Chasing Connection, Health and Happiness by Watching Birds (Tammah Watts, therapist, birdder and author)

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Tammah Watts humans outside podcast

Do you head outside for your mind, body, spirit — or all three? And when you’re out there, do you find there’s one specific activity or facet that is simply your favorite? That really moves you — literally or figuratively? That heals whatever part of you is feeling the most neglected today?

Tammah Watts followed a bird from her kitchen window while she was working on ways to physically heal. But what she found through bird watching is so much more. So what can a little connection with birds do for you? Listen now to find out.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:38] Tammah Watt’s favorite outdoor space

[5:30] How Tammah became someone who likes to go outside

[6:50] How Tammah became a birder

[11:33] How this is sort of like The Secret Garden

[14:22] The difference between birding and birdwatching and is there one?

[19:29] What intentionality has to do with it

[22:29] Why birding is healing to Tammah

[25:44] Why birds are easier for this connection than mountains or trees

[29:32] How birds can lead to mindfulness

[35:44] Why birding is so hot right now

[38:30] Tammah’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside even for a few minutes is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and here at Humans Outside, we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while hearing from fascinating outdoor minded. As a journalist for 19 years, I’ve let curiosity be my guide.

After my husband’s injuries from military service, we started looking for a better way to live. That’s why we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if an outdoor focused life was the answer. Since September, 2017, I’ve personally spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life.

Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

One of my favorite things about where I live in Alaska are our birds. While I don’t really consider myself a birder per se, I do enjoy being with them. I am so impressed by the way these tiny chickadees manage to survive the cold Alaska winter, flitting around to stay warm.

And I love, love the bald eagles. Some time ago I decided that if one flew across my path, it’s a sign that everything is gonna be okay. and I love the ravens. If you’ve never seen a raven in real life, think like sort of like a crow, but absolutely huge. They waddle around looking like they’re about to start talking to you, Edgar Allen Poe style.

So that’s me and birds. But for many people, birding or bird watching has been the perfect on-ramp to spending time outside, a reason to go out, something to do there, and an endless source of joy and even inspire. Today’s guest might put herself in that category. Tammah Watts didn’t set out to be a birder, but that was before she was trapped at home dealing with chronic pain as an unexpected fallout to what was supposed to be a fairly routine medical procedure.

A licensed therapist, Tammah has since then fully immersed herself into birding and even published. Keep looking up your guide to the powerful healing of Bird watching. It covers the basics of birding and pairs her story with an easy how-to and even journaling prompts to use as you ease yourself into the hobby.

Today Tammah going to talk to us about her birding journey. Tell us what she believes we all can glean through birding, and give us some useful tips for getting started. Tammah, welcome to Humans Outside.

Tammah Watts: Thank you Amy. I’m happy to be here.

Amy Bushatz: Well, I am so very happy to have you. We start our episodes asking our guests to describe their favorite outdoor space so that we can imagine ourselves just like hanging out with you there, having a chat like we’re outside instead of in our two very separate locations, me inside my generously referred to podcast closet you in your home . So if you would describe your favorite outdoor space, where are we with you today?

Tammah Watts: Okay, thank you for the invitation, and I wanna extend the invitation to all the listeners to just join me with a cup of something. Maybe it’s a glass of something. For me it’s a warm mud of coffee, preferably with birds on it. Handle turned backwards. And let’sgo in my backyard on the side yard where there’s this small area, a patio, it has a water fountain there was put in long ago, like over 20 years ago when we first moved in. For some reason I just really knew that I wanted something meditative and just the sound of water. It wasn’t, I wasn’t thinking about, hey, this could be a water source for birds, so that’s what it’s turned into. But nonetheless, let’s go out there. So come with me with your drink and take a sit. Just sit down. Here’s a couple of chairs under an umbrella and kind of towering over the umbrella are jacaranda trees, bit of peripheral blossoms, sprinkled about the leaves.

And in front of you, you can see the water fountain. The water bubbling, pretty generously down old dome and then down into the larger pool. And so it has a really inviting calming sound to it. And just beyond that is the Tipuana tree. It’s tall, it towers up over the second story of the helm, and it has these gentle leaves that are oval shaped.

And they just seem to just, they’re just dainty. Even though the, and the tree is so sturdy, it’s very sturdy and it just commands the space and many, many birds flit in and about on that tree. And so while we’re sitting talking today, we’re definitely gonna hear the resident house finches boisterous as they are, and the house wren likes to come zipping by on the fence, not too far. And the crow squawk as it flies over back and forth, talking to one another from one rooftop to the other in the suburban neighborhood where I live in Southern California. So that’s where we’ll be.

Amy Bushatz: Lovely. Thank you for that. Can you start our conversation now that we’re sitting in this beautiful spot, having my cup of coffee is what I’ve brought with me.

Can you start us off by telling us how you became someone who likes to go outside? What’s your journey to that point?

Tammah Watts: You know, I think I can’t, in one way I have to say it really, I can’t remember not going outside when I was, because I, I can’t remember that cuz I, I, my, both my parents really oriented us and going outdoors every day in one way or another. I spent many weekends out here in San Diego County, many weekends at the beach or in Balboa park, if you’ve ever been to San Diego, you might know of a large park that has museums and little parks sprinkled through, some larger than others. And, you know, 1930s Spanish design and just the zoo, the San Diego Zoo, all of that’s in that same area. So it was always this wonderful destination and that’s and a lot of things could be done, and it was free.

So it wasn’t costly to spend time out and also in the backyard. But that’s it, I mean, those are my recollections that I really can’t remember not being outside, until my period of illness later in life where I found myself kind of sequestered in. Yeah.

Amy Bushatz: And at that point, you walked into, really had a moment that walked into birding. During part of that, well, where you were stuck indoors for all practical purposes. Can you talk to us about that? What happened there? Tell us that journey a little bit.

Tammah Watts: Sure. So I unexpectedly, as you had mentioned earlier, the top, found myself back at home disabled, ultimately following a procedure that resulted in me having a, what’s considered a rare condition called chronic regional pain syndrome, CRPS. It’s a neurological condition a lot of severe chronic pain, and it was very, extremely debilitating.

And I spent years wrestling with that and wrestling with the fact that I was no longer. active. I used to bike and hike and go places all the time, and it was very busy as a, as a program manager, administrator for outpatient mental health clinics and just in need and busy 60, 70 hours a week. And that all suddenly stopped.

And so one day, and this is, we’re talking years in now, I was at the kitchen sink trying to fill a pan, and I had gotten to the point where I could at least do that. There was a period where I couldn’t even hold a glass without it shaking or a pin or pick up a dime because the fine motor skills just wasn’t there.

So it was debilitating to me physically, but also from a mental health perspective, I became extremely depressed and so I wouldn’t go outside. I just felt like I was in my home, kind of trapped. And so one day I was trying to fill some pan with some water and I happened to look out of the kitchen window.

Now, remember we’re out in that side patio. Well, this kitchen window looks out onto that side patio. So there’s a direct view of the fountain and it, there’s a direct view of the Tipuana tree that grows over it. And I happen to look out and saw this yellow flutter go by. And it caught like eye. And I looked up in the tree and saw it hopping around.

And that’s when I saw this beautiful little yellow bright yellow bird, butterscotch yellow and it kind of flitted it down towards the water fountain. And so I could see more details of it. And it actually made a little go, it kind of made brief eye contact even before it flitted away. And at the time I didn’t know it was a yellow warbler, but then I didn’t even know it was a yellow warbler.

I even questioned, at first, was that a bird I saw? And then because there’s yellow blossoms on the Tipuana tree, and so I thought, am I just mistaking with blossoms for that? But indeed it was, and it would come every day and would look for that bird. And every time I went to the kitchen, I would look for the bird.

And that began to draw my connection to the outside world in a different way. It’s not like the yard changed. It’s not like the trees weren’t still the trees, the grass and the plants weren’t still the same, but for me it opened up this world. It was like magic. It just suddenly I saw it in a different way. It became an extension to my living space, you know, metaphorically and then literally.

And I started then being curious about other birds and starting to notice other birds that there, the house finches, the morning doves, birds I didn’t know the name of then. But I saw that they came in regularity and I began to get curious about them and I started going outdoors every day, even just for a minute or two, and built up over time. And then gradually, I just thought, I started getting curious about what was I seeing, and that’s when I started getting a guidebook, looking online, comparing and contrasting. And that led to eventually over time, I started venturing in the neighborhood.

There’s some nearby trails that I go on. And then that extended ultimately into me finally a few years in deciding, making a conscious decision that I was going to become a birder in the official sense as what I thought a birder was back then. And went to a Christmas bird count. Audubon has an annual christmas, they call it the Christmas bird count, where they count the birds across the country. And during a certain period in December. And so I thought, I’ll go there. Many other people are gonna go then. They said, you know, I looked there was a particular chapter which was buena vista audubon, which is on along the coast of North County of San Diego.

They had a nature center and they said, new people welcome. So I thought I’ll blend in as best I can. You know, I’m not gonna be the only one. This is great. They say I don’t have to know what birds are and I haven’t looked back since. I joined them as under chapter, I’m on the board of Audubon in California.

Amy Bushatz: You’re in.

Tammah Watts: You know people know me as a bird lady. Yeah, right.

Amy Bushatz: So your story

Tammah Watts: I’m deep.

Amy Bushatz: Your story of this bird sort of welcoming you out reminded me so much of the children’s book, Secret Garden. Have you read this book?

Tammah Watts: I have, but it’s been a long time.

Amy Bushatz: So if for people who don’t regularly read children’s books from their youth or weren’t obsessed with this one the way I was , it’s about a orphan, as many books in this particular literature timeframe seem to have been, it’s about an orphan who ends up living at the estate of a rich relative in England. This Oh, does also seem to be a common trajectory of these books, by the way.

Tammah Watts: That’s true too.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So she lives at a rich relative’s estate in England and she’s very sort of distraught and supposed to be very spoiled from her bougie lifestyle before she got there, and now just left to her own devices and in a place that’s very different from where she had been living.

And she encounters a robin in the winter garden and follows this robin, basically strikes up a friendship and a curiosity about this particular bird, and ends up following this bird into a locked garden that had been locked and sort of shrouded in this mystery, and it effectively changes her life and changes the life of other people around her because, she becomes a part of this garden and starts growing things, and then she starts to grow and feel better.

But really it’s the robin that she follows to get in there and to be, have that connection and that creating that curiosity and that sort of life cycle really with being outside. So nothing changed outside. It was always there. She just created a curiosity around it. And that is a very fictional wow version of what you’re describing as your real life. That it created this growth pattern for you and a place for you to become in the life that you found yourself in. Just kind of like this little girl in this completely fictional book . So that, I mean, that’s what your story remind that is,

Tammah Watts: Yeah. That, you know, I’m gonna have to read that again. It’s been okay. Now I’m dating myself like my age, but you know, I really, that is, I mean, I have to go back and read it now. Because I had forgotten about that story and how the similarities, that’s just I love it.

Amy Bushatz: It’s one of my favorite books, that’s that’s why it popped into my mind one of my, one of my favorite favorite books.

But you mentioned a few minutes ago that you started going to the, you know, attending birding and thinking about yourself as a birder. Okay. But I was hoping you could talk to us about the difference, the actual difference between birding and bird watching. Are these the same thing or do people mean two different things when they talk about them?

Tammah Watts: Okay, so that really, I guess there’s two answers to your question, and there’s been a shift about engaging and connecting with birds. So, classically speaking, birding refers to, I’m gonna say like the sport of going after certain types of birds. Maybe there’s a rare bird that has been noted to be in the particular area that’s outside where it’s range, where it normally would be seen. Birding like folks who are, what we say, veteran birders. They’ve been birding for many years. They have a lot of knowledge and expertise, and they have all the equipment. They know what they’re seeing, the variations. That’s what we mean by birding, and that includes professionals, maybe ornithologists as well, conservationists or specialists in birds with birds, too. Where in contrast to bird watching usually refers to folks who are doing it as an enthusiast, as like a hobby for fun. Not necessarily intently, you know, in pursuit of a particular bird, but could also, but more of a relaxed process of engagement in terms of looking, connect with the birds.

I think that’s a good way to describe those two. However, or I should say, and there’s been a movement to kind of eradicate the differentiation between a birder and a bird watch. particularly because, and I, and there’s a friend of mine, Freya McGregor, who’s part of accessible birding. She really is key in moving this idea forward as well, which is, birding is an inclusive term that can include all kinds of engagement with birds. Because you can bird and not see, you can bird with your ears. You can bird by just a sensation that you might have. Let’s say if you can’t hear or, folks can engage with birds in different ways. And so the term birding really eliminates the idea that you have to watch with your eyes, and that’s why we try to say we’re going on birding outings. Because you don’t have to necessarily go on a bird walk. You may not be able to use legs and walk in the traditional sense, that doesn’t mean that you still can’t have that experience and you’re still a birder. So that’s kind of one story long answer to your question, but that is what’s happening. And so that’s why we’re really trying to say birding and birder means any and all.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I, you know, I think terminology. It’s really easy to sit here and be like, oh, that’s doesn’t matter. That stuff doesn’t matter that now you’re getting to in the weeds. But I think it really does matter because that is the kind of basis that creates barriers for people. These barriers that we don’t even acknowledge exist, and until we start dismantling them on purpose, which means sort of getting in the weeds and having this conversation about, oh, which word and what does it mean, until you start dismantling that? You’re just perpetuating these unintentional, I think in many, many circumstances, unintentional barriers that are now there because you just didn’t bother to tear them down.

And we wanna make sure that people, all people, no matter if they’re on a bird walk, actually walking or not, have the space and ability to feel like they and belong in doing this activity. And it doesn’t matter if you are out there sitting on your porch where we are with you right now, having this coffee, checking out some birds and having a conversation. Or super serious style, putting on your birding pants, whatever that means. And and heading out with all your

Tammah Watts: Green, green or beige.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, green or beige. Heading out with all your bird stuff to, you know, very seriously pursue seeing different bird species. It’s all about the experience and what this does for you. And so I really do think it is important to talk about those different terminology because what we wanna do is create accessibility just for, I mean, literally everyone, amateur and gungho alike.

Tammah Watts: Yes. Yes. It’s all, and it’s all good. Yeah. It’s all good.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans, just a quick break to remind you that if you wanna build your own outdoor habit, the humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. Cool and exclusive Challenge swag, including a finisher, metal, and decal is waiting for you. All you need to do is visit

Don’t get left out. Go to to learn more now. Okay, back to the show.

Yeah. Okay. So now that we’ve defined it, What does a person need to do to be a birder? Okay. What do you need to do? What are some ways or tools to be the person who says, Hey, I’m a birder, I’m a bird watcher. Which are the same thing.

Tammah Watts: Yeah. Yeah. So I think what comes to mind, it’s time and your curiosity. That really is all you really need. That’s really all you need. And as little as, I’m gonna say 10 minutes, cuz usually within that 10 minutes you’ll see a bird . You don’t even have to go outside. You could do it from inside looking out. Yes, immersing yourself in the outdoors was what we’re trying to encourage, in the same space as birds exist is ideal. And so stepping out or being out where you live and however you live is fine. That’s how you really get started. You’ll start to notice a bird will come across your path wherever you are. And then from there, you know, you can decide how else you might wanna, if you wanna do it every day or several times a day, you know, a few minutes in the morning, a few minutes in the afternoon, just to see if you notice anything that’s the same or different. Cuz it’s interesting how different times of the day the same space can fill and is different. No one, you know, every time is different actually. .

Amy Bushatz: It’s interesting to me that so often here on this podcast, so many of the things we talk about with going outside come back to a matter of intentionality and purposefully noticing things.

So in this case, we’re being intentional and purposefully noticing birds. Now you’re a birder. If you are outside being intentional and purposefully noticing the sight, smell in trees, leaves, whatever around you. Now you’re forest bathing. And so on and so forth. And it’s just a matter of where are you dedicating your attention. If you are outside and purposefully noticing your cell phone. What are you doing? Right? Are you like, are you even outside? Are you even benefiting from that? So it’s a question of where are you putting your brain or not putting your brain while you’re in nature and while you’re outside? And that is completely and totally 100% up to you. And it can change moment by moment, minute by minute.

But when you’re outside and seeing and noticing birds you like, like you demonstrated with your story of getting into this, you’re giving yourself sort of a path to expand into all sorts of different curiosities and hobbies and learnings and appreciations and and growth.

Tammah Watts: Yes, yes. I agree. I agree. And I can’t, do you remember the name of the little girl in the Secret Garden?

Amy Bushatz: Yes, Mary.

Tammah Watts: Her name?

Amy Bushatz: Yes, Mary.

Tammah Watts: Okay. Just like Mary too. Yes. .

Amy Bushatz: Yes, I do. Because it, one of the things about the Secret Garden is there is a mean rhyme. They call her Mary Mary, quite contrary. So easy to remember. Easy to remember. . Oh yeah. Like I said, I’ve read the book a lot.

Tammah Watts: I can’t relate to that part, but I can’t relate to that, or the wealthy relatives. Everything else.

Amy Bushatz: So one of the things you experienced when you’re doing all of this not noticing or the you experienced while do, doing all of this noticing is healing in many ways. And you detailed this in your book, so. . You know, there are lots of outdoor things that are healing, that people experience are healing. So I’m wondering why birding specifically is healing to you and is how much it is healing more or less than other outdoor things? Or is that just sort of like a what speaks to you? A personal preference kind of thing?

Tammah Watts: I think birds, I always say this, I always, I do say this a lot. I’ll say birds are healing. Because just the essence of what and who they are really is a symbol, kind of a reminder for us to be free to and just accept our space and where we’re at.

They’re accepting of us. We can connect with them just the way we are. We don’t have to do anything differently. We don’t have to be anything differently, and we don’t have to even be in a different. . And so I, that’s why I feel that they’re healing. They represent hope, they represent freedom. They represent acceptance.

Yeah. And they slow us down. They really they help us to slow down, like you said, and take notice. Not only them, but then you do the where they live is where you are sharing the same space too. And so that’s what I mean by healing. And through them we start to connect with other people.

We create community that way we help. And through that community also comes a deepened appreciation and caring for where we share space and habitats, environments. You know, there’s a saying within conservation circles, bird conservation circles in particular. And a lot of times in Audobon they’ll say this too. Birds do better when we do better. And so when we’re focused on healthy air water accessibility and making, you know sure that we have native plants and just inviting, appropriate, nourishing spaces. The birds flourish too . And so that kind of, that relationship of caring for them is a way for us to care for ourselves. And then we’re role modeling that for the next, in the next generations to, to come and inviting them into that same practice.

So that’s what I mean by healing. It really starts with us individually and it just kind of like little waves of circles or I dare you know, say a pun, it’s like the wingspan just will really broaden out. So, but it is true, you know, so you do feel like you’re part of a flock.

And you know, the flocks there, there’s mixed species in flocks in that there’s power in the difference in flocks. Different birds will coexist with one another. Protection for strength and numbers for improved access to, to resources. And in the same way as people, we have that same, those same similar needs. And that’s why in the book I kind of connect those two because there really is, that’s what I mean by the healing. It really ripples out and out and out to the world, you end up being part of your connected world.

Amy Bushatz: It’s interesting to me that this sort of connection that you are describing can probably be found in other ways in nature. By taking care of trees or by viewing mountains, but they are so boldly apparent when you’re dealing with an actual living, breathing, moving thing that is so acessible to you. So unlike many other animal wild animals that you’ll see outside, maybe with the exception of squirrels, which there do seem to be more than enough of to go around it’s can be very difficult to find animals to view in the wild, but not birds. And no matter where you go, you will see some birds.

They may not be the bird you were looking for, but they, they exist, and it’s so easy to connect with that wildness and that freedom you’re describing with these actual living creatures that you get to be in concert with right then. As opposed to trying to string this out and find that connection with a growing tree or with a, you know, living, breathing space. That is just, that is the land but is not an animal that is literally flying away, yeah.

This is why I love the bald eagle so much. So I sit at my desk inside my house and I. Stare out my window like many workers worldwide and and I sort of just watch whatever’s happening out there, right?

Because you’re just sort of like spacing out, staring out the window. So while I’m staring out the window, while I’m in a conference call or whatever, you know, birds are flying over my backyard. So it’s this like constant parade. And every now and then the bird that will fly over my backyard is a bald eagle, and it’s just, a in, you know, the glide path of these enormous birds. I, I have a hard time just not being just inspired, just talking about them. And it does feel like

Tammah Watts: Yeah I can’t imagine.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, it feels like this moment of perfect freedom in a way that watching the ravens doesn’t uh, do that for me. Watching the tiny chickies doesn’t do that for me, but the way these bald eagles just soar come and go. It does, it evokes this sense of connection, but also this sense of absolute freedom that, that you’re describing. I will say there’s some sort of hawk that comes over one now and then it might be an osprey and um, cuz it’s big and when that sucker flies over my, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the conference call it’s not a squirrel moment cuz it’s a bird. But I’m just like, look, you know, I like look outside. I like lose my train of thought and I have to

Tammah Watts: Put it on mute.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I have to say, I’m sorry a big bird just flew over my yard, you know? Um, and

Tammah Watts: Brb. Yeah, .

Amy Bushatz: Exactly. And people are like, we don’t care. But it’s, it is it’s a moment of just, well I look like a total space cadet cuz I’m like bird, you know. But you know, I would not consider myself a birder. Right. Cuz I’m not out pursuing types of birds or, or whatever under that traditional description. But what I just described, what we’re talking about here is in fact, bird watching. It’s just from the, from the confines of my little, of my little desk.

But it does connect me with nature and it does evoke all of those mental healing things. In your book, you talk quite a bit about this mindfulness and being present that we’re sort of go talking about right now. And I’m wondering why it’s important for you specifically, what does this do just for you?

Tammah Watts: So, mindfulness really is, it’s a practice. And I find for myself, speaking for myself. I find that doing it regularly, which for me is every day sets my me for a good day. Because mindfulness is about taking some time, intent, like we’re talking about the intentionality, being intentional about giving yourself opportunity just to take notice, what is in the present.

And as long as we hear that and say, yeah, well what does that mean really? Like I get it, present moment, but what does it really mean? And so often, you know, if you think about our thoughts occupied or preoccupied, what the paths like, what just happened like I should have done, why didn’t I? Ugh, I could’ve. Or, what you’re gotta do, so the future, I’m gonna do this, I’m planning to do that. Right when you’re sitting or stand there, whatever you’re doing, your brain a lot of times doesn’t either or as opposed to what about right now? And I’m just, you know, inviting listeners just to think about that. Like, just reflect on that, about how often you find yourself in the past or in the future. And so practicing mindfulness gives you the opportunity for however long you can do it to, to be in the present moment. And so that invites the opportunity to kind of enter into a state acceptance about what is your current circumstance? What, how are you really? Because sometimes people will feel like, oh, I’m depressed, or I’m this, I’m that. Whatever the emotion you’re feeling is. But in the present moment, how are you? And a lot of times we have people check in, well, at this very moment, I’m fine. I’m doing well. Or I’m safe. Or I’m, you know, elated, I’m having joy.

And so it really allows you to kind of experience that. And through that, that really enhances acceptance for yourself, acceptance for the circumstance you might find yourself in. And it allows your body to, to then reflect that physically you’ll have less stress. Your anxiety, if you have will, will be reduced.

And that’s been improved by research. Mindfulnes has the benefit of reducing stress and cortisol levels and enhancing concentration and mental clarity. And so that’s why it’s great to do that. And so I use birds as my focus point. So mindfulness, there’s the offering to kind of take notice of something. And so I use the bird as my point of focus. So if that makes sense at all.

Amy Bushatz: It does make, it does make sense. And what you’re, it’s almost like an unlocking of a mental path to be able to ask yourself, how am I right now? Because it’s very easy to constantly be overwhelmed by future and past. And by past, I mean maybe even five minutes ago, problems or future problems as in five minutes from now.

It’s very difficult to get to the moment where you have the pre, just the presence of mind to say, but what about right now? And to be able to find a way to get there. Because even just going for a walk outside isn’t gonna get you there. I find walks to be a great time to worry about five minutes from now.

So, right? You know. And that serves a purpose too, right? Like I can think of good ideas. I can come up with solutions to my problems. I’m able to say, what’s really going on with you with that? What, what are some thinking outside the box, ways to handle this particular situation?

And then, and take care of it that way. But by always doing that, I’m missing out on this moment to say, okay but what’s going on right now? And by saying, what’s going on right now, I unlock a way to tackle what’s going on next, or to calm myself down when things are getting hard. And what I hear you saying is that by having the focal point of, okay, like what’s this bird doing right now? You know, oh, look at that kind of bird. What’s going on over there? It’s interesting that there’s like 50 of them today and there was five of them yesterday. That’s interesting.

To be able to focus on that and just sort of lock in your focus from your own problems to not, you know, to outside of this moment is a very challenging thing to do. And once you find the practice of that and a conduit to it, which you’re saying birding is uh, it gets a lot easier.

Tammah Watts: Yeah. It’s like learning a language or playing an instrument or a new sport or, yeah. And again, it, and there’s no perfect way to do like mindfulness, meditation. Just I wanna be clear about that. There’s no perfect way. There’s just, there is, I guess you could say gold standards have been helpful to guide you along. Again, it’s about acceptance, so you know you’re gonna have thoughts that come through your thinking as you’re trying to sit quietly and in the present moment, and you just acknowledge that you’re having the thoughts as opposed to, oh no, I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I think just acknowledge like yes, I’m thinking about that. And just let it float by, and that’s why attending to a bird or noticing it on a shrub or on the tree helps to expand that connection in that way. .

Amy Bushatz: Yeah.

Tammah Watts: To yourself.

Amy Bushatz: Yes. To yourself. Which is the, the interesting that that’s the goal cuz you’re connecting to something else to accomplish that goal. You’re connecting to an out thing outside yourself to get back to yourself. Which is sort of counterintuitive.

So I’m wondering if you could give just your thoughts on something that I think is interesting. There’s a lot of information coming out recently and about burning, and burning seems to just sort of been having this moment where people think it’s very interesting all of a sudden.

And of course you’ve known that bird’s interesting for a long time. So I’m wondering why now, what is it about the today that makes birding and birdwatching particularly relevant. What is it about our current world that’s bringing us back to the birds?

Tammah Watts: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I have to say I think it’s awesome that more people are noticing birds and are interested in it, are able to talk about it, wanna talk about it, so that, that’s really encouraging.

And I really think that the pandemic. It was kind of like, it was that forced, everyone has had to stop and I just wanna say, the pandemic has been brutal in so many ways. There’s been a lot of loss and so definitely to the listeners, I in no way wanted, not mentioned the hearts out, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a loved one that’s been ill from it or is no longer with us because of it. You know, some of impact. During that period because everyone was, where they lived, you know, indoors for the most part in their, you know, home spaces or where they lived. It allowed everything to quiet down. And the bird song, that melodic beautiful bird sound, really became very apparent to many folks who maybe had never even noticed the birds before. And that connected them to start wondering and seeing the birds more. And because we were still, and there wasn’t so much noise and traffic and saws and hammers and everything rumbling and rambling around it really allowed the birds to come forward into our spaces. And I think that’s what happened. That is what happened. And so it really. And what’s interesting though that the fact that people didn’t notice it. , that’s what I think. It’s like this magical phenomenon like here we are, here’s some gifts for you. I always say to me birds, I mean they are winged gifts for me, truly.

And I feel like that’s what happened, that they became these little gifts that represent hope again, that sense of freedom and there is life continuing despite all that was happening and continues to happen in terms of illness and all of that through the pandemic. Cuz now we’re busy and on the roads again, and fortunately folks still brought the birds along to now.

And so, you know, a lot of people, it takes what, a year or more usually on average two years to write a book. So if you do the math, if people will start writing during the pandemic period and now you start seeing books coming out and you know, there’s television programs. All kinds of things. It’s cool. It’s great. It’s what’s needed.

Amy Bushatz: Tammah as a final thing, would you mind walking us out with one of your favorite outdoor moments, birding or not something that just comes to mind for you when you think about a time in nature, a time outside that you especially love and like to think about. Would you describe it for us?

Tammah Watts: Sure. I’ll, I really try. Um, What comes up for me, we’re in, I’m in Mali in Africa, it’s western, sub-saharan country, kind of, if you look at the map of Africa, you’ll see it’s looks, it’s the shape of like the butterfly, they say. And we’re in a, the region, the Dogon region. We were traveling, my husband and I went to visit my stepdaughter who was finished a Peace Corps. And this was years ago. This was years ago. She’d finished her two years, two and a half years Peace Corps. And so we went to visit her, stayed in her village. It’s almost 900 years old, and then began after a week or so we’re a little longer there, started to travel other parts of the country. And so this particular area, we stayed at a, yeah, it was a hotel but very made of mud and beautiful doors and just the earth, earthen patio area where there was wood tables out and people from all different countries were dining when we arrived. We had a guide, a local guide that was taking us there and we were one of the last people to arrive. We were tired. We had been traveling for quite some time and went in and then it was time for, and I just remember there was like candlelight from the lanterns and it just seemed like magical, like something out of a storybook.

I mean, it just, I couldn’t, it just as magical. And this is in a hundred plus degree heat during the day, so at night, we thought, you know what? We’re not gonna sleep in the rooms. Even though they were accommodating, they had the nets, let’s go sleep up on the roof. And so we were invited to sleep up and cots with nets up on the roof. And at first I thought, okay, I’ll, you know, let me just I’m a trooper, I can do this. And then as the sun began to rise following morning before the sun came up, I started hearing the baboons and the far distant, just doing the sound. And at first I thought?

And then Mali has a lot on majority Muslim country, and so there was the call to prayer as the sun and it was just this beautiful call that you could hear at that time, I heard a little bit of birds, but I wasn’t into the birds to really take full notice but it was just that stillness of morning and I felt like I was the only one awake and I just noticed the blue sky was just so, as the sun came up, it was so big and vast and the way I hadn’t seen sky before and just the magic of that early dawn for me and being outdoors, sleeping like that was something I will never, ever forget. And I feel like I can’t even really put the magic essence of what I am trying to describe for everyone and give it full glory, but I hope like gotten shared a little bit of that.

Amy Bushatz: What a beautiful description of connection.

Tammah thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. We appreciate you and your story.

Tammah Watts: Thank you. It was fun, fun talking about the birds. Thank you, Amy. I love it.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. Help me out by leading a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It really does help other listeners find the podcast too. Now go, get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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