Busman’s Holiday



...the earth will be cursed because of you! With painstaking labor you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will yield thorns and thistles when you try to eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread, until you return to the earth, just as you were taken from it.~ Genesis 3:17-19

The expression “busman’s holiday” was first recorded in 1893. The idea was that a bus driver going on holiday would take a bus and thus experience the same thing on vacation that they were taking a vacation from. Perhaps an update for today (in American English) would be “pilot’s vacation.” I was introduced to this expression one time many years ago when birdwatching at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Being a popular spot with birds makes it equally popular for birders. So it is no surprise to find yourself with company when you are scanning the beaches or walking the trails. It is surprising, however, to find yourself in the company of the Massachusetts Audubon field ornithologist on his day off. Actually, it is more of an aha moment, realizing that getting paid to do what you enjoy would not prevent you from continuing to enjoy it when you weren’t being paid to do it.

Acknowledging that serious birders are more amateur ornithologists than simply hobbyists, the volunteer efforts that researchers count on volunteers to provide have begun being called citizen science. I spent a recent Saturday morning paddling a canoe through Scarborough marsh with a couple of other volunteers contributing to an inventory of the bird life in the marsh. Was it work? Technically, yes. Was it fun? Absolutely. The work included the reward. Not only was it an enjoyable time, it was satisfying knowing that the data collected will contributed to conservation efforts that will preserve and possibly improve the habitat. In just this past year, I’ve participated in the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas, a Nightjar Survey, and the Christmas Bird Count. Over the years I’ve participated in another Breeding Bird Atlas, a Birds of Forested Landscapes project, a survey of Mountaintop Birds, a number of marsh surveys, and annual Christmas Bird Counts. None of that is unique. I am simply part of the throng of committed birders who are ornithologists not by vocation but by avocation.

There is a vital difference between an occupation and a vocation. An occupation is literally what occupies the time you must give to make a living. A vocation is a calling, which when followed allows you to find that sweet spot where a little effort goes a long way. We are reading the creation myth incorrectly if we think of it as prescriptive. Clearly, it is written about the first humans not by them. It was an attempt to describe why labor was so hard. Just because working the soil is difficult doesn’t mean that it has to be without joy. If there were no joy in gardening there wouldn’t be so many in our yards. When there is a fine line between vocation and avocation, the curse of labor can become a blessing.

Prayer: Great Spirit, we hear you calling. Entice us to labor with the hope of joy. Amen.

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