How to Significantly Increase Your Enjoyment of Zoos, Museums, Hikes, or Even Your Backyard

Use a binocular.  Any decent binocular will do.  Be sure to try it out before purchasing.  Here’s a nice guide to selecting a binocular, written by the vice president of the Audubon Society.  My birding binocular is an older model of the Nikon Monarch 8×42 without the new extra-low-dispersion glass found in the Monarch 5, but I feel I couldn’t be more satisfied with it.  Here’s another good guide to selecting a binocular that discusses the updated Monarch line.  I also have an Olympus Tracker 8×25 that I run with.  However, my favorite is the featherlight Pentax Papilio II 6.5×21.

Update 12/17/17: the above binocular reviews are now outdated.  I now recommend using this excellent guide.

Just a few days ago, I used my Papilio, which is optimized for looking at small things like insects and flowers at very close range (it focuses down to 1.6 feet), to watch a honeybee darting in and out of jasmine flowers in my mother’s backyard, spilling pollen from its legs as it acrobatically climbed all over the flowers like a squirrel climbing a tree.  I’d never observed a honeybee this closely before, nor with such a shallow depth of view (the background was blurred, so it was easy to focus on the bee).  I watched it fall off and fly back up as petals broke off .  I watched it flex at jointed segments as it strained for nectar in each flower.  A common sight–a honeybee flying from flower to flower–became an incredibly beautiful experience rivaling any nature documentary I’ve seen.

At the Houston Zoo a few weeks ago, I looked through the Papilio and saw that the great hornbill I was admiring didn’t have the monotone black feathers I thought it had with my naked eye:  each “black” feather was one of two slightly different hues, and each hue seemed equally represented on the wing.

Months ago, when I first bought the Papilio, I saw the iris of a Carolina anole‘s eye for the first time as it eerily stared back at me.  I suddenly realized–even though I’ve seen this lizard regularly for many years–that its lower eyelid is a shade of blue unlike the upper eyelid, which is green like the rest of the animal.  I could see each individual scale on its back and sides.  I could see that some weren’t green at all but a much darker color.

I’ve also used this binocular at museums to see individual brushstrokes on paintings.  With the Papilio, one enters the world of small things in high-definition and with an artistically shallow depth of view.  It’s analogous to using a spotting scope to observe distant birds: both experiences reveal subtle details one never would have noticed otherwise.

*Note: I wasn’t paid to promote these binoculars or any other product I discuss on this blog.  I purchased them myself.  These are my “unfunded” views about them.

Update: I do not recommend the Pentax Papilio for serious birding.  Its field of view and depth of field are too small, and its image is too dark for forest birding.


Creating a Life Plan

I read Michael Hyatt’s and Daniel Harkavy’s Living Forward this weekend.  Living Forward is a short book about setting up a concrete life plan with actionable metrics along each of your major priorities.  This prevents the all-too-familiar, aimless, drifting through life phenomenon to which many people succumb as they age.  I read the whole thing and took notes on it in about forty-five minutes, probably because I already have a primitive life plan that I’ve been refining over the past several years and because many of its concepts are familiar.  A decade ago, like the vast majority of people, I didn’t really have a life plan.  I drifted.  Coming up with even a rudimentary plan about five years ago really helped minimize the tendency to drift.

Nevertheless, after reading this excellent book, I’m going to sit down and make my life plan even more complete, concrete, and dynamic.  The book starts from end goals and works backward.  It asks,

“How do you want to be remembered?” (Legacy)

“What matters most to you?” (Priorities)

“How do you get to your desired outcome from your current situation?” (Actions)

It asks you to identify key interpersonal relationships in your life, including with those you’ve mentored, and to write compelling statements about how you want to be remembered by these people.  This is your desired legacy.

You then identify your priorities, such as spending time with family and friends, succeeding in your career, learning how to play a musical instrument, etc.  After you’ve identified your major priorities and ranked-ordered them from most- to least-important, it remaps each of them as “Life Accounts,” which are basically just priorities thought of as financial accounts.

For each account, you write a purpose statement.  You describe, in vivid detail, what it means to have a “positive balance.”  Then, you describe what the account looks like right now, especially in relation to how it should look in the future.  Finally, you assess each account:  is it growing, declining, or stable?  “Growing” means that you have enthusiasm for the account and are also making progress there.

Finally, for each priority, you commit to concrete, measurable actions to help you move from your current situation to your desired state of being.

The authors encourage the reader to review their life plan weekly and to revise it yearly.