Ninety-nine percent of Twitter is a cesspool of bad faith actors that routinely makes me want to throw my phone into the expressway and start a new life as a beachfront bartender. The other one percent? Marianne Williamson’s bird posts. A couple of months ago, the author, spiritual advisor, and former 2020 presidential candidate began to share photos of beautiful, colorful birds on her timeline, almost on a daily basis. Please enjoy a sampling:
The photos have resonated because they’re both purely delightful and slightly zany, able to be appreciated by the earnest and the most irony-addled alike. And, as someone who spent much of the pandemic transfixed by the blue jays living outside my window and in the park: I get it! Sometimes you just want to look at a beautiful bird!
Here, Marianne Williamson tells us more about her bird obsession.
GQ: What prompted you to get into birds recently?
Marianne Williamson: There are so many problems in the world. There’s so much ugliness and so much pain. It’s important to remind ourselves sometimes of the things that are beautiful, evenly awesomely so. I think beauty restores us. On Twitter, I feel it sort of cleanses the palate to see beautiful pictures. We can only take so much bad news before we have to take a break. Or how will we bear it all?
Was there a specific moment or a photo you saw that got you interested?
It’s the beauty of nature, not birds specifically, that is such a poignant reminder to us today, not only of that which remains but also that which is at risk. Over the last 50 years, because of industrial agriculture, we’ve destroyed half our birds. So just seeing those pictures is enough to turn you into an activist, which is my “wink wink” to everyone when I post them. I usually post the pictures late at night. They’re part goodnight kiss, part “keep the faith,” and part “save the birds.”
How do you find the photos? Do you search for them or do people send them to you?
People send all these amazing pictures of birds I didn’t even know existed with colors and shapes that just take your breath away. Nature has a way of stopping you in your tracks if you allow it to. Wonder and awe and amazement are in too short a supply today, but nature has it in spades.
Are you a birdwatcher offline as well?
No, no, no, no. But a lot of people who post them are.
What is the most fascinating bird that you’ve been sent?
Oh, I don’t know. I look at them all. I feel such intense wonder at the color sometimes, the shapes, the feathers. It’s extraordinary.
Did you know, a few years ago there was a mandarin duck in Central Park that became a sensation—
No! The mandarin duck is one of the extraordinary birds, but there was one in Central Park?
Yes! The city was captivated and people would travel just to go see this duck.
Someone just out of the blue put it there?
It’s unclear how the bird got there. It just showed up one day.
Someone about a hundred years ago had wanted every bird mentioned in Shakespeare to be present in Central Park and had imported all the birds that were mentioned in Shakespeare. I think that’s how the starlings got there. So is the mandarin duck still there?
He’s not, but there was a snowy owl last season that had a similar effect. So I was wondering, why do you think it is that birds, in particular, serve as such a point of fascination for people?
Well, I think nature does. I think we’re hardwired for a connection to nature that unfortunately has been so frayed in the modern era. The beauty of nature reminds us of something fundamental and reconnects us to something fundamental, to who we are. I think the environmental crisis has reminded us in horrifying ways of the damage that we’re doing, not only to nature, but to ourselves. We’re part of that.
You mentioned that you post the birds in order to give people a little nudge towards activism. Is there any reason why you don’t say it outright?
[Laughing] I think people who read my tweets don’t mind having a break every once in a while. Let’s just cleanse the palate for a while. They get hit over the head hard enough with my political tweets, it’s probably lovely to see something wordless on my feed.
What has your relationship to nature been like throughout the pandemic?
Like everyone else, I have felt the unnaturalness of having to stay inside so much. And, once again like everyone else, a greater appreciation of what’s been happening outside. Something as simple as watching the leaves falling off the tree outside my window and then watching the leaves return. I think that everything about this period in our history is reminding us of how insane it has all become. People are grieving what’s been lost and doing what we can to reclaim what’s most precious. It starts sometimes with simply gazing at something important or significant or beautiful and realizing you hadn’t appreciated it enough when it was here. That could be a person, that could be a democracy, that could be your planet. I think we’ve all slowed down enough to think more deeply about what we’re doing on this planet.
That’s true, and I hope that those feelings remain even when this is over. What are some of the reactions you’ve been seeing to your posts?
My favorite is the meme “honey, wake up, Marianne did a bird tweet.” You see a lot of mean-spiritedness on Twitter but you also see a lot of humor and intelligence.
That’s true, though the former seems to be winning out.
Well! Then post more bird pictures!
You recently tweeted a photo of a blue jay, writing, “I know people are going to laugh at me about this but it always strikes me how these birds never look in the mirror so they actually have no idea what they look like.”
People pointed out to me, and rightfully so, that they look in the lake.
But we don’t know what their conception of their own beauty is.
Questions remain. But that’s one of the things that I love about birds. That, like so much of nature, reduce it all you want to and something mysterious still remains. You can tell me all the evolutionary theory behind the color of those feathers and I understand that that is accurate, but none of that takes away from the awesomeness of the colors.
What do you think that birds can teach us?
I think just seeing a bird reminds you of something we don’t necessarily know how to express, but it has something to do with flying above all this.
This interview has been edited and condensed.