Making something out of nothing

We were sitting at breakfast last week, watching the birds out our back door.  There was about an inch of snow on the ground (which meant my son was complaining about how it NEVER snows in Indiana) and we were on, like, day 47 of grey skies and gloom.  This particular day, however, was sub-zero–so cold school was delayed (hence our leisure at the breakfast table).

The birds we get at the feeders on our back patio aren’t terribly remarkable: sparrows, chickadees, juncos, cardinals, house finches, and the occasional mourning dove.  On tis particular morning, they looked especially cold, all puffed up with their feathers ruffling in the miserable, persistent wind.

We noticed, suddenly, that our normal pair of cardinals had been joined by several other pairs.  At one time, we counted ten or eleven of them, both males and females.  As less-than-amateur birders, this was a very special sight and one we had never before seen at our feeder.  We took pictures, marveled at the efficiency of their triangular, stubby red beaks against the sunflower seeds we had provided, and talked back and forth about how extraordinary this large cardinal gathering seemed to be.

This kind of thing–getting so excited about seeing multiple birds of a feather–is the kind of thing we just do in our house.  We notice little things, and we talk about them.  Constantly.  Multiple times.  You do not want to drive anywhere with us in cars in autumn unless you really like talking about foliage.  And by “talking about”, I mean saying things like, “Oooh!  That’s a good one!” or “Wow!  That one really turned orange since we saw it two days ago!”

We point out hawks along highways.  We report back at dinner time whether or not we saw ducks or the resident heron at the retention pond in our back yard.  We keep tallies of how many rabbits and/or chipmunks we see on morning runs.  Spring flowers coming up in the front yard?  Oh my goodness, thank goodness for the ability to post photos.  And should we ever get anything out of the ordinary?  Well, everyone gets in on that action.

But here’s the thing: these little details, these small things that make us happy, these ordinary, everyday things that most people pass by?  We notice them.  And we talk about them.  And we appreciate them.  And that excitement doesn’t stop with our family conversations.  That ability to notice the details also carries over (for better or worse) into my teaching.

I’ve led field trips through the woods and stopped kids so they could peek through the vines at a robin sitting on her nest.  I’ve showed them trees so punctured by woodpecker holes they were no longer structurally sound.  We’ve snuck up on frogs, stood stock still and silent so we could listen for bird song, and I’ve been so excited to see a pair of Baltimore orioles that I actually hit a parent chaperone on the shoulder.

I suppose my point is that if you are excited about something–even something ordinary and mundane–your excitement will spread.  Other people start to see these everyday wonders through their own eyes.  That’s worth mentioning.

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