Reading How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell over the past few days took me back to both Oakland, CA and to my own backyard. The author lives in Oakland and talks about her time lingering and noticing in the Morcom Rose Garden and Lake Merritt. It is always fun to read a story where the author spends time if you happen to have spent time in the same place.
I was introduced to Lake Merritt one afternoon. Around after dropping off a bridal party to get their hair done for her friend’s wedding. Only, I had no idea how big the lake was. So when I estimated how long it would take to walk around, I fell short and ended up late to retrieve the ladies.
You see a neat lake in life and have time to kill, you park your car and go for a walk to explore the city on foot and enjoy the water birds and water humans you encounter along the way.
Granted, I’ve not lingered among those particular roses, though I’ve spent many a sun-kissed afternoon strolling through Brookside Gardens. While the author thinks of the birds as friends and greets them by species name, I do the same.
While my come to bird moment didn’t take place in full until the global pandemic, I had started identifying birds by sight and call from my own backyard feeders. I liked to know who I was hearing and who came with their entire family to my yard to pick it clean then move on.
While she greets the pelicans and egrets, I have my Mourning Doves. Birds simply too silly to take seriously with their mournful calls and absolute imposter syndrome whenever they manage to flap up to the bird feeder.
I notice the American Robins picking through the yard for bugs once I’ve cut the grass in warmer weather. The Cardinals trying to impress the Lady Cardinals by soaring through trees as bright red flashes. The gold finches are my current favorites. They come and go so rarely. We had a neighbor with sunflowers and I would see a small flock of the birds in their yard on my daily walks past it. I made a note to plant yellow flowers this year since that’s what they seem to like.
It makes sense. Small yellow bird. Big yellow flower.
I realize by reading this book and take in her thoughts about the attention economy, my thoughts go to my feathered friends. That’s the part of the book that stuck most with me. She called the birds as who and not what. I do the same thing. I greet the birds as friends and the squirrel as on-again-off-again love affairs.
Watching and listening to the birds is peaceful. It’s calm and focusing. When you’ve absorbed in the birds, the rest of the world washes away and there’s only the many calls and flapping wings when once whooshes by your head at top speed.