I started “birding” when Caroline, a dear friend of my mother’s, sent me a card with some money for my first birthday after my mom passed away. She knew it would be a difficult birthday and it was her way of reaching out to give a comforting hand. Caroline’s kindness was touching. Moreover, it was just like something my mother, Florence, would have done. It made me think how much alike they were, my mom Florence and her friend Caroline. I didn’t know what to do with the money. I wanted it to be used for something special so that I could let Caroline know and so she would be pleased. I wanted my purchase to be as well thought out as Caroline’s gesture had been thoughtful. I wanted her to know how appreciated her kindness had been. And, I knew this is what my mother would have wanted me to do.
I acknowledged Caroline’s gift immediately telling her I would take some time to think about how to use the money she sent. A year later, for my next birthday, I went to a nearby wild bird shop with the express purpose of putting that money toward a bird feeder as my gift to myself. The trees, small sticks when I moved into my house years before, were finally mature enough to attract birds and squirrels. I enjoyed watching them and recalled a feeder I had years earlier. I brought home a feeder and hung it in a tree where I could get a good view from my living room window.
I wrote to Caroline to tell her about my purchase. I stayed in touch with her from time to time and always brought her up to date on my birding. She seemed pleased that the gift sent from her heart provided not only the warmth of her comforting gesture in the months following my mother’s death, but also a new hobby that would give rise to many, many hours of pleasure, new experiences and new friends.
Since I bought my first feeder in 2005, I purchased many more that I swap out as the seasons change. The hummingbird feeders go up in mid-April and are exchanged for suet feeders in late October. I found the patience to condition Chickadees and Nuthatches to feed from my hand in winter and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to sip sugar-water from their tiny feeders that I hold out to them in summer. I journeyed to Costa Rica for nine days to trap and study those same hummingbirds in their wintering grounds. I became a volunteer Bluebird monitor checking the contents of bird nest boxes along a Bluebird Trail in the forest preserve from March through August taking notes and reporting data.
In January, 2012 I received a letter from Carol, one of Caroline’s daughters, letting me know of Caroline’s passing. Carol did not know how I knew her mother, but was reaching out to those who had sent holiday greeting cards to her mom. I wrote to Carol including a reference to this blog page hoping it would give her some comfort. A few months passed and I received a beautiful letter from Carol that included stories about some of her own casual birding experiences. She agreed with me that our moms wait for us in a better place saying, “I believe it is only when they are gone that we really understand and appreciate who they were and what they did for us.”
I love to share my discoveries and experiences out in nature. The more I experience, the more I feel as if I’ve just begun to learn about wild birds. I hope you’ll follow along as my journey continues.
updated on Mother’s Day, 5/13/2012