In sixth grade I discovered the beauty of a speckle-breasted bird feeding in our yard, and I’ve been fascinated with birds ever since. I knew robins, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, and starlings, of course, but this bird was a stranger to me. He was also so beautiful with his dark mustache, long pointed bill, spotted breast, and gilded coloring visible when he flew away, I just had to find out what it was.
When I asked my dad later, and before my description was even finished, he calmly told me I had seen a flicker. (I found out later my dad was not only an avid outdoorsman in his more carefree life before his eleven children came along, but also a botany major at the University of Arkansas.)
My life changed when I saw that flicker; it’s beauty captured me. I was fascinated by the marvelous new life I had seen. I went on the lookout for flickers. And the beauty of flickers led me to that of the Orioles, the Baltimore variety in our neighborhood, to be distinguished from the Northern, or Bullocks, varieties I would only learn of much later. The discovery of a new bird became a fascination, the discovery of not only a new life-form, but a sublime beauty, beauty that had been around me but which I hadn’t had eyes to see.
Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings, Varied Thrushes, and Western Tanagers were added to my growing list of birds as I backpacked in the Rocky Mountains, their incredible colors always delighting me. By this time I loved pretty much all things birds and found I not only loved the birds notable for their bright plumage, but others of more subtle hues for their more simple beauty. The Wood thrush, Phoebes, and Water Ouzels were of this type.
I bought bird identification books just to look through them and put names to each beautiful variety. Not infrequently I spied a bird on the wing, or in a bush or tree, and knew what I was seeing, though for the first time, because of the time spent in those lovely field guides. When hunting deer in Eastern Montana with a friend, I pointed out a family of golden eagles, the adults teaching the young how to hunt. My friend, who had hunted all his life, didn’t know that it was glorious eagles soaring above him— his vision had been fixed securely on the topography around us, ignoring the sky above, where there were no deer.
I found myself not only delighting in birds but unable to contain my delight and fascination from those around me. My love of birds overflowed, it spilled over, wetting those around me. My wife and girls joined in and we filled in our own family bird list, adding to it yearly and swelling our list. This led to sharing bird lists with others. Bird feeders came along and we tried mixed, black-shelled sunflower, and thistle seeds, to see which attracted the most desirable of our feathered neighbors.
My heart swelled recently when my daughter sent me a picture she’d taken of a great horned owl, gazing down on its world from its perch high above a cemetery. She loves birds too. She caught the bird bug, and she’ll probably infect her children with it too. And I love that!
What do you love? What are you passionate about? Is it worth sharing with others? If it is, are you passing on that passion? Common wisdom says that important things in life are received and cherished not so much because they’ve been taught, but because they’ve been “caught”— what do people catch from you?