Tag Archives: middle age

Birdbrain

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Some kind of a red bird from the Field Museum in Chicago

Something is currently happening to me, apparently much later than it does to normal human beings: I’m suddenly fascinated by birds.

It’s not that I ever held birds in contempt like I did watercolor painting, it’s just that they were part of the background, flitting about in the sky and leaving turds on the windshield. I knew there were a lot of birds in the world and that they were somehow an integral part of the ecosystem, though I could never be bothered to put up a bird feeder, say, or pause for a long, contemplative look at a bluejay.

But recently I’ve been really noticing birds and totally staring at them.

They are tiny dinosaurs. They are quite beautiful. And they can fly. How do they do that?

Do they have internal compasses? Where do they go during thunderstorms? How do they produce so many different sounds?

And what’s up with woodpeckers?

Mind, I still think birds are disease-riddled and the other day when my kids found an interesting feather in the backyard, I made them wear surgical gloves to pick it up. On the other hand, I’m currently reading the memoir of a woman who sets about training a goshawk and I sense the inevitability of a future in which I’m at a bird sanctuary wearing khaki shorts and binoculars and toting a watercolor sketchbook.

Which brings me to the other thing I’m mysteriously drawn to here in middle age: watercolor painting. I used to think it was a wimpy sort of medium. It brought to mind ladies in straw hats, wicker furniture, glasses of iced tea, and grade school. It was timid and flavorless. It was oil painting’s spineless and feeble-minded cousin.

But something about the grace and fluidity of watercolor painting is becoming increasingly attractive. I guess I appreciate subtlety and nuance more than I did in my younger years. And ever since taking a watercolor class while on vacation last week, I see that though it is quite approachable, watercolor is also a difficult and unforgiving medium.

Naturally, I am now impelled to wed my newfound love of birds with my newfound love of watercolor. So far I haven’t had much success, which is okay because according to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s going to take about 10,000 hours to master. In the meantime, I got myself a bird feeder and a second-hand ornithology lab notebook.

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A page from my ornithology notebook

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Fossil from the Field Museum in Chicago

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