Editor’s Notebook: On Birds
I have a new toy, something I’ve wanted ever since moving to a valley in the woods: a wildlife camera, this one trained specifically on birds. Bamboo box with two vertical seed channels, extended perch, and recessed, solar-powered camera. It promises to “blend into nature.”
Each morning, my young sons and I open the app to view who’s visiting (a male Northern Cardinal usually arrives just before sunrise). Each afternoon, we look through the moments captured and recorded throughout the day, laughing at how mourning doves squabble. Each evening, we personify: the red-bellied woodpecker looks so satisfied with himself; that tufted titmouse is clearly thanking us for the refill; our Carolina wren is braving her shyness to enjoy scrumptious sunflower seeds. We learn from the birds something about ourselves: the songbird seems timid, yet he dives in. When do we hesitate? How might we take flight? What’s the reward?
By bedtime, of course, I remind myself that the birds are birds, doing what they’ve done for ages longer than we’ve been here. What lesson should we—readers, writers, humans navigating the natural and unnatural world—take with us, without asking birds to be teacher?
I was struck by how birds play a role in all three of our February pieces, teaching from a distance. Each blends into nature. Seemed a sign of a sort, that just as my backyard friends were rendered close and clear, writing appeared that is equally close and clear. I wanted that connection. I believed I willed it into being.
Gretel Ehrlich says to look at nature as an invitation to be what we are: I wonder if what we are, as humans and at heart, in the end and always, is hungry.
—Suzanne Farrell Smith