(HOST) While commentator Mary McCallum loves the outdoors, it took an
organized outing to help her appreciate how important it is to involve
the community in appreciating the natural world.
(MCCALLUM) I am
not a birder. In fact, my lifelong impression of bird watchers was
shaped by a 1950s television sitcom character named Miss Livingstone, a
pith-helmeted fanatic in a raincoat and orthopedic shoes, running behind
oversized binoculars. And a friend who was so sharp at identifying bird
calls that he’d lean over at the movies and whisper the names of birds
tweeting in the soundtrack’s background. Of course, he now works for the
National Audubon Society.
Then recently, I joined a group of
local nature lovers for a Sunday morning bird walk. It was one of a
series of community strolls that highlight the beauty and importance of
what Mother Nature has installed in our backyard. My knowledge about the
feathered population was definitely lacking, limited to identifications
of robins and woodpeckers.
We began our hike through meadowland
as fog lifted and cool mist sifted through soft air. And sure enough – I
couldn’t help thinking that we resembled a group of Miss Livingstones,
moving like a slow herd of nerds in baggy raincoats and floppy canvas
hats, staring upward through binoculars.
Bird watching is not
aerobic. I remarked on the glacial speed of our pace as we halted every
few yards to peer at treetops and meadow grasses. We stopped at every
call, ears perked up, and someone guessed the name of the bird. I
marveled at the low call of a snipe, the energetic songs of redwinged
blackbirds and the surprise sighting of a bittern when it leaped high
above the tall grass.
As we slogged through wet undergrowth, a
woman in the group remarked that this walk was a great way to meet
people, and that the focus on an activity made it easier to connect with
strangers. Another confessed to knowing little about birds but saw the
outing as a way to learn something about the outdoors.
returned home soggy but inspired. While none of us gained a huge body of
knowledge that morning, each took home a few tidbits to remember about
the natural world. For some, it was the first outdoor walk they’d taken
We live in the country, yet many people’s interaction
with it is slight. In fact, there is a growing national awareness of
what the writer Richard Louv calls nature deficit disorder. In his
groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods , Louv writes that today’s
kids are increasingly disconnected from nature, yet they are next in
line to be stewards of this precious resource.
that we reacquaint them and ourselves with nature through hiking,
fishing, bird-watching and other outdoor activities that widen the
tunneled world of sedentary electronic entertainment. In a deft play on
words, Louv promotes the idea of "no child left inside" as a way to
lessen the growing and alarming divide between children and the
outdoors. My own walk in the woods reminded me that although I am
surrounded by a teeming universe of outdoor life, my awareness of it is
small if I don’t literally open the door and step out into it.