The “can-do” spirit

by | October 24, 2009

Age should not stop you from doing the things you want to do, including finding that special bird, even if it means you will be a bit slower and your legs may ache …

 Iain Ewing


On October 19 this year, I was at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Sabah. That evening, my guide, Jason Reyes, told me that the next day we would hike up the hill opposite where we were sitting, and look for the Blue-banded Pitta (also called Pitta arquata, which is found only in Borneo, and nowhere else on earth). The walk, he told me, would take about one-and-a-half hours, and I could see it would be mostly uphill. He also told me that breakfast would be ready for us at 5.30am.

I am 64 years old, and I had lung cancer last year. I had to have the upper one-third of my right lung removed. I thought to myself, “Do I want to do this?” Then I looked at the illustration of the Blue-banded Pitta in my field guide to the birds of Borneo, and I thought, “Yes, I do!”

The next morning, after a quick breakfast and an easy walk to the head of the trail, we started uphill. If you have ever been hiking in Borneo, then you know how humid it is. Although the air temperature was a pleasant 25 degrees, within minutes the exertion of climbing had me dripping with sweat. Soon, my shirt was completely soaked! We continued uphill, and now the sweat was just running off me.

I was panting, and my legs were aching, but I kept going. Eventually we reached the top, and Jason pointed down the other side of the hill, and explained to me that we now had to climb down there to find the pitta. I couldn’t help but think, “If we have to climb down, then later we will have to climb back up.”

Off we went. And, I should add, it was slippery with mud from the heavy rain the night before, and every few minutes I was removing a leech from my face or somewhere else on my body. I found myself remembering how I had done this sort of thing with my son, Tejas, back when he was 10 years old, and I was 45. Tejas is now 29 and living in London, and here I was, still hiking through the jungle.

After going downhill for about 20 minutes, we reached the area where Jason hoped we would be able to see the pitta. He had brought a playback device, and he played a recording of the pitta. There was no reply. He played it again, and still no reply. One of the things about birdwatching: no guarantees. You can spend all day getting to the right place, and the bird doesn’t show. They are wild animals and you have no way of knowing where they will be on any particular day.

Jason tried again, and, softly, there was a response. We hadn’t seen it yet, but at least the bird was in the area. For the next 10 minutes, Jason played the recording of the bird, and it got closer with each response. At last Jason whispered, “There it is,” and used his laser pointer to show me where in the thick undergrowth of the forest the bird was sitting. Of course, I couldn’t see it. We both had to crouch down on the muddy slope, and twist our bodies around, and finally in my binoculars I had a clear view of the Blue-banded Pitta. It was magnificent! What an exquisite combination of colours packed onto a 16-cm body. And I could see clearly that the blue band across the bright orange breast of the bird really did have downward pointing blue feathers with white edges. No wonder birdwatchers compare pittas with living jewels.

After a thrilling few minutes enjoying the beauty of the bird, it was time to sweat some more, climbing back up the hill, so we could go back down the other side to the lodge. As I pushed myself to make the effort, I found myself thinking about getting old. Whatever people may say about 50 being the new 40, I am now 64, and there is nothing young about me anymore. But, I reflected, I had made it into the jungle at least one more time, and seen something amazing. No doubt, my legs had ached, and I had to climb more slowly than in the past, but I had still been able to do something that I would have found difficult even when I was 45.

So here is how I feel about being 64, and knowing that I am only going to either get older or die: I am going to keep pushing myself to do anything that I think will be fun, and I am not going to hold myself back – ever – just because of my age.

And, just so you can see what I mean, I have attached a picture that Jason took of the Blue-banded Pitta (above) when we saw it together. Jason apologises that the picture is not very sharp, but we hope you enjoy it anyway. And, if you want to go birdwatching with Jason, you can contact him at


Iain Ewing is CEO and principal trainer of Ewing Communications. He has conducted seminars in various parts of the world for cabinet minister, MPs, CEOs, managers, executives and professionals in more than 400 companies and Government organisations. He has also written four books, including “How To Be Great in Sales”, “The Best Presentation Skills” and “Media Skills in Good Times and Bad.”



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