I met with a friend this weekend to go bird watching. It was a gray weekend and my partner’s ankle is sprained so we can’t climb. There wasn’t much else to do. The three of us wandered along in a nature preserve and looked mostly at water fowl, since just about everything else has gone on to warmer lands.
I used to be very annoyed by my parent’s bird watching and plant identifying sessions. It took for-ever and I wanted to play! But I knew from an early age that things had names. Just that idea of that is not something that most people think about if they haven’t either gotten the bug of naming things themselves or lived in a family where that was a thing.
On my own, I learned the names of mountains and rivers and whatnot, and now when I see a place I know, it’s like seeing friends. If I’ve been up to the top, it’s like seeing good friends. (Sometimes I see places where friends have died hiking or climbing; there are a few of those, one I can see from my breakfast table when I stay in town. Seeing those can be obviously pretty melancholic, but it makes me remember how much I loved the friend.)
Bird watching is fairly vocabulary intensive, though. My partner is a German speaker, our friend speaks French and I’m English mother tongue. If you don’t know the name of a bird, it’s like you’re an idiot to other bird watchers. I often know the name but not in the right language. I do have a few in all three. Amsel, blackbird, merle. Rotkelchen, robin, rouge gorge. Blaumeise, blue tit, mésange bleu. Nachtigall, nightingale, rossignol. It’s kind of a pain but that’s the rules of the sport.
I like knowing the names of the things I see. Knowing the words makes the things around me more specific. I see better. I see more clearly, Seamus Heaney be damned.