Live with Purpose
Familiarity is a funny thing. Day-to-day life and its responsibilities can have a numbing effect on people, leaving us oblivious to even the most magnificent settings. Sometimes an occasional push outside our comfort zone is necessary; something to remind us to look up from our phones and appreciate where we live.
For Tomas Latham, the something that unites him to his surroundings is a ubiquitous (but overlooked) resident of San Francisco: birds. Tomas has been forming unique connections with his feathered friends since childhood, but not in the traditional, safari-hat-and-binoculars kind of way. Instead, his relationships with birds are much more personal, fueled by a contagious, lifelong passion that connects him to the natural world no matter where he lives.
As a boy, Tomas was fascinated by the birds that flocked to a feeder outside his living room window. On cold, Manitoban winter days, he would bundle up and stand motionless in falling snow with gloves full of unshelled sunflower seeds, turning himself into a kind of human bird feeder. His passion grew as the family moved from Canada to Pennsylvania and eventually to California, where the increasing demands of school, work, and adulthood put a temporary end to his avian adventures.
A chance gift of a birdhouse came at a perfect time. He decided to install it on the railing of his Dolores Park-adjacent balcony; it wasn’t long before he noticed one bird exploring, then another. Soon, he had regular visitors, and before he knew it, temporary occupants, as birds began laying eggs and raising their chicks inside.
For the first time in years, Tomas found himself more present in the moment, noticing the natural world around him instead of worrying about unanswered emails or grocery lists. He felt an inner joy return, along with a deeper appreciation for where he lived. The birds had done something special: in his words, they had reawakened “the way I connect to my soul.”
With the more recent addition of a birdbath, Tomas remains as entranced as ever. He installed webcams at the birdbath and inside the birdhouse in 2018, allowing him to observe a rotating cast of characters from new vantage points. In San Francisco, where the newest apps and gadgets make for omnipresent distractions, technology has instead deepened the pleasure he feels hosting and observing birds. He now shares the most fascinating moments via his YouTube account, named after a lyric from another interest – the music of David Bowie.
Tomas’ account has garnered him a worldwide audience, drawn by his enthusiasm, hands-off style, and unique footage. His infectious passion has made him the de facto ornithologist for friends and coworkers, inspiring them to engage with the world around them. He is grateful that his hobby has awakened in others what he believes is a fundamental human desire: to connect with the natural world. To hear Tomas tell it, this is more attainable than we think, even in a bustling city – we simply need to take the time to look.
“There is all kinds of color, movement, and life [in San Francisco], but most of us don’t notice it because it’s inconvenient,” he says. “I really think a connection to the wild is something that lies in all of us, and kind of calls to us. Birds are my connection to the wild. I find joy in looking.”