Sunday, June 5, 2011

Seeing Green

Somewhere around a quarter century ago I was experiencing the coquettish advances of a pop culture “Psychology Today” fan.  I was challenged to produce a pencil drawing, with little thought and little time, of an imaginary landscape that included a tree, a river, bridge, bench, and a few other specific items, not to mention a self-portrait, placed in the scene.  I was given no further direction; no explanation of intent.  With no artistic talent, but with some interest in the advance, I accepted the challenge, paper and pencil.  In short order I produced a pre-school quality landscape, with required items “stuck into” the scene, similar to children’s artwork hanging from refrigerator magnets across the U.S., if not the world. 
The imaginary “en plein air” scene was supposed to reveal the secrets of my psyche, if not the mysteries of my soul.  I thought it revealed the side of my brain that would NOT be the source of my financial livelihood.  I don’t remember the details of the dinner date’s psychoanalysis, but the tree, the river, the bridge, and the location of my stick-figure were purported to be an iconic image of my personality.  Was I on the same side of the river as the tree, or did I need to cross the bridge?  Was the river calm or turbulent? 
As I listened to this “in depth” review of my art work, I silently gave thanks that the prolific analysis relieved me from dinner-date small talk. The tool of socially acceptable small talk was, and is, mostly missing from my tool belt.  At the same time, the enchanting style of the analyst told me much about my dinner partner’s personality.  We would not get to the soul mysteries that would be my preferred dinner conversation; but such discussions of the non-physical world are a known “shall not” on first social engagements, so I couldn’t complain. 
But what I most remember of the evening’s analysis was the conversation that addressed my artistic depiction of a tree, or trees, as was the case.  The “style” of my tree was supposed to reveal how much water was in my glass, and whether I thought of my glass as half-full or half-empty.  The more leaves on the tree, the more positive my outlook; the more vibrant the pencil shading for the leaves, the more vibrant my personality.
The sketch I drew included trees somewhat similar in style (and artistic talent) to the following, which pretty much speaks for itself:

Social etiquette dictated that the analyst was not too harsh on my barren tree limbs.  But my extraverted dinner companion was quite clear:  my tree was not in a happy place.  No leaves.  Not even an attempted pencil shading of a leaf-filled tree.  With mock concern I was enlightened that my tree revealed a life outlook and personality that was NOT singing a freshly-green springtime jubilee. 
The basis for this artistic analysis was as fictional as the conclusion reached.  And, in fact, I was in a “good place” at this time of my life.  But in retrospect, all these years later, I look at the picture of my tree and see a perfect fit for my psyche.  It has nothing to do with emotional health (or lack thereof); it has nothing to do with positive outlook or even personality type. 
Quite simply, it has to do with the fact that I am a birder, and a lazy one at that.  Let me explain: 
By calendar standards, it is now late spring.  By Texas standards and this year’s record breaking heat, we are in the throes of a long summer.  But I still bird every chance I get.  I recently spent a day out hiking one of my favorite wintertime trails:  good woods, a creek that feeds a nearby river, and not much in the way of human noise.  I was startled by what had happened to a favored winter day’s hike:  my birding hotspot had turned into a sea of green; a swamp of green; a blanket of green.  I was seeing green. 

I was hearing birds.  Lots of birds.  And amid the chatter, the delightful call of White-eyed Vireos. I would move ever so slowly and silently.  I’d stop; stand still with hands on binoculars, waiting to catch any movement that belonged to the bird calls.  Leaves waved at me.  They teased me.  Twenty minutes I stood and listened.  I saw green.

OK, I told myself, this is about patience.  My non-birder friends would delight over the beauty of the leaf-filled wood.  I moved ahead 30 yards.  I listened to the delightful song of the White-eyed Vireos.  They were abundant.  I lifted binoculars and scanned the green ocean.  Surely I’ll catch movement; they are right over my head!  They are beside me.  They are behind me.  They are hiding from me without even trying.  The leaves’ details waved at me through my binoculars’ viewing field; I was seeing green, magnified.  I walked, I stopped, I listened.  I saw green.   Save one gregarious Red-bellied Woodpecker, and one Hermit Thrush that stood out against the green backdrop, it was a day of hearing, not seeing.  Birds, that is.  A botanist would have been delighted.

And so I long for late fall and winter, where leafless trees and barren branches support the lazy birder’s sport of winter birding.  I love a winter tree, daring to reveal what it hides each summer.   
I will bird this summer with a cup half full.  But I’ll bird much more in the winter time, when birds can fly, but they can’t so easily hide.
And yes there are some species I will only “get” on my life list in summertime’s heavily leafed woods and thickets.  And I will go and search and listen.  But mostly I will see green and long for the coming winter. 
In the midst of winter, I find within myself, a passionate birder.


  1. I first became interested in fossils while sitting in the dry creek bed of Bull Creek looking for birds. After some lengthy time searching the tree tops in vain, I looked down at the increasingly uncomfortable gravel bar in which I was sitting, and I saw something interesting. I don't think I saw a single bird that day, but I came home with a small fossil Gastropod (and a new interest) in my pocket.

    I think that when the birds are adamant about remaining concealed in the foliage, then it's time to study the foliage!


  2. I'm not a passionate birder, heck I'm not even a birder! But I have had the privilege of spending time with a passionate birder and dear friend. Though very new to me, I found birding to be a sport that I thoroughly enjoyed. Let me tell you why. You see, as much as I am not a birder, what I AM, is a fan of nature and all the beauty that she drapes us in, particularly trees. I love trees! I love the personality that they each embody, I love the confidence and mystery that the eldest of them possess with their infinite roots and resilient branches, and I love the shield and refuge they provide to so many; be it birds or human beings. It's funny how two people can gaze the same object and see a wholly diverse blessing in it.


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