Be Like The Bird Watcher

For my partner’s birthday yesterday, I coordinated an Introduction to Bird Watching class with the two of us, two friends, and a guide. It was a cold sunny morning and we gathered at a local horticultural center to wander among the trees and ponds.

The first step was a lesson in properly using binoculars. Though we have a few pairs of binoculars, it turns out I’ve never used them correctly. To focus the left eye you close the right eye and use the center dial. Then, to focus the right eye you close the left eye and adjust the lens with a moveable ring on the right side. Once each lens is separately adjusted the binoculars work as they are supposed to — bringing full focus into whatever you are trying to see.

The next step is finding the image you are trying to focus on with the binoculars. Before using the binoculars you have to detect the image itself with your natural eyes. You have to place it in space before you deepen your focus on it.

This was a big lesson for me. In the past, I’ve tried to find the image — the bird, the boat, the bloom — just with my binoculars. That technique has left me feeling like I’m watching a video produced and directed by a baby. Our guide told us to find what we are trying to amplify first. Then, keeping our eyes on the image, bring the binoculars to our eyes.

Yesterday we saw twenty-six bird species ranging from the Canada Goose to the Yellow-Rumped Warbler. I couldn’t capture the detail of every bird we saw, but I was able to bring into focus some things I’d never seen before. With the binoculars used properly, I could see the copper belt on the female Belted Kingfisher. I could see the distinctive flat bill on the Northern Shoveler. And when we got close to my favorite bird, the Great Blue Heron, I could see, as she stood still as a statue, the wispy white chest feathers like two tiny watercolor brush strokes.

At one point our guide said, as a few of us struggled to find the Kingfisher who was calling to us but making herself hard to find, “Try just closing your eyes and listening for her. Sometimes if you can’t see the bird you can hear it.” I tried this technique a few times on our walk. My ears aren’t trained like hers (yet). I couldn’t find the specific bird we were searching for by her sound, but I was able to hear other birds in our midst by closing my visual senses. And in closing my eyes everything felt more peaceful. There was so much there, even in the absence of sight.

Lately, my life has been busier than usual. I have three KanBan boards going — one for each job and one for my household. The number of tiny post-it notes I have moving from the “ToDo” to the “In Progress” to the “Done” columns is overwhelming. The point of the KanBan board is, of course, to help me move through multiple tasks, but the overall result is a sense of feeling out of focus. In the maelstrom of multiple to-dos, there is an absence of being present with myself. My focus is all over the place.