In these highly personal essays, naturalist and historian Mike Foster tells how he became fascinated with birds and committed to helping them in their struggle to survive. He discusses the major challenges facing birds and other creatures and suggests how you can make a difference. He believes that life-altering rewards are available to those who seek openhearted encounters with Nature.
Here are some excerpts from his book. First, from Chapter 3... After standing here a while, I notice two strange phenomena. The several habitats surrounding me begin to blur into each other and become one world. Simultaneously, a second world emerges, coextensive with the other, but summoned up by a psychic dimension of topography. The first world, a natural setting, includes the urgent, uncertain business of avian reproduction. The second, mostly a creation of my mind, is full of sound and color, harmoniously composed of water and vegetation, enhanced by dry air and a comfortable temperature, made glorious by solitude and memorable by the sheer unlikeliness that such a place should have escaped development.
Chapter 6... December 26: a fiercely cold and blustery day. What am I doing here? Call me crazy, but I’ve come here in terrible conditions to observe in person the survival skills of my four-legged and winged friends. Not so crazy. Makes me appreciate the comforts of home, the resilience of life, its gripping tenacity. As I grow softer and more comfortable, also more stale and stupid, I need to remember our origins in the wild. To draw strength from our animal relatives. Plodding around like this on a cold wintry day may seem foolish, but it puts me in touch with the elements that have blended so intimately with human history. There’s a deep satisfaction in doing so, far more impactive than the temporary discomfort I experience.
Chapter 12... By preaching its mission of constant growth, the proponents of modern corporate capitalism have crafted the greatest utopia ever imagined. Unlimited growth is not only a logical absurdity, it defies the reality of limited resources. It is, if you will, the ultimate speculative bubble, and if allowed to continue unchecked will burst like all the rest. But this need not be humanity’s fate.
Chapter 14... And remember, birding is just a start. Learning to identify species is satisfying, and knowing the name of a bird gives you a connection to that creature you lacked before. Next, you have the opportunity to increase your knowledge, and deepen your satisfaction, by going beyond listing to learn a particular bird’s connections to other birds, plants, predators, prey species, and the whole network of life. Doing so will also enlarge your esthetic and spiritual appreciation of Nature, and introduce you to the beautiful and bountiful literature on birds.
Chapter 16... As the flora testify, this is dry country. Technically it is classified as semiarid, but on a hot summer day it is desperately dry, crispy dry, the kind of dry that warps the leaves of skunkbrush and splotches yellow the porous skins of cacti, like a cancer cannibalizing the photosynthetic, life-enhancing green. Even the grasses, as recently as ten days ago a hopeful kelly green, have now reconciled themselves to a stoic tan. Rabbitbrush stands firm, stout, wispy strong, boasting of its adaptability, but every growing plant here could use a soaking rain. It hasn’t rained in weeks, and the exuberance of early spring, the temporary lushness, has vanished. Even imperturbable lichen, growing everywhere on the volcanic outcrops, looks more brittle than usual. Within minutes a good rain would restore its vitality.
Chapter 17... Despite the problems threatening all natural systems, and therefore threatening us, too, I am encouraged to realize that many, perhaps most, of those problems can begin to be solved by viewing them from a community perspective. For example, to the extent that we have an “energy crisis”, it is not in our dependence on foreign sources, or even in the world’s dwindling supply of petroleum, or the polluting effects of oil spills and burning coal. Those real problems stem from our over dependence on fossil fuels. But the crisis derives from our absurd attitude that maintaining a wasteful, inefficient, unsustainable, and, yes, immoral lifestyle is good for us, something to which we are entitled.
Chapter 20... The ancient Greeks were not alone in connecting virtue with community. A common element in all ethical systems is that same respectful concern for others. All faiths and major philosophies seem to recognize the social duties and bonds that make us human. So if that be virtue, let’s have more of it! Virtue has endured a bad press from time to time. It has been confused with the prissy starchiness of the puritan, the arrogance of the self-made man, or the self-righteousness of the zealot. It is none of those narrow bigotries, for by its nature it is inclusive. In the end humans cooperate not because it is virtuous to do so, but because it is practical. It is the way to get things done, especially when different beliefs and traditions must be accommodated. Cooperating to achieve results for the common good is virtue in action.
Chapter 21... Yes, continuity is consoling and comforting. But the unexpected lurks everywhere. Broad-tailed hummingbirds always delight in displaying their aerodynamic skills, and in spring they confine their enthusiasm to each other, focused as they are on the ardent business of breeding. But in a few brief months youngsters have grown from tyros to tyrants. Now they launch from shrubs, rocket into the sky, duel with each other, then descend to harass and intimidate whatever moves, including me. Rivalry between species is especially fierce. A female rufous hummingbird, tiny but titanic in temperament, charges all comers: a bee, a jay, other hummers, even a mule deer that dares to munch a succulent flower.