This long holiday weekend, I was faced with a choice between two very different activities: 1) ValenTango (I know), a tango festival here in Portland, and 2) Winter Wings, a bird watching festival in central Oregon.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would you want to be pressed up against a bunch of dancers in thrall to beautiful tango orchestras when you could be outside with a bunch of retirees getting pelted by freezing rain to maybe see some birds doing some stuff? Well. I’ll tell you why!
…Hold please…let me just check my notes…
Oh yes! Because 2014 has thus far been a period of big, uncomfortable transitions and trying to get back in touch with who I am and what I want. You know, details.
So, I decided to do both. Binoculars by day. Tango stilettos by night. Like a schizophrenic crime fighting superhero. Minus the crime fighting and the superpowers.
This suited both my current state of mind AND my self-diagnosed ADHD. (Side note: I am also suffering from the lingering effects of my self-diagnosed necrotizing fasciitis. Please send donations in my memory to the U.S. Department of Education Student Loan Collections S.W.A.T. Team.)
I spent the first part of the long weekend at ValenTango — an annual festival that brings together hundreds of dancers from all over the country for six days of nonstop dancing. I walked in, took one look at the scene, and felt overwhelmed. I tend to get
dry mouth and diarrhea shy and intimidated in big groups — especially when I feel like I have something to prove.
In my early days of tango, I might have let this negatively impact my experience. Instead, I focused on dancing and reconnecting with old friends. I went a bit easier on myself and didn’t feel compelled to dance until my feet were but a few disintegrated bones covered in bloody, blistered skin flaps.
After a couple of days of dancing, I trekked out to central Oregon for Winter Wings — an annual festival that brings together hundreds of birders from all over the country for four days of nonstop birding.
I don’t know shit about birds. But I like being around people who do. Birding takes the kind of patience and quiet that I would like to cultivate in myself. Plus, it’s a great excuse to get outside and stare meaningfully into the distance.
On one birding field trip, I found myself on a bus with twenty retirees and one 11-year-old. I was frustrated looking out the window, because I couldn’t make out all the birds that the others were able to identify. All I could see were seemingly empty marshes and grasses.
But then we got off of the bus and I looked out at the “empty” marsh — this time with binoculars. I was shocked. I saw four bald eagles flying overhead. A golden eagle swooping down to catch a coot in its talons. Two harriers sparring. A red-tailed hawk perched in a tree. A great horned owl hiding behind a branch. And what must have been thousands of swans and geese swarming in the distance.
The 11-year-old jumped up and down next to me and said, “Oh my God! Everything is happening!”
And he was so right.
Maybe tango and birding are an odd couple. But they both have things to teach. Tango is teaching me to face my discomfort and fear so I can connect with myself and others. Birding is teaching me that even when things look bleak, if you look closer, everything IS happening. (Yeesh. Thanks for the life lesson, Kid Genius.)