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On being a birder and a father

June 21, 2010
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Yesterday was my second father’s day, but in many ways it felt like my first.  Last year Noah was scarcely a month old, and Danielle and I were still coming to terms with this parenthood thing, at least on those days that we weren’t sleep-deprived zombies.  Those days are past now, and the baby birder is a better sleeper allowing for some semblance or normalcy to descend once again on Casa Drinking Bird.  I’m still not one to gaze navally on this whole fatherhood game, I don’t see the need.  Of all the things on which I have existential crises, you might be surprised to know that preparing the next generation really isn’t one of them.  I certainly don’t have any sort of history on which to base this, and I’m no doubt enormously lucky to even say it, but having a sense of humor and the ability to be flexible seems to be the key.  Of course one could say that about a lot of things, and having a spouse who’s more or less inclined to handle most logistical issues makes a world of difference.

Having a child forces the future into the present.  I’m constantly thinking about what kind of world that is being left for Noah.  As a bird enthusiast I have a hard time thinking outside of that avian box, but any nature lover has to ask the same question.  What exactly do we need to be preparing our children for?  I don’t necessarily mean peak oil or uninhabitable stretches of earth or oily oceans or any of the super worst case scenarios that can keep a too conscientious parent up nights, but stuff on a much more immediate scale.  Could I bring a child up in a world without Loggerhead Shrikes or Cerulean Warblers or Black-capped Petrels?  Obviously the answer now is “yes if I have to” since there’s no going back in the womb, but am I setting him out onto a planet where that is nothing but an eventuality.

These are the same questions I know my own father asked himself in not so many words when I was a child.  And given the way things were going I have to think he imagined a far bleaker future than what did, in fact, occur.  Think then, DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, but the effects were still being felt in populations of raptors and fish-eating birds.  Species like Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Brown Pelicans were recovering, but slowly, and their fate was in no way certain.  Birds like Wood Ducks and Wild Turkeys were on the verge or extirpation across much of the continent before wildly successful re-introduction programs brought them back.  California Condors were dropping fast, victims of lead shot and poisoned carrion left for coyotes, and needed drastic intervention.  Whooping Cranes were not far beyond their nadir of 16 individuals at the mid-point of the century.  Where are they now?  It may yet be too early to say all have been entirely successful, but they’re succeeding.

I don’t mean to minimize the issues ecosystems and birds populations face today, as they are legion.  What will likely be the worst environmental catastrophe in human history is currently ongoing with no end in sight.  Global climate change threatens to re-arrange entire ecosystems and the threat of development and natural resource extraction still slice and dice tracts of wild places beyond the capacity of certain species to adapt.  But still I have hope, I see it in him when he follows a Robin on the lawn or catches a Crow lazily winging past.  I want the environmental ethos instilled in me by my own concerned father to pass down to my son.  I need that from him, and I have no reason to think it won’t stick, because while drowning the despair of a existential environmental depression is easy, and maybe even somewhat justified, it’s not an option.

The world is still full of beautiful places and things, and I still need those things to be there so that Noah knows what needs to be protected and preserved and even saved.  There are still Loggerhead Shrikes and Cerulean Warblers and Black-capped Petrels.  For now at least and I hope in 30 years too, because birds are resilient and given the chance to thrive they’ll do just that.  I hope Noah can know that too.

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5 Comments
  1. June 21, 2010 8:53 am

    Great post, Nate! I chose not to have children because I see the bleaker side of things. I see you still have hope. Happy belated Father’s Day.

  2. June 21, 2010 9:58 am

    Great post. I’m not optimistic since I don’t see the government responding to the environmental crises with the same urgency shown in the 1970s. But maybe something else will fill the gap.

  3. Martha Swick permalink
    June 21, 2010 11:00 am

    Read your post today as I am sitting at the field station and your dad is teaching environmental education to a new group of high school students. You come from good stock and Noah is one lucky little boy! Happy Father’s Day, Nath

  4. June 21, 2010 12:50 pm

    Just wanted to say, great post. Don’t have much to add besides that! I think that most North American birds are on the right track, but many many birds (and other animals) throughout the world are not so lucky.

  5. Nate permalink*
    June 21, 2010 3:15 pm

    @all- Thanks guys!

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