Warning: Easily Distracted by Birds

by | Oct 12, 2020

We have previously discussed the benefits of having elders come in to enhance the forest school experience and the value it might hold to expose our children to inter-generational communion. Something so valuable that has been lost in our current societal model, is the ability to have groups of people from all ages, all backgrounds, gather and share stories. There is so much learning and healing that can occur in gathering together and sharing skills, passions and space. Simply spending time with all ages and having relationships with elders outside of our family unit or even the teacher-student dynamic is really powerful.

This week we had a special visitor (my dad) come in to share about his passion, bird watching. My dad is an avid bird watcher, it is a lifestyle for him. He takes trips all over the world looking for rare birds and keeping track of his progress. He is proud to keep track of every new species he encounters and celebrates every new diverse species he finds and adds it to his list. He has currently spotted 1,600 out of 10,000 worldwide species.

He started off talking about common birds in the area, showing images to engage with the group and give the kids an opportunity to share their knowledge. They were eager to shout out the names of the birds they knew and patiently raised their hands to share stories and experiences they have had with these types of birds in their lives so far. They had a lot of great questions and insights and were specifically curious about how to attract certain birds and foods to put out to get more traffic at their feeders. We learned that Blue Jays love peanuts. We discussed ways to identify the birds we see based on their shape, colors, what they eat, where they hang out, what their song sounds like. Then we decided to wander out towards the beach hoping to see some bigger birds, like egrets, fly over the water. We saw some ducks and gulls but wanted to see more so we decided to take our walk over into the woods. On our way across the field we saw a red tailed hawk gliding in the wind swooping overhead, as if knowing we were looking to see something magnificent.

Charles Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection and how this drives the evolution of new species. Darwin is typically associated with the term ‘survival of the fittest’ which describes how natural selection works. This theory of natural selection attempts to explain how we evolve and yet that not everything we see today seems to be purely associated with survival. Nature seems inclined to preserve beauty and pleasure as well. Animals, humans included, have an innate appreciation for beauty. We enjoy spending time in beautiful spaces and interacting with beautiful things.

This idea rings true in the bird community as well as within our group. Lately we have been spending a lot of time by “Butterfly Hill” (a name the learners have given to this special space). We have been drawn to the beautiful flowers, scents, imagery, and overall nourishment just like the butterflies, birds and other creatures. We have been making flower crowns and bouquets for our friends. How tempting is it for us to want to pick beautiful flowers and gift them to our loved ones?

butterfly hill, aishling forest schoolIn an effort to honor and encourage this appreciation for beauty without exploiting it we have shared gentle guidelines for picking and enjoying the flowers. We offered a few simple suggestions to help guide our encounters with the beautiful, never pick the first or the last of any growth and only take when we have an intended use or a purpose. We suggested asking for permission from the flowers before picking them and pausing to listen for a response from the flower before taking. Constantly revisiting the Forest School Way and what it looks like to put these values in action. How can we, in this moment, take care of our self, each other, and mother earth?

Here is an invitation for you to follow your natural inclination to explore and follow the beauty in your lives however it presents to you. Maybe for us it lives in flowers, or perhaps the birds’ songs. Next time you are outside, pause and look up, spend some time observing the birds, over time you can learn a lot from them.

There is so much more we can learn from our own observations and experiences rather than simply studying other people’s observations and experiences in the books and literature we typically seek. We can learn a lot by being in nature and gifting our attention to it.

Reflecting back on this day, it was kind of a dream come true, a manifestation of a once had vision. Leading up to this visit, I was reminded of a memory of much younger me walking in the woods with my dad one day. He had just lost a job and was having a hard time in recent years with opportunities falling through and being let down by colleagues. I still remember the potency of the disappointment, betrayal and injustice felt walking alongside him that day. I knew he deserved better, I wanted him to know it too. I was trying to encourage him to become a biology teacher, brainstorming ways he could find the stability he was seeking with a new, more aligned career path. He was always lit up talking to me about the plants, birds, wildlife, naming every species and sharing fun facts as we walked together. He was never more joyful than when he could share his harvest of nature knowledge and wisdom. As a child, all we want is for our parents to be happy so it seemed like an obvious choice from my innocent point of view. I knew he would make a great teacher and influence so many kids with his warm heart and contagious passion. I knew this was where he belonged but I was just a kid and it was his life to live, his path to shape. It was an honor to share this day with him, to feel his natural ability to blend into the Forest School Way and to witness the brilliant children I am so blessed to witness and flow with every week.

Maybe there will be more opportunities like this for him in the future, maybe just this day was enough to satisfy a longing. I am grateful and hopeful that in the bright eyes and smiling faces, he can see that he has made a difference by following his desires and loving what he loves.


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