I think most people are Very Amateur Naturalists. I think this is true even in 2021. As true as the fact that I’m writing this on the Internet, most people have a window or have a reason to go outside every day. Maybe that reason is to walk your own domesticated dog.
This morning while watering plants I was thinking that this must be true. I was thinking of this especially this morning because I skimmed an essay by Richard Smyth called Little Parishes of the Sky (this was shared by Andrew Klavan on twitter.) I was especially delighted by the true admission of naturalist Bruce Cummings that Smyth mentions, “Cummings came to find that he was more enlivened by the birds at his window than by the presence of his infant daughter.” I know this feeling. I enjoy sitting outside and having coffee with my chickens. They cluck and peck and dart and comfort me in a way that my children cannot.
I’m reading a book by Conrad Baars called Doctor of the Heart. It is 1943 and he is about to enter the Nazi prison camp Buchenwald. I imagine even in Buchenwald prisoners had birds to watch. That is the thought that I had while watering my plants. I immediately wondered if that would be a terrible thought to share, “Even in Nazi camps there are birds to watch that can lift one’s spirits!” How naive, right? But I think it helps to prove the idea of Very Amateur Naturalists.
Bruce Cummings was dying of MS in 1917 when the birds enlivened him more than his infant daughter. Where there are crows and sparrows there is something normal. There is the whiff of life carrying on, uninterrupted. There is foraging for sustenance, bathing in puddles, catching insects and preening in the sun; there are small birds chasing grackles from their nests, hummingbirds flying high to drop and make their loud chirp; there are quail running across the yard in a large covey. All this life will carry on amidst human suffering and loss. I imagine watching your infant daughter while you’re dying of MS would bring a heaviness that sparrows quarreling on your windowsill would not. The sparrows will not know you’re gone. You will not orphan the sparrows. And yet, not a sparrow falls to the ground without Our Lord knowing.