When my youngest child, Pippa was eight years old, she would sometimes go out with her older brother, who was twelve, and check out the piles of junk that our neighbours threw out for the council clean-up. Most stuff they brought home was exactly that- junk! But one day Pippa came home with a book. A fat, dog-eared, non-descript, brown book that she found lying under a broken kettle.
That book changed her life. And our family’s. It was a book describing the birds of Australia, with supportive illustrations, and over the coming months, she read it from cover to cover, countless, numerous times. Her passion for birds was kindled, and from then on, she learned everything she could about those feathered creatures. With a green highlighter, she ticked off all the birds that she saw, and painstakingly listed them in the back of the book. Over time, she learned the names of all the birds in our area and later, knew their call, their nesting and breeding habits, their food supply, and their migration routes. By the time she was ten years old, there was nothing she didn’t know about the local birds. For her birthday, all she wanted was books on birds, and gradually, her library was filled with books on birds from Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and later, North America, Africa, and Europe. There was nothing she couldn’t tell you about birds. Her knowledge was extensive.
Our family became caught up in her enthusiasm and we too would spot a bird and try to identify it. She’d say things like ‘that’s the adolescent stage, it has yellow eyes that later turn red, or ‘that’s the breeding male, it sports a blue chest when it wants to attract a mate.’ She’d know their call, and on family bush walks, even if we couldn’t spot the bird, she could identify the type.
Her passion for birds naturally progressed to an interest in all wildlife, and she wanted to learn about possums and lizards, wombats and flying foxes. She and I enrolled in a wildlife course, to rescue injured and distressed wildlife, and after a weekend’s study, we joined Sydney Wildlife to volunteer for rescues. It was an enormous commitment for me, as a mother with four children, and working part-time, and sometimes I wanted to chuck it all in, especially when we had to do a rescue after hours, and do four hourly feed every night, but the benefits far out-weighed the effort.
The whole family became involved in caring for mostly, baby possums, tawny frogmouths, blue tongue lizards and numerous fledglings that had fallen from their nests.
Pippa’s passion for birds and love of nature infected our whole family, and we learned to look up into the trees, instead of down at the ground. We learned to be still, and to listen. We learned to be aware of our surroundings and take note of things; nests stuck in forks of trees, possum drays hidden in thick green foliage, white droppings from owls high up in the branches.
Most of all we learned to be respectful of nature, and to appreciate the animal world that co-exists right under our noses.
I love the quote, “Take time to smell the roses.” The golfer Walter Hagen said originally, “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”
In this, the Chinese year of the monkey, we will be busier and busier, and it’s even more important to take the time to appreciate our surroundings; to take the time to notice the beauty around us. To slow down. To breathe!!
Sometimes, what is someone’s junk, can be another one’s treasure. Pippa proved that to our family when she brought the discarded book back home, and introduced our family to a love of birds and animals and the natural environment.
Most importantly, she taught me, that as a mother, we can learn from our children. They can teach us so many things, and open our eyes to a new way of looking and perceiving the world. For mothers and fathers, the treasure is our children.
Sydney-based Diane Fagan is a mother and author of the YA novel, Jodie’s Rescue, now available at all good book stores and online at www.shortstoppress.com
Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.com