by Denny Olson

        Aside from the usual reasons someone in my advanced state of decay would wake in the middle of the night, occasionally I jolt awake with an idea. Last week’s “somnus interruptus” was a doozy. My brain was in full fisheye lens mode — the big picture — and I was contemplating existence itself, and its component parts. You know the categories — birth, life, growth, joy, pain, death and recycling (and beer, can’t forget that) … Addressing most of those categories are beyond my limited depth, and courage for that matter, so in the fog of semi-consciousness, I quickly arrived on the easy one, joy, and almost as quickly thumbed through the things that represent joy to me — family, friends, my Audubon cohorts, learning new things, everything natural — and arrived at “birds”. Go figure.

I can’t describe the number of times I have seen a bird or heard its song with a big grin on my face. I tend not to be a competitive birder, constantly aware of numbers, and life / state / county / daily / weekly / yearly lists. My preference is to learn about the absolute wonders of their lives, habits, preferences — and what brings them joy. And I hope it shows that I also love to teach what I have learned, and see a smile on someone else’s face.

I mean, really, aside from poop on the windshield, what’s not to like? They fly, wherever they want. They are literally everywhere. Their audacious music is mesmerizing, if we listen, and very, very complex. They plant seeds, complete with fertilizer, profusely. They are first responders to dead animals of every kind, and begin the essential recycling processes of death back to life. They tell us in no uncertain terms if our life support system is endangered. And they are knock-your-socks-off eye candy.

I’m not alone. Bird-joy works for a lot of people, it turns out. Here’s what they say, better than I can:

  • “Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her; still, she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” – Victor Hugo   (with apologies to male birds, who actually do most of the singing)
  • “Birds are an ecological litmus paper.”  – Roger Tory Peterson
  • “Tame birds sing of freedom. Wild birds fly.”   – John Lennon.
  • “I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.”   – Mark Nepo
  • “I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.”    – Terry Tempest Williams
  • “There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.”   – Robert Wilson Lynd
  • “God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages.” – Jacques Deval 
  • “Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”    -Sir David Attenborough.
  • I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.   – Emily Dickenson
  • If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.   – Chinese Proverb

The green bough is alive, lush and vibrant, sometimes enough to wake me up at night.