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When I was six years old, my favorite sport was playing badminton with my mother. This was 1950s America, so she took care of her four kids, her husband, cooked the meals, cleaned the house, and, as a bonus, kept a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job.

With all that, it was unusual and therefore a big deal for us to play badminton. I loved running out to the back door of our West University, Texas, rented farmhouse, two badminton rackets and a couple shuttlecocks held tight in tiny, sweaty hands. Our games began after dinner chores. Crickets chirping, fireflies blinking, an old outdoor lamp and yellow bulb shining down on a badminton net strung between two pecan trees. I'd be jumping up and down, waiting out the last long minute until she arrived. Finally, the kitchen screen door opened and the world turned to magic and I was as happy as I'd ever be.

At 12, my sport was baseball. Summertime in Sandy Springs, Georgia, walking along Johnson Ferry Road to a bare dirt field for a pick-up game of baseball. The field was created that spring when, it was said, Sandy Springs appliance-store owner Luke Appling (Chicago White Sox Hall of Fame shortstop, 1930--1950) corralled a Little League franchise. Somebody cranked up the backhoe and scraped a baseball diamond in the dirt field behind the record store.

We were just getting to know hardball, and although we were all on Little League teams, they only played once, maybe twice a week. Just about every day that summer, sixth- and seventh-grade boys would gather on the red-clay field and choose up sides. Some days we'd have near a full team on each side; other days it was three boys against two with the catcher playing for both teams and no hitting to right field.

I could catch and hit. Average thrower. Usually played second base, but wanted to play first, always the hardest position to grab. The star that summer -- the best pitcher and best hitter -- was Danny, a tall, lanky kid who had a real fastball. He was caught lying about his age...turned out he was 15.

Six years on, I'm living in La Mesa. My sport was straight pool -- not nine-ball, which I consider ostentatious, but straight pool, call pocket, first player to 100 wins. Money games. Etiquette required a late start, 10:00 p.m. driving around San Diego with three or four pals, coffee shop to pool hall to coffee shop to pool hall, the seedier the better. Good pool halls, particularly the downtown walk-up kind, had the feel of adult crime. The dream was buying your own Balabushka stick. With case.

At 24, sport was sex. Full time. At 30, sport was volleyball at the Howling Dog Saloon in Fox, Alaska. At 36, my sport was betting the NFL and elections. I had a cabin out in the desert southwest of Vegas. This was pre-Internet, and betting lines were easier to beat. Research consisted of what little was on the just-established ESPN, televised NFL games, and reading out-of-town newspapers in the library two or three mornings a week. A pleasant, genteel life.

At 42, I leased a house on the beach about a dozen miles south of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz has a microclimate that is more like Southern California than Northern. Didn't rain that winter, 75 degrees and suntan in January. I started walking on the beach, then jogging, then running. Pretty soon running every day. Pretty soon running everywhere: Baja, Point Barrow, Martha's Vineyard, New Mexico. Running in snow, mud, rain, wind. Just get the run in and the rest of the day takes care of itself. Miss it still.

At 48, I was in thrall to domestication. One woman. One household. First time. Big job.

At 54 I began taking tai chi lessons. It's become one of the few good reasons to grow old.

And now BIRDING. That's right, pilgrim, birding, and wipe that smirk off your face.

Over the years, I've hunted and fished when friends invited me along. I've never been moved to take on either sport or its equipment. The best part of hunting-fishing world was planning the trip, packing for the trip, traveling to the trailhead, setting up camp, drinking whiskey, and telling stories around the campfire. The killing and catching part was uninteresting to me.

So, right off the bat, birding has a lot going for it, providing the best part of hunting-fishing world without the blood and heavy lifting. Now, you do need to find the right person to take you out in the beginning. You want to go with someone who knows everything about birds (there is more to birds than you can possibly guess), while keeping the wonderment of a beginner's mind.

Interested? Check out sandiego-audubon.org/ for birding field trips and fog.ccsf.cc.ca.us/~jmorlan/sd.htm for San Diego birding links.

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