thought about my two solo birding trips: one a week in the High Island area of Texas; one a road trip out across the Dakotas and up into Saskatchewan.  

Luther Lake, Ontario

I was in my 50s, for both trips. In Texas I stayed in one place, and did day trips to the local wildlife refuges. On the road trip, except for three nights at Grasslands National Park, I moved every day. I drove back roads; I stopped at ponds and potholes and rivers; I hiked into prairie. I had no phone reception, much of the time, and anyhow, my husband was in Peru when I was in Texas, and in Papua New Guinea when I was on the road trip.

Nighthawk roosting, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

I was mildly conscious there was some danger in what I was doing. There always is, for a woman travelling alone. I was always alert; not on edge, but alert. Once or twice I returned to my car earlier than I’d planned, because something made me nervous: a pickup truck stopping, its driver watching me, that sort of thing. Once or twice I didn’t stop at a location I’d meant to, because who was already there concerned me.

Then this week I read stories from birders who are black, men and women, about their experiences in the field: about the suspicion they often are met with. How they are watched, and sometimes followed, and challenged. How having the police called can so easily outweigh the pleasure of birding. What are they doing, with those binoculars or spotting scope or camera?

I thought about the slight extra alertness I had on those trips, and the few times I listened to instinct and didn’t bird. What if every day was like that? How many challenges or scrutiny would it take to stop me birding entirely? How much fear?  I think of the joy and delight birding has brought me in the fifty years I’ve been consciously doing it, and what I would have lost if I’d been driven away from it.

Racism mars lives – destroys lives – in worse ways, without a doubt. But the scream of an osprey or the chatter of tree swallows – and the ability to stop and watch and listen– should belong to everyone. I am doing my best to simply listen to and learn from the voices calling (again) for change, because I know much of what is behind these valid and overdue demands is outside of my experience. But this one small thing isn’t.

I don’t know, yet, how – or if – I can help bring about change. But I can ask how. I can try. That’s what I thought about today, while the yellow warblers sang.

Author: marianlthorpe

Not content with two careers as a research scientist and an educator, Marian L Thorpe decided to go back to what she’d always wanted to do and be a writer. Author of the alternative world medieval trilogy Empire’s Legacy, Marian also has published short stories and poetry. Her life-long interest in Roman and post-Roman European history informs her novels, while her avocations of landscape archaeology and birding provide background to her settings. As well as writing and editing professionally, Marian oversees Arboretum Press, a small publishing imprint run as a collective. Marian is currently writing Empire's Reprise, the trilogy following Empire's Legacy.

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