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How Bird Walks Helped me Become more Involved in Campus Life

October 21, 2020
  • Bird Walks
    Winnie Richards

Written by: Winnie Richardconsigny

I miss so many things about Purchase. So many more things than I can count. The COVID–19 crisis has affected our world in so many terrible ways, but for me one of the most painful effects was not being able to return to campus to live and work among my friends, classmates, and professors. I knew, when I made my decision not to return, that there would be so many small experiences I would miss dearly. But one activity that I have found myself thinking of often and missing intensely is the on-campus BirdWalks which always were so dear to my heart.

I still clearly remember the first time I received one of Professor Lee Schlesinger’s BirdWalk notification emails. I was in the first semester of my Sophomore year, just beginning to feel out my interest in the Literature department, and Professor Schlesinger’s Bible class was my first real attempt at joining the conversation. I knew nobody in the department, and none of my other friends were too hyped about going on a walk to look at birds, so I knew that attending the BirdWalk would mean attending it alone. I was really nervous, but nonetheless I made myself go. And, seriously, thank God that I did. It was an absolutely fantastic experience, and I am beyond happy that I pushed myself to attend that first one. Not only did I grow my vague interest in birds into full-blown love and fascination—which I know I will continue to harbor for the rest of my life—but over the course of many such walks I began to create a small community of friends from the department, and I became increasingly closer to my professor as well.

These walks were about so many things. They were, of course, about getting out into the field and “seeing stuff,” as Lee would say. But they were also about getting an opportunity to talk about literature, to talk about our interests, to talk more closely and informally about ourselves and our passions. They were about taking an always much-needed break from the world of school and social life, and spending three hours walking and talking and truly—sometimes it felt like for the first time—seeing the natural world. I remember vividly, last spring, waking before dawn to attend the annual 5 AM BirdWalk. It felt, somehow, like we were doing something important and immense in walking out into the field before the first light, ready, binocular-laden, to watch the world wake up. This is an experience, in particular, I was heartbroken not to be able to do it again this spring.

Among so many other things, these walks and what they meant to me stand out in my memories of Purchase. These days when I walk outside my home and look out at the geese coming in over the mountains, when I fill my feeder and sit for hours watching the chickadees squabble with the grosbeaks, when I watch the barn swallows dipping over the pond at dusk, I think of these walks and of all the things at Purchase that I miss.