Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hello, 2017

My family went to Sedona, Arizona for Christmas. Sedona was so beautiful that I don't think that 3-syllable word, "beautiful," can properly describe all of those red rock formations, snow-covered trees, and endless skies. The Verde Valley that harbors Sedona and its neighboring cities is full of spiritual energy and centuries of history. I spent the vacation remembering how to breathe, remembering what it feels like to be a whole person. I also spent it trying to remember what it feels like to bird.

Red Rock Crossing, Arizona. December 25, 2016.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Arizona. December 26, 2016.

One of the concierges at our hotel was nice enough to give us tips on where to go and what to see around Sedona. At some point, my mom mentioned that I like birds, and the concierge lit up.

"There's lots of birds around here! Did you bring your binoculars?"

"No," I said, "I left them at home."

Her brow furrowed. "You left them at home?"

I shrugged. "Yeah. I'm on vacation."

Now, her eyebrows rose. "On vacation? From birding? You can't take a vacation from birding."

I shrugged again.

There are a lot of reasons why I haven't been birding much in the last 3 years. A lot of reasons. They're interwoven with every single heartbreaking, but also awe-inspiring and uplifting, thing that has happened in my life since I moved to Berkeley. There's no way I can explain everything, but I can try.

Freshman year, I tried my hardest to keep up the habit of going birding every weekend. As school picked up, it became every other weekend. Then, every month. Then, a couple of times a semester.  But, I still tried my best to go whenever I could. I spent the summer after my freshman year riding buses around my new apartment, trying to learn this city that had suddenly become home. I took a 2-hour bus ride to Point Pinole. I made a few trips to the Berkeley Marina. I sat in my backyard (and what a luxury that is as a college student, to have a backyard) and learned which sparrows and jays and wrens visited my new bushes. Birding was my favorite way to escape the daily struggles and stress and impossible difficulty of school. Birding rooted me into the Berkeley soil and told me "you are here. This is where you live now. Isn't it beautiful?" But suddenly, when sophomore year started, there was too much going on for me to even try to escape. My freshly grown roots were ripped from the soil.

Everything happened at once. I began working long hours, longer than I actually physically could. I stayed late on campus to study, stayed late in the lab to research, stayed up late in my bed because it was hard to fall asleep, so I might as well watch another episode of that TV show. 

I lost one of my best friends in a fight that dragged on for a year and a half, and left me with painful memories of watching her wash dishes at midnight in water hot enough to burn, of gently telling her I would finish for her when she picked up a knife by its blade and held the blade against her palm, considering it, like someone considers which cereal to buy at Safeway.

I stopped eating.

Shit had hit the fan, and something had to give. If I didn't want that "something" to be me, it had to be birding. That's the truth of it. 

I can count on one hand the number of people who I actually told what I was going through. Nazo, thank you for being awake at every odd hour of the night when I really needed a hug. Ann, thank you for opening your heart and helping me feel like less of a monster. Mom and Dad, thank you for your constant support, guidance, and love. Sierra, thank you for helping me face moments that I thought would end me.  

They didn't end me. I am still here, and I promise you that I dug into the core of my being and called up every single tiny speck of my power to make sure I made it. It wasn't always clear if I would.

Eventually, the days became less and less painful. Now, I have gained the perspective to say that I've made it through one event horizon before, and I'll be okay if I have to make it through again. The days aren't easy, per se, but they're easier. I'm relearning what it's like to sleep, to eat, to grow roots and find shelter and nourish myself. I'm relearning how to be alive in this incredible, tumultuous, humbling, spectacular world.

I'm relearning how to look for birds.

Heermann's Gulls at Stinson Beach, California. August 8, 2016.

Brown Pelicans at Stinson Beach, California. August 8, 2016.

I'm starting small. I'm okay with seeing a hummingbird in between classes, or happening upon a junco in the mulch outside of a library, or glancing up from a homework assignment and catching a raptor soaring far above this entire city. That's what birding was for me 6 years ago - simple joy, and a way to understand what "home" means.

Maybe it can be home again.

(In case you're curious, the bird highlights of Sedona were a Bald Eagle who stared at our train as we trundled by, two Greater Roadrunners who ran in front of our car after we left Tuzigoot National Monument, and a Northern Cardinal as we checked out of our hotel on the last morning of 2016.)


Beautiful places I've been to in the last year of healing:

Asilomar Beach, California. March 20, 2016.

Sunol Regional Wilderness, California. April 2, 2016.

Yosemite National Park, California. July 9, 2016.

Bucharest, Romania. July 31, 2016.


  1. Sending you love, and this: I'm so sorry that things have been rough. And please know: any time you need someone to talk to, or to come visit, I'm here. (Jennie D)

  2. Aww Jennie, thank you so much for this! I appreciate you reaching out. And I love that video! It made me smile to watch it again. I hope you're doing well, and that our paths cross again soon.