Creativity as stabs of light

Creativity and sleeplessness

Marina Benjamin writes, in her memoir “Insomnia,” that sleeplessness can be regarded as a blessing. I endorse her elegant view:

This is what I wish to effect in my own life, the better to discern the flicks and flecks of pink so casually strewn across my fields of vision and experience. I want to flip disruption and affliction into opportunity, and puncture the darkness with stabs of light.

2018 Stillness Big Year: Take that, mindfulness!

Stillness Big Yesar

Last year, I successfully spent ten minutes each day setting up a mindfulness practice, or at least the beginning of one. Well, here’s what Marina Benjamin, in her brilliant kind-of memoir, “Insomnia,” thinks of my efforts:

I have long believed that mindfulness has its limitations. It overvalues the present moment and neglects the way the human mind wants to knit together past and future, lived experience and speculation, so creating conditions for narrative thinking or autobiographical orienteering. With its resolute and faithful focus on a single object of thought, or on doing away with thought altogether, mindfulness is about as edifying as praying to a toilet roll.

And again:

I have come to the conclusion that mindfulness is much like tidying the house. It is focused and satisfying in concentrated spurts, but it lacks a direction of travel. It seeks to keep things as they are. It leaves the world unchanged.

Author Big Year: Days 74 to 105

author Big Year

I haven’t reported for a while for the simple reason that it’s been a tough period, which by now has amounted to 32 days. Remember the goal is 6½ hours of writing work a day, making due allowance for downtime. Well, I had 9 days off during this period, and the overall average achieved was 5½ daily hours. But the disappointing aspect was that I only spent 2 hours/day on the only thing that really counts: drafting words. I’ve been swamped by book production and marketing strategy and setup.

I can’t do much about the future. I’ll do better and report more often.

How many Aussie birds?

Wings Big Year

I posted a while back that Sean Dooley, one of Australia’s prominent birders, said that the Royal Australian Ornithological Union put the number of Australian species, back in 2005, was “around 830.” Let me now peruse a far more academic tome, the sumptuous 566-page 2017 “bible”: “The Australian Bird Guide,” written by six ornithologists headed by Peter Menkhorst and published by CSIRO. It’s an exhilarating yet intimidating book for a keen but amateurish birder like me. Here ‘s the numbers skinny from the experts:

About 936 bird species have been recorded n the field guide region; of these, 747 are breeding residents or regular migrants that occur annually, and 29 were introduced. One hundred and sixty species are considered vagrants – stray birds that have occurred in Australia but do not normally do so.

So, for my purposes, of the 10,500 global species, I could aspire to witness 776 in my own land. We’ve got just over 7% of the world’s birdies. Again, as asked yesterday, how many of the 776 might I aspire to see/tick? It’d be easier, obviously, to aim high here than across the entire world, and in our birding travels, we’ve met singles or couples with life lists of high numbers, but is that what I want? Are numbers a worthy goal?

Strycker’s global numbers and he should know

Wings Big Year

In round figures I’ve always “known” there are something like 10,000 bird species on this Earth of ours. But what’s the precise number? Not having tracked down a full range of data sources, not being an academic, all I’ve done so far is flail around in some books.

Noah Strycker’s “Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, A Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World,” relates how he kicked off January 1, 2015 in Antarctica and then sought 5,000 bird species in South America, Central America, U.S.A., Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. It’s a beguiling tale and a beguiling read, but today I was most interested in one question: if 5,000 species was the target over 2015, how many species does he reckon exist? I used to be an actuary, so numbers are important, right?

Well, Strycker writes thus:

Although hard to believe in this globalized age, there is no single, agreed-upon checklist of all the bird species on Earth. Instead, we have competing interpretations: the Americans versus the rest of the world. In the United States, most birders use the Clements Checklist, which is periodically updated by experts at Cornell University and which recognized 10,365 living bird species while I traveled in 2015. In Europe and other parts of the world, birders tend to rely instead on the International Ornithological Congress (IOC), a progressive committee that acknowledged 10,612 species in 2015.

So, let’s call it “around 10,500.” What do I want to DO with this number. Do I wish to see and tick off a certain portion of this 10,500 – what, 2,000 or 5,000 in my lifetime – or am I interested in pursuing select species, to get to know them? Who knows? Thinking cap time.

Oh, why don’t I have a Running Big Year?

Big Decade

“I had not reversed time, or gotten any younger. But I had shown, at least to myself, that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped.” That’s a conclusion from Peter Sagal’s splendiferous book on running. When I did my Jogging Big Year, back in 2016, I used to complain all the time. Now, I’m running even slower and only half the distance, and the weight is stacking on. Isn’t motivation mysterious?

Author Big Year: Pronunciation pleasures

Author Big Year

What startles me is how much genuine joy I get out of minuscule word/phrase education. In a podcast, I heard a wonderful writer pronounce “segue” as “seeg.” Surely that’s wrong, I thought, so I looked it up, betting on the pronunciation I’ve been using ever since when, namely “segway,” like the powered two-wheeled “personal transporter.” Yes, “segway” is the go, but you can also use “saygway.” Who would have thought?

Wings Big Year: When did Dooley tick the cranes?

Wings Big Year

Yesterday I asked one question of Sean Dooley’s “The Big Twitch?” Today I went hunting for two birds in particular. Where did Sean, back in 2002, sight our two cranes, the quite common Brolga and the rather uncommon Sarus Crane? Determining the answer did not prove to be straightforward, for the book isn’t indexed. I can a list at the back of the book of his 705 sightings from January 1 to December 31. Brolga was #316 sighted in Brisbane (really? is it that easy?) on February 15, a tick that apparently wasn’t exciting enough to mention anywhere in the book. But on August 30, he saw Sarus Crane, #564, at the Weipa sewage ponds, his mention being just that, a mention.

Wings Big Year: A bird is a tick

Wngs Big Year

Few keen birders avoid the pleasure of ticking off the birds they see against some kind of master list. I know “twitching,” the obsessive pursuit of ticks, can arouse scorn, but shouldn’t a systematic pleasure be stronger than an unfocused pleasure?

A core inspiration for my own birding was Sean Dooley’s 2005 masterpiece about a ticking obsession, “The Big Twitch: One Man, One Continent, A Race Against Time – A True Story About Birdwatching.” The book narrates how in 2002 he ticked 708 Australian bird species, a big advance on the previous record of 633 set by Mike Entwhistle in 1989. Dooley’s book is a captivating, funny yet earnest paean to a fine obsession. Triumphant at the end, he wrote:

There are a million ways to occupy your time on this planet. They’re all pretty much absurd if you analyse them too closely. I chose twitching, one of the more outwardly absurd of them all I suppose but really no more ridiculous than anything else, yet that year of absurdity has had a profound effect on my life since.

Ever since 2005, I’ve wanted to reread “The Big Twitch” but time is too short right now, so today I confine myself to two bits of factual research. The first is: how many Aussie birds were there in 2002? Unfortunately, on this topic Dooley is not as precise as I wish him to be, simply saying there are “over 830” on the 1994 RAOU Australian Bird Checklist. He also says that after eliminating “extreme vagrants” (only once-off sightings), this comes down to “around 710,” which means he saw nearly ALL the birds in this country.