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Hawthorn Hill

March 20, 2014

Birder admits he confuses non-birding world


I have a genuine respect for science, although there are times when it ignores what I consider to be necessary moral boundaries. When should scientific curiosity decide not to cross a particular boundary? I suspect that we will always be debating this issue given the natural inclinations of the scientific enterprise. Science has produced so much good that checking its momentum will always be problematic. Despite the enormous contributions of ornithologists to our understanding of birds, they remain elusive in so many ways. And that accounts for much of their appeal. For instance, it is enough for me to know that birds migrate and that about the same time every spring tree swallows and blue birds appear up here on the hill to hang out for a while and start some new families.

On the heels of having coffee with a friend this morning, these thoughts kind of took over my mind. Since it is now late afternoon it is obvious that they have carried some weight. It started with my sharing my excitement about having a flock of Purple Finches at our feeders the last several days. Who knows what internal mechanism triggers such feelings of awe and appreciation. Over the years we have had a finch or two visit the feeders, but never a mini-flock. One of the joys of keeping tabs on these things is the sheer mystery of it all. Another of our annoying quirks is this constant attempt to unravel mysteries. I like living in a world where not everything is researched, studied and explained. 

Why this year? Perhaps because it has been abnormally cold. I know that this long cold winter has added some unwelcome garnish to my characteristically curmudgeonly demeanor. As this friend so aptly couched it this morning, I can be a bit “prickly.” I will never have a conversation with a finch, so that is one mystery that will remain unsolved. I am just happy to have them winter a bit with us up here on the hill. Unlike kids who are never happy with adult answers to their why question, we, fiches and I, get along just fine without falling into that trap.

I pay a lot of attention to birds because it arouses something within me impossible to describe. It is akin to the pleasure one derives when looking at a work of art or listening to a penetratingly beautiful piece of music. One writer wrote long ago of being “surprised by joy.” That just about says it all.

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