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Slow Birding

Mar 13, 2023

This post is by Deb Alexander.

I was born on my grandfather’s 54th birthday. I wasn’t able to get to know him very well—he died when I was very young—but I remember that he loved birds. He placed bird feeders all over his property in New Hampshire, and he and my grandmother even petitioned the city to rename their street to one that included the name of his favorite bird. Soon, that new sign replaced the old one at the bottom of the hill leading up to their home. 

Because we lived a few hours away, my parents encouraged me to write letters to my grandparents. In my letters, I often included a drawing of a bird, colored carefully according to the bird identification book on our bookshelf at home.  

Once, I drew a male cardinal with its bold red feathers and bright yellow beak. I addressed, sealed and stamped the envelope before I slipped it into the mailbox at our local grocery store. A few weeks later, a letter arrived, addressed to me in my grandfather’s distinctive, slanted script. In the envelope was my drawing to which he had added the words, “Cardinal. Excellent.” High praise, from this quiet, serious man.

I have loved birds ever since. 

I also love to walk. Walks on the trail are my workout of choice most days. I walk to clear the cobwebs from my head and to transition from one activity to the next. Walking renews my creativity. 

Birding, though, requires that I slow down. It requires my full attention. Sometimes I’ll notice a bird while I’m walking the trail—like the bald eagle that soared directly in front of me, hunting back and forth along a fence line near the airport. But seeing birds is not the purpose of these walks—these walks are my workouts. Until last week. 

Last Monday, I injured my back doing yoga. (I know—I should stick to walking, right?!) My lower back locked up so badly that I could no longer stand up straight. This doesn’t happen to me often, but I remembered what to do—alternate heat and ice, stretch carefully, and keep moving. That last one sounds counterintuitive, but I have learned that moving my body, with care and intention, helps me to heal.

So last Wednesday, I went for a slow walk. I drove 5 minutes to a lake near my home, parked my car, and put my binoculars around my neck. Instead of tapping my watch to start a workout, I simply started walking, and I looked for birds as I moved along the trail. By combining two activities I love, I cared well for my body and my soul.  I moved slowly, stopping whenever I wanted to see a bird more clearly. I even meandered off the trail a few times to walk closer to the water, where I identified three birds that I had never seen before. I set no goals—no intentions to walk for a certain number of minutes or miles. I chose to simply walk slowly, which was just what my body needed.  

How about you, friend? Today, does your body need a run or some other type of cardio activity? Do you need a slow walk with a pair of binoculars or perhaps your camera around your neck? Would it serve your body best to stretch or do yoga? Maybe it is most important that you nap instead of move. Paying attention to what type of movement your body needs is an important way to care for yourself. And combining two activities you love, like I did when I walked and bird-watched, is an intentional way to care for your soul as well.

I thought of my grandfather while I walked around that lake last week. There were a few rogue seagulls soaring in the gray sky, reminding me of his love for his native New England. He died unexpectedly in the fall of 1975, mere days after I received my drawing of the cardinal back from him. I believe that he, too, would have appreciated a slow walk around a midwestern lake in early February, with a pair of binoculars in his hand.

Deb Alexander has been married to her college sweetheart for 32 years. They have two children, and are expecting their second grandson in a few weeks. Deb was born and raised in New England, and she and her family have called central Illinois home for nearly 25 years. She is a writer, a life and business coach, and a tutor who loves birds, books, long walks on the trail near her home, and family dinners. Deb would love to connect with you on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/debalexander/.

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