Two years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to quit drinking, and I suddenly found myself with more free time on my hands than I had ever imagined. All the hours I had wasted drinking were now wide open.
It didn’t take long before I became bored out of my mind.
I knew that in order to make my sobriety last, I needed to find something to do to fill my time. I started picking up hobbies left and right, searching for anything that would hold my interest.
To my surprise, I fell in love with birding.
I was never one of those people who loved birds. I never even particularly liked them. I had nothing against our flying friends, but they didn’t stand out to me as anything special.
When it comes to wild animals, my preference had always been for big beasts like alligators and bears — the kind of animal that awes you through brute force and sheer size.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many chances to see wild giant animals. Birds, on the other hand, are everywhere.
So, in an effort to spend some time outside of my apartment, and out of a willingness to try any hobby I could think of, I decided to give birding a try.
Normally I have a tendency to spend hours researching a hobby before I start it, but with birding, I somehow resisted the temptation and instead jumped right in. I grabbed a camera and an old pair of binoculars and headed to a nearby park. I walked the trail, seeing plenty of birds and having no idea what any of them were.
I was surprised by how immediately fun it was. I felt like I was playing some kind of real-world video game. Each bird that I saw was another small victory. I had never wandered through a park before with such a sense of purpose.
Every time I saw a new bird, I did my best to get a picture of it. When I finally got home, I spent an hour just sorting through pictures, trying to figure out what each of the birds had been.
I went out again the very next day. My second time around, I was able to recognize a few of the species I had seen from the day before. It was strangely thrilling.
As the year went on, I recognized more species, took better pictures, and learned a whole wealth of information about birds.
Most importantly though, I had found a reason to regularly get out of the apartment, aside from just going to work and running.
Two years down the road, birding has become a major part of my life. The best thing about the hobby is that it forces me to explore the parks and forests around me.
Sure, it’s possible to watch birds from your apartment window, but in order to really get into birding, you have to go out into nature. By searching out new birds that I’ve never seen before, I find myself exploring areas of my city and state that I never would have otherwise visited.
I’ve discovered parks that I never knew existed, even though they’re less than half an hour from my home. Some of them have become my favorite places in the entire city.
Birding has also pushed me to go out into nature at odd times and in strange weather. I’ve experienced a quiet solitude that I didn’t think was possible to find in my city.
On the other end of the spectrum, birding has allowed me to meet other enthusiasts. The birders I’ve met have been friendly and encouraging, teaching me about the hobby and helping me to spot hidden birds that I never would have found on my own.
Birding was the perfect hobby to go along with my sobriety because it forced me out of my introverted, homebody shell. It became an integral part of the healthy lifestyle I built for myself away from drinking. I still don’t love birds, but I certainly love birding.