“Virginia Rail!”, Tom shouted. Rushing over, we catch a glimpse of the dark rail as it slipped through the dead blades of grass and cattails. The thin air bristled at the pig-like grunt call of this secretive species. This rail had taken us all-day to find, and it was our 60th species on our portion of the Stevensville Christmas Bird Count circle. This segment encompasses the entirety of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, some 2,800 acres. It had been a great day of sixty seen bird species, with the team surpassing the old record of 57 species. We worked hard for each bird, and the experiences from the endeavor stacked up through the day. But, time went unnoticed and slipped past too fast.
Through 2014, I am undertaking what I call the Mindful Big Year, a year where I aspire to experience birding and the natural world in a mindful way and record the totality of the year in journal entries on this blog.
Birding is more than just birds. Birding is a biological study, natural world immersion program, spiritual practice, conservation effort, economic agent for positive change, and goodwill ambassadorship program all rolled into one incredibly powerful package. The problem is that most of the public and many of our fellow birders do not ponder this facet of the activity. I am starting the Mindful Big Year to start relating these largely unknown experiences and stories. I want to touch on spiritual aspects of birding. I want to know to balance family, work, and birding passion. I want to share the natural world in order to protect it.
You may think that I seem grandiose, but please take a moment to ponder it. How many times have you been silently walking through a still forest, only to notice that you have been become immersed into the world as it is at that moment? No concerns, no desires – just the birds and the present. This is a moment of mindfulness, the very basis of any meditative practice. Birding is spiritual.
Let’s do another thought experiment by way of the following quote.
“I’ve been bird-watching in Israel with both Palestinians and Israeli bird-watchers who’ve gone out with me early in the morning, both inside Jerusalem and in other places.”
This statement is from perhaps the greatest agent of peace in our time, former President Jimmy Carter. He has used his birding passion as part of his peace-making toolbox. When people are totally enthralled by the beauty of a displaying Houbara Bustard, it is hard to aim weapons at one another.
I firmly believe that we as birders can help change the world for the better of all living beings. We can help protect wild areas, save endangered species, provide much-needed monies to less than fortunate economies – all by birding. I hope that my little voice via the Mindful Big Year can help, but I sincerely encourage you to help in your own way, even if that is sharing your passion.
“All of us have the capacity to be mindful. All it involves is cultivating our ability to pay attention in the present moment… and leads to realms of relaxation, calmness and insight within yourself.” – Jon Kabel-Zinn
This year will be my practice.