…by Prill Boyle

Have you ever been determined to head in one direction, only to have life nudge you in another? That\’s what happened to June, a 54-year old dental receptionist whose deepest desire is to become an ornithologist, a scientist who studies birds. This September, she was all set to take her first biology course. Now she\’s having to put her dream on hold. Again.

Like many late bloomers, June\’s passion began as an innocent hobby. Twenty-five years ago, the Brooklyn native moved to Shelton, Connecticut, a woodsy town on the Housatonic River. She promptly purchased a Rubbermaid feeder and became enchanted by the birds that flocked to it. To help her identify them, she used an Audubon guide; and to attract an ever-wider variety, she began buying more and more elaborate feeding systems.

As June expanded her knowledge, she learned about migration patterns and which birds visit Connecticut in which season. She also discovered that bluebirds were becoming extinct. In the hopes of improving their plight, she erected a bluebird house in her yard. The very next day, a bluebird came. Eventually, a local biologist started tagging the ones that visited her feeder; and now, thanks to June and others, bluebirds are thriving again.

Then June turned her attention toward researching what plants attract which birds. She discovered, for instance, that hummingbirds—“the jewels of the sky,” she calls them—gravitate toward cone-shaped flowers such as hibiscus and petunias. And her curiosity about the anatomical differences between male and female birds led to an interest in biology. When June started sharing with her husband Frank some of what she\’d found out, he was amazed. “How did you learn all this?” he said.

June has been waiting for the day when she could go back to school and learn even more. Her three children are now independent, and this was supposed to be her time. But last winter June\’s mom was diagnosed with lung cancer; and while being treated in the hospital, she had a heart attack. After her mom was released, June arranged for her to have 24-hour home care in Brooklyn; but her mom hated having someone in the house, and her health deteriorated even further. Things reached a crisis point this spring when her mom locked the aide out and called the police. That\’s when June said to Frank, “We need to bring mom home.”

June admits that it hasn\’t been easy living with her mom again. “It\’s harder than taking care of a child,” she says, adding that “going to school on top of working full-time and watching over my mom would be too much to handle right now.”

When I first spoke to June a few weeks ago, she seemed discouraged and wondered whether her time would ever come. But when I saw her this week, her eyes were bright. She\’s thinking about enrolling in an on-line, at-your-own-pace ornithology program sponsored by Cornell University. (To read about the program, go to www.birds.cornell.edu/homestudy.)

“Hopefully, I\’ll be in a real classroom by the time I\’m 60,” she laughed.