November 28, 2013
Lewis's Woodpecker
Lewis's Woodpecker
I recently saw an interview with a professional athlete coming back from a year’s absence from his sport due to a serious health issue.  When the interviewer asked what he had done to keep from “going crazy” during his hiatus, the player admitted that because he was a control freak it had been hard at first, but that he’d finally found something that worked for him.  Because I’m a certified (by my wife), card carrying member of the Control Freak Clan myself, this interview really caught my attention.

Impatience with himself and worrying about tomorrow were the major personality traits the player cited as the most difficult issues he had to overcome during his down time.  And the solution he found was . . . yoga.  He had discovered yoga to be a great vehicle for keeping him calm, focused on the present, and grounded in the moment without regrets over his condition or concerns about his future.

Jocks doing yoga sounds, at first blush, like an oxymoron, but further reflection reminded me that I too have found a relatively unconventional discipline to deal with CF issues in my own life—birding and, more specifically, birding with camera, have been my yoga.  Several of my past columns have gone dancing with the benefits that nature in general and birding in particular bring to birders’ lives.  The bottom line is simply that, for birders, birding is the great escape.  Birding is the excuse to immerse in nature and let real life problems fade to black.

I became more acutely aware of this once I phased completely out of listing and began to spend all my birding time simply finding and photographing.  No longer running around like a chicken chasing rarities or hurrying from one sighting to the next, I began to slow down, appreciate whichever species was in front of the lens, and slip into the background waiting for some aspect of the bird’s natural history to unfold.  Sitting in a blind or waiting by a waterhole I find I never look at my watch.  I am totally in the moment, and the moment may last for five minutes or all morning.  I have never done yoga, but I suspect the ultimate goal of an experienced practitioner would be for some moment to last forever, literally.  An as yet unachieved goal of mine is to leave my watch at home.

I appreciate any compliment on my photography, but the one I value most is one I don’t hear all that often—“Wow, getting that image took a lot of patience!”  When I hear that, I know at some point, even if only briefly, I made the great escape.  No regrets.  No worries.  No need for control.  Nothing to control.  No thoughts outside the camera’s field of view.  I achieved “in the moment.”  Hard to do in this world of too social media.  Birding can do that for you—drifting through the desert, losing one’s self in the woods, achieving some kind of oneness with the binoculars’ or camera’s subject.  Birding can bring you into moments without any context.