What's Helping Today: Merlin Bird ID
Hard days in this country; hard days on this earth. So much to worry about, so much to fear.
The whole point of this newsletter is to focus on the opposite, I suppose. I say “What’s Helping Today” in order to highlight those positive, joy-inducing-type things, however small, ones we might forget to take seriously in a world that’s so often grim. My hope is that in focusing on such we may, even momentarily, counteract the horror that seems so indelible to human life.
As I’ve discussed, I’m not on any social media these days. This is certainly a good thing for my own wellbeing. I do keep up with what’s happening on social media, somewhat, via conversations with others, via some podcasts and newsletters. But for the most part I am outside of those echo chambers now.
I gotta say it’s really great out here. It reminds me some of quitting alcohol, which I did over five years ago. How before you quit alcohol you wonder, looking at all the bars, looking at the drink in everyone’s hand, how will I ever quit alcohol? Then you quit alcohol and you realize nobody pays attention to what you’re drinking. Nobody cares it’s ginger ale in your glass. (Those who do are assholes.)
My point is, the world is hard to change. This is true. Bars everywhere. Booze everywhere. Booze advertised everywhere — before videos, on the very podcasts I listen to, alone in my garden, here in the mountains. I can’t escape this. Nor can I escape the fact of the world being very terrifying and endlessly sad. I do consume news, albeit very little compared to the news mainlining I did for the years I worked for BuzzFeed. These days I am still detoxing, perhaps, from being so steeped in sadness-and-anger-inducing shit.
Both for my research/reporting and for myself, I am constantly thinking about topics like the effects of trauma on the nervous system and entire body and spirit. I’m thinking about intakes and outputs. I am thinking about my internal landscape and my external one.
I’m thinking about: What am I forcing myself to consume? Is it social media or news, aka, reasons to be alarmed? Or is it the opposite, aka, the clouds in the sky, the trees?
Often the answer is: go outside.
Often the answer is: breathe.
My point is we don’t control much, except maybe what we give our attention.
So many birds here in the Catskills, especially during the spring and summer. I like sleeping next to an open screen, where I can feel the cool air overnight and hear the frog song and commune with the stars. Come dawn, I bathe in birdsong.
Initially when I lived here, I didn’t pay much attention to the birds. Though I would notice if a bird surprised me, usually because it violated my still very-Northern-Californian sense of which birds exist. These days I know more of the birds who come through, though they are so numerous I remain mostly ignorant of who they all are. Their chatter is constant and I tune in and out.
These last few months I’ve been relying more on an app that helps identify birds, called Merlin Bird ID. It has many functions but the feature I use is basically bird Shazam. In my opinion Merlin is probably the best app; I cannot recommend it more.
Sometimes, I notice the birdsong, I open Merlin and have it listen to who’s potentially around. If it hears many birds, it adds their names one after the other, always reminding me of the title credits of an old sitcom. The whole thing is goddamn delightful.
Here’s the pond one morning in early May:
Here’s the backyard on an early summer evening:
Here’s a dawn chorus, with an exciting rare guest star:
Here were today’s birds, who sang through a thick morning fog:
Maybe sometime, if you notice birdsong — or if the human world becomes overwhelming — consider opening Merlin, and listening to the birds.
Sending you love,
p.s. Here’s a good album of Bowie covers from last year.
p.p.p.s. Here’s my garden, being happy:
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