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After a week of death (literal and metaphorical), I received a small set of binoculars and a book about birding in the mail. As of now, I am not a birder. But perhaps this gift from family would be a start. Still, it has confused me how to bird in the midst of havoc. I looked through binoculars, caught too much of a neighbor’s apartment, and, for a day or two, put them down.

A lesson could have been learned from Sergeant Jonathan Trouern-Trend, who wrote Birding Babylon, a journal of his birdwatching while in the military. We excerpted pieces of the book in our May+June 2006 issue. It is one of those rare things that surprised me. I would not call his book a balm so much as properly unhinged. Here’s a taste:

5/14/04 On the way the helicopter hit a bird. It traveled through one of the windows near the pilot’s feet and into the helicopter…The bird was a male pin-tailed sandgrouse. I’d like to see one alive, maybe later this year.

6/23/04 As I was watching some wood pigeons, a pair of F-16s came tearing down the runway…The birds were unfazed.

So, there you go. That’s how you bird during hard times. I probably should realize—especially because I’m not in combat—it really isn’t that difficult. I’ll try again soon.

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If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

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