Kyo Maclear on learning patience from birds

Kyo Maclear's memoir Birds Art Life recounts her year-long adventure following birds in the city.
Maclear found inspiration and peace by observing birds in Toronto. (Scribner/Doubleday Canada)
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Growing up in a cosmopolitan city with a father from London and a mother from Tokyo, Kyo Maclear was never much of a nature enthusiast. It was only when Maclear watched Alan Zweig's documentary 15 Reasons to Live that she discovered the beauty of birds and the sense of calm and joy that came along with birdwatching. She decided to follow birds in and around Toronto for a year. Her memoir, Birds Art Life, documents her experiences and shares the valuable life lessons she took away from the small, feathered creatures.

Birding in the city

I had friends who were trippers and tree planters, but I always saw myself as very urban. I think that I've always wanted to know a little bit more about nature and always felt like I wasn't the prime environmentalist person. And then I heard about this man who had lost his heart to birds. He was in a creative slump and he decided to just look around and venture into the birding in the city. For some reason, that story instantly captivated me. I thought maybe I would go for one walk, eye a few birds and be on my way. But something happened, just this kind of spark.

The world of birds

We have five to ten million migratory birds that pass over Toronto. They're coming from South and Central America and heading to the northern boreal forest to breed. Maybe because I'm a migrant myself, the world of birds is so interesting because it ties you to seasons, it ties you to weather. But it also ties you to a geography you wouldn't imagine was connected to Toronto. So if you look at a whimbrel that passes through and stops in Toronto, you're also starting to learn a bit more about South America and northern Ontario.

Scale of our human story

What I learned was that a lot of lessons of birding can be applied to everyday life. You can actually learn patience. You can learn about the scale of our human story that is actually quite miniature in the scale of things. For me that was really a positive thing, to realize in looking at the peregrine falcon for example, that he was looking at me with complete disregard because my story did not matter to him. He had his own story that day. I find that incredible, and I actually think it's something we need to learn more about if we're actually going to think about multi-species existence.

Kyo Maclear's comments have been edited and condensed.

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