Urban Birding

A few years ago, at our previous post, I had this discussion with a visiting children’s author about our lifestyle of moving around every few years. This author is a trained zoologist and fierce environmentalist. She said her only real concern was that children raised in this lifestyle will probably never have a native knowledge and love of their natural surroundings. They will never be in one place long enough to learn the local species or get lost in the same forest summer after summer. And I said to her, in some silly high minded expat way, “Sure, but I hope they’ll have a greater sense of their place in the world as a whole. Their sphere of stewardship won’t just be their backyard but the whole world. You know, in a general sense.”

And in her great wisdom she said “Ah, but the power of nature lies in its particularities.”

This phrase inspires me/haunts me often. 

Of course the power is in its particularity! A “general” sense of things is fine, great even. But nothing can replace having a specific experience with a specific landscape. I grew up in the foothills of the rocky mountains and their snowy peaks are part of my very self. I wasn’t an avid hiker and didn’t wade through mountain streams each spring, but their outline shades and protects every memory of my childhood. Wee Felix won’t have one set of mountains or one coastline running through the decades of his life like a thread. Rereading this exchange from my journal reminded me how important exploring the natural world is. For this baby guy, but also for me.  

“Just teach them the birds every time you move. At least the birds.”  She assured me this would be an adequate start. 

So, in that spirit, Felix and I have been urban birding around Cairo. On our first day out we spotted a Eurasian Hoopoe at the botanical gardens. And one afternoon I discovered Max and Felix, halfway out the church door (in a possible escape attempt) staring up at the trees. A small green parakeet had made perch high in the branches. There are terns everywhere as well as the ubiquitous Palm Dove, or, it's better name, the Laughing Dove. Herons dot the marshy receding edges of the Nile, which variety I'm not sure yet. And last week, out of the corner of my eye I swear I saw the impressively dotted wingspan of a black and white Pied Kingfisher just before it flew under the bridge to Tahrir square.


In Which the Red Sea Teaches Me Things

Journal 9.9.17    Soma Bay, Red Sea, Egypt

I left Max to put the baby guy to sleep and headed for the Sea. 15 months since I've been in the ocean. Too long. I've moved to another country, quit my job and had a baby since then. But the Sea is the same. 

The reef is beautiful and I swim a bit too close from time to time, my body stretched tall and thin like superman. Holding my breath. The reef is populated by giant blue clams that flash their ruched insides like skirts of flamenco dancers. If I watch carefully, slowly, I can see them breathing. See their shells open slightly and then close. Their cobalt interior flesh quiver, expand and then retreat. I am particularly mesmerized by a lime green shelled clam and watch it breath for some time. The wind is picking up above water and the clam is speckled with sunlight slanting through water. 

Later I will introduce my baby to the ocean. His Dad will hold him in his lap while waves dribble over their legs, delighting both. But this morning it is just me and the giant clam. Breathing slowly and deliberately. 

I read later the Red Sea coral reefs contain unique species that defy categorization, that are found no where else in the world. As the underlying Arabian and African tectonic plates shift apart, it is expanding, essentially becoming something different every day. The sea is also growing warmer and saltier and experiences frequent turbidity due to sand storms in the region. While these difficult conditions would normally damage reef and dependent life, the Red Sea reefs have adapted over time to become tolerant of the environmental extremes. Thriving even.

When I first wrote this I was riding a moment of new-country-new-mom abundance, but it has been a hard winter. These ideas of resilience and intentionality are much more valuable to me now.