On Not Getting What I Want

Beloved Birders,

Part of what makes January 1st exciting (other than my grandmother’s birthday, of course) is trying to guess what the first bird of the year will be. This year, I wanted the first bird to be a special one, and as luck would have it, there has been a Pine Grosbeak (!!) hanging around the Rouge Park area. So, I jumped in my car early this morning and headed straight there, feeling a little smug about the entire enterprise, imagining the blog post I would write, the tweet I’d send out to the Universe, and the barrage of texts I’d send to my birder friends. “Hey y’all, NBD just saw a PINE GROSBEAK, THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!” or something to that effect. How auspicious would that be for a beginning? A year full of unbelievable promise. Not just starting off with a rarity, but also starting off with the magic of being in the right place at exactly the right time.

You know where this is headed, of course. I waited around for said Pine Grosbeak for 40 minutes before heading to my grandmother’s birthday party and…instead of the resplendent bird I imagined I’d have to start off my year list, I got a chickadee. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a Black-capped Chickadee. The bird is fantastically resilient, hardy, crafty, and intelligent but it’s a bird I could have seen from my window without having to drive 30 km. It’s the commonest of common winter birds.

Would I really send out a tweet about a chickadee? No, there would be no tweet. There would be no gloating texts, there would be no blog post as I had envisioned it.

How inauspicious a beginning is it to chase a bird only to find out that it had other plans? To begin the year with the bird that got away.

And yet, that is what birding is all about. It’s about coping with not getting what you want, and becoming friendly and comfortable with that feeling might be the most auspicious beginning ever to 2019! Because sometimes that’s just how life works out: you do everything possible for the stars to align, you work hard, you try hard, and…they don’t. And the sooner I befriend that feeling, the better this year will be. I’m quite confident I’ll get to see a Pine Grosbeak at some point this year, but I can’t exactly predict when, much as I’d like.

So I started to embrace the notion of a chickadee as my first bird of 2019. I admire its resilience and hardiness — two qualities I’m working on developing. And just when I finally accepted that this will be the year of the ordinary Chickadee, I went for a late-afternoon walk and saw a Great Blue Heron doing a one-foot balancing act on the ice, and I stared at him through my binoculars until my feet started to freeze. Here’s a bird I see every time I come to my neighborhood park, and yet its posture still manages to surprise me. I’ll never tire of the power of the ordinary to thrill and delight me.

I missed the Pine Grosbeak, but I saw my favorite resident birds in a new light. And that may be the best way to start the year after all. Happy 2019!

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