Sunday, November 28, 2010
The picture above is of me, age 17 (that was a long time ago! Check out those ugly earrings! Ah, the 1980s, at least I was too lazy to do the big hair thing), on a boat off the coast of Japan. I had the wonderful fortune to win a Rotary Club International scholarship and spent my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Maizuru, Japan. It was overall a very positive experience (I later spent a summer studying in Hakodate, Japan--on the northernmost island of Hokkaido--and I would go back for a third visit in a heartbeat if I could afford the trip right now) and the cultural experiences I had are, sadly, beyond the scope of this blog.
But this is what really gets me. I remember this boat trip quite clearly, and I remember that I enjoyed it. I had recently arrived in Maizuru, still did not speak the language beyond a few greetings, and was feeling so overwhelmed by it all...but the chance to just sit on the boat, watching the water, doubtless listening to the cries of the sea birds (I actually don't remember the birds), completely relaxed me. I have always been happiest when I can spend time in nature. I was so enchanted by the sight of the island that I asked my Rotary translator/chaperon how one could get there. He said maybe ask a fisherman to drop you off, but since I didn't speak Japanese at the time, I didn't try it. (Later I did learn Japanese well enough to be fairly fluent--few people in Maizuru spoke much English, at least in the 1980s, and the Crow MUST communicate!--but I never did go to the island.)
So there I am, as you can see in the photo, looking DOWN at the water. I was not especially into birds at the time. I liked birds well enough, was always happy if someone pointed them out to me, but it never would have occurred to me to go looking for them.
And overhead were flying...well, as I can see in these photos, there are clearly some gulls or terns, and what looks to me like it might be an ALBATROSS! I almost cried when I saw it in my photo album. But look at the beak, and the pattern of the wings--an albatross? Right above me? And I didn't even LOOK UP??????
Sadly, Japan is not the only missed birding opportunity I can think of. I also lived in Morocco for two years (I did see and identify white storks and a Levaillant's woodpecker there, and heard a European cuckoo, but that was just a decade ago and the "birder" in me was starting to stir, I think--sadly, still no binoculars, guide book or wherewithal to look for birds) and have been to Spain and Gibraltar. Not to mention having been a Navy brat and then spending four years in the Army, I have been to a lot of places! And not until I moved to Illinois did I stop to look for birds!
I try not to think about how long my Life List could be if I'd been paying attention all those years. The purpose of all this is not to kick myself with pointless regrets, but to illustrate the point: birding is learning to pay attention. To stop and look, to listen, to engage all one's senses, to be open and present. I do feel that now, as a birder, just strolling down the street, I notice more than I ever used to.
The question is, what else is there that I am not paying attention to, that's happening right now somewhere around me? Learning to wake up and really see what's all around us is such a gift. At least with birds I'm making progress.
And if anyone looking at these pictures can give me a positive ID on these birds, many thanks! Not that I could add them to the life list...but it would be nice to know what was flying overhead that day.