The One Thing

Red-winged blackbird calling Everyone has it, right? That one thing that is your sign that spring has finally arrived. For some people it’s seeing the first bulbs poking up from the mulch in their gardens. Others might be more attuned to the day the sap starts to flow in the maple trees. For me, it’s the first day I hear the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds or Killdeer. And today was that day, so I hereby declare the end of winter. Finally. Yes, there’s still snow on the ground here in Michigan and we’ll most likely have to endure more of it before we’re through. But now that I’ve heard the calls of both of my avian harbingers of spring, I feel the weight of winter melting off my weary shoulders. Hallelujah!

Great Horned Owl in bucket 2015Today I went to Lake St. Clair Metropark because I knew I could find these birds there.  I walked the trails for a half hour, passing the marsh where the blackbirds were already trying to out-shout each other from the tops of the cattails. I visited the Great Horned Owl bucket and found one of the adults already sitting there, as expected. I went over to check out the lake and found it still frozen solid, its surface speckled with ice fishermen and their tents.

Ice fishermen on Lake St. Clair

Ice fishermen on Lake St. Clair

So I decided to drive up to Port Huron, where I knew the river was ice-free. I wanted to see if I could find the King Eider that’s been there lately. I didn’t find it, and there wasn’t much other duck activity on the river today either. I spent a couple hours driving to various little parks and viewing areas along the shore, finding only scattered small groups of a half dozen species. There were Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Redheads, a few Scaup, and some Buffleheads. And the only ones that weren’t really distant were the Redheads, so they’re the only photos I didn’t have to crop a great deal. Aren’t these beautiful ducks? Just look at the golden eye on this male…and the water droplet on his back (you might have to click on the pic for the larger version).

Male Redheads on the St. Clair River

Male Redheads on the St. Clair River

Redheads are diving ducks, so they’re always entertaining to watch as they leap out of the water and dive below in search of tasty morsels.

Now you see me....

Now you see me….  you don't!

…now you don’t!







But the most entertaining group of the day was this gathering of seven Common Goldeneye, five males and two females.

Common Goldeneye
They seem rather calm, don’t they? Well, don’t forget, it’s spring. And that means one thing to them: It’s time to find a mate. The mating display of this species is quite the spectacle, even for us humans. I made a video of it but something happened to that file, so I’ll just have to share some still photos.

The males display to the females by flipping their heads backward and forward repeatedly in a sort of “head dance,” as you’ll see in this series of pics:

Ah, he seems to have her attention with this first fancy move.

Ah, he seems to have her attention with this first fancy move.

Now let's show her how tall I am....

Now let’s show her how tall I am….

...and then the big finish! So baby, what do you think? Wanna date me?

…and then the big finish! So baby, what do you think? Wanna date me?

Let’s hope his efforts were enough to keep her away from his competition. (Here’s a video on YouTube if you want to see them in action.)

Here are a couple views of the river at Port Huron, looking across toward Canada:

Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario

Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario

The sculpture is called "Sugar the Iron Horse"

The sculpture is called “Sugar the Iron Horse”

Even though I didn’t see lots of birds today, the ones I saw were special and interesting. And even if I hadn’t seen any of these birds, this still would have been a great day — exercise, fresh air, sunshine and–most importantly of all–melting snow!!

I hope you’re finding time to get outdoors too. Being outside is always a good thing, but right now, at the end of winter, it’s really and truly good for the soul.

So what’s your “one thing” that means Spring?

Posted in Bird Migration, Ecotherapy, Walking in the Woods | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Photo Friday: Dreaming of Spring

Photo Friday for blog - flower garden Photo Friday for blog - dogwood blossoms Photo Friday for blog - daffodils in woods

Posted in Ecotherapy, Flowers and Gardening, Photography | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Birding With a Purpose

Can you feel it? Something really BIG is going to happen on Monday at noon. People all across America are making plans. They’re reading field trip descriptions, booking hotels in northwest Ohio, texting their friends, and updating their “birds needed” lists. And at 12:00 noon on Monday, February 16 (tomorrow!), they’re all going to make sure they’re at their computers with their fingers warmed up and ready to go. That’s right, registration is opening for this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding!

Biggest Week Carbon Offset logoAs I do every spring, I’ll be telling you much more about the festival events and the birds as we move through the season. But today I want to tell you about something that makes me very proud to be associated with this event–Oh wait, did I tell you I’m on the festival planning team this year? I am! But that’s not what I was talking about. The thing that makes me proudest is that the Biggest Week (BW) has continued to maintain a laser-focus on their mission of bird conservation. These people aren’t just trying to sell a bunch of t-shirts with pictures of birds on them, no sirree, Bob! This purpose of this festival is to increase people’s connection with birds so they’ll care enough to contribute money in support of the important bird conservation work carried out by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO).

Last year’s festival raised $14,000 to help save habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler, a migrant bird that’s experiencing steep population declines.  If you’re curious, here’s a detailed description of how last year’s Biggest Week Carbon Offset donations were spent to help that species. (Hint: Planting 12,000 trees was just part of it!)

And this year’s Biggest Week Carbon Offset Program donations will help protect and restore habitat for the Cerulean Warbler, yet another species that is having trouble. The population of this tiny blue warbler has declined 70% in the past 40 years, mostly due to habitat loss caused by human activities like agriculture, mining, and logging. They’re so hard to find that it was even hard to find one at the Cerulean Warbler Weekend sponsored by Michigan Audubon. But I did manage to get this identifiable picture of one of the males high up in an oak tree:

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan

Here’s a link to the American Bird Conservancy website that tells you all about the plight of the Cerulean Warbler. I’m excited to see how much we can raise this year to help stop the decline of this beautiful bird before it’s too late. And by the way, even if you aren’t able to come to the Biggest Week this year, you can still make a donation to the BW Carbon Offset Program to help the Cerulean Warbler. Here’s the direct link to Paypal , or you can also get to the donation page from the home page of the Biggest Week website, here.)

The easiest way to know it's a Cerulean: that black necklace.

The easiest way to know it’s a Cerulean: that black necklace.

In a world where there’s so much bad news all the time, and where it’s hard to feel you can make a difference, this event stands out as a highlight in my year. It’s supported by hundreds of volunteers who bend over backwards to make sure visitors have a great time while they’re in Ohio. And the birds always put on a spectacular show for us. It’s a win/win situation: The birds (and other creatures) benefit from the habitats protected, and the people who live and work in northern Ohio benefit from the tourism dollars that have become so very important to them in recent years. (Economic studies found that the Biggest Week in American Birding brings an average of $25 million a year to the local economy. Hotels, bed & breakfasts, and restaurants hire more staff to keep up with the added business generated by the 60,000 people who show up to see the birds each spring.) And on top of all that, the people who travel to the shores of Lake Erie to see the spectacular migration have a great time while they’re here.

Biggest Week gives back

Some of the causes that benefited from the 2014 Biggest Week in American Birding.

So you see, we birders aren’t just a bunch of dorky people with binoculars and funny vests wandering around out there — we’re protecting wetlands, planting trees, and saving birds! Why not join us and see how great it feels to be a part of this worthwhile event?

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Migration Mania #3: Black-and-white Warbler

Okay, those of you who are paying attention have already said, “Hey, wait, it’s not migration time yet! What are you trying to pull here?” And you are absolutely correct–migration is many weeks away. But there’s no reason we can’t daydream about pretty little birds to help us get through the depths of winter, right? So I’m picking up with my Migration Mania series early this year. You may have forgotten about this series because I started it in 2013 with two articles (here and here) and then neglected it last year. But I didn’t forget…aren’t you glad?

And by the way, I’m not the only one thinking of migration already — the Biggest Week in American Birding is going to open registration in mid-February. I’m the coordinator for the festival’s bloggers again this year, and our whole team is gearing up to bring you lots of fun info over the next few months. Such excitement, I can hardly contain myself! (By the way, if you’re coming to the festival, you’d be wise to book your accommodations asap because many places are already sold out for May 8-17!)

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler on tree trunk

So in this edition of Migration Mania I’m going to tell you a bit about the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia). He’s unusual among warblers because he doesn’t wear any of the bright colors we usually think of in these birds — yellows, oranges, and blues. The BAWW (that’s cool birder-speak for Black-and-white Warbler) wears a bold graphic pattern of…wait for it…black and white!

And not only does he stand out for his appearance, but he’s got a different way of feeding than the other warblers too. Most of them forage for food around the leaves of trees and shrubs, but this guy spends a lot of his time on the trunk and branches, probing the bark for hidden goodies. This is how you normally see a nuthatch or a creeper feeding, not a warbler. It’s an advantage for those of us trying to take warbler photographs, because it’s easier to keep focused on a bird moving up a tree trunk than one that’s hopping over and under leaves at the speed of light (well, that’s how fast it seems sometimes…).

So where are the BAWWs now, while we’re freezing our tushies off up north? They’re down in Central and South America, that’s where. Places like Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. Nice and warm, and plenty of food. You can see on this map that there are some of them in the southern U.S. now, but they’re probably not on the move yet. By early or mid-March we’ll start seeing some northerly movements though, and they’ll be off on their long journey to their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada.

eBird map of Black-and-white Warblers in January 2015

Since this species is one of the earliest to move northward in spring, some of them will already be nesting in April. It’s thought that they can come north earlier in the spring because of their ability to feed from the bark of trees–they don’t need the leaves to be opened before they come up here, like most of the other warblers. That’s a cool little fact to know, isn’t it? There are a few more fun facts below these photos.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler (2)

Fun facts:

  • These little birds weigh less than half an ounce and will fly an average of 20 miles each night during migration. Yes, that’s right, they migrate at night. As dawn breaks they drop down from the sky to feed so they’ll have energy to fly again the next night.
  • What do they eat? Butterflies, moths, ants, flies, bugs, click beetles, round-headed wood borers, leaf beetles, weevils, leafhoppers, plant lice, spiders, daddy longlegs, and more. Yum!
  •  The females build their nests on the ground, using dry leaves and grasses. The nest is usually at the base of a tree or beside a fallen log.
Black-and-white Warbler undertail

I love the pattern on his undertail coverts (the feathers that cover the base of his tail feathers).

I hope you enjoyed getting a closer look at one of my favorite warblers! And I hope you’ll be inspired to look for these adorable little birds when you’re outdoors this spring.

(Source for the stuff I didn’t know: Birds of North America Online from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)


Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Brain Reboot; Kim 2.0

Deepak Chopra. Eckhart Tolle. Turmeric. Chia seeds. Aromatherapy. Epsom salts. My massage therapist. My chiropractor. My library and Barbara Feldon (yes, Agent 99!).

What do all those people and things have in common, you ask? They are all part of my healing process, ingredients in my recovery from a very sad and scary period of my life. A couple months ago I was almost ready to give up on everything and just shut down. Divorce after 50 is not for the faint-hearted, and it knocked me down hard despite how much I’d thought I was ready for it. But somehow I found the strength to start grasping for anything and everything that might help make me stronger. I needed emotional strength, and I needed physical strength and health.

And now I’m feeling some positive changes happening in my brain, like I’m installing a new operating system and learning how to work with it. It’s called Kim 2.0.  It still has some stubborn bugs in it, but I’m figuring out how to work around them.

I’ve been learning from some of the wisest teachers I can find, like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. I finally got meditation to work for me after listening to Deepak discuss the basics with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday. It’s helping me think more clearly and to be calmer.  He claims to have meditated every single day for 40 years, and says he never feels stress at all anymore. I want some of that, don’t you?

Graffiti - Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will

Graffiti wisdom on a stairway railing


And another one of the keys to getting my head on straight was listening to Eckhart Tolle talk about how to be in the present moment, how to become an observer of your thoughts and learn to let them just flow through your brain without impacting you negatively. I’d tried to read his book, The Power of Now, but found it hard to understand. Then I discovered him on YouTube a few months ago, and his philosophy had been percolating in the back of my mind since then. I started to understand his ideas better when I listened to him instead of reading his books. His unusually calm manner of speaking was very soothing when I felt my mind racing out of control, full of fears about the future.

Graffiti - I can do all

Affirmation in the woods


In addition to all the work I’ve been doing on my mental health, I’ve been experimenting with some changes to my diet too. Not a complete makeover, but just adding some things that are believed to have important health benefits. I bought a NutriBullet and use it to make healthy smoothies every day. I tend to prefer the sweeter combinations of fruits and yogurt, but am trying to get my taste buds to adjust to more vegetable mixtures too. I’m struggling with the texture of vegetable smoothies, but I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ve been amping up the health benefits of my fruit-based smoothies by adding some of these things: turmeric, chia seeds, almonds and other nuts, ginger, and cinnamon.

turmeric macroI won’t go into all of them here, but I do want to share something I learned about turmeric, that golden-yellow spice used in many Indian dishes. It’s said to act as a vacuum cleaner for your system: “It vacuums up free-radical debris that can cause disease. Turmeric is the aspirin or ibuprofen of the spice set. It controls internal or systemic inflammation, which is implicated in so many chronic diseases, from arthritis and Alzheimer’s to cancer.” (That’s a quote from nutritionist Rebecca Katz on the Spirituality & Health website.) And I found a fantastic recipe for a Turmeric Smoothie too — it’s got pineapple, coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and more. I could drink that every day!

I use these essential oils in an electric diffuser.

I use these essential oils in an electric diffuser.

Okay, I’m betting you want to know how Barbara Feldon helped me. Those of you of a certain age probably remember her as Agent 99 in the 1960s sitcom, Get Smart! I was surprised to find that she’s also the author of an excellent little book called Living Alone and Loving It. I found this book on one of my late-night searches through my library’s catalog for advice about adapting to life as a single woman after divorce. There are lots of books out there, but I was intrigued when I read the positive reviews of this one on Amazon, so I checked it out of the library. I devoured it the first evening, finding so much great advice and encouragement inside it that I read it a second time and took notes. Much of her experience seemed to parallel mine (except for the famous actress part), so knowing that she found ways to rebuild her life and be happy was very empowering for me when I couldn’t see how to get there on my own.

In one part she describes how she had neglected her friendships when she was married, and then found herself without a support network when she was alone. She learned that she had to make systematic and concerted efforts to get friends back into her life over a period of time, and how great she felt when it finally started to pay off. I liked this:

I’d grown passive during my coupled years. My partner was the oak tree of my social world and everyone else was lesser foliage. Since friendships have a way of blossoming if you shine on them and withering if you don’t, I was facing a languishing garden that was badly in need of tending. Ironically, now when I had the most need for people, I had the least skills and inner strength at my command to remedy it.  (Barbara Feldon)

That really hit home with me, and I’m taking her advice to heart, trying to be more attentive to my friendships now. I don’t ever again want to feel the depths of loneliness I felt when I first moved into my apartment. There’s a big difference between enjoying some solitude and feeling isolated, believe me.

Well, this got a bit longer than I intended, but I think you can see that I’ve found a wide range of things to be important parts of getting through my rough time. Two months ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be adjusting so well to my changed circumstances. It continues to surprise me. I do still have bad days, but overall I feel stronger and less afraid each day. I’m grateful.

Graffiti wisdom: All you need is peace, love, and music.

Graffiti wisdom: All you need is peace, love, and music.



Posted in Ecotherapy, Happiness and Gratitude, Health | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

A Fresh New Year: Why Is That So Important?

If you’re like many people, you place at least some significance on January 1st. Whether you make resolutions or set goals, you feel that something important is supposed to happen because the page on the calendar has turned.

Although I’m not usually one to make New Year’s resolutions, this day is still unlike any other day of the year for me. I have a couple superstitious rituals that I usually follow: I do some type of house cleaning as a way of starting fresh, and I eat sauerkraut to bring good luck in the coming year. But you know what? I eat sauerkraut all year long, on regular old Mondays or Tuesdays, on the 3rd of the month or the 21st of the month. When I feel like having it, I do. What happens to me in the days afterward has nothing to do with that meal. Eating a particular food doesn’t bring good luck, I know that. But the superstitions persist, for me and millions of other people. I think part of the reason is that it’s human nature to try to find cause-and-effect patterns in events so that we feel more in control of our lives. We think that if we just don’t walk under that ladder, we’ll prevent bad things from happening to us. Or if we carry a four-leaf clover, we’ll win the game. We’re funny animals, aren’t we?

This was the sky as I ended my walk today.

This was the sky as I ended my walk today.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this as I took a brisk walk around the city park today, with the cold wind chapping my cheeks and stiffening my fingers. I was there because it was January 1 and it felt important to get outside: I wanted to see my first birds of the year, and I wanted to start my year off right by exercising and getting fresh air.

Paint Creek in city park

But why do we make such a fuss about starting our year off right?  Why not start the next day off right? Or the next minute? Life is filled with opportunities to change our habits or make other positive changes. We can do it whenever we want to.

And for that matter, every moment of every day is a chance to improve our lives. Every moment is a fresh start. I remember hearing this advice when I was trying to change my eating habits a couple years ago. Let’s say you’re having a bad day at work and you indulge in a bag of cookies at lunch to soothe yourself. Then you berate yourself for the weakness and decide that you’ve already ruined the whole day, so you might as well have ice cream and cake for dinner too. Well, if you remember that each moment is a chance for a fresh start, all you have to do is decide that in the next moment, you aren’t going to eat junk food. In the next moment you’re going to drink a big glass of water. That’s all. You don’t have to throw away an entire calendar segment just because you ate some cookies. What matters is what you do now, not what you did in the past.

I’ve been through a great deal of difficulty in recent months, as my regular readers know well. I’m so thankful that, in the past few weeks, I have somehow found the strength to pull myself back out of despair. I’m using lots of different things as tools, and I may tell  you about more of them soon. But one of the most important has been the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, who shows us how to live in the present moment, the Now. Rather than worrying about the past or the future, learn to accept “what is” and ignore the endless stream of thoughts that run through your mind. I’ve been practicing being in the moment, and it really does bring me some peace. I’ve also been learning to meditate better, and that seems to give me positive energy so that I’m more inclined to focus on good things during my day rather than dwelling on fears or negativity. (Here’s a link to one of Mr. Tolle’s videos on YouTube for those of you who aren’t familiar with him yet.)

And here’s a video I shot today. Animals live in the moment; no worrying about past or future for them!

I’m learning a new way of experiencing gratitude and how to be mindful of the moments in life. Most importantly, I’m learning that our thoughts create our feelings, and if we can manage our thoughts we will vastly improve our outlook on life. It’s a skill worth practicing.

So, in the spirit of living in the moment, instead of wishing you all a Happy New Year, I’ll wish you a Happy Now. It’s a very good place to be.

Trees in fog for blog with quote by Eckhart Tolle


Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

And Then There Was One

Two months ago I lived in a beautiful home on two acres of woods, with a husband and two cats. The four of us weren’t always happy, but we were still a family. Our daily lives were deeply intertwined.

Then it all came apart.

The cats and I moved into an apartment a few miles away. The three of us began a journey together. None of us were thrilled about it, but it happened nonetheless.

The first night after I brought Mickey and Dexter here, after they’d explored their new home and settled down on the sofa with me, I felt a tiny glimmer of optimism that maybe we were all going to be okay in the end. The cats gave me much-needed comfort as I began my new life on shaky legs.

Dexter at his favorite window

Dexter at his favorite window

Then one month ago it became clear that Dexter, an active five-year-old, wasn’t happy here. His favorite activity at the house had been watching the many birds at our feeders. He spent his days “stalking” the ground-feeding Juncos and Mourning Doves, leaping against the glass and scattering them. Over and over. Sometimes the squirrels would stand face-to-face with him in a sort of contest of wills. The floor-to-ceiling windows were perfect for his critter-watching hobby. And he made good use of the entire 2800 square feet of the house, galloping up and down the stairs, running headlong into that big window by the feeders. He was so happy there.

Here in this second-floor apartment of 1100 square feet he didn’t have any vantage points to see wildlife. And since I’m not allowed to have feeders here, he had little chance to see birds either. Of course I made extra efforts to play with him often throughout the day, tossing his favorite toys across the apartment until he grew tired of chasing them. But it just wasn’t enough.

Dexter and Mickey in 2012

Dexter and Mickey in 2012

He began showing signs of frustration and, I believe, unhappiness. I told Eric about my concerns and he offered to take Dexter back to live at the house with him. So two weeks ago I said a sad goodbye and took him back there. When I let him out of his carrier he ran directly to his favorite window, clearly happy to be home. I’m sure it was the best decision for Dexter, but it was pure torture for me. I had immense guilt for splitting up the two cats, who had been great companions for each other. As a younger cat, Dexter was great at keeping 15-year old Mickey active. Mickey would rather chase Dexter than play with toys. So I beat myself up over my perceived failure as a responsible cat owner. Every time I adopt a cat from the shelter I make a commitment to care for it for the rest of its life. So I felt I’d broken that commitment. And I missed Dexter terribly. I worried that Mickey also missed him.

Day 7 in the new apartment

Day 7 in the new apartment

So now the two of us began a much quieter life. Those first few days without Dexter felt like I was living in a funeral home. It was like the life had been sucked out of my home. Eric reassured me that he was smothering Dexy with love and lots of new toys. And he said he might get another cat to keep him company. That made me feel better.

So Mickey and I were starting to adjust to our situation. Then, on Tuesday last week he stopped eating and slept all day. I was concerned and watched him closely. On Wednesday morning he didn’t wake me up early as he usually did, and I found him sleeping on the bathroom floor, someplace he’d never slept before. He seemed to be in pain when I picked him up. I called the vet and they let me bring him in right away. After an exam and an inconclusive x-ray, they sent us to the vet hospital for an ultrasound. Mickey had two ultrasounds at this hospital before, most recently in July this year. He was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and was being treated with a daily steroid pill.

Mickey's favorite sleeping spot in the apartment

Mickey’s favorite sleeping spot in the apartment

The new ultrasound was inconclusive too, and they gave him pain medications and wanted to keep him overnight for observation. On Thanksgiving morning he was worse and had emergency surgery. The vet called me in the middle of the surgery to tell me she’d found a hole in his intestine. They could remove a section of his intestine but because of his long-term steroid use and enlarged organs, he would likely not heal well from the surgery and would require a long hospital stay. I knew what I had to do, and on Thanksgiving day I made the excruciating decision to have my baby euthanized to spare him all of that trauma. At that moment I thought I would die too. My heart was still bruised and battered from all the other losses I’d experienced lately. My world crumbled right then. I’d felt alone before, when I had both cats. But now I was really alone. Heartbroken, I made the 15 mile drive to say goodbye to my sweet baby boy. Numb, I came home to a very quiet apartment.

My beautiful Mickey

My beautiful Mickey

Mickey and I had a very close relationship for his entire life. He slept beside my pillow every night. He sat on my lap whenever I sat down on the sofa. He loved to be carried around on my shoulder as I went about simple household chores. He was my buddy. I loved him dearly. I still have moments when I can’t believe he’s really gone. I still can’t sleep through the night. In fact I’m writing this at 3 a.m.

Mickey snoozing on my legs (2013)

Mickey snoozing on my legs (2013)

Everyone seems to think I should get another cat, right away. I don’t know if I can ever get another cat. Every time I lose one of them it brings me to my knees. I just don’t know if I can go through that again. Now I’ve got three little urns filled with ashes in my closet. It’s unbearably sad. But, on the other hand, I can’t imagine not having a cat in my life — they’re such wonderful companions and fascinating animals, so full of unconditional love.

Mickey portrait resizedI know that anytime you love someone you risk the pain of losing them, whether it’s by divorce or death. Right now I hurt too much to even consider letting another cat into my heart. But I realize that by protecting myself from this hurt I’d be denying myself the joy of rescuing and loving another cat. I guess I’m pretty confused right now, in the rawness of this fresh grief.

At Eric’s urging, I went to visit Dexter on Friday and Saturday. It was like a bandaid on my heart to sit there and cuddle with him while he purred his funny little purr.  I sat on the sofa in my usual spot and watched a movie, with Dexy staring up into my eyes as if life had gone back to “normal.” In fact it was surreal being back in the house like that. I almost wanted to close my eyes and pretend none of the past three months had happened. But I knew I couldn’t do that. As painful as it was, this split needed to happen.

Dexter and Mickey (2012)

Dexter and Mickey (2012)

So now I’ve got to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Time will ease some of this pain, I know.  But I’ve been so sad and scared for months, and that really wears a person down. Very late on Thursday night, after crying until I was exhausted, I suddenly felt all the fight go out of me at once. I felt too tired to be scared anymore, if that even makes sense. I didn’t have the strength to keep holding up my protective walls anymore either.  I had been shutting out my family because I always ended up feeling sadder after phone calls with my parents or my sister. I believed nobody really understood my pain. I resisted every suggestion they made in their efforts to soothe my broken heart. But suddenly I was ready to hear them. I had no more fight left in me.

Over the weekend I spent hours on the phone with my mom and sister, soaking up any crumbs of advice or positive thinking they had for me. I started to feel gratitude that they loved me enough to not give up on me when I shut them out. They know all my weaknesses but don’t judge me. They are strong for me when I can’t be strong for myself. They hold me up until I can stand on my own again. Some friends will turn away in times of tragedy — maybe they’re uncomfortable witnesses to your pain or they don’t know what to say. And I don’t blame anybody for that; I suppose it’s human nature. But I’m incredibly grateful to my family for catching me when I fell so far down into the depths of despair that I thought I might not be able to get back out on my own. Now I understand that even though I live “alone,” I’m never really alone. No matter what our differences, we are family and they’ve got my back. I am grateful.


Posted in Cats, Grief | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

A Social Butterfly I’m Not

Queen butterfly

Queen (Danaus gillipus) (Corrections welcome if I’m wrong)

As promised, this time I’m showing you butterfly pictures from my trip to the Rio Grande Valley. And I want to talk more about something I mentioned briefly in my last post, the difficulties of traveling and making friends as a highly-sensitive person (HSP). By the way, even if you’re not one of the 15-20% of people who fall into this category, you may discover that someone you love is highly-sensitive. So reading this could help you have a better relationship with your own friends and loved ones. Understanding is always a good thing. (And besides, there are butterflies!)

As I knew it would, this trip put me in a situation where I was over-stimulated and couldn’t get enough alone time to recharge my batteries each day. This tendency to get overwhelmed easily is typical of HSPs, so I’m very familiar with it. It’s been a lifelong struggle for me to manage it, and it’s especially hard when I’m traveling with someone else who doesn’t have the same need for downtime.

Red-bordered Pixie

Red-bordered Pixie

I’d been holding a hotel reservation for my trip to Texas for several months, and could have just kept it and had ample privacy and independence. But because I’m in the middle of a divorce and feeling so lonely, I thought it would be good to push myself out of my comfort zone this time. I was going someplace I’d never been before, and I thought that I’d miss out on too much of the fun if I were on my own. So I accepted a generous invitation from three friends to share a lovely rental house. I first met these friends at the Biggest Week in American Birding in 2013 and 2014, and we’d kept in close contact through Facebook. But the truth is, we don’t know each other all that well aside from our shared love of birds and nature. They’re highly-social extroverts who have incredibly wide networks of friends, so naturally they had lots of party plans during the festival. And, whether I was ready or not, I was along for the ride.

"A member of the Comma family" is as far as I could get in identifying this one.

Some type of Comma butterfly

I want to make clear that none of this is intended to be a criticism of my friends. It’s about how my high sensitivity makes it harder for me to enjoy a busy social life. And for those who may not realize it, there are some hard-core party animals among birders. Talk about defying a stereotype! The social calendars at birding festivals are always crammed full of parties and special events, and I always end up exhausted. Imagine having to get up every day before dawn for field trips, being out in the field looking for birds until mid-afternoon, using every spare moment after that to try to connect with friends you only see a couple times a year, chasing rare birds, and then being expected to party with everyone at night. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the laughter and stories we share at the parties. I really do.

But as an HSP, my experience of a party is so much more intense and emotional than most other people. I stand in a room with dozens of conversations going on around me — people laughing, people drinking — and I soak it all up into my sponge of a brain. Because I notice so many more details and subtleties of my environment, it follows that I’ll be more easily overwhelmed when I’m in a situation where things are chaotic and new for an extended length of time. My brain wants to really think about it all, and there’s no time for that. This is exactly what happened in Texas. I was in a new place, with people who were friends and yet we hadn’t spent all that much time together before, and I was introduced to dozens and dozens of new people every day. (“That person looks familiar, should I know her?” “I don’t understand what they’re talking about.” “Why do I feel so lonely in the middle of this crowded room?” “Why am I thinking so much?!”) Combine this with the physical exhaustion from the travel and the early morning field trips and you’ve got a meltdown waiting to happen.

Zebra Heliconian, one of my favorites from my trip to Texas

Zebra Heliconian, one of my favorites from my trip to Texas

And it didn’t help that a mutual acquaintance felt it necessary to introduce me (several times!) as “Kim, who’s going through a divorce right now.” I went on this trip to get away from thinking of that painful part of my life for a few days, and here it was being thrown back in my face when I was meeting new people. It was embarrassing and certainly didn’t help put me at ease.

Monarch chrysalis! It was only about an inch long.

Monarch chrysalis! It was only about an inch long.

I made it to Friday night before I came to the limits of my social endurance, and after that we all sort of went our separate ways each day. I felt awful for my inability to have as much fun as everyone else was having. I felt ashamed of myself for needing to get away from people. And I felt afraid that my friends would decide that I was just too high-maintenance and that it wasn’t worth being friends with me anymore. We HSPs are accustomed to being judged by others for not being “normal,” and for being so…well, so sensitive. So although this is familiar to me, it never gets any easier. I wish I could be with people all the time and just enjoy it. But it’s never going to be like that for me. My energy gets drained by parties, whereas extroverts and non-HSPs get more energy from being surrounded by other people.

I think this is a Gulf Fritillary (Corrections welcome if I'm wrong)

I think this is a Gulf Fritillary

By now it won’t come as a surprise to you when I admit that I don’t have many long-term friendships. My lack of close friends has always been a sad part of my life, and that weak spot has come under a spotlight now that I’m living alone. When I was married I dreamed of having more space and more time to myself, but now that I have it — all the time — I’m surprised at how lonely I’ve been. Sometimes I worry about how I’ll get through the divorce and the coming months as I adapt to my new single life. Since I don’t work outside my home I don’t have much regular social contact with other people. And until now I’ve been mostly okay with that. But now I really need to be with people. I need to know that somebody in the world will notice if I’m not there, and that there’s somebody I can call to drive me to the doctor if I’m sick. I guess I just need to feel that I’m not so alone in the world. But then again, maybe I’m being overly dramatic.

I feel so very vulnerable admitting all my doubts and insecurities to the world. But for some reason I think it’s important to let non-HSPs see what we go through in our daily lives. I’m guessing I speak for many of my fellow sensitive souls when I say that we don’t expect you to handle us with kid-gloves or bend over backwards to accommodate our needs, but a bit of awareness and understanding would go a long way toward helping us come out and play in the world with you. We can be lots of fun, I promise!

Anyway…I’m going to start working after the holidays, but since I’ll be freelance proofreading, that won’t get me out among people. I’m also planning to get involved with some more charity work too, so that will help. But right now, in the midst of attorney meetings and trying to deal with a rollercoaster of emotions, it’s all I can do to make it from one day to the next. (Not to mention the upcoming holidays…I sure picked a bad time of year to get divorced, didn’t I? I’m dreading the next two months.)

My best guess is White Peacock on this one.

My best guess is White Peacock on this one.

In the meantime, I’m trying to learn how to be more open to new friendships. I won’t ever be a social butterfly, but it won’t hurt to put myself out there more often. I saw an article in Psychology Today recently called “5 Signs You’re Living Too Small,” and it really hit home with me, especially this part: “That’s why you wear a heavy coat of armor whenever you deal with people, whether at home, at work, or out in the world. You are eternally, exhaustingly, braced for attack.” So I think the universe is telling me something: It’s time to come out of my cocoon and seek out a good and happy life. Stay tuned….

Posted in Highly-Sensitive People (HSPs), Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Midwest…

…but, apparently, you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.

As you all know, I’m a devoted supporter of The Biggest Week in American Birding, the awesome migration festival held on the Lake Erie shore of Ohio each May. My connection to that place and to the people of the Biggest Week is intense and emotional. After all, this was the event that introduced me to warblers and that continues to teach me so much about the natural world and just generally enrich my life enormously.

So when I went down to Texas on Wednesday for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I knew I would be comparing it to the Biggest Week. I wanted to be as objective as possible, but Mother Nature didn’t make it easy — the first two days it rained all day long. I arrived in the pouring rain on Wednesday and wasn’t able to go birding at all. (I saw lots of Great-tailed Grackles and Coots as I drove past a rainy park though.) The locals said this was the first time they could remember it ever raining during this festival.

Great-tailed Grackles

Great-tailed Grackles

My first field trip, on Thursday, was pretty disappointing. A large bus filled with 40 birders loaded up at 5:00 a.m. and drove two long hours west to Salineño in the upper Rio Grande Valley. As dawn broke over southern Texas, we gamely donned our raincoats and put on determined faces, trudging down to the banks of the Rio Grande, where the wind blew rain sideways and fogged our binoculars. Despite these miserable conditions, we spent 20 minutes there watching big flocks of cormorants fly over and a sopping wet Osprey sitting in a tree on the Mexico bank. Then we retreated to a bird feeding station about a hundred yards up the hill. Some of our group were able to take cover under an awning as we spent almost an hour watching the birds feeding. As crowded as this was, I still managed to see about ten life birds there, including the ubiquitous Green Jays and four species of doves. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single bird photo from that day because I decided it wasn’t wise to take my camera out in that mess. Here’s a cell phone pic to give you an idea of the scene:

Salineño, Texas. That's Mexico on the other side of the river.

Salineño, Texas. That’s Mexico on the other side of the river.

We made another stop after this one but it was even worse. I’ll spare you the details of that one.

My second trip, on Friday, appeared to be headed in the same direction, as it rained all the way to King Ranch, about an hour from Harlingen. But, happily, the rain slowed to a light intermittent drizzle for the rest of the day, and it was a really good day. My friends Lynn and Bruce were with me on this trip, so that helped too. And another friend, Raymond, was one of our guides. This was my first time to see Raymond in his leadership role, and I was very impressed with his knowledge of the birds as well as the caring attention he showed to each and every person on that tour.

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl at King Ranch. Great life bird!

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl at King Ranch.

The very first bird we found that day was the much-desired Ferruginous Pygmy-owl. These tiny tropical owls are on the Endangered Species List, now found in the U.S. only in small areas of Arizona and southern Texas. I got a couple pictures of him and then showed Bruce how to get the same angle through the tree limbs for his shots. I think he got better shots than I did, but this is my best one in the low light and drizzle conditions.

Bruce and Raymond celebrating the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl sighting.

Bruce and Raymond celebrating the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl sighting.

I ended that day with another dozen or so birds to add to my life list, including Vermilion Flycatcher and Northern Beardless Tyrannulet (aren’t those fantastic bird names?). The weather forecast for my last two days was for sunshine and mid-70s, so I had high hopes of finding some more of the region’s specialty birds.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

On Saturday my housemates decided to go to Salineño in search of some specific species they needed for their lists, and since I’d already been there I decided to go to a new place. My friend Linda gave me suggestions for an itinerary, and I headed off to see the famed Estero Llano Grande State Park. I had a great morning exploring this beautiful park, seeing White-faced Ibises and my second Loggerhead Shrike of the trip, both new birds for my list. I’d first seen Great Kiskadees in Panama back in August, and got to see lots more of them in Texas. I discovered that they have a crest on their head that is usually flattened down, but that they sometimes raise up. I enjoyed watching this particular Kiskadee for several minutes as he fed in one of the marsh ponds.

Great Kiskadee showing off

Great Kiskadee showing off

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

And I almost forgot to look for hummingbirds there until I passed a feeder on my way out of the park and saw a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, a species we don’t have in Michigan. He seemed much bigger than our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Don't even think about it!

Don’t even think about it!

After a lunch break I headed to Mission, Texas, to see the National Butterfly Center. There are 300 species of butterflies found in the varied habitats here, and about 90 species of dragonflies too. Both butterflies and dragonflies are a challenge to photograph, so I was excited to have this opportunity to practice. When I went in the visitor center to pay the $10 entry fee, the staff told me that the trails were very muddy but I could drive back to the main gardens if I wanted to. I spent a few minutes in the gardens around the building before heading down a very muddy road to the main butterfly area. I passed a large military vehicle with several armed guards standing beside it watching the Rio Grande, a reminder of one of the realities of life for those who live on the southern border.

I spent an hour or so wandering around trying to shoot as many different butterfly species as I could find. I haven’t yet identified most of them, but that will be fun to do later this week. (I’m going to save the butterfly pictures for my next post.) Then I scraped as much mud off my shoes as I could, and headed back to Harlingen.

On Sunday we were all signed up for a field trip to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, but on Saturday night we were all so exhausted from the nonstop activity that we decided to skip the organized trip and go off on our own. And because I had a flight home in the mid-afternoon I planned to stay in Harlingen and bird some of the local parks. But after everyone went their separate ways and I’d had some breakfast, I decided to go ahead and drive to Santa Ana anyway. I wouldn’t have much time there before I had to go to the airport, but I thought I’d see what I could find. I was really hoping to see Chachalacas but couldn’t find them. And that place is so big that I didn’t cover much ground in my short time there. And besides, rushing through the woods isn’t a very good way to find birds — they hear you crashing around and take off before you can get anywhere near them. I actually saw more dragonflies than birds at Santa Ana, and was pleased to get a picture of this pretty green one that I have yet to identify.

Isn't this a beautiful dragonfly?

Isn’t this a beautiful dragonfly?

As I sat in the airport waiting for my flight that afternoon, I started making notes about my trip. It was my first time to go birding in Texas and my first time at this festival. I ended up with 28 new birds on my life list, which is okay but much lower than I’d expected. I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to see any Roseate Spoonbills or Pyrrhuloxia, but I guess that leaves something to shoot for next time.

Birders in the rain at King Ranch v2 (800x600)

Birders in the rain at King Ranch

Birders in the rain at Falcon State Park

More birders in the rain – Falcon State Park

I’m sure I would have enjoyed this trip more if the weather had been better, but I’m still glad I went. I got to spend time with friends I’d met in Ohio and made a few new ones. My highly-sensitive side was overwhelmed much of the time though — being in a place that’s so culturally different from what I’m used to was great but I didn’t have time to appreciate it all in the way I would have liked to. And staying in a house with my friends was great too, but they’re all very extroverted people and I got pushed beyond my limits with the parties every single night. I even had a meltdown one night because I couldn’t get a moment of quiet time to process everything that was flooding into my brain. (I know my friends learned a thing or two about me by this experience too, possibly that they’re reconsidering our friendship!) Travel is always stressful for me, and it was interesting to be around people who thrive on always being on the move and surrounded by people. I was so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t funny. I think I’m going to write a separate blog post about how HSP-Kim experienced this trip. After she has a few days to recuperate and ruminate on everything, that is.

I hope you enjoyed the photos. I may have some more to share after I look through them all later. And now I’m looking ahead — so much — to the Biggest Week in American Birding. I’m a Midwestern girl to the core and I’m proud to say that I belong here and I love it here.  There’s definitely something to be said for the sunshine of the southwest, but I’m emotionally bound to the landscapes and people of Ohio and Michigan, even if I do have to put up with some snow and cold every year. I’m very glad I can visit those places, but this is my home. And there’s no place like home, at least for me.

Cow on road at King Rancch (800x533)

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Wordless Wednesday

Cedar Waxwing

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