7.4. A Chickadee Lesson

I would like to conclude by elaborating a little on the story about chickadees (Chapter 3) certainly a much more humble story than the one Monty Roberts relates. When I first became interested in birds, I wasn't able to do much more than begin to observe and listen as best I could in my own neighborhood. But eventually I decided to see whether I could coax a few birds into feeding from my hand.

I spent four days about an hour and a half per day sitting on the steps of my house, beside a bench, which happens to be just a few feet from a mix of trees, weeds, and brush that makes an ideal habitat for many birds. I spread seed around so as to encourage the birds to come closer and closer as I sat motionless.

On the fourth day the first black-capped chickadee, with a lightning-quick peck, stole a sunflower seed from my hand and fled for his life. Soon, however, he and some of his kin were jumping right into my hand, and eventually an occasional one would go about his precision business of punching open the seed while holding it against my thumb.

Chickadees, of course, don't really count, since they're half human already. But other birds even including the storm troopers, which most people call bluejays got progressively curious. Juncos, titmice, and nuthatches braved the human hand. And at times, amid a flurry of wings and sudden little air blasts against the face, I found my head, arms, legs, and feet all used as temporary perches.

Now, rest assured: I am no man who listens to birds. I have no special sympathies or skills and in fact am probably deprived in this regard. I simply went rather mechanically through the steps required to accustom the birds to a human feeding station. After I had done this, my grown son took my place and had birds feeding from his hand on the first try. A child could do the same.

I am coming to appreciate the chickadee in ways I never would have thought possible. But the prolonged stillness and quiet of my vigils are themselves valuable. I see things I would never see while moving about normally. Once a hawk, attended by a highly upset bluejay, landed on a low branch about ten yards in front of my face, scattering all the smaller birds. A pileated woodpecker, I discovered to my surprise, sometimes visits our little grove. And I've watched a hare drowsing for an hour or so in the filtered sunlight just inside the brush line.

All this was an epiphany for me. It was all I could do to restrain myself from collaring everyone I met and exclaiming, "I had a bird eating out of my hand today!"

But this, I suggest, depicts a sad state of affairs. There I was, a middle-aged man, and I was discovering for the first time what it can be like to "join up" with a little bit of nature. Others are not as slow and backward as I. But it seems to me there is a question that might occur to anyone who has had such an experience. What would it cost us to wire, say, every third-grade class to a few birds? Just chickadee feed.

And the same question, with the same answer, applies to countless other aspects of nature. Yet we are spending billions of dollars to give our children computer-mediated, distance-increasing experiences of the world.

We are right to think that technology has huge implications for education. But no more with the computer than with the television will the decisive problem be one of familiarization and adaptation. The adaptation occurs all too well on its own. Children must learn, rather, how to hold these technologies in a human balance. And I suggest that a bird in the hand and a pine cone, and a rock, and a crawdad, and a snowflake are the counterbalances we need if our alienation from nature is not to become more than the world can bear. These bits of nature may not seem like much to us but that is the problem. For the child they can hold magic exactly the magic that, in a matured form, may be required to ground the adult in a society encompassed on every side by virtuality. Where are our priorities? Children are not at risk of missing out on the fact that we're becoming a wired society. We don't need help making sure that future generations embrace technology. Technophobia just doesn't happen to be the dominant trait of our society.What we need is balance and connection.

Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott

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