Hatching the Phoebes
This blog entry originally appeared on Kirsten Hines’ website www.kirstennaturetravel.com
Let’s face it, birders can be a serious bunch. There are both written and unspoken rules that garner more than just glares if broken - God forbid you point or wear white boots. I’m pretty sure laughter is generally frowned upon as well. Yet it is from laughter that the Phoebes, a Miami-based all-woman’s birding group, hatched. It was at the end of a well-attended bird walk where six of us found ourselves flocked. I don’t think any of us had ever laughed so hard while birding before and we wanted that spirit to live on. The idea for the Phoebes emerged amid hugs between a group of women who’d mostly just met that morning but whose connections clearly ran deeper.
So many of these ideas die when the last person drives out of the parking lot, but we’d set up our first meeting. Later that week the same group of women and a few like-minded additions met at my studio gallery garden, sipping champagne and browsing on hummus, stuffed grape leaves and vegan brownies as we shared what birding meant to each of us. The common thread was a connection to nature in a city where the prevalent attitude toward the environment ranges from indifferent to down-right hostile. I moved to Miami for graduate school and spent my first year feeling estranged in a maze of concrete, watching my neighbors treat the planet like their personal trash cans. I literally watched someone in the car ahead of me at a stoplight crack open the driver’s door and place a McDonald’s cup on the road before zooming off as the light changed. It was such a foreign concept to me, yet each of the women in the garden had their own version of that same tale. We yearned for an outlet of caring.
What I heard everyone saying that first night as we developed the idea of the Phoebes was that we all wanted to connect with nature and our fellow birders organically. No rules, no egos, just a non-judgmental setting for celebrating life, feathered and otherwise. Did that have to be exclusive of men? Of course not, but we wanted to do this on our own. We wanted to empower and inspire one another to be better birders in a setting free from any potential elementary ‘damsel in distress’ instruction. We wanted the lighter vibe and greater spirit of acceptance that is seemingly inherent in all woman’s groups.
We’re now about a year away from that first meeting and it’s gratifying to see our dream aflight. Our last walk included a woman originally from Idaho who for the second month in a row drove an hour and a half from the Florida Keys to join us. A woman who grew up in Hialeah, moved away to Boston, and due to unforeseen circumstances found herself back in Miami feeling like a stranger in her hometown was there, relieved to discover a home within our group. The founder of the New York-based Feminist Birding Club was there for a visit. There were women who’d never birded before in their lives. There were women who’d lived and birded in Miami their whole lives. There were young women, middle-aged women and women who were older in years but certainly not in spirit. There was pointing. There were white shoes. And there was definitely laughter.