Friday, December 26, 2014

A Poverty Of Loneliness

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” ~Rollo May

While on our trek finding the Pelagic Cormorants, we observe all kinds of people including fisher people hoping to catch something
No one may understand this.  I don't even think I understand myself why I do the things I do.  This was perhaps the strangest way I could have spent the holidays.  Alone.  And not just alone but among people who don't have money nor the family or friends for support.  Thankfully, my birding plans and two new friends kept my mind busy during this important trek.  After all, the year is coming to a close and I'm running out of time to find new birds!

A beautiful Christmas Eve day at Imperial Pier with Bonnie and Libby!
Birders begin to hit the "Lifer Wall" and we have to go beyond our comfort zones so that we may discover more life birds.  From here on out, life birds will become expensive.  Many of us will share hotel rooms or find the cheapest rates out there to stay within our budgets.  Birds will also guide us into areas that most tourists never see.  So on this trek during the holidays, I found myself surrounded by so many who were alone. The only difference is that I had a choice.  They didn't.

The quiet of sunrise allows me a chance encounter with this beautiful skunk
This was probably the hardest thing I had to do. I want to understand and experience what it's like for a person doing a Big Year.  My family, and even Pat, wanted to know why I had to go and do this trek.  Logistically, it is the best time to go.  Birders plot all the time.  It's the end of the year.  But what's difficult for most birders is this human ritual need of "holiday".  However, the roads are empty and the rates for hotels are super cheap.  So in between all of this push and pull, there is a compromise we all have to make.  I've always been with family and friends during my 41 years of life.  But this year, I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. The homeless Vietnam Vet at Lindo Lake.  The mentally ill woman on the pier.  The single elderly woman who celebrated Christmas Day dinner alone.  The poor families living out of a hotel....alone. I even went to the San Diego Zoo to be among families on Christmas Eve day to experience the world as a single person.  Let me just say it in plain English.  It sucked!

Libby has to wait in line!
Now my new buds Libby, Bonnie and Patty were there to help keep my chin up.  They were so wonderful and even invited me to their potluck, but I had to stick to my route...and budget!  How I would have loved to stay!  Bonnie sent me off with Christmas cookies(lembas bread) that kept me from getting hungry on my hikes:)  SIDE NOTE *I had such a great time with you both!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for such an amazing adventure! We'll see you again next year! 

We spend a gorgeous night out in Chula Vista(pic by Libby)
So on Christmas Day, I couldn't handle it anymore.  Instead of getting a visual on the California Quail that I heard at Discovery Lake, I hightailed it back home to be with Pat's family. And by early afternoon, there I was inside my clan of crying babies and loud children with their exhausted parents.  Together we ate too much of everything including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and egg rolls.  And I am grateful for this.  I will never understand the need for physical gifts because for me, it has always been about sharing meaningful time together. 

Young cocky surfers could learn so much from the pros. 

The left side of the pier had the older surfers who were pros!  On the other, we found the beginners learning how to catch the right wave.
While I had a successful birding run into SoCal, I won't forget the experience anytime soon. What will happen to the homeless Vietnam Vet?  People sat with him on the bench and listened to his story while I glanced at the endangered Tricolored Blackbirds.  What will happen to the mentally ill woman on the pier?  I think of her the most.  I don't know why her image continues to linger in my mind.  While observing surfers and watching birds, I listened to her conversations with people around the pier.  She was lonely and needed human contact.  We all do. 

This Ring-billed Gull reminds me of most people going for the last piece of ham on the platter!
No matter how much I try to distance myself from people outside of work, I realize that I am no different than anyone else. These human rituals are important and ingrained within us. We are pack animals and need one another to get through this difficult life. On the lonely road into Southern California, I thought about many things on this birding trek.  And maybe this is what it means to be a birder.  An explorer.  Birds are just a piece of the entire experience.

Red-throated Loon
As I approach 600 life birds, I begin to feel the weight of each new bird. What happens to one at 700 or 1,500?  We change.  Each bird exposes me to yet another human reality or connection to the greater world. 

Pic by Libby.  
This is Patty.  I fell in love with her while visiting with Bonnie and Libby.  So many people do not understand Rock Pigeons.  We think of them as pests and yet I found her to be rather endearing. I also discovered that all she wants most is to be with others. I learned a great deal from her in a short amount of time.  Rock Pigeons, like people, prefer to be in the company of others.  Patty also showed me some of her moves! Pretty cool stuff!  More to come....


  1. Funny how some life lessons are learned. Although I'm not anti-social I treasure my alone time, holiday or not. Glad you answered the family call.

  2. What a great post, Chris! Sounds like you had an enlightening trip in all kinds of ways.. Congrats on your sightings.. I am far from your 600 life birds, that is an awesome list.. I wish you many more life birds and a happy, healthy New Year!

  3. HI Chris all you say in this post I agree with. My heart goes out to the less fortunate people in this world. I love the last shot of you with Patty on your head.

  4. Very good and thought provoking post!

  5. Sometimes being alone can be awakening. Liking your own company is essential but there is something about those holiday meals with family that completely warms your insides.
    Happy New Year Chris!

  6. It's good to have time alone, but also good to have time with friends and sometimes strangers. Change can make us think when we are normally absorbed in our everyday lives. Happy 2016.

  7. Good for you Chris. I have unfortunately had to live on the other side of the fence for a while, a long time ago now. It's unpleasant, but strangely liberating in it's simplicity. Sadly, age brings ever increasing problems for the poor and homeless. Would you do it again?

  8. A very thought provoking post Chris and so sad about the people spending Christmas and their lives alone.

    I am so glad you returned to your loved ones for Christmas Day.

    Wishing you a very Happy New Year filled with bird sightings and happiness :)

  9. A very thought provoking post Chris. you have a gift for doing so - making your readers think about life and birds. In this case you made us consider life without birds. But for those who have nothing, birds are immaterial. Interesting the way you returned to the bosom of your family. I think many of us who imagine a solitary existence would do the same when faced with reality. Happy Philosophical Birding to you for 2015.

  10. I hear what you are saying about not wanting to be alone, especially around the holidays, but one of the greatest luxuries in life is to be able to pick when and where we want to be alone. Enjoy it when you need to. Happy new year to you as well!


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