Never Question the Interests of Others

“Be careful what you wish for,” we’re warned. “Be careful what you ridicule,” I’d add.

Too often during my quick-to-judge life, I’ve had to retract adamant statements uttered with overtones of arrogance. These pronouncements usually began “I wouldn’t be caught dead…” and often involved the beloved pastimes of others. I hereby apologize to fans of the following interests for my misplaced smugness and scorn.

(1) Golf: “This is a sport?” I’d mutter as I sat in an easy chair, flipped through the channels, and paused on something called The Master’s where the announcers whispered to each other and the players took strolls. But because my husband enjoyed the game, I took golf lessons and learned one thing: I am poorly equipped to play a game where you’re taught a thousand things to think about before you even tee off. Then, as you walk onto the green, mind a-buzz, you’re told to forget everything and “Let ‘er rip.”

So I’d rip, watch my ball dribble ten feet from the tee, and think, “How does anyone play this incredibly complex game?”

Icono sudoku

(2) Sudoku: I’m a word person. My math career ended with high school geometry and Mr. Stone, who prowled the room with a yardstick as he had an ongoing dialogue with Arnold Edgefield, a boy with a head full of theorems, postulates, and cowlicks. If anyone appeared indifferent to their brilliant dissection of the day’s topic, Mr. Stone whacked the culprit’s desk with his yardstick. Sometimes we had to duck to avoid flying bits of yardstick, but it felt good to be involved.

I lost all control of numbers that year, so why would I want to do a puzzle filled with them?

Then, to help pass the time on an endless flight, I tackled Sudoku in the airline’s magazine. To my surprise, solving the puzzle didn’t require complex mathematical procedures, but, instead, reasoning and recognizing the numerals one to nine. That I could do; I was hooked.

(3) Refinishing antique furniture: As my mother worked at restoring a battered oak dresser, my teenaged self declared that when I had my own house, I would furnish it with chrome, glass, mirrors, and leather, not “all this old wood stuff.”

Mom smiled, kept working, and said, “Whatever you want, Toots.”

Now I fill with pleasure when relatives visit me and say my home reminds them of Mom’s. Forget the two maxims I mentioned earlier and remember only this one: “Appreciate your mother.”

Amazed explorer looking through binoculars

(4) Bird watching: Seeing a book on North American birds on a flea market table, I wondered why anyone would tip-toe around, wearing binoculars and a pith helmet, in search of a specific species of sparrow. I then resumed my search for marble eggs of a different hue than those I already had.

But after retiring, I began to notice the birds in my backyard, bought binoculars of my own, and soon experienced the rewards of watching birds: interesting creatures with unique habits, songs, and plumage that add color and melody to my world.

For someone who advises others to pursue interests, adopt hobbies, and find a passion, I used to be unbearably judgmental about the pastimes of others. But I now know better. In fact, I’ve been thinking about going to a demolition derby or maybe a tractor pull. And if I become a fan, I hope you won’t judge me as I have judged you.

An Apprentice Bird Watcher

turtle doveI’m a late-blooming bird watcher. In the past, I only noticed large birds I could easily identify: ostriches, turkeys, eagles — penguins, too, if I’d ever seen one.

I chuckled at folks who glued binoculars to their heads and whispered worshipfully to one another about any bird they encountered.

My idea of bird watching was driving down the road, crunching Cheetos, singing along to Creedance Clearwater Revival, and pointing out big things with wings.

Then the years passed, and flower gardening caught my fancy, increasing my yard time and making me aware of the birds that fussed around the feeders my husband maintained: birds familiar from my childhood like sparrows, turtledoves, and finches. Cheerful souls, these regulars at Joel’s Diner enjoyed any food offered and didn’t sulk when he ran out of food or forgot to open.

purple finchSoon I began to notice different birds that occasionally dropped by for visit or snack. Joel, more advanced in ornithology, labeled them for me: chickadees, siskins, downy woodpeckers, cedar waxwings. When I sighted my first goldfinch, I excitedly announced that I’d seen a canary in our aspen tree. Joel looked at me askance.

My interest grew. I started watching for newcomers, consulting bird books, and distinguishing calls. I even ignored my husband’s dismay at my difficulties with binoculars — “Janet, turn them around. You’re looking through the wrong end,” — and practiced until I could focus in and locate birds faster than I could say two-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

Before long, I was peering through binoculars and providing detailed descriptions to anyone who would listen: “It’s blue on top, sort of a dirty white underneath. It has white and black on its wings, and on its tail too. Oh, it has one of those crest things. You know, it looks a lot like a blue jay.…..I think it is a blue jay!” I was hooked.

chickadeeOther than the amazing hummingbirds that like the bee balm and honeysuckle we plant for them, orioles and grosbeaks are the flashiest birds to spend extended time with us. I feel bad about the name grosbeaks have to carry around—I know how I’d feel if I’d gone though life being called Shortnose.

Several months ago, I read a passage that captured how I feel watching birds. The author, whose name I’ve forgotten, said that looking at birds takes away our sadness, puts things in perspective, and returns us to nature.

I intend to keep practicing my new passion until I’m a full-fledged bird watcher. With time and commitment, someday, perhaps, I’ll be able to casually tell others, “Yup, I’m a birder.”