Out & Back with Alison Mariella Désir

Out & Back with Alison Mariella Désir

Alison Mariella Désir explores the Pacific Northwest with the change-makers who are reclaiming space, creating awareness and delivering access for the health and well-being of BIPOC communities in the region.

The tranquility of birdwatching in Seward Park

Alison Mariella Désir takes to the new activity like a duck to water, watching for bald eagles and wigeons on a walk with birder Armand Lucas.

For Alison Mariella Désir, birdwatching was never on her radar – not until 2020 when Christian Cooper, a Black birder, was harassed in Central Park by a racist white woman. For Alison it was yet another example of Black people harassed or killed for doing ordinary, mundane things – for daring to exist in the world.

All of this got Alison curious about the origins of birdwatching, which led her to the National Audubon Society’s website. The organization’s namesake, John James Audubon, was the author of seminal works like The Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints that remains a standard against which 20th and 21st century bird artists are measured. The website goes on to state that Audubon was a complex and troubling character who did despicable things even by the standards of his day. He enslaved Black people and wrote critically about emancipation. He stole human remains and sent skulls to a colleague who used them to assert that whites were superior to non-whites.

And yet, despite American birdwatching’s racist past, Black people have found enjoyment in the activity. One such person is Armand Lucas, an environmentalist globetrotter and birder originally from the Bronx. In this episode, keeping their eyes and ears open for birds on a walk through Seward Park, Armand shows Alison the beauty and peace that comes with just being out in nature. From bald eagle nests to wigeon ducks, Armand shows why birdwatching is one of America’s most popular pastimes.