When I started this blog it was very much about birds and birdwatching. There’s a big clue in the name. I was – and remain – a birder, but it is fair to say that recently I have not been birding with quite the fervour that I did in the early part of what is apparently now the last decade. I may simply have forgotten the sheer joy, the uncomplicated pleasure of watching birds. I may have been distracted by delving into other taxa, the endless further avenues of enquiry offered by the natural world, and indeed if I were starting this blog again in January 2020 rather than 2011 it might well have been called “Considering Beetles”. Or perhaps birdwatching has become too complicated. Is twitching fun or basically evil? Within what radius from home is it acceptable? Should all our birding be zero-carbon? If looking at a bird doesn’t render us instantly cheerful – nature cure! – are we doing it wrong? Is it possible to enjoy looking at wildlife when everything is basically doomed?
Coincidentally, somebody remarked to me today that they were enjoying Isabella Tree’s Wilding because here at last was an actual conservation book in the nature section, rather than being yet another ‘I went outside and saw / didn’t see a bird’ narrative. I understand where they were coming from and share an occasional weariness at the ever-expanding number of samey-looking nature titles on offer. Yet I also know that I quite enjoy reading ‘I saw / didn’t see a bird’ books, that in fact I’ve read some exceptionally good ones, and might even harbour ambitions to write one or two of my own. I think there might be a few books they’ve missed too, and conservation stories lurking in plain sight behind ‘I saw a…’ frameworks, but perhaps this is a discussion for another day.
Yes, we live in a fearsomely complex world. A world that sometimes seems to be unravelling so quickly that fear might be the only available response. But if we live mired in fear and complexity, overthinking every angle and every possibility, we wind up spending the days remaining to us in this world agonising over existence without ever getting on with it. So, despite my hesitation to arbitrarily make a life change right now just because the calendar has hit January, I’m resolving this year to be a simple birder again. To walk in our garden and by the canal, river and marsh nearby, on the campus where I work, to enjoy just watching birds. To build a year list because I enjoy the challenge. Some twitching permitted if I feel like it because very occasionally I do enjoy the chase, but nothing too daft – by bike, train or shared lift in almost every case (but let’s not overcomplicate matters with too many rules).
In reconnecting with the hobby through which I became a nature-centred person, perhaps I’ll find new enthusiasm for the other natural history pursuits that theoretically I enjoy but in practice don’t give enough time to. I might write a few more ‘I saw’ blogs, with no particular expectation that they’ll have an audience. Getting into the practice of writing again may enable me to collect, in an unforced way, some of the more complicated thoughts lurking at the back of my mind into something cohesive and, who knows, possibly publishable. And in among all that, I might just be refreshed enough to live better in this difficult world, and face it with a little more hope than I’ve been able to muster of late.