Interview with The Avian Rebbe - Aaric Eisenstein
Name: Aaric Eisenstein
Location: Austin, Texas
Job: Avian Rebbe
All photos by Aaric Eisenstein
Tell me about yourself:
I started doing the work that I do about 2 ½ years ago. This was my reaction to the covid and a way of pushing back against the darkness. I had never done anything involving birds, nothing involving photography and I certainly wasn’t much of a writer, but I decided to buy a camera, go to the parks, share thoughts about what I saw and find ways to bring a little bit of light to people’s worlds.
I started taking photos of birds, the photos were quite awful. I put together little jottings, just a sentence or two and I shared it with folks in an attempt to stay healthy. From there it started to resonate, and I was asked by my Rabbi to start teaching on Friday nights, to share further thoughts about what it was I was seeing and reflecting upon in the parks.
It grew more and now as a Rebbe, not a Rabbi, I’m not ordained, but a Rebbe is considered a community leader, a teacher and storyteller. I share photos and writing with several thousand people each month through social media, my email list, podcast and website. My first book came out a year ago, my second book that just launched and now I am starting to do a lot of in person teaching and learning together like classroom sessions or guided walks in the woods. I work with school aged kids all the way up to our senior community members.
I think of the work I do as an offering to God and the community. It’s a lot of work but it’s very gratifying and gives a lot of meaning to life.
Tell us a bit more about your books:
The second book is called The Avian Rebbe Stretches His Wings: Volume
2: Left Texas. If you think of Texas geographically and you divide it in half, North to South, it’s in the left half of the state, Western Texas. It is a compilation of 52 of my photos together with teachings inspired by and reflecting on the different sites. The title ‘Stretches His Wings’ is referencing the fact that these were photos taken on my first trips out of confinement. The first book was all about Covid and how we were restricted and confined. The second book is about leaving the nest and getting out a little bit within close parameters by Texas scale, remaining close to home but away from home and that inflection point as we start to find a bit of expansion and expansiveness in our thinking and in our horizons. I deal with some new areas geographically; I deal with some new themes, and I deal with a much larger community. It’s a book of exploration.
What made you interested in participating in this project?
One of the things I’ve found fascinating about this foray into the birding world is that there are unexpected facets of it. And how birds as representation of everything from soul to mind are quite prevalent across cultures, across times and to see how people are using birds and their experiences with birds as a reason to get out into nature. It can be a very healing thing. I wanted to be able to provide a little bit of my own perspective and my own experience and hope that it would resonate with people, bring them a little joy and inspiration.
Can you share your Mental health diagnoses/conditions?
This all started as a push back to Covid. Many people of course had mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. I don't have any diagnosable conditions, but obviously those were very challenging and stressful days for everyone.
When did you become interested in birds and birding?
Many years ago, in 1994 I spent a few weeks in Costa Rica where birds are everywhere, and you can’t help but notice them. I saw them flying around and my head was on a swivel most of the time and it was beautiful and magical, but I knew nothing about them. The fact that I saw a Quetzal didn’t register with me then the way that it might now, but I enjoyed having breakfast watching Toucans eat berries out of a tree. It was fascinating. That was my introduction to birds which I then put on hold for several decades.
I never really noticed them beyond the birds I saw in my own backyard. I have certainly had interesting encounters where I didn’t realize what was all around me at the time. I tell the story of walking through my neighborhood, a very urban, regular neighborhood, not out in the forest or the fields where you’d expect to see wildlife. As I am walking along, I happen to look up and saw a huge kettle of American White Pelicans. I didn’t know what they were, but I found out. It was amazing and I immediately rushed home and emailed Audubon and told them that the most incredible thing ever had occurred, there were Pelicans flying overhead in Austin, Texas. They very kindly and gently responded, ‘well, of course there were, they are here every year at this time’. I had no idea because I never looked up. Now I’m in the habit of looking up and I see different things and I notice different things just by virtue of being aware to look.