I can watch them for hours as they coast on the air currents high above my head. They seem to play with each other…follow the leader, tag, red rover red rover won’t you come over… Some arrange themselves in perfect formation, vees of aerodynamic perfection performing intricate maneuvers in mid flight. Others fly solo, seemingly free from the attachments of family or community.
Birds are hard to photograph. Maybe that’s the draw for me. They don’t sit still and the slightest movement sends them to the sky. They seem spare and compact, unlimited by the constraints of time and space.
“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
Birds require patience and silence. I have to sharpen my senses, still my heart, and settle into the landscape to have a chance to watch them in action. And when I pay close attention I learn a lot about the unique qualities of the birds I am watching–and maybe something about myself too.
Watching birds is a lot like teaching. The most important part of my work is getting to know my students. I have to recognize the subtleties of their behavior, knowing when to let them grapple productively and when to step in and offer support–a place to perch until their wings are ready for the next flight. I have to remember to be still and let the learning come rather than force my pace. Patience and silence are important here too.
Like students, birds often seek cover, blending in with their surroundings rather than risk standing out in the open, exposed and vulnerable. But when the space is safe enough and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear their song. And with time you recognize those voices, even when you don’t see them.
When the light is right for a mirror-perfect reflection, I realize that I love birds in the wild but resist the idea of caging these creatures. Yeah, they’re easier to get close to and photograph in a cage–but something essential is missing.
But mostly, birds and students give me hope.
In the words of Emily Dickenson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Watching birds reminds me to expand my self-imposed limits and to give my dreams flight–to take to the metaphorical skies and soar. And that’s what I want for my students too. Their lives are awash in possibility. I hope that my small breath under their wings helps lift them to pursue their interests and passions.
So they can soar.