On Seeing Nothing

Beloved Birders,

You know the day. It’s that day when you decide to venture out on your own even though it’s drizzling and you walk around the park and the most exciting thing you see is a White-breasted Nuthatch. And you half-heartedly berate yourself for not driving out to Rondeau Provincial Park with your bird group in search of the Townsend’s Warbler, but also know that such a journey would have been logistically impossible, so you try as hard as you can to enjoy the Nuthatch. You’re mostly successful and manage to take genuine pleasure in the sight of the nuthatch, largely because you recognized its call before you saw the sharp-billed bird creeping down the tree-trunk. You take a minute to appreciate the fact that a few years ago you would have confused this bird with a chickadee and a red-breasted nuthatch and would have mistaken the bird’s nasal call notes for a squirrel’s.

But you’re not exactly satisfied with the nuthatch. You want more, and so you wade into the bushes and happen upon a few White-throated Sparrows, several Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and a charm of goldfinches. Before long you’ve also seen a Hairy and a two Downy Woodpeckers, which you correctly differentiated based on the length of their bills. Overhead, a Red-tailed Hawk zooms by, and later a few Turkey Vultures display their prominent angled wings, which you know to call a dihedral. And you chuckle to yourself at the word dihedral, which you couldn’t have imagined using ten years ago.

And later, when your husband asks you what you’ve seen today, you respond, somewhat dejected, “nothing.” But before you’ve finished uttering the word nothing, you follow it with a quick rundown of everything you’ve seen. And suddenly the “nothing” transformed into a dozen common, but absolutely stunning species that you saw, heard, and easily recognized on your own. There was a time, not so long ago, when you would have walked through that park and literally seen nothing save a pigeon and a pack of dogs. But now, even on the day when you think you’ve seen nothing you’ve actually recognized, identified, communed with, and marvelled at every bird that crossed your path.

Sometimes the days when we see “nothing” are the ones that remind of just how far we’ve come.

3 thoughts on “On Seeing Nothing

  1. Nancy Wilson

    Love this, Julia. Your nothing is much more than my nothing, that’s for sure. I saw Emily a week ago and we sat in her kitchen talking about how much we admire you. I so much enjoy your writing and “voice.”

    Sending cheer your way!

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