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Recovering with Birds

Author: Tom Ferguson, Jr.

As my doctor chuckled to himself, he said, “Do you really think you can slow down enough to bird watch?” I sat there as the blood started rushing to my head in the same way it had in high school being challenged by my coach. The same feeling from Army Ranger School, when they said I didn’t want it. The same feeling when people looked at me when I first met them, and I used words out of context or mispronounced a word. And the same way people doubted me when I told them about my concept for Rise Franchising. Was this another challenge? You see, I went to this doctor looking for a pill to make me feel better. That’s what I asked him for. I was fresh off a self-diagnosed nervous breakdown that I had been self-medicating. I was on my knees and didn’t know what to do. When I asked for his help in getting a pill to help, he said I didn’t fit into any one problem area perfectly. You see, his advice was to get a hobby. What made him chuckle was seeing this hard driving alpha male say I’ve been thinking about bird watching for a few years. Little did either of us know how much my drive and birds would help me find some peace in a world that I was increasingly believing was against me.

Great Egret – photo by Tom Ferguson, Jr.

Challenge accepted; that’s all I needed. Something I had no clue of how to do or where to start. I went right to work researching online. How to bird watch, what equipment do I need, names of clubs. This quickly turned into a marathon of YouTube videos and searches on the internet for answers. Chapel Hill Bird Club, New Hope Audubon, Carolina Bird Club. Check, check, check. I was now a member. Mavan binoculars and scope. Check. Sibley bird guides and logs. Check. Apps for my phone. Check. Then I dusted off my Fuji camera and actually read the manual. You see, now I had something that didn’t need me, I needed it and I was out to prove to myself that I still could accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

Brown Pelican – photo by Tom Ferguson, Jr.

A friend on Facebook said, “You need to read The Big Year.” OK, that’s a start, I had no idea what it was about. Once I down-loaded it in iBooks. my eyes lit up. What? Bird watching has a competitive angle to it? That’s all this guy needed to hear. I watched the movie that night, then listened to the book tell stories of chasing rare birds by characters a lot like me.

At my next therapy visit the doctor said, “Well, this is pretty interesting. How much you’ve jumped into this. It’s healthier than what you were doing, but let’s keep an eye on you and the possibility you could be hyper manic.” Hyper manic. I’ll wear that label proudly, and I’ll bring it new meaning. He then suggested a therapist for me to start seeing, and I was anxious to get started.

Cedar Waxwing – photo by Tom Ferguson, Jr.

I went to Bird Club meetings and therapy meetings, not missing a one. My head began to become clearer. I started to become a more productive CEO, a more attentive husband and father, a better friend. To top it off I was learning so much, meeting great people, and spending my free time on the road with work watching birds in every city I visited. At the Outer Banks with the Carolina Bird Club, with guides learning how to spot birds and use my scope. Also spending time by myself, meditating in nature and learning on my own. Meeting good people like Edith who shared her love for birds and gave me suggestions. And seeing how excited Peggy got talking about and seeing birds. Then listening to great speakers educate me about birds and how to use eBird. Karen sharing her love for the National Wildlife Refuges and jumping head in, visiting them as I traveled. It’s all so fun, new, interesting and exciting. I’ve even taken each of my young twin daughters on trips out of town visiting National Wildlife Refuges and creating a bond that was missing. They got excited when I saw a new bird, Fiona even choreographed a new bird dance for me. Friends would say, “Dude, I just don’t get this bird thing, man.” That’s cool, I wouldn’t either if I was you, but my life is different now.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – photo by Tom Ferguson, Jr.
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