Bird Journaling: The Salience of Play

Sometimes I think about taking up hobbies that require nothing but attention. Bird-watching, mushroom-hunting, tree-identifying. I think about how I should just write a little each day, like the thought-leaders counsel, your Anne Lamotts (Bird by Bird) and Brene Browns (Dare to Lead). I should make the time by jettisoning a bunch of other stuff that gets in the way, a la Marie Kondo, buckle down and write my three pages a day like my idol, Philip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials all but divinizes attention itself.

(Time, knowledge, care, curiosity–all are wrapped up in that “nothing but attention”–whether in the nothing but or the attention I can’t quite decide–and so I persevere in temporizing, zigzagging in em-dashes, putting off doing any new thing, just reflecting on it. Very rarely anymore do I even make it as far as writing down this process, that act of recording being a fraught piece of attention-requisition in its own right.)

And yet I do think about it from time to time. Before other things take their place, these possible, imagined practices do hold my attention, and they recur when the decks are cleared. When I go running, when I zone out listening to something, when I look out the window, when I sit on the porch, I think about learning the names and properties of birds and fungi and plants. I write about it now and then.

Whenever I do manage to write and take the time to post what I’ve written for anyone else, it seems to be about a pastime that has held my attention as long as I can recall: videogames. Of course, given to pattern-seeking and meaning-making as I am, I suspect that underlying all these hobbies and vague interests is some thread that connects them. Observing attention and its ways, wayward as they are, I call the connection salience. Its characteristic note, however multifarious, I would have to call play.

People study this, psychologists and institutes, writers and teachers, and I’ve begun little by little to follow in their footsteps, or at least to imagine what it might be like to do so. I play at understanding play, and through play, everything else.

Here are some recent bird sightings, places where play makes an appearance, rising to the level of salience:

In the scheme of things, I call them recent, but then this post was started months ago, it shames me to say. I wonder if would have been noteworthy even at the time of its release that Toy Story 2‘s opening sequence takes the form of a video game played by living toys. Did Nintendo and their famously litigious brand managers mind that the mentions they get in Stranger Things Season 4 are all along the lines of a Peter Pan existence, a prize or bribe? Still, for whatever reason, I think these videogamey sorts of things are interesting, rather like the marmots along the path where I run by the Spokane River. I’m always happy to notice they’re there.