If you have no idea what kind of bird is pictured here, join the club. But don’t try to join a birdwatcher’s club, because they will mock you relentlessly before kicking you out as the world’s biggest nincompoop.
Our photography group was taking pictures at the bird sanctuary when all the birders were asking each other, “Did you see it?”, “Is it still there?”, and “Have you ever seen one here before?” Etcetera. Turns out, there was a purple sandpiper hanging out on the concrete near the lake and it was a holy day for the cognoscenti in Birdland.
While it looked like just another bird to me—not as ugly as a pigeon, but not exactly a peacock, either—this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the folks who bring binoculars and notepads to the park. Turns out, these are Arctic birds more likely to cross the Atlantic than Lake Michigan, so seeing one this far south this early in the year was almost transcending for the lucky few at Montrose Beach.
I asked one guy why this was a big deal for them and he rebuked me for the question. “This isn’t a big deal,” he said. “This is a huge deal, a really huge deal.” I stand corrected.
While the prayerful gaped in awe at the rare visitor near the harbor beacon, the shutterbugs took our obligatory photos and moved on to the rest of our outing. We’d stepped into their world for a few minutes, tried to see what they saw when their checklists gained a major new entry, and then we returned to our own reality behind the camera.
Still, we were different people after our small detour. On any other day, we would have mingled briefly with the birders on the trail, taken a few photos of the avian beasts above us, and moved on to the boats in the harbor or the volleyball players on the beach. Instead, we got caught up in their excitement and shared, at a very, very basic level, their worldview.
I don’t think any of us is going to put down the camera and pick up a pair of binoculars in the near future, but all of us will be just a bit more curious and appreciative the next time we see a bunch of people gawking at a tree branch. Instead of asking what they were looking at, we asked them why they were excited about it, which made all the difference.
That’s the thing about connecting with strangers. Even the briefest conversation can make us smarter, wiser, more insightful about things we never considered previously. We don’t have to share their interests in order to see what’s driving them, and vice versa. When we make the connection, we change their perceptions, too. They won’t look at us the same way they did before, which is always a plus.
Perhaps all of us should join the birders in carrying a checklist throughout our lives. We could mark a box every time we add a bit of insight, even if it’s a small speck in the universe. There’s no way to complete a checklist of our ignorance, of course, but we can gain a bit of satisfaction from the smallest of starts.
BTW, we’ll be happy to alert you the next time we see a rare bird along Lake Michigan, but only if you click here to subscribe to Dad Writes.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.