by Rasheena Fountain, Communications Manager
The first bird I ever noticed was the American Robin, an experience heightened by a contest my kindergarten teacher created. Mrs. Beak told my class that she would reward the first person who saw and reported seeing the first robin of the spring. Spring was approaching in Urbana, Illinois—a town a few hours south of my birth city, Chicago. I remember the excitement of my new journey, now intently searching the green pastures of my community nestled just beyond the long stalks of Midwest corn on a land where prairies once thrived. I lived in a region where Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and American Robins filled the landscapes. As a child, I was not aware of the biodiversity of my community or that I would eventually find myself working in the environmental field. However, at the time, Mrs. Beak’s contest motivated me to begin to explore my familiar surroundings to locate the spring signifier.
I remember the day I spotted the bird—its Midwest fall-like complexion appeared on top of the green, grassy pasture that led from my bus stop to my apartment complex. I was so invigorated, hoping that I was the first student and winner of the mysterious prize. I was anxious for the next day to arrive so that I could tell Mrs. Beak that I had seen an American Robin. I had seen them before. And coincidentally, my mother’s name is Robin. Yet, this time felt euphoric. There was something new and rewarding in the anticipation—the promise of warm weather delivered through a feathered messenger.
American Robin, Photo by Tiffany Adams
The next day at school, I told Mrs. Beak that I had seen the robin. I had been, indeed, the first person to report seeing one. I won the prize. Mrs. Beak later handed me a soft covered copy of the The Velveteen Rabbit. Inside the cover of the book, was a hand-written message signed Mrs. Beak. The note congratulated me on finding the first robin of spring. This book became one of my most memorable, most-prized gifts and one of my proudest accomplishments to this day.
Only a couple of years later, I moved back to Chicago, leaving the cornfields and green pastures that had driven so much of my childhood curiosity. My landscapes were replaced with skyscrapers, miles of concrete, and constant urban noises that often drowned out the sounds of surrounding fauna. I thought about the experience and natural landscapes less and less. Yet, within my cityscapes, I caught peeks of the experience imparted to me by my kindergarten teacher. Even in urban areas of Chicago, I could see the signs of spring in the vibrant hues of the American Robin that returned every year.
As I grew up, many of my childhood toys were replaced and lost, but I kept that book. The Velveteen Rabbit became my favorite children’s story. I gifted the book to my daughter when she was 2 years old. And although she ripped the pages, and I can no longer locate its remnants, Mrs. Beak’s lesson has continued within me. I have occasionally recounted this experience to my now 11-year-old daughter, and she apologizes for ripping the book each time. I explain to her the honor in having been able to give it to her and the appreciation I have that The Velveteen Rabbit is now one of her favorite books. In fact, the book was never the real prize. Mrs. Beak’s ability to change the way I saw my home environment through the American Robin was the true gift. She was able to spark my curiosity in a setting that was so monotonous, while instilling in me appreciation for other beings in the natural world. This sentiment continues to drive my career and personal interests, and I am committed to continuing this ideal in my work as the Communications Manager with Seattle Audubon.
If you are interested in contributing to the Seattle Audubon Blog, or have questions about eNews or Earthcare, please contact Rasheena Fountain, the new Communications Manager for Seattle Audubon.