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The Therapeutic Power of Birds


African Barred Owlet

To say that 2016 was a tough year would be a massive understatement. In many ways, all that I knew started to crumble and fall around me. I felt like I would drown under the floodwaters of pain and adversity. The most trying circumstance I faced was my mother being diagnosed with cancer. I am a huge sports fan, with weekends filled with as many sporting moments as possible. I can remember how, after many controversial refereeing or umpiring decisions, we would have long chats, venting our anger and sharing our passion for sport for hours on end. My mother, the strong and feisty woman, lay in pain, her body speedily wasting away before my eyes.


I knew what helplessness felt like. I would pray for her and do all I could to support her, but it just felt like I wasn’t doing enough…


It was at this difficult time in my life that nature provided an escape.


Through a good friend of mine, I discovered birding. After an early morning birding session, with good friends and good coffee, I was hooked on this hobby. My friend blessed me with a pair of binoculars, and I purchased a cheap camera to get me started. I never knew how this hobby, along with my faith, would allow me to navigate this painful season.


I would go to the hospice where my mother was being cared for, spend hours at her bedside, and then in the afternoon go and find a spot to spend a few hours birding. I didn’t get to see many of the so-called ‘special birds’; I just spent hours observing whatever birds I happened to see while I was out. Truth be told, this didn’t change my circumstances in the slightest. But what it did change was my perspective. It was almost as if something magical happened as I peered at the birds through my binoculars. My focus shifted from what I was facing to something else. When I went back and had to face the situations, they were exactly the same – but my mind had been refreshed, and I was able to think about things from a much better perspective.


When you keep your gaze fixed on a difficult circumstance or situation, it has a way of overwhelming you. Sometimes all you need is that escape, that thing that allows you to shift your focus and reset your thinking; this is what birding allowed me to do.


It also allowed me to see the grandeur of creation – the reminder that there is something out there much bigger than myself. It was a reminder that I was not alone and that I had the strength to carry on fighting.


My mother did pass away later in the year, and now one of the things that make me sad is that I don’t get to share this birding journey with her. But I know she loved nature, so when I finally got the opportunity to go to Kruger a few years ago, in some small way, the trip connected me with her life and her legacy.


Birding didn’t provide me with all the answers, but it was my therapist in those dark and lonely seasons. All our stories and circumstances are different, but I am sure that for many of those who read this article, birding has not just given you a life list, but it has provided you with the strength to get through some difficult times.


When you get to stand alongside someone else while they are birding, especially those who are starting their journey, look to help them and add to their birding journey – you just never know what burdens they may be carrying.

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