I appreciate the leisurely, laid-back tempo of summer, but this week life slowed to a geriatric snail’s pace.

Friends have left town, some not to return for weeks. Children have fled for jobs out of state. And that 10-day vacation in August we’ve planned for months seems light years away.

Suddenly, my mate and I were exchanging blank looks like a pair of 8-year-olds on a rainy Saturday afternoon:

“What do you want to do?”

“I dunno. What do YOU want to do?”

So how would a couple of free and easy empty nesters — two consenting adults alone in the house for the next several weeks with no possibility of interruption — put the sizzle back into the sultry season?

Backyard bird-watching, of course.

Maybe it was a reaction to the death of our longtime canine companion last month. Or perhaps it was my desire to get back to nature without leaving the air-conditioned comfort of home. Possibly, it was because now that the Paris Hilton media circus has packed up its tents, there isn’t much worth watching on TV anymore. Whatever the reason, I asked my spouse to meet me out in the shed to rummage for old feeders, metal stands and hooks.

A passion was reborn.

“We need seed! And nectar for the hummingbirds! Let’s go to Home Depot and see what they’ve got,” I suggested, eagerly.

“YOU want to go to the Depot? With ME? But you always say you’re not in the mood,” my husband replied, a telltale glint in his eye.

“Never mind that,” I said, my hands exploring a tube-style, upside-down finch feeder I pulled from the top shelf. “Take me. Take me, now!”

Minutes later, my arms were holding big, bulging bags of safflower and niger seed. He was clutching a brand new rain gauge and a 75-foot, crack-resistant garden hose. We sped home, breathless with anticipation.

Soon, our own private bird land was established just outside the master bedroom window, with two full-to-the-top feeders, an overflowing birdbath and two hummingbird stations in view. Within the hour, I gasped with pleasure when two brilliant cardinals — a male and female — landed on the wooden tray and munched greedily on the safflower seeds.

I stretched out on the bed, transfixed at the sight, scared to move an inch lest my reflection in the window cause the gorgeous creatures to flee.

Just then, my husband bounded into the room and the cardinals outside took off like a shot.

“Any birds, yet?” he asked, innocently.

“You just scared them away!” I cried. “Come over here so they’ll come back.” I beckoned him to the bed.

(Needless to say, after 27 years of marriage, a man doesn’t get beckoned to bed every day, especially in the middle of the afternoon. This might explain why he leapt onto the mattress yelling, “Bird-watching, baby! Yeeeeee-haw!!!”)

“Ssshhh! Lie still,” I said. “You’ll scare them off again.”

For the next 20 minutes, we laid there in silence, watching small winged animals flit to and fro. We didn’t speak. We didn’t touch. We simply breathed and watched.

Then it dawned on me, in one of those life-altering revelations that Oprah calls an “Aha!” moment: Bird-watching is definitely an old person thing.

Still, I woke up the next morning wanting more. More feeders. More seed. More wildlife.

I dug out old bird identification books and read every word of the Code of Birding Ethics online. I discovered, to my delight, that Point Reyes, Calif., one of the finest bird-watching spots in North America, was along our planned vacation route next month. My heart stirred with excitement.

“Did you know that the Audubon Society says Sonoma County has some of the best bird-watching in the country?” I asked my husband over coffee. “Who needs wineries with all those new species to discover?”

The look on his face was unmistakably clear. I had gone too far. Out of the blue, I had a vision. There I was, a modern-day, binocular-toting, pith-helmeted Jane Hathaway dragging a reluctant Jethro Bodine through the redwood forest in hot pursuit of the elusive yellow-rumped warbler.

I realized, at that moment, that my partner did not share my new passion with equal enthusiasm. We would need another pastime.

“So, what do you want to do?” I asked.

“I dunno. What do YOU want to do?”