In Defense of Bird Watching


Kari White, Culture Editor

In the concrete dreariness of a wintering city, there doesn’t seem to be much life. As someone who spent her childhood with her hands in the soil, her mother naming the birds singing above her, I worried about moving into a city notoriously sparse when it comes to wildlife. I mean, what does New York City have? Rats? 

For me, home cannot exist without membership in a community, and I have always used the natural world as a tool to connect with wherever I am. At Fordham, birdwatching (albeit an old-lady pastime) has taught me how to engage more deeply with my community and appreciate the random experiences that make up college life. 

It was the first few weeks of freshman year, when I sat in my dorm room and only interacted with my classmates over a virtual platform, that pushed me to go outside. Suddenly forced to live on my own without a steady core of people who cared for me or the ability to have new experiences, I stood upon a glass walkway bridging an abyss. If I fell, I would fall endlessly. There was no ground beneath me. I was trapped within the concept of college with no idea of how to anchor myself to the people I had met and the place I now inhabited. So, I did what my mother had always taught me to do: I went for a walk outside.

At first, the blue jays, who flew along the oak trees towering over Martyrs’ Lawn, sang to one another with my mother’s voice. The red-tailed hawks over Fordham Road flew through memories I had with her. Every glimpse of them reminded me of the bird feeders she had hung up beside our home in Delaware, which she had taught me how to refill even when I was too young to undo the top myself. As it turns out, squirrel-proof and child-proof are fairly synonymous. 

Yet, as the crippling isolation of that first semester prompted me to go on walks around campus and the New York Botanical Gardens, I began to feel more connected to Rose Hill. College evolved from an abstract concept to a space to a foundation upon which I could start building the rest of my life. 

What happened on those long walks, where I became more acquainted with the plants and birds, was that I stepped beyond myself. To focus on the sparrows hopping around Urban Kitchen is to extend your consciousness beyond yourself, and, for a moment, become a small part of a greater community. It is meditation. 

Learning how to remove myself from the anxieties twisting through my mind enabled me to not only appreciate the ecological community, but also the human community at Fordham. As a kid, I spent so much time agonizing over my jokes, word choice and tone of voice. In discovering how to connect with the world beyond me through birdwatching, I discovered how to quiet that nagging voice, always picking at my flaws like scabs. In becoming more acquainted with the world around me, I became more acquainted with myself. In seeing the world as a community, I began to discover my place in it.

As I began to engage more within Fordham’s community, I realized how many of my favorite memories are the results of random chance. The thought that I have created so little of my life through deliberate decision-making terrified me. It was a realization that forced me to go on even longer walks around campus. There, I realized that these little, feathered birds shaped their lives by seizing the opportunity that a moment presented. It’s a rather obvious sentiment, I confess, but it’s deceptively simple. 

None of us have complete control over our lives, and our favorite moments are rarely those that we have curated. I’m writing to you now only because my roommate befriended a random girl our freshmen year, and I had enough free time last semester to let that once-random girl convince me to write a few articles. Being a part of The Fordham Ram staff is one of my favorite college experiences so far, but it is the result of complete coincidence. That alone would have made me spiral a year ago. Yet, I now find peace in the absolute obliviousness I have about the future. My changed perspective is not because I like to birdwatch, but it’s a skill I learned while doing so.

We all spend so much time on our phones, on our laptops or twisted up in our anxieties that it’s difficult to allocate moments to breathe, meditate and appreciate the world around us. We’re college students, we can’t help it. 

Still, as the weather warms and spring blooms on campus, take time to watch and listen to the creatures of campus. When you get your crispy chicken wrap at Urban Kitchen, stop and listen to the House Sparrows chittering over the spilled french fries. When you walk past Edward’s Parade, watch the robins hopping around the green. Every once in a while, as you walk to Walgreens or the Metro-North, see if the hawks chase one another over Fordham Road. The world is wide, rich and random. Learn to appreciate it.