Episode 5: Ariana Cano and Bridget “Bird Diva” Butler

In this episode, Ariana Cano-Gomez from The Nature Conservancy of Vermont, talks with Bridget Butler, aka “Bird Diva.”

Butler specializes in the art of “slow-birding”, or approaching birding in a way that prioritizes slowing down. They talk about how Butler’s slow-birding ideas touch on disability, race, and access to and love for Vermont’s wild places.

“Like something as simple as bathrooms: oh my gosh! I thought this place would be fine because it had a building and all of that. But it wasn’t: the doorways were too narrow, and the path from the parking to the main trail? There was like a big muddy dip! And I thought, ‘There’s no way that someone using a wheelchair could really navigate this.’ It just kind of blew my mind.”

A full transcript of the episode appears below.

Ariana Cano: Hello everyone. My name is Ariana Cono Gomez and I’m the marketing and outreach coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in Vermont, and I’m here today with Bridget Butler, also known as the Bird Diva. And I’m gonna ask Bridget to introduce herself before we get started.

Bridget Butler: Yay, Ariana. Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here. So who am I? Where am I? I’m in Northwestern Vermont. I own a small business called Bird Diva Consulting which focuses on doing outreach and programming around bird conservation. And I think I need to add to that, like wellness and nature, like this nature wellness connection. I don’t know. We’re gonna fine-tune that at some point.

Ariana Cano: Great. And well, thank you for being here, for being part of this conversation. I think we can, I can speak for both of us that we’re both really excited to just dive into some great examples of how we make nature accessible to all and how we think about everyone when we want to share the things that we love, protect and conserve. So I am now gonna ask you about, you know, your relationship with disability. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Bridget Butler: Mm, yeah. I don’t have a relationship with disability. I’m actually an able-bodied person. And so my awareness about disability within our community came through my work. Birding. I have a program called Slow Bird, which came about as a way to approach birding in a way that was less competitive, and less list driven. And as I started to kind of fine-tune what I was offering to folks, people started to come to me and tell me how this was helping them participate in something that they felt like they weren’t a part of. There wasn’t that sense of belonging or even an avenue into participating. And so from there I really started to investigate things a little bit more, to better understand what are some of the barriers that people have to birding and to nature, and how can I fine-tune my work and what I’m offering to be more inclusive and accessible to people of all ability types.

Ariana Cano: Yeah, I mean, this is, this is such, I have so many questions about this <laugh>. Cause I, you know, a nature-oriented person myself, birding is a huge hobby that a lot of environmentalists, even people you know, that are not necessarily in this field partake in. So can you walk me a little bit, right, for those of us, including myself to talk a little bit more about like bird and how slow birding might be different?

Bridget Butler: Yeah. Yep. So birding is a verb, right? Like, that’s the first thing that we can start with. We can use birding as a verb, which really means that you are actively noticing birds, maybe bird behavior. And the traditional way of birding that is embraced by most of the bird community tends to be, I mean, what I call list driven. So the idea is that you go to a site, you walk through that place, and I’m gonna intentionally say walk because we call them bird walks often. And you try to find as many birds as possible, identify them, kind of record what you’re seeing and, and you move on to the next one. So there’s always this like, I need to see the next bird, the next bird, the next bird. And I did that for a number of years. You know, I, I’ve worked for Audubon centers all over New England, and finally got into birding after feeling like it really wasn’t for me.

And the reason why I felt like it wasn’t for me is because people were a little bit competitive and they were a little mm, snooty about their knowledge, and they didn’t wanna tell you where this bird was or that bird was, right because they wanted to have it for their own list. So there was also that component to birding that really turned me off in the beginning. I came into birding because I joined a community of birders that was more open along those lines more willing to draw you in help you figure things out. But it was still very identification and list driven. And so I started to question, what do I like about burning? What do I value? And really for me, what led it led to slow birding was this need to understand bird behaviors. And really to do that, you have to slow down and stay in one place.

You can’t always be looking for the next bird, right? So if you don’t stay and spend some time with that robin, or that song Sparrow that you see, or that unknown bird, right? Can we leave it in that unknown place and just watch it anyways? You don’t get a chance to see some really unique and special things. And that’s, that’s where it led to for me. And the core piece of slow birding core practice and slow birding that I teach, is using the sit spot method, which is totally different than a traditional bird walk. It’s staying in one place, allowing the birds and the wildlife to come back in around you. And then noticing things and noticing things beyond what type of bird it is and trying to let go of that that need to write everything down, write all the birds down, get as many bird species as possible, complete the trail, go from the spot to the spot and make sure you cover all the ground that you can. And that’s where it, that’s where it started from, was my need to be able to experience bird behaviors and to slow down a little bit and, and really be in the moment. And it’s really blossomed into so much more.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. And I, and I wanna talk about that because I know that like inadvertently, right, so many other things have happened from this idea and this thought that, and what I like about you talking about this is that slow burning sounds like it makes a lot more sense than like traditional burning, right? Because you’re spent, it’s, it’s a lot more mindful from the way you’re describing it. So I wanna ask you kind of like, what, what are, what are these things that you reference that you know, came about because of this slow-burning path that you’ve taken?

Bridget Butler: Yeah, so I think the first thing that I realized in, in approaching birding in this way and it comes from, and you’ve probably had discussions with people like this too, I know pretty much probably every birder has where you meet someone new maybe you’re not even on a, a bird outing. And they, you identify as a birder. You’re like, Yeah, I really like birding. I consider myself a birder. And the first thing that the person does is they’re like, Oh, well, I’m not a birder, but, and then they go into this story about birds. So there’s a whole segment of people out there that connect with birds and love birds and wanna know more about birds, but there’s this reluctance to like, identify as a birder. And so I started to really pick that apart and try to figure out: what is it that is keeping people from identifying as part of this community?

And it was that there was this one track for how to participate, right? It’s the, it’s the walk, it’s the listing and all of that. And so what I realized, first of all, where people were coming to me and saying, This is giving me permission to bird the way that I like to bird. And all of a sudden there was this sense of belonging for some of these people. And I, I think that was the biggest thing for me to be, to begin with, was how can we, that question of how can I make burning more inclusive? And this was a way, was to basically say to people, if you <laugh>, if you are noticing birds and you’re getting joy out of it and it’s sparking your curiosity, then guess what? You’re a birder. You don’t have to have binoculars and you don’t have to have a eBird account and all these other things.

Mm-hmm. So I think that was the, the first kind of spark that went off was like, Ooh, this is opening the doors to so many other people who want to really be a part of this community of people who love birds. I think the second thing that happened to me personally was it taught me to slow down and be in a space and let go of a lot of other things. So I think this mindful aspect and I, right, like I don’t meditate, I don’t do yoga. I mean, gosh, I really wish I would walk every day, but like in terms of having a practice, a mindfulness practice, or a yoga practice or I didn’t have any of those things. But what I started to realize is that sitting, being with birds, and opening up my senses was mindful and was a way to meditate. And I really started to lean on it as something other than something to do to improve my bird list or to just see birds. It became a way to take care of myself.

And then I started to hear from other people about that too. And this is where I like, I’m like, I get emotional cuz like, you, you’re not sure if people are gonna grab onto this cuz it is a little different. It’s a little bit off this, this path that, that everybody seems to be following. I started to hear stories from people who had been ill or injured and this practice freed them up and took some of the pressure off of feeling like they couldn’t participate in something that they loved. Now I had a friend, I’m gonna call her a friend now. She started off as a client and she fell and broke her hip and broke her arm. We had scheduled a time to go birding together with a bunch of her friends. She hired me to come to her property and take her and a bunch of her friends to bird on her property for her birthday.

We had to postpone it because she had fallen and broken her hip. And when I showed up for the walk, she was still recovering. Hmm. And she had a broken arm and she couldn’t go far from the house. And she apologized to me. She’s like, I should have told you this, but I didn’t want you not to come because we couldn’t go birding. And I was like, What do you like, Like, wait, we can still go birding. Like it doesn’t, we don’t have to walk. And what was beautiful, what happened out of it is she had already started this practice of sitting in different spots in her yard. And what we decided to do was she and her and I and her friends picked spots that were like the hot spots in her yard. And then we figured out ways where we could get a lawn chair or get an umbrella and a lawn chair and set things up so that it was within walking distance of her home so she could sit and be with the birds. She said it really helped her with her recovery.

Ariana Cano: Right. That

Bridget Butler: Was the, I mean, that was the other big light bulb that went off for me. So I’ve just started a deeper dive to learn more, inform myself, and start to change how I speak about my work so people can see and know how it’s inclusive and is, you know, a way for people to continue to explore nature in a way that’s really super comfortable for them.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. And I want to put a pin on that part, that second part of how do we make it more inclusive? Cuz I wanna dive in a little bit more, especially from just not burning, but people navigating nature, right? Like, and something that we do want people to have access to and feel comfortable and safe and welcome. But before we pivot into that, I would ask you, right, cause this all sounds great and like, I’m just so surprised, pleasantly surprised about this experience and process, right? Something so kinda like mainstream is burning also led you into understanding other aspects of how you can do the same thing in a way that’s more mindful and rewarding. But I wanna ask you, were there certain challenges along the way or like learning things that you have noticed because of this process that you were like, Oh, that that is a learning opportunity for me, or this happened and I should do this differently type of thing?

Bridget Butler: Yeah. You know, I think the first thing was making people comfortable with it. A lot of folks looked at this to begin with as something that was a little bit weird, right? Like, Oh, you’re gonna sit still. Like, I don’t understand that. So I think the first thing that I had to figure out how to do was really explain things in a way that communicated, you know, what this practice was, why it was valuable how it could open you up to a deeper skill set even if you were like a traditional birder. So that was the first thing. I think there’s a lot of looking at your own habits right down to language.

Like already in this interview I’ve talked about shifting from saying, calling everything a bird walk. I mean, obviously, slow-birding is not always walking, it’s sitting in place. How do we des describe things differently? Bird outing instead of walking. The other piece was, I mean, thinking where can I go with people? So, you know, the client that I had, she had a walker and it changed the way that I looked at the landscape that I wanted to explore with people. And the group that really helped me and is still helping me kind of assess my work and how I put my programming and my courses and things out there is her ability. This is a nonsmall non-profit organization that just started within the past two years. And what they do is provide free information on how to make the burden more accessible to all different body types. All different learning types, including folks that are neurodivergent, right? Like all like, and the minute I joined this group, I was like, Oh my gosh, there’s so many barriers to participation.

Ariana Cano: Yeah.

Bridget Butler: And that’s where it becomes really overwhelming and you kind of just have to do one thing at a time, like pick a couple of things to change and do those and do them really well and be open to crashing and burning and people not being comfortable. Oh, being really uncomfortable. And how do you get through that discomfort? Messing up oof. I’ve, in, in, in groups that are wor are really focused on this work. Oh, I’ve learned all the words that we shouldn’t be saying anymore handicapped and oh, wheelchair-bound and all of those things. And I’ve definitely said those in front of people and kindly Ben reminded that there are other words that we can start to use. So I think for me, it really started with like, word choice is one. How do I communicate my programming in a way that shows people that it is open and accessible, you know, and they can choose for themselves, they can read it and they can say, Ooh, this is all the information I need to see if this is gonna work for me. And then really doing the research and finding those groups that we’re gonna support my learning and knowledge about how, how to, how to just make this shift in this change.

Ariana Cano: Yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s so powerful right there, like the part around the discomfort, but then also people’s like fear of making a mistake, right? As we try these new things, I think a lot in this conversation about inclusivity or like making sure that we shift the barriers, right? Like completely transform them in a way that they are actually accessible spaces. People get really hung up on this fear of like, I’m gonna say something wrong, I’m gonna make a mistake. And I think that what’s really great and hearing you talk about this is that you have this really successful, like, wonderful, welcoming way of experiencing birds. And that you didn’t do it overnight, <laugh>, you didn’t like wake up. You were like, Okay, I did it <laugh>, it works.

Bridget Butler: It’s all good. No, and, and I think it’s it’s also really being able to listen to other people, right? And stop that narrative that you have in your brain of how things should be and how they should work and all of that. I know the first time that I use the bird ability checklist, so Bird Ability has this checklist that you can download and bring to your favorite birding site. And basically, it’s a way for them to gather information about places that can be accessible or could be more accessible with a little bit of support and work or funding and upload it to a map so that folks have a place to go to find sites that are accessible based on what their needs are. And the first time that I used that checklist, I was like, Oh my gosh, I am seeing this place that I love, to converting what I thought through my able-bodied lens was going to be perfect. Hmm. No. Like something as simple as bathrooms.

Ariana Cano: Yeah.

Bridget Butler: Oh my gosh. I was just like, and I thought that this place would be fine because it had a building and, and all of that, but it wasn’t, and the doorways were too narrow and the path from the parking to the main trail there was like a, a big muddy like dip. And I was like, there’s no way that someone who’s using a wheelchair could, you know, navigate this. It just kind of really blew my mind thinking about the noise level thinking about personal safety and all the lenses that you can see a space in terms of your own personal safety and comfort. So it was a really great exercise for me to kind of expose my own blinders.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. I, so, okay, so I wanna announce like we’re opening off into just, you know, so much of what you’re saying is not exclusive to burning. Like we see it everywhere. Everywhere. Like I, you are talking and I’m like, yes, the outdoor sports world like I have experienced just how challenging it can be even as an able-bodied individual to feel welcomed or included or safe. And then there’s also the layer of these places that are trying certain things, right? And really, now seems like a good opportunity more than ever because we can’t fix the path. And right now is what we have to be thoughtful of like, okay, what, you know, where should we go as environmentalists? Where should we go as outdoor enthusiasts? I read something recently about the University of Vermont did a study that throughout, you know, like peak pandemic.

So the past few years people resorted to nature more than ever. And it was a, a place that gave people a lot of, you know, something to do well because we were locked down in quarantine. But also just again, going back to the need that we have of connecting to nature, being outside snow, the fresh air. And I wanna talk about, you know, like, because we’re both environmentalists, right? You have a background in the environmental world and I love nature <laugh>. I think that’s like, that’s the bare minimum that anyone needs to be part of this crew. You know, like what do you think are the biggest obstacles for people with disabilities to fully access the outdoors and let’s keep us going, Right?

<Laugh>. Right. And I want this conversation to be a lot around like, you know, like, what can we do better? And I say that, you know, the rep, you know, a representative or an employer of the Nature Conservancy, Vermont, because I know that we’ve done some things, but there’s so much room to grow for everyone.

Bridget Butler: Yeah. I think this goes back to that baby steps type of thing. And you know, in Vermont you think about I when you Yeah. Baby steps because when you start to think about it, you’re like, Oh my gosh, there’s so much. How can we make everything accessible? And Vermont has mountains, like, how’s that gonna work? How do we get people down to the brooks and the waterfalls and the salamanders in the wetlands and the, you know, like all of a sudden you’re like, Oh my God, it’s so insurmountable. But they’re right. So baby steps. And I think first is like finding who your allies are in this. Like who’s in your community? Who has the knowledge? Cause I don’t have the knowledge. I don’t know what challenges folks that are disabled are coming up against. So finding those partners that can give you that type of information and that type of background to help you kind of then transform your work.

So the baby steps piece I think really too starts to get at how do we communicate with people? And so Right. If you are offering programs already, which right. TNC does and, and I do too. Like, we wanna get people out on the land. So I think one of the easiest ways to do that is really to start to fine tune how we describe what we are going to be doing together. We can’t make every single walk accessible, but we can start to change how we describe walks so that people reading about them can choose for themselves whether it fits for them. And I don’t think we do a good job of that right now. So I’m still learning how to do that and to describe things. And it, you know what, it takes a little bit more work because you’re not talking to the people. You’re not talk, you’re not trying to talk to your constituents already. You’re not trying to talk to the birders or the hikers or, you know, the, the insect lovers that already know how to get out on things and know what your product is. You’re trying to reach those people who want to have a connection with nature but don’t see themselves in these groups yet the, the people that are like, Oh, well I’m not a birder kind of thing.

Ariana Cano: Right.

Bridget Butler: So it, I think it kind of starts there and we can back Yeah, go ahead.

Ariana Cano: Well, I was gonna like chime in and say that from the perspective of like, you know, like, and I think a lot about this as an organization, right? That we have a mission to like save our climate crisis and kind of address our biodiversity loss. And the way we often do that is through these outings and the need, the inherent need for these organizations to recognize that our formula of just inviting birders to go out burning with the birders is not gonna work in order for us to meet these goals that we have, right? Like, this is like an all-hands-on-deck situation. So there’s that like from the, you know, I’m speaking from the objective of organizations is to like, what’s in it for me? But then there’s the other part of like, if you really love these places and hobbies and things like that so much, like just go the extra mile to make it really accessible to all and share it with people. So I just wanted to chime in because I think yeah, we just do like what’s easy and comfortable, but when you tie it into our actual environmental goals, like folks, we need everyone <laugh>. Like, everyone needs to be out here enjoying these things, or else we won’t succeed.

Bridget Butler: Yeah. And that’s about meeting people where they’re at, right? And that’s about listening to what other people have to say about why they’re not able to access nature or what are the barriers to them accessing nature. And then that means a huge shift in how we think about planning our programs and our outreach now. And I, so I think the first thing is just taking what you already have, thinking about how to communicate better about what it has to offer. And then you can go through the whole kind of assessment of: are we offering enough different types of experiences that different people can see themselves in? Like, can I see myself doing that? Right. And hopefully, if you’re explaining it well, people will be able to see themselves in that. And then trying to offer like, great, what’s the continuum of accessibility?

Cause there are so many different ways to think about it from folks who are neurodivergent or from people of color who maybe don’t feel safe in the outdoors. How do we do a better job of introducing them to places where they will feel safe? What does that look like? What does that feel like? I keep asking those questions over and over again of other people and people that I come into contact with so I can better understand. And then I think, sorry, can you hear that? Just gonna wait for a second.

Ariana Cano: What is it?

Bridget Butler: It’s the dump, the not dump truck trash truck coming down the street.

Speaker 3:


Bridget Butler: Okay. So the pin we were gonna say I was gonna say, and then the pe it’s really about, okay, I know where I’m at. He’s gonna come back the, I’m like, they’re gonna go down to the, I’m on a dead end street. So it’s like, go down to the dead end, get so and so’s garbage and come back. But typically they back down. So that’s why there’s the beeping. And maybe it won’t be so loud now. Okay, well let’s try it. Okay. It reminds me of when I used to do stuff with channel five and channel three and the airplanes would fly over while we were outside like recording stuff and they’d be like “Hold, we gotta hold.” Okay. And then I think the next big piece is this intentional planning for people with a specific type of disability. So if you wanted to make things accessible for people with mobility issues, what would that, what would that look like? Where do we need to go? Right? So, that takes more time and thinking and consideration and probably that partner again Right? That maybe knows a little bit more about that community of people and what their needs are.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. And how important it is to build these relationships authentically. Cause I think oftentimes people, like what you were saying, it’s baby steps, but we also have to acknowledge that there’s so many organizations that are already doing this work, right? So instead of reinventing the wheel, how do we show up as partners and allies and say like, “Hey, we’re here to listen.” Like what can we do? What do you need from us? How can we support you? Instead of just like, you know, starting your own formula in your own corner of the world without involving the people that you’re actually hoping to serve. I think that you know, it’s what, it’s

Bridget Butler: That performative piece. Yeah. That’s that performative piece. And you and I have discussed this of, and that’s a fear, right? You wanna do the right thing, right? But you don’t wanna be performative. So how do you get there? And it does take time. This is the same thing that we do in conservation. It takes time to build relationships, to change and to take action when it comes to conserving land. You can’t just go out there and be like, Oh, it’s done. We bought this big chuck land and everything’s right. It doesn’t, it, you may want it to happen like that. And I feel like there’s also all of this pressure because of climate change and, you know, loss of biodiversity, right? That we feel this pressure to get it done right away, but we can’t do it without relationships and relation ships take time and and we have to come from a, a genuine place in order to build a really good relationship.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. And, you know, how do we continue building on that? Right? I know that in the past, like the Nature Conservancy has put in an effort to build accessible boardwalks, and yes, they’re successful, they’re good, they benefit, but a lot of these, you know, weren’t necessarily the best prime example that we should be using for the next model, Right? And like, our goal, and what I hope that we can do as an organization is take that moment to sit down and listen. Like, okay, how do we improve on this? How do we build what we attempted and learn from that mistake or learn from that opportunity to do better? Because even, you know, like it goes back to the example of like, you didn’t think of slow boarding overnight. And there’s, I think there’s a lot of fear in that. And I hope that people, you know, if, if there’s something to take away, at least for me, if this conversation is a lot of like how it is scary, it is really uncomfortable to dive in as an able bodied person to try to, you know, figure out how to be a better human or more human.

There’s a lot of fear that we will mess up and that it’ll feel uncomfortable. But that’s literally the point <laugh>, right? Right. Like that right there, it’s like why it’s so hard and, and that it’s okay. It is so okay. As long as you take the moment to sit and be like, All right, this is how I’m gonna do the next thing better. And, and I I, I really hope that it can be, you know, like extrapolated into the organizational level and see more groups that, you know, and I I wanna ask you this too as like, you know, you’re the perfect kind of person because you can see it from these two perspectives that the slow birding, you know, utilizes nature as a way, as an individual. What, you know, and I asked that question of like, what more can we do? But according to you, like where, you know, where should we go as organizations? Like where should we start having more of these conversations? Like how do we bring people in to think about it, the random, you know, mainstream bird out in the middle of Vermont. How do we get them to wake up and be like, You know what? We should do this. Oh, I know. It’s not an easy question.

Bridget Butler: Oh, that’s not like a hard one.

Ariana Cano: Mm.

Bridget Butler: Yeah. I think what I’m learning from my experience is that you have to do your homework. You have to look internally first, personally get that straight before you start, right? Cause it’s almost like with social media, it’s really easy to just be like, Oh yes, this is a good thing. Like, I’m gonna hit share, rah rah. Right? But if you haven’t read the article

Ariana Cano: Right,

Bridget Butler: All the way through and you haven’t reflected on what you’ve read and maybe even gone that next step of practicing it yourself Hmm. Then you’re really not ready to bring it to other people. And then I think you have to bring people along slowly. I’m definitely learning that in my slow birding work too. There are facets of, of the slow birding practice that are edgy for people.

Ariana Cano: Hmm.

Bridget Butler: Just sitting in place is edgy. If I ask you to sit in place and relax your shoulders, all of a sudden you’re like, that’s not burning.

That’s something else. Right? And that’s edgy for some people. And I think some of these things are edgy for people. And so you have to watch for those edges with your team with whatever organization you’re working in. The board that you’re sitting on mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. and how do you bring folks along? And I know it can’t always be slow, but how Yeah. How do we do this in a way that we’re recognizing that this is, this is vulnerable work, it’s edgy work. It means, you know, admitting that we’re not including everybody and that doesn’t feel good.

Ariana Cano: Mm-hmm.

Bridget Butler: <Affirmative> it’s also admitting that we don’t know how to do it, but there are people out there that are doing this work that have learned some things that we can be like, Ooh, I don’t have to fall down that set of stairs, <laugh>. I don’t have to. Like, I, there’s other folks that are like, Ooh, this is, this is what will, will help you make these first few steps. So again, I think that goes back to that partnership piece and really truly listening to other folks who have experience in these areas who experience it as they’re trying to navigate connecting with nature. Yeah. Believing people. One of the things that ver ability teaches is like, one of the first things in, in leading an accessible bird walk is when somebody identifies a bird is to believe them, right? When someone comes to you and says, Well, your walks aren’t super accessible because like, I can’t park there, there’s no parking for me as a disabled person.

Or the two big things that are really important for me are bathrooms and water. Like, if I can’t access those things or I didn’t even know how to get to that site. I mean, how many trip things have you read where it’s like, well, you know, just find it on the map for yourself. There’s certain things that are missing that are barriers to people. And if we don’t listen to people talk about those barriers or even ask them, like, what are the barriers to you participating or to our partners that have pulled some of this knowledge, what are the barriers to the folks in your community from, from accessing these trails, from accessing bird outings, whatever it is. That’s hard.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. No, thank you. That’s, it’s hard and it’s, it’s a lot of work, but it’s, it’s important work,

Bridget Butler: Right? Oh, it’s so good. It’s so, it is so it is so good. Again, like I get excited about this when I go back to thinking about how many people have sent me notes or just said clean out. Like the whole permission thing just kind of blows my mind. I’m like, who’s the gatekeeper on this? Like, there’s gate keep, you feel like there’s Gate Keep, Somebody is telling you that you can’t and you needed permission. Oh, that’s just heartbreaking, Right? Nature’s right there.

Ariana Cano: Right.

Bridget Butler: We shouldn’t be telling anybody how to connect with, We should be facilitating those connections in a way that bring joy and further connection and and curiosity.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. Thank you. That was, that was great. I mean, that part right there was just like, girl moment of that thought. For sure. I, I guess I, I want to ask you more about slow birding just because it seems like there’s both such an opportunity for people to get into birding, even myself. Like, I, I have never thought about burning. I’m not one of the burning burners.

Bridget Butler: You just said it.

Bridget Butler: No, no.

Ariana Cano: I have, I look at birds, so I guess I’m a birder mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. but I really like the idea of slow burning. I, I just love the mindfulness and like the slowing down of it, especially in a society that like pushes us to like see everything, catch everything, look here, go there. So I guess my question to you, right? Like, we don’t need you to be out with me in nature to go slow bird. Anyone can slow bird, anyone and everyone can do it. So, so anyone out there that’s like, how do I do this? Like, what, where do I begin? <Laugh> Yeah.

Bridget Butler: Where’s the starting point?

Ariana Cano: Yeah.

Bridget Butler: Pay attention. I think the first thing is just pay attention to those moments when you feel that little spark or that zing. When you are connecting with birds, I think that’s like the very what, what is happening. And then like, zoom out on that. Like, what just happened and why did this feel so good? And then try to create those moments for yourself. So for me, slow birding really burning shifted for me when I stop moving, when I stop trying to walk and cover a lot of ground and, and write all the birds down. And so I think, you know, the next piece is, is to try that, right? Is to try staying in one place or try sitting at your window for 20 minutes and just noticing what’s outside. I think the other piece is changing your intention. And I think this is where that pe that that thing of people being like, Well, I’m not a birder.

Ariana Cano: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Bridget Butler: Shifting your, Most people think birders know a lot. They know everything that there is to know about birds. And really that’s a process, an arc, a lot of time spent trying to get to know birds and assembly, your resources and all kinds of things like that. But really it’s about just developing some skills, opening up your senses looking in a different way. What if you sat and you looked at birds just to notice things about them rather than to identify them?

Ariana Cano: Hmm.

Bridget Butler: How would that shift? So if you set different intentions, I think that starts to change how you connect and the depth, it opens up this opportunity to connect on a much deeper level. For experienced birders. I, I often challenge them to let go of something. Try letting go of going out for the day and having a target bird. Like, this is a bird I wanna see. I know they’re in the area. Right? Cuz what ends up happening a lot of times, like, if you don’t see that bird, how do you feel?

Ariana Cano: Right. Right. You get bombed. Yeah.

Bridget Butler: Yeah. It’s like this deeper

Ariana Cano: <Laugh>.

Bridget Butler: Right? I had a great day in nature, but yeah. Let’s, like, let’s shift away from that. So I, you know, I, I think for anyone, whether you’re a birder or not, what is it that question about what is it that you value about the time that you spend in nature? What am I getting out of it and how do I feel afterwards? And then as you develop a practice of connecting, whether it’s with birds or with, or, you know, trees or insects or mosses or, or whatever it is, how do I wanna feel after choosing to spend time outside, you know, noticing these things or being in nature. How do I wanna feel? And I think that then, you know, informs your practice. I keep saying practice too. This is the other thing that’s shifted for me is that slow burning is a practice. It’s not, I don’t think of it as a hobby. I have to think about that some more.

Cause it’s, it, it becomes something else. It really has, it’s become, for me, it’s become a way, a path to wellness. It’s also become a path to connecting with the land in a different way that’s much more relational than it is Object me, object, objectifying nature. Oh my gosh, don’t <laugh>. Right. Right. It’s an burning is like Right. Burning, traditional burning is like, I, that’s an object for me to look at, or it’s an object for me to study, or it’s an object for me to gather data on. Right. We’re always objectifying things. And I think the arc of my slow burning practices brought me to this other place of being in relation with the land. Right.

And I think that has the power to change a lot personally, professionally, and I mean, regionally, community wise. Like how we think about how do we connect with more people and get them to care about the land so that we can tackle these big things like climate change and biodiversity loss. You, you, we have to help people thread that personal piece through it. And what’s personal for me is not going to be personal for somebody else, but like, I, I think a true conservationist can facilitate that relationship with the land, with the birds, with the moss, with the salamanders, whatever it is. Yeah.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. No, yeah. I don’t, I don’t think I have anything to add to that. That was pretty insightful and great. And just, yeah. The objectification of nature as like a hobby. I love that you tie it into like this practice of like, you know, at its core what you’re saying is the outside enjoy sitting around and looking, and birds will show themselves to you and experience that. Right. and it, what I really love is that by using, you know, or by like naming this different form of practice, it naturally becomes more inclusive and accessible. Right? It’s that when we made it so extractive, when we made it this objectifying hobby, we started limiting a lot of people from that enjoyment and how sad that is, Right? Like I, Yeah. Again, I am coming into this as such a non burner, apparently also burner, according to what you were

Bridget Butler: Saying, <laugh>. But

Ariana Cano: The second option just sounds a lot more meaningful to me and what I wanna do. Right. I also, this is not necessarily relevant, but I, in my head, when I think of birders, I think of them as good whistlers because they always can imitate birds. I can’t whistle. So the whole time I’m always

Bridget Butler: Like, So now

Ariana Cano: What’d you say?

Bridget Butler: You’re like, So I don’t fit in.

Ariana Cano: Exactly. It’s like I don’t, I dunno how to do that. How do I talk to the birds if I can’t whistle? I guess I don’t talk to the birds. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But what you’re doing is like, no, you, by just being there with it in a relationship aspect, you’re, you’re in it, you’re doing it.

Bridget Butler: Yes, you are. And I think, you know, Wow. Gosh. Like the other piece to that is, is that in order to fit in, I need to do it this way.

Ariana Cano: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Bridget Butler: Right? And so everything that we see in the burning world and maybe even everything that we see in Right. Like the conservation world, it, there’s this perception of having to do it this one way.

Ariana Cano: Yes.

Bridget Butler: Or there’s a mainstream way to do it. Right. And so you don’t feel like you fit into that. Gosh, nature and birds are really, they’re really for everyone. Oh, this is where I just like having that realization. It’s an awakening to realize that there are people that feel like they’re not included. We have these bird walks come on, on these bird walks. There’s one every month, it’ll be great. Right? You’ll love it. There’s all these people there. Right. And you should just come.

There’s so much going on in that person’s head that you just invited that is, is like the doubting and the, I don’t really belong and I don’t have binoculars and I don’t even know where that is. And what if I show up and I don’t know anybody? And what if I show up and nobody else shows up and gosh, all of those things, or I can’t because I, you know, I, whatever it is. Like, what are all those barriers? How do we just decrease, Just decrease one. Let’s just pick one at a time and just start hacking away at it.

Ariana Cano: I love it. I am like, God, this is, this is great. So when we think of five years ahead, right? What is your hope to be with slow birding? And what about you personally? Like what do you see the ideal self and slow burden in five years?

Bridget Butler: So in, in five years, I really hope that slow birding and other types of burden are not looked on as weird or different or or don’t set themselves up to be that same thing that mainstream birding is. Right? I would like to see slow burning

Right now. It’s like pushing into all these other different places, right? So it started off as really being able to experience and no birds beyond identification. And then it started to go into this wellness place, which is really wonderful and I enjoying exploring that more. And then there’s this other piece which is more this relational spiritual piece, if you will. Right? Because people start to connect to the land they become, they come in relationship with the land. And that’s a very spiritual thing for some people. I, I would like slow burning practice to metamorphose through all of that and just be open. I wanna see how people take it and make it their own. Right? Like, take it and make it your own. Right. Whatever that means for you. If, if it’s really just opening a door and giving people permission to connect with birds in a way that’s comfortable and less pressure and all of that, that then, then I’ve done it.

We’re good. Five years. Personally I want to see where this pushes me in terms of how I think about my relationship with the land. You and I have talked about this in other conversations about thinking about how conservation has been seen through this very white lens mm-hmm. <Affirmative> also this lens of ownership of objectification of the land of its resources mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. I, I struggle. I am struggling and it’s uncomfortable to think about how we’ve gone about conserving land even in Vermont. I think about the wildlife refuge up where I live in northwestern Vermont and how this is the place of the Avan AKI people and how in order to make a wildlife refuge, we pushed a lot of people off of that land mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And we’re still striving to repair that relationship with the people and with the end itself. I think about how I need to shift my thinking around what sustainability means and really is talking about sustainability. Just a way for us to say that we can still take what we want from the land.

Ariana Cano: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Bridget Butler: So in five years, I hope I’m still on that path to a deeper relationship and that I’m able to communicate my experience with other people so that they can have a deeper relationship as well. And feel comfortable in that, in having that edgy, vulnerable experience of connecting with land and wildlife in that way. Hmm.

Ariana Cano: That was great. Yeah. Five years. Well, I will check in in five years and see where you’re at.

Bridget Butler: <Laugh>. See where we’re at. You might have to come out into the woods and find me. I think that Great. More time. I can do it more time in the woods. I know,

Ariana Cano: I do. I love the just naming again, you know, the role that conservation has played in just becoming this very toxic gatekeeper to something that’s just inherently within everyone. Right. And the need for us to transform the way we look at environmentalism into more intersectional Right. Just like mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, we are part of it. We have and should have access, feel welcome no matter who you are. Right. Or where you come from type of thing. And I really love and appreciate the fact that you, you know, you’re on this path to like better yourself and understand what that looks like. Right. Cause I even, whether you fall into one category or the not, or the other one we benefit to a certain extent from that gatekeeping structure, but I think more and more we’re recognizing that it’s not sustainable.

It’s not what we actually should be doing as humans and hopeful that people pick up on that. Yeah. I also love, you know, like the comment on what it means to be an environmentalist or a conservationist or saying like birder, like, you should do this. You should be this like mainstream. I’m like, you like nature, you probably do you drink water? You probably breathe there. You’re there. We did it <laugh>. Like, welcome to a club. Right. And like really taking away all these pretentious badges of honor of like who is the best conservationist? Who is the best environmentalist? Yeah. And really like to start changing the narrative that like we all are, we are humans.

Bridget Butler: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Ariana Cano: Right. So, there are many angles as to how we come about it.

Bridget Butler: Yeah. So it’s telling those stories too, right? Like, I think that’s the other piece is highlighting work from people that, that our different ways of knowing, our different ways of protecting land, caring for land, Right. Being a caretaker of, of connection just keeps seeking out stories different from our own

Ariana Cano: Yeah.

Bridget Butler: And different from the, the, the traditional pathway. Oh my gosh. I think about that so much in terms of land conservation. We’re always telling that same story. And where are those other ones that maybe are a little bit more edgy, a little bit more uncomfortable? Let’s tell those two. You skip those

Ariana Cano: Out there. Well, I think that the reason why we originally connected was me just shaming and saying that I do not care about Al Leopold. And I think that’s a very controversial stance, <laugh> to those of you that are not, you know, part of that group that we’re just educated with. Aldo Leopold, that’s the godfather of conservation. Yeah. I absolutely hated that because I never saw myself in an elderly Appold.

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

I didn’t understand what Wisconsin was. Right. Like, I’ve never been there. Sorry. So then, you know, evolving and meeting other people that are like, Yeah, this is what I like, This is how I connected to it. I’m like, Wow, look at that.

Bridget Butler: Paying attention to that one little, right, that little thing you were asking me, you know, before how to start slow burning. I and you bringing up all the Leopold, There was something about that. His right, his readings, and writings being taught to you that just, it just is like sandpaper, right? Or like something gritty. There was something there. It’s paying attention to those things too. Pay attention to when it gets uncomfortable. What was uncomfortable for me that also became a big part of slow birding was the lack of women within, you know, the birding community. And especially women in leadership roles. So where are all the women and where are their stories? And so those little, you know, inklings, those uncomfortable things that rub you the runway are just, it’s like a bur right? Find that, pick at that, pull that apart, and ask questions about it. Right. Talk to other people about it because I think it leads you to this whole new space and, and a whole new awareness.

Ariana Cano: Yeah. Well, Bridget, thank you so much for this conversation. This has been of the life as always.

Bridget Butler: Same here.

Ariana Cano: <Laugh>. I want to talk about the resources that you shared. So you talked about bird ability, right? Yeah. For people to check out. They can, people can find you online, right?

Bridget Butler: Yeah. You can find me if you type in Bird Diva and you’ll find me. So I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram, I’m on Facebook. My website is birddiva.com. I love questions and I love audio snippets. Like, send me your wonderings. And that’s where you’ll find me talking about some of the courses and workshops that I offer as well. And yeah, I’m always learning. I’m always <laugh>. I’m just trying to be open to all of these ways of knowing and ways of experiencing and connecting in nature. So I love people’s stories as well, so I’m happy to listen to other people’s stories too.

Ariana Cano: That’s great. And the same goes for, you know, the Nature Conservancy in Vermont. My name is Ariana Con Gomez. You can find our information online. We are one of those organizations that we want to hear it, we want to change, we want to, you know, really learn and be on the same path, path as Bridget. So this is also naming that I’m here open and welcoming to all for us to connect, talk about nature, go out in nature, and just learn as we grow within our own environment.

Bridget Butler: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Ariana Cano: So with that, I think that’s it. Good job. You did great.

Green Mountain Disability Stories is the monthly podcast of the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI). Each episode features a conversation on some aspect of disability, by and with people with disabilities and their families and advocates. The views of guests on the podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the CDCI.

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