Monday, December 26, 2011

A two-faced time of year

As the season of introspection continues, I have found myself more in the mood for long nature walks than frenetic birding expeditions, although of course I always bring my binoculars along. Regarded from without, the activity probably looks the same: I stroll along for a while, I notice something, raise my binoculars, and then after a minute or two, walk onwards. The difference is that my attention is directed more inward than usual, and that the focus is more on the walking than the birds.

But obviously, there are birds, today 26 species (my favorites being the white-throated sparrow and eastern meadowlark I saw at Weldon Spring, and the pine siskins I saw at Mascoutin, along with my perennial favorites northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, belted kingfisher and blue jay); plus, two, the siskins and a pair of ring-necked pheasants, were new species for DeWitt County.

It was a decent day for birding but perhaps an even better day for reflection. For while I ignore the "holidays" as much as I can (or at least the lock-step consumerism that the season seems to encourage), I am a total sucker for the New Year's Resolution.

I know, I know! Nobody ever keeps their resolutions, and it's pretty much a trite waste of time, and besides, why should the hopes of self improvement be limited to just one time of year? I never keep my resolutions either (unless I resolve to go birding!), and yet that doesn't stop me from trying again. I love the line in one of Florence + the Machine's songs, "I am done with my graceless heart/So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart." That's what I would resolve to do if I could, but I know that extreme changes never stick. Or even if they do, one soon finds that old graceless heart back in place in all-new surroundings.

But if one can avoid setting unrealistic or rigid expectations and instead focus on a constructive amount of introspection, I do believe that an annual ritual of deciding if we are the people that we want to be, and if not, what steps we can take to get closer to our best possible selves can be worthwhile. As the two-faced Roman god of the crossroads and January's namesake, Janus, looks both ahead and behind, I like to think of where I've been and which direction I hope I'm heading.

I'm not thinking in terms of "resolutions" (which brings up memories of lapsed gym memberships and failed diets from years past) but instead intentions or goals, with the understanding that "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

Goal Number One: To Achieve My Personal Best in Birding. Amongst friends and family members, I've been referring to 2012 as "my Big Year," but to be honest, I don't actually expect to be the Illinois Ultimate Birding Champion. I have too many limits to my time and resources and too many other things I want to achieve to go for that, plus I don't want to get obsessed about it. But I can hope for my best year yet -- in fact, my goal is to see 255 species, which would be 80% of the A.B.A.'s total for the state (if I understand their website correctly), and the minimum number required for a Big Year. Since that's about 40 more species than I've seen in the state all total, it's still quite a challenging goal. And let's be honest, I'll get obsessed about it.

Goal Number Two: To Work on My Avian Haven, a.k.a., my yard, which is currently a wild, weedy overgrown mess chock full of invasive species (bamboo, starlings, house sparrows, English ivy, nightshade; seriously, how can a yard this size have so many "issues"?). Rome wasn't built in a day, and my backyard bird sanctuary won't be achieved in a year, but I do have some plans to add native species and bird and butterfly-friendly plants, and to remove more of the invasive stuff. I hope to be able to provide regular updates on creating better wildlife habitat (and a prettier garden!) starting in the spring.

Of course, being an over-achiever in the resolution department, I can think of a half a dozen other "goals" I plan to work on, although these are not so relevant to the theme of this blog. You know, eat right, work out, be a nicer person, cure that case of "foot in mouth disease," spend more time reading worthwhile books and less time watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc., etc., the same as every year.

Do you have any goals for the coming year? Especially any as relates to birding?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...A lot of food for thought in this post! I have 3 "hopes" for 2012: To be more grateful for the things I have, to be more attentive to the people I love, and to get more UP warblers in 2012. I have gotten lazy, just birding in the same places all of the time, where the spotting is easy! UP warblers like to nest on top of very tall trees. I shall doubtless develop a horrible case of warbler neck, but Tech Trails, here I come! Mom Oh...a 4th hope would be to adopt a cocker spaniel, but that will have to wait until my cat departs this life for wherever he's going next. I promised him no more dogs!