NEW INTRODUCTION TO A BIRDING TRIP THROUGH MEXICO
During the last 21 years my book A Birding Trip Through Mexico
has been downloaded from the Internet many thousands of times. During all those years the Introduction to the book's text failed to mention an interesting angle to the story. This week, I've come up with the following new Introduction:
This Introduction is being written 21 years after finishing my birding trip through Mexico. It's taken me that long to come to terms with the struggle I had with it.
For, at dawn on October 4, 1996 when I walked across the bridge from El Paso, Texas into Juárez, Chihuahua, I wanted to write something like Robert Pirsig's 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Except that instead of using the upcoming trip as an organizing structure around which I might explore classical philosophy and my personal mental instability, I'd talk about birds and birding, and the tumultuous, sometimes spectacular but ultimately failed love affair I was at that very moment fleeing from.
The millisecond sighting of deep jade greenness merging with scintillating ruby specks on the gorget of a hummingbird zipping past too fast to identify, is like the profound contentment one might find with a partner on a winter night at home with hot chocolate, if only the other would cooperate... That kind of thing, a whole book of it, the goal being to undo or at least understand and somehow dignify the deep depression I was in, and maybe even get that lady in the little Walloonian village back in Belgium, which I'd just left, off my mind.
The book's first draft was three or four times more voluminous than the text I ended up with. That's because all those analogies like the hummingbird/hot chocolate one just never, once they were in print, seemed convincing. After three or four years of trying to squeeze transcendent meaning from it all, I finally came up with something readable only by expunging from the manuscript every single word about dear, lovely FranÃ§oise, our relationship, and my lifelong search for "love."
Now, two decades later, I've decided that the whole experience was important for me, even necessary. The whole drama became a stepping stone to my finally seeing very clearly that birds, the Mexican landscape and myself wandering through it belong to one domain, and art, soaring thought and "love" to another. You can touch a bird, but those latter phenomena are all in our heads.
That insight opened the door to grasping that Nature -- the touchable world -- is ordered, made sustainable and beautiful by natural laws such as the First Law of Thermodynamics, and the fact that ecosystems collapse if more of their resources are consumed than are recycled back to them. No such laws govern the ecology of our minds. As such, models exist in Nature that, when applied to our mentalities, can bring order, sustainable well being, and beauty.
But, all that is another story. In the context of the following book, now it's time to get back to that October morning back in 1996, just after I'd hiked across the bridge from El Paso, Texas into Juárez, Chuihuahua...