Excerpted from Do Unto Animals by Tracey Stewart (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Illustrations by Lisel Ashlock.
I have always marveled at my children’s ability to talk so often and for so long. I, on the other hand, only manage to have something to say on average once every hour and can usually accomplish it in three sentences or less. Often it’s “I’m hungry,” followed by, “I have to go to the bathroom,” followed by, “Now, why did I walk into the kitchen?”
Talkative as my kids are, however, there is a family tradition that silences them for the longest interval of the year, and that is The Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual event held by the Audubon Society each February. The event lasts four days, during which individual bird-watchers spend at least fifteen minutes a day counting birds in as many places as they can and making their best estimate of how many of each species they’ve seen. At the end of the event, participants submit their findings, and the results go toward helping researchers collect data and learn more about bird populations.
Armed with field guides and notebooks, we head out into the woods to be scientists. I love telling my kids that animals in the woods can hear us coming from miles away, and that they’re not going to relax and start going about their usual business unless we can find a spot where we will be comfortable staying for fifteen minutes without making a peep. It works like a charm and is probably the closest we’ll ever get to a family meditation. In shared silence, we delight in spying the brightly colored common yellowthroat warbler, the adorable Carolina chickadee, and the regal snowy egret.
** More information on bird watching can be found in Do Unto Animals **