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Beauty, Bubbles and Bird-Watching

February 22, 2016

Last Saturday I went bird-watching, which was a first for me. Although my ornithological skills were so undeveloped that I didn’t even know ornithology refers to the study of birds, I enjoyed myself and was reminded of a few things.

First, it’s satisfying to recognize something, like a bird, and to know something about it. Maybe this is just because knowledge is self-satisfying. Maybe it’s because life is satisfying, and identifying birds is a way to recognize forms of life outside the little bubble in which I usually confine myself.

Speaking of bubbles, I was reminded that it’s rewarding to expand, or even to leave, the little bubble of me-world. Thinking outside the box is great, and stepping outside of it to try something new might be even better. I was a little intimidated to go bird-watching with several students who already knew a lot more than I did, but it was actually fun to test the waters outside my comfort zone.

I was also reminded that birds are kind of beautiful. “My heart in hiding / stirred for a bird,” to quote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Actually, a lot of my favorite literature employs birds in beautiful and symbolic roles. For example, in James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” a strange bird-girl provides a medium for divine inspiration. In William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Wild Swans at Coole,” a group of swans embody the poetic speaker’s musings on change and permanence, youth and age. In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the snowy owl Hedwig’s appearance almost always conveys feelings of friendship, both in her loyalty to Harry and in the form of messages she delivers to and from other friends. My favorite novel—”A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin—uses birds as balanced fusions of Jungian shadow and light. This novel also has wizards, so it’s not just cool because it’s Jungian.

In sum, you might consider trying out a new club, or reading a poem about birds. Expand your bubble. Observe something you haven’t seen before. Find beauty somewhere. If bird-watching is where you want to start, contact Professor Scott Dransfield. If not, try something else. The sky’s the limit, and that’s not a bird joke.

(Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Hannah King ’13.)

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