Macro Nature Therapy

If you’ve ever worked with a macro Yellow flower macro - one-tenth of an inch acrosslens on your camera, you know how addictive it can be. It can even change the way you see the world.  Just look at this little  yellow flower, for instance. I found this Black Medic while pulling lawn weeds a couple years ago, and it was something I had often just yanked without a second glance. The whole thing was only about an eighth of an inch across, so you’d normally never even see all these beautiful details. Isn’t it stunning?

So yesterday, after a difficult week that left me wanting to hide from the world, I took my macro lens to the backyard and found the perfect way to distract myself from dwelling on my problems — by focusing on the tiniest details of the natural world.

First up are Locust exoskeleton - head on view (800x533)these cicada exoskeletons I found in my crabapple tree. Here in northwest Ohio we didn’t have any of the 17-year periodical cicadas that emerged in the eastern half of the state earlier this summer, but the annual cicadas are coming out now. These insects have a fascinating life cycle, part of which is spent as nymphs living underground feeding on tree roots. At some point, whether it’s after only a couple of years or 17 years, the nymphs emerge from the ground and climb the nearest vertical structure to begin molting.

Locust exoskeleton back view (800x710)They shed their exoskeletons, or exuviae, and begin the adult phase of their lives. In this photo you can see the split in the back where the adult exited the exuvia.

As winged adults, they live a few weeks, during which time they mate, lay eggs, and die. When their eggs hatch from the tree branches where they were laid, the tiny nymphs drop to the earth and burrow underground, where the whole process is repeated. Isn’t that cool?

Next up, lotus flowers. My friends and I came upon this huge “field” of lotus flowers while kayaking along the Toussaint River the other evening after work. It reminded me of the giant fields of tulips in Holland, stretching as far as you can see.Lotus flowers on Toussaint River (800x446)

Lotus flower seed pod (1) (800x533)Most of the flowers hadn’t opened up yet, but I found some that had already dropped their petals, exposing the pretty seed pods inside. So I took some macro shots of the pod, which I found out is actually called the “carpellary receptacle.” After the flower is pollinated, the petals fall off, exposing the carpellary receptacle full of seeds. It eventually turns brown and the seeds spill out into the water.

Lotus flower seed pod (2) (800x533)
Closer view of the not-yet-ripe lotus seeds.

Cicada exoskeleton on lotus seed head (771x800)And while I was playing with these things, I couldn’t resist the totally unnatural “exoskeleton on the carpellary receptacle” shot. Pretty cool stuff, isn’t it? Yeah, I thought you’d like that.

Speaking of which, I’ve yet to find one of the newly-emerged adult cicadas to photograph, but I’m still looking….

 

 

 

This afternoon I was checking my milkweed plants for Monarch butterfly eggs (none found yet), and decided to take a macro of the dainty pink flowers. First the wider view —

Swamp milkweed flowers from my yard - macro (2) (800x533)

And then a closer look —

Swamp milkweed flowers from my yard - macro (800x711)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

I absolutely adore the structure of these dainty little flowers. I took these shots hand-holding the camera, so they’re not as sharp as I’d like. Next time I’m going to use the tripod and hope to get some much better photos of these beauties. And who knows, maybe I’ll still find some caterpillars feeding on the leaves. I had such fun raising Monarch butterflies last year — it would be great to do that again.

Well, that’s all for today. I hope you learned something from this macro nature therapy session. I sure did.

#DistractingMyselfFromHeartache #NatureTherapyReallyWorks

Posted in Insects, Kayaking, Photography | 5 Comments

Thrashers, Dashers, and…Mayflies

Brown Thrasher at dripper at BSBO (800x484)

Brown Thrasher in dripper pond

Ok, first things first: No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. Although I do feel like I’m sort of in the twilight zone lately, what with all the craziness in the world. Violence, hatred, and sadness seem to permeate everything these days, and I’ve been struggling with mustering up the motivation to write anything. My personal life has been challenging in the past several months as well, so I’ve basically just been trying to get through it one day at a time. But after a couple friends mentioned that they’ve missed my blogging, I decided to try to find something positive to write about and get myself back into a more cheerful state of mind.

Brown Thrasher after bathing at BSBO pond (800x589)

Brown Thrasher after bathing in our pond at the office

Blue Dasher female (800x534)

Blue Dasher, female

So…welcome to “Thrashers, Dashers, and…Mayflies,” my attempt to use nature to heal the parts of my heart that have been hurting.  I’ve been regaining some of my enthusiasm for photography too, thanks to a hot summer loaded with dragonflies. Just when the birding gets really slow in the breeding season, the dragonflies come out in force, giving me plenty of opportunities to try for better photos of these fast-moving and skittish insects.

Eastern Pondhawk - immature male close crop (800x533)

Eastern Pondhawk, immature male only partially blue at this point

All of these photos were taken at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Oak Harbor, Ohio. During springtime, this area is a world-renowned hotspot for songbird migration, but in summer it’s virtually deserted. Or, I should say, there are very few people here, but there’s still an enormous amount of life happening here if you’re willing to look for it.

One recent day I spent some time on the Magee Marsh boardwalk with a couple of friends, just taking pictures of dragonflies — and mayflies (but more about them in a moment).

I’m fascinated by dragonflies — Odonata for the scientifically-minded — but I’m certainly no expert at identifying the various species. I have a couple of field guides and make my best guesses, but that’s about it. For example, the picture above I’ve labeled an immature Eastern Pondhawk. The females and immature males are a bright green, but at about a week of age, the males begin to turn blue, first on the abdomen and then on the thorax. The color change takes a couple of weeks, so this guy is perhaps two or three weeks old. Here’s a closer crop of this photo, just because I love looking at their intricate body structures.

Eastern Pondhawk - immature male - close crop of thorax detail and back of head (800x622)

Closer crop of the immature Eastern Pondhawk male

And this next picture shows the difference between the completely green female (or immature male) and the immature male that is in transformation to blue. I don’t know how to determine if the one on the left is a female or young male, but it really doesn’t matter to me. All I know is that he/she is gorgeous!

Eastern Pondhawk - female on left and immature male on right (800x363)

And another one, taken just outside my office on an unbearably hot day:

Eastern Pondhawk female at BSBO (800x534)

Eastern Pondhawk, female or immature male

Oh, let’s not forget the mayflies. Being new to this area, I’d never witnessed a mayfly hatch before. I started hearing people mentioning how there are so many of them that they cover houses and pile up in rotting mounds of carcasses everywhere. I thought they were exaggerating until I saw it for myself. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of them covering buildings, but if you want to see some examples, check out this Google image search. Ick, ick, ick.  Can you imagine having to walk through those piles, or having to clean them off your house?

There were days last month when I’d walk outside the office to my car, and come back inside with a dozen mayflies hanging on my shirt. That might sound creepy to some, but they’re harmless (they don’t even have any mouths in their adult form, so they can’t bite), and they’re pretty darn cool. They begin life as aquatic insects, and once they emerge as adults with wings, they only live about a day, just long enough to mate.

Mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera, which apparently comes from the Greek words ephemera meaning “short-lived” and ptera meaning “wing.” And I read on the Freshwater Blog that Mayflies are an important food source in parts of Africa, where they make protein patties out of them. Interesting, isn’t it?

Mayfly on tent at BSBO

Mayfly

This next picture was taken on the Magee Marsh boardwalk after most of the mayflies had died. If you look closely you can see all the dead mayflies piled on the boardwalk and hanging from the railings. It was really something to see.

Amy and Ryan on boardwalk with dead mayflies everywhere (800x533)

My friends Amy and Ryan on the mayfly-carcass-covered boardwalk

Mayfly in spiderweb (800x533)

Mayfly carcass in spiderweb

Although there is one insect that I met recently that left a much different memory than the mayflies. I had my first encounter with chiggers a few weeks ago, when I naively walked around in the long grass outside the office and woke up the next morning with dozens of swollen bites all over my body. I’ve been bitten by fleas and mosquitoes many times in my life, and I thought I knew what misery was. But those chiggers ravaged the most tender spots on my body, and I thought I was going to lose my mind for about two weeks until they finally stopped itching. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!

In about two weeks I’ll mark the one year anniversary of my move to the flatlands of northwest Ohio. Time has really flown by this year. I’m learning a lot about the natural world as I experience the seasons in this new landscape. But I’m still learning things about myself as well. I’ve discovered that I’m braver and stronger than I ever thought I could be. I’ve discovered that I can still allow myself to love and be loved, to have my heart broken and be able to get up and put a smile on my face and try again. And I’m so proud of me.:)

 

 

Posted in Birds, Insects, Ohio, Walking in the Woods | 8 Comments

April in NW Ohio

Life has been pretty busy for me lately, as evidenced by my lack of posts here on the blog. I’m sort of frustrated that I’m losing touch with some of my regular readers because I just don’t have time to keep up with anything outside of work anymore. But I’m really hoping to get back to writing more after the Biggest Week in American Birding isn’t absorbing all of my time. At BSBO we’re burning the candle at both ends these days, attending to all the details that make this festival so successful. It’s a lot of exhausting work, but the carrot at the end of the stick is the joyful ten days next month when our birding friends from across the country will gather here on the shores of Lake Erie to celebrate the spring migration. This is very satisfying work, and even when I’m drop-dead exhausted, I’m so thankful to be where I am, doing what I’m doing.:)

But what I wanted to write about now is the wonderful afternoon I just had. We had a very mild winter here in northwest Ohio, with only a couple snowfalls of about two inches at a time. But last night we got whopped with more than seven inches of heavy, wet April snow. I wasn’t liking it very much when I got caught driving home in the worst of it last night, but this morning everything was so beautiful. Here are a couple pictures from my backyard:

Seven inches of snow on patio April 9 2016 (800x533)

Snow in backyard April 9 2016 (800x533)

After my driveway was plowed at lunchtime, I decided to go run a couple errands. My intention was to be back home in less than an hour, so I didn’t take my camera (…cue dramatic music that tells you that was a BIG mistake…).

As I ran my errands I noticed how pretty the tree-lined streets were around this little town, and I took a few cell phone pictures. Then I impulsively decided to drive over to Spiegel Grove, the home of President Rutherford B. Hayes, to take a quick walk around their lovely grounds. It’s a pretty place very close to my home, and I’d like to visit there more often. And I knew my cell phone camera would be fine for taking some pictures of the huge snow-covered trees.

Hayes Memorial - April snow v1.jpg

As soon as I stepped out of my car I heard a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the evergreens beside the parking lot. I quickly counted at least a dozen of them, and stood there watching them for a few minutes. There were also a couple Eastern Phoebes in that spot. I was already kicking myself for leaving home with out my camera. But it seems that I get the best views of birds when I don’t have my camera, so I decided to just enjoy the birds and make mental images. (I’m sharing a couple bird pics from previous years, just so you can see which species I’m talking about.)

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Golden-crowned Kinglet - best crop (800x541)

Golden-crowned Kinglet

I loved this tunnel of trees, even though it was a bit treacherous when huge clumps of heavy snow came crashing down near me several times.

Hayes Memorial - April snow v5.jpg

And halfway down this tunnel of trees, I looked off to my left and saw a female Cooper’s Hawk just sitting calmly in a tree, surveying the area below her. There were a couple phoebes flitting around here too, and I wondered if one of them would become her next meal. Later, when I returned along this same path, a male Cooper’s had joined her on the branch. I was happy that I was able to share those birds with a woman who happened along just about then with her dog. I pointed out the hawks and let her use my binoculars to get a good view of them. And then we had a nice chat about a variety of things, including small town living and the process of adjusting to life after divorce. She gave me some tips on places to go and things to do, which I appreciated. It was really nice to meet someone who could relate to some of the things I’ve gone through in the past couple of years.

I continued walking…

Hayes Memorial - April snow v3

…and just around a bend I saw a woodpecker fly into a tree beside me. I stopped and lifted my binoculars, expecting to see a Downy Woodpecker. But what I saw was even better because it’s a bird I’ve only found once before: a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It’s not that uncommon really, but I think it’s a really cool bird. It’s easy to mistake for a Downy or Hairy Woodpecker if you don’t look closely enough, but it’s got that bright red throat patch that gives it away, and the yellowish tint to the belly area too (thus the name). I stood there smiling from ear to ear, wishing there’d been someone with me to share this bird with. But it’ll just have to remain “my” bird for now. And that’s okay. (Sorry I don’t have any good pictures of sapsuckers, but you can find lots of them on the Google-machine.)

Hayes Memorial - April snow v6

Looking skyward….

I took a short video as I walked through that tunnel of trees earlier. It’s a little jiggly while I’m walking at the beginning, but I wanted you to hear the crunching of the snow under my feet.

Isn’t that pretty? I wish all of you could have been there to experience this quiet moment in time.

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Birds, Ecotherapy, Ohio, Walking in the Woods | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

A Few Things I Saw Today

Rabbit in my yard this morning Feb 23 2016 (800x533)

One of two rabbits in my yard first thing this morning

After work I drove back to the beach and braved the icy wind to take this short video of the Lake Erie waves:

I’m so lucky to work at the world-famous Magee Marsh–it’s such a special place to so many people, and now it’s right outside my office door anytime I need a nature break. I hope I never take this for granted. In just about 10 weeks this magical place will be inundated with birds and birders when we host the Biggest Week in American Birding. But tonight I had the entire marsh to myself, and it was pure heaven! Hundreds of swans and ducks were coming in for the night, honking and quacking from every direction. And the Red-winged Blackbirds have begun singing in earnest this past week, a sure sign that spring is really coming. Words just don’t do it justice, so here are a few more pictures. Enjoy!

Sunset at Magee Marsh Feb 23 2016 v2 (800x533)Sunset at Magee Feb 23 2016 v3

Swans flying through the sky at sunset - Magee Marsh Feb 23 2016

Swans flying through the sunset sky

Sunset at Magee Marsh with reflection on waterDeer at Magee Marsh Feb 23 2016 (800x533)

And one last sunset pic, with the color saturation and tint adjusted, just for fun!

Tinted sunset at Magee - high saturation too (800x521).jpg

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Ecotherapy, Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Finding the Joy

Find the joy on my fridge (591x800)

My colorful drawings also make me very happy.

I have a little dry erase board on my refrigerator door, and I use it to write motivational messages or reminders to myself. About a week ago, I was feeling sort of blah about my life when I realized that I wasn’t doing much other than working and coming home exhausted every day. I didn’t really have anything to look forward to in the near future. Sure, I’m anxiously anticipating my first time to live in northwest Ohio during spring migration. Birds are always amazing. But right now is a slow time for birding, and it’s easy to just hunker down in a holding pattern at home, waiting for spring to arrive.

I decided that I want to be more proactive about being happy, and to remember to focus on the things that bring me joy. So I wrote “Find the Joy” on my fridge door. And, to make sure I notice it, I also hung one of my colorful drawings up there. Making those drawings and coloring them is something else that makes me happy. The process is meditative, and the end result is so pretty.

And I’ve found that seeing that message every day seems to be having an impact. Yesterday I took a big step toward making joy a more consistent presence in my life: I bought my very own guitar! It’s an indication of how much my life has changed recently that if you’d asked me about learning to play an instrument a couple years ago, I would have laughed and dismissed the idea.  But about a month ago my friend Ryan loaned me one of his guitars and encouraged me to give it a try. He’s been giving me some beginner lessons and I’m enjoying it so much that I didn’t want to give his guitar back to him. But I didn’t want to take advantage of his kindness in letting me borrow it, so I insisted he take it back home. But then I found myself missing it. I’d become used to having it there in the living room, ready for me to pick up and play whenever I felt like it (which I sometimes did in the middle of the night). So yesterday we went together to the music store because I felt too intimidated to go there alone. We spent a little time trying out a couple different guitars, and I came home with this lovely Yamaha model:

guitar and monk statue in sunroom (594x800)

It’s a folk-size model, so it’s slightly smaller than the regular dreadnought size that I was having trouble holding comfortably. This one feels good, and it has such a lovely sound too. I was surprised that I could actually hear the difference when I played two different guitars. I have absolutely zero music background — never played any instrument and never learned anything about reading music. (Melody? What’s that? Harmony? No idea.) I’ve always felt really intimidated when friends talk about music, so this represents an enormous step for me. It’s overwhelming, but I’m taking it slowly and not putting pressure on myself. It’s just for fun, and it’s for me.

Despite my lack of musical background, I’ve always loved the sound of guitar music, and I’m sort of surprised that I never even thought of trying this before. I have a CD of Spanish guitar music in my car, and I’m a huge fan of John Denver’s beautiful songs. I’m hoping to eventually be able to play some of them (especially “Annie’s Song” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders”), but for now I’m practicing on simpler things. The first song I’ve learned to play (partially) is Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” I’m still working on getting the tempo right, but I’m making progress and I get such a thrill from hearing that music coming from my very own fingers. (There’s a link to “Fur Elise” at the end of this post.)

guitar in sunroom v2 (594x800)

Isn’t she lovely?

Here’s another one of my drawings. It’s an odd shape because it’s an insert for my insulated coffee mug that I keep on my desk at work, as a reminder to “Go outside – Breathe – Look Up.”

Zentangle drawing for travel mug insert (800x677)

I’ve accepted that happiness comes and goes–and that’s just part of life–but I’m trying hard to do the things that swing the balance more to the happiness side of the spectrum. I’m incredibly blessed to have friends who are willing to give me a gentle nudge when I start to head for the ditch, reminding me to take control of my thoughts and make my own happiness.

And, if all goes well, I’m going to take a big step toward adding another kind of (furry) joy to my life in the next two weeks. Stay tuned for that.:)

Ok,  now give your ears a treat and listen to this lovely guitar rendition of “Fur Elise” by a gentleman named Cesar Amaro: 

Posted in Drawing, Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Finally, My Yard Has Come Alive

There’s a row of seven tall spruce trees running along the back edge of my yard, providing me privacy from the neighbor behind my house. That row of evergreen trees–and my lovely sunroom–are two important reasons I decided to buy this house.

And I’ve recently discovered that this row of spruce trees is serving an important purpose for someone else. Each evening at dusk, dozens and dozens of robins fly into those trees to roost for the night. Even if I’m not in the sunroom, I hear them arriving because of their constant chattering as they negotiate their individual spots on the inner branches of the trees.

I shot this 19-second video the other night to try to capture it. You can hear their chatter, and if you watch the left side of the trees you’ll see some birds moving in and out.

The whole thing is surprisingly dramatic. Robins are strong and fast fliers, so they shoot in like bullets in small groups, one after the other, continuing until it’s too dark to see them anymore. Some of them fly directly into the spruces, while others first land in the nearby crab apple to watch the goings-on before choosing which tree to enter.

I watch the branches of the spruces bouncing up and down as the robins move around inside, jockeying for the best spots. I’m guessing the best spots are those closest to the tree trunk because there they would be most protected from hazards like inclement weather and night-hunting owls. Knowing that those trees are loaded with so many birds each night gives me a huge thrill!

House Finches smooching on Valentine's Day

House Finches “smooching” on Valentine’s Day — too funny.

I’ve been frustrated since I moved here six months ago because I haven’t been attracting many birds to my feeders.  For the past twenty years, watching and photographing feeder birds has been something that gives me a great deal of pleasure, so not being able to do that has been a bit depressing. But in the past couple of weeks, finally–after I moved my feeders to a new location closer to the shelter of the spruces–I’ve got lots of birds! I think maybe they were all too spooked by the Cooper’s Hawk that likes to swoop through the yard quite often, and my previous feeder location was probably a bit too exposed for their liking.

Dark-eyed Junco in spruce tree - close crop (800x700)

Dark-eyed Junco in the safety of the spruce tree

Dark-eyed Junco with wind-blown feathers (768x800)

Dark-eyed Junco with wind-blown feathers

Dark-eyed Junco watching me - close up (800x604)

Dark-eyed Junco watching me watching him

Now I usually have a couple dozen Dark-eyed Juncos here at any given time. I’ve always loved these little black and white sparrows, with their flash of white tail feathers when they fly, and their pretty tinkling calls. In my past experience, juncos have always tended to feed on the ground, eating seed that has fallen from the feeders. So I was surprised when I put up a new thistle feeder and they immediately began feeding directly from the feeder as well as on the ground below.

American Tree Sparrow on patio with seeds (800x425)

American Tree Sparrow

And today I found a White-throated Sparrow mixed in with the juncos and house sparrows…that’s a new bird for my Ohio yard list! This photo is partly blurred by the window, but it’s still a record of the bird being here so I’ll keep it.

White-throated Sparrow - partly blurred by window (800x566)

This little red squirrel entertained me the other day as he made attempts to get to the thistle seed hanging from the crab apple tree.

Red squirrel in crab apple tree.JPG

So I’m much happier now that my yard has more bird activity. I even got inspired to finally buy some valances to finish my sunroom. I’d been putting it off because of the cost and because I just couldn’t decide which fabric pattern would go well in that room with the yellow walls and my brightly-colored “Happy Chair.” I found some natural brown cotton valances with a fringed edge and they are absolutely perfect. And I re-covered a pillow to coordinate with my green sofa so now it’s a comfy and aesthetically-pleasing place to read a book and watch birds on a sunny winter day. Last night when I’d completed all those finishing touches, I found myself standing in the sunroom smiling from ear to ear. It finally feels the way I wanted it to feel…like MY home.:)

Sunroom with valances finally hung (800x594).jpg

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Happiness and Gratitude, Ohio, Squirrels | 10 Comments

Finding My Way Back to Nature

A friendly Sandhill Crane looking for handouts

A friendly Sandhill Crane looking for handouts

Although I don’t have time to write much lately, I wanted to share a few recent photos and just celebrate the fact that I made it through the holidays. As I mentioned in my last post, I’d been feeling homesick for Michigan, missing some friends, and hadn’t been spending enough time in nature. Happily, I finally decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and be proactive about doing the things that make me happy.

Quality time with my sweet friend Janet

Quality time with my sweet friend Janet

During our holiday break from work I managed to go visit a friend in Michigan, and that was incredibly soul-healing. We walked in the woods and had time to get caught up on each others’ lives. Just what I needed.

Making friends with the resident Sandhill Crane family at Kensington Metropark.

Making friends with the resident Sandhill Crane family at Kensington Metropark.

And I’ve been making more of an effort to get outside, even when the weather is bad. Just after Christmas we had a couple days of heavy rain that raised the level of the river near my house and turned it into raging white-water for over a week. Here’s a short video I took while standing on the bridge:

The river is normally very shallow and slow-moving at this spot, so this was quite the change. The wind on that bridge was bone-chillingly cold that day, but I couldn’t resist standing there for a couple minutes to watch the power of the water rushing below my feet.

This past weekend I went for a walk at Blue Heron Reserve (one of my new favorite places) and had a wonderful experience with Bald Eagles. There wasn’t much bird activity at ground level that day other than a large, twittering flock of American Tree Sparrows feeding in the meadow grasses. But I was thrilled to look up in the sky and see FIVE Bald Eagles soaring in wide circles. They were mostly up high and off in the distance, but I watched them for a good 45 minutes as they moved around over the nearby fields and marshes.

The chase is on....

The chase is on….

At one point I watched as one of the eagles appeared to be chasing another one, getting closer and closer. I wondered if this might be a male and female and if I might get a chance to see them do the spectacular courtship ritual where they lock talons in mid-air and fall toward the ground, releasing (hopefully) before they hit the ground. I took these shots as one bird reached out and attempted to grab the other one, but they didn’t make contact this time. There was a lot of vocalization happening though, which added another level of drama to the whole experience. I’m grateful that these beautiful birds are so easy to see in my new home area of northwestern Ohio.

Reaching out...but no luck this time!

Reaching out…but no luck this time!

Close encounter!

Close encounter!

I’m feeling better about everything now than I was a few weeks ago, and I’m learning to be grateful — really grateful — for my wonderful friends who let me lean on them when I need to, and who remind me of the healing power of being out in nature. You may wonder how I could forget that, considering the name of my blog is “Nature is my Therapy.” But we all lose our way from time to time, and I guess that’s what happened to me in recent months. I’m finding my way back, though, slowly but surely.

Posted in Ecotherapy, Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Worst is Over…Not.

This whole business of divorce recovery and starting life over again in mid-life…it ain’t for sissies, as they say. For a while I’d thought I was through the worst of it, after going through the initial few months of sleepless nights and sheer panic about my future, then a period of calm reflection and settling down emotionally, and eventually starting to feel more optimistic about what lay ahead for me. When I got to that point I was sort of surprised: I thought it was supposed to take longer than that to heal from the trauma of divorce, but maybe I was one of the lucky ones, right? Wrong.

When I was offered a great job several months ago, I felt temporarily courageous and decided I was brave enough to move away from my friends and a place I loved. I convinced myself I was strong enough to start life all over, in a place that was geographically not all that far away but felt – psychologically – like it was thousands of miles away. Today I’m not so sure I’ve got enough strength.

Kim with titmouse in hand at Kensington Dec 2014

Hand-feeding a Tufted Titmouse at Kensington Metropark

But I’m not giving up. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the past 15 months to adjust to being on my own again. It’s taken every ounce of strength I could dredge up from the depths of my soul to get to this point. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief about my divorce–some of them more than once. I do wish the grieving process could be a linear one, so that once you’ve gone through each stage you could be done with it. But it’s not that way, and even though you think you’ve finished with the “anger” or “depression” stages, they can come back when you least expect them, which is even more unsettling than the first time.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m falling back into negativity and sadness lately.  I just spent a few minutes looking back through my Facebook timeline for December of last year, and I almost can’t believe how happy I looked back then. The photos in this post were all taken last December while I was living alone in my apartment, in limbo, not sure what I was going to do with my life. But look at me, I was happy! So why am I not happy now? I have a house and a job, so you’d think I’d feel better about my future, right?  But what I’ve realized is that I’m still missing so many of the people and places that I love, and more importantly, I don’t have the time or energy anymore to do the things that make me happiest.

Kim with two chickadees in hand at Kensington Dec 2014

Two chickadees feeding from my hands at Kensington Metropark

I can’t remember the last time I went out and just walked in nature. These days I come home exhausted, often crying as I walk into my dark and empty house, and spend the evening just sitting on the sofa in front of mindless television. And that is so not how I want to live my life! I want to be with friends who want to be with me, and I want to be able to smile without forcing it, and to see birds. In fact, I’m really missing the joy of seeing birds and just being able to spend time in nature. That’s been an important part of my healing process, and I can easily see the impact of less nature time in my life. Clearly, I need to make this a priority.

I’m also sure that this recent sadness is also partly due to the fact that it’s THE HOLIDAYS and we’re supposed to be giddy with happiness all the time. Maybe that’s why few people are willing to really hear me when I try to share something about my sadness and my fears. Since my emotions are so raw, I cry easily. And I see the way they look at me when I mention my troubles–their eyes glaze over or they just pretend they didn’t hear me and quickly change the subject. I wonder if people are afraid to acknowledge my pain because it makes them feel guilty for their happiness. Does that make sense? Or maybe they think I expect them to make everything better for me?

Kim and Deb in Rochester with holiday lights Dec 2014

My sister Deb and me enjoying the light display in Rochester, Michigan (Dec. 2014)

But that’s just it, I don’t expect that of anyone. And thankfully, I found one friend recently who was willing to just listen to me. And I’ll be eternally grateful to her for really seeing me for who I am and for not thinking I’m weak. She didn’t try to solve my problems, and I didn’t expect her to. She just listened to me. And that was such an amazing gift.

Is there anyone in your life who could use someone to just listen to them this holiday season? Could you give them that precious and life-affirming gift? I know I’ll try to pay it forward now that someone has done me the immense honor of acknowledging my struggles. After all, isn’t that what we all want from life, to be really seen and heard?

Wishing you and yours a holiday season filled with love and healing.

 

Posted in Grief | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Three Rivers

Rivers flow not past, but through us; tingling, vibrating, exciting every cell and fiber in our bodies, making them sing and glide.  – John Muir

Sandusky River

Sandusky River behind the dam, deeper water

On my drive to work each day I cross three rivers, and I feel…something…as I drive over each one. I feel happy. And I can actually feel my heart rate slow as I gaze down at the water flowing beneath me. I would imagine that most people just drive across bridges without much thought, but I can’t stop thinking about why I’m still having such a significant response to these rivers after three months of driving over them.

Kayaking on a small lake in Michigan

Kayaking on a small lake in Michigan

Like many people, I’ve always been drawn to water. The ocean and the beach don’t hold much attraction for me, though, for whatever reason. I generally gravitate to ponds and small lakes. When I lived in Michigan I spent a lot of time kayaking on some of the beautiful lakes in their state and county parks, watching birds and taking photos of dragonflies.

But somehow I’ve not spent much time on or around rivers during my life. So maybe the attraction is partly due to the novelty of it. But there’s something fascinating about the way a river winds its way through the landscape, always changing, always moving.

I guess I get a feeling of peace when I’m near a river. Something about the movement of the water maybe. It’s coming from somewhere. It’s going somewhere else. Sometimes slowly, other times more rapidly, but never motionless. Moving water is cleansing, so maybe it has the same effect on my soul, helping to purge negativity and stimulate optimism.

A shallower section of the Sandusky River

Shallower portion of the Sandusky River

The first river I cross on my drive is the Sandusky, which is only about a quarter of a mile from home “as the crow flies.” It’s very shallow here, with many areas of exposed rocky riverbed. I think that makes it very scenic. As I cross the small bridge, I look to my left and catch a glimpse of the Ballville Dam that will most likely be removed soon (based on our recent election result). I look to my right and often see a pair of Bald Eagles sitting side by side in a tree overlooking the river. The eagles are just icing on the cake though, because I fell in love with this river long before I ever saw those birds hanging out here. And I’m excited about the possibility that the eagles will be able to stay all winter long because they’ve found this spot near the dam where, I’m guessing, there will be an area of open water year round. I’m looking forward to trying to get some photos of them soon.

Sandusky River seen from the Tindall Bridge

Sandusky River seen from the Tindall Bridge

Tindall Bridge with sunburst

Tindall Bridge with sunburst

About a mile from home in the opposite direction, where the Tindall Bridge crosses the river, there’s a sign marking it as an “Ohio Scenic River.” I’m drawn to the bridge as well as the water here, because it’s a one-lane metal bridge that makes a humming noise as you drive over it. One sunny day recently I walked down under the bridge and wandered around on the exposed rocks.  There was a guy in hip waders fishing out in the middle of the river, and a few lingering Killdeer calling out and chasing each other back and forth from one bank to the other. I still smile when I recall how I felt that day with the sun on my back and the cool air on my cheeks, and the sound of water trickling through dozens of small rock pools.

Tindall Bridge, 100 years old

Tindall Bridge, 100 years old

Below the Tindall Bridge, on the Sandusky River

Below the Tindall Bridge, on the Sandusky River

Portage River in Oak Harbor, Ohio

Portage River in Oak Harbor, Ohio (Image (c) Google Maps)

Next on my northward journey to work is the Portage River in downtown Oak Harbor. It flows into Lake Erie at Port Clinton.  I like how this one seems to be overflowing its banks, almost too much river to be contained within the channel.

Toussaint River, where the water is close to the road (Image (c) Google Maps

Toussaint River, where the water is close to the road (Image (c) Google Maps)

The last river I cross is the Toussaint, a 6-mile-long river that flows from west to east in Carroll Township, also emptying into Lake Erie. Crossing this one is the most exciting because the road is at the water level rather than far above it, so I feel like I’m literally driving across the water. Until most of them migrated south, I usually saw quite a few Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons here. There are still lots of gulls hanging out near this bridge, and often a Red-tailed Hawk on a nearby light pole, hoping for a hunting opportunity.

have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water…has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river.  – Roderick Haig Brown

The other day I went to visit a friend in Brecksville (near Cleveland) and on my way home I had just a few minutes to stop by the local metropark for some ecotherapy. Even though I drive right past the Brecksville Reservation on the way to my friend’s house, I’d never taken the time to go in and see what it was like. From the entrance, I drove a few miles on a winding road through beautiful woods that were shrouded in a light mist from the rain that had been falling all day long.  Just around one of those bends I came upon Chippewa Creek, where I was thrilled to see a collection of stone cairns in the water near the road.

Stone cairns in the river at Brecksville Reservation, Ohio.

Stone cairns in the creek at Brecksville Reservation, Ohio.

Obviously I’m not the only person who enjoys walking in a shallow river. I often see rock cairns along hiking paths, but this is the first time I’ve seen them in the water. Notice the one on the right with five stones balanced on each other. Clearly that took some time and patience to find the right rocks and get them balanced properly. And although I know some people disapprove of the practice of building these cairns, I think these are very pretty and I hope to get a chance to visit that spot again. I’d like to take some time to just sit and look at these, listening to the sounds of the water flowing between the lovely wooded banks.

So in this month of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for these three rivers that have been an unexpected bonus in the fabric of my new life. Although the vastness of Lake Erie is never far from anyone’s mind in northern Ohio, I’ve found a stronger connection to these winding ribbons of water that snake through the endless farm fields. I look forward to spending much more time exploring and contemplating each of them in the months to come. Who knows what kind of inspiration might be lurking in that moving water?

A river, though, has so many things to say that it is hard to know what it says to each of us.   — Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Posted in Ecotherapy | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Walking Naked Down the Road

Rochester Municipal Park bench and creek w sigI find myself feeling ambivalent lately about how I live with my high sensory processing trait, my HSP-ness, so to speak. Fifteen years ago, when I first read Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly-Sensitive Person, it was comforting to discover a label for what I’d experienced my entire life, and it opened my eyes to some ways to adjust my life for the better. I found other HSPs to talk with, signed up for HSP newsletters, and generally spent a lot of time pondering this newly-understood aspect of myself. In recent years, I even made it a big focus of my blog, which drew me into conversations with people who told me they were grateful I’d written about it because it helped them understand themselves or someone they loved. (If you want to read more about what it means to be an HSP, just click that link in the first sentence above.)

With my new knowledge came a boost in my self-confidence. I became more likely to stand up for my needs at home and in social situations, and felt better knowing there are other people in the world who experience life the way I do. I wasn’t alone anymore! For a while it was empowering to embrace the label.

Rural road in Lapeer county with fall foliage w sigBut now I’m struggling with the idea that, perhaps, by spending so much energy reading and writing about high sensitivity I’m actually enabling myself to be more sensitive. If I wear a label on my forehead that says “Hi, I’m an HSP,” that sort of gives me permission to withdraw from social interactions because, well, “everyone knows I’m so sensitive,” so they’ll understand. They won’t question why I rarely join in the birding field trips. They’ll forgive me for skipping the party at the loud restaurant because, you know, “she’s sensitive.”

But sometimes I also think to myself, “Oh, I’m so sick of talking and writing about my sensitivities!” I get occasional glimpses of how I imagine other people see me and I suddenly wish I’d never started writing publicly about such an intimate part of my life. Because putting my heart out here in the world like this has made me incredibly vulnerable. Some days it feels like I’m walking down the road naked, just asking for people to throw (literal and figurative) rocks at me. And, frankly, some people are more than happy to do that.

Leaves floating on water with dappled sunlight and rocksSo how do I draw the line between too much focus on this trait and too little? I can’t deny or ignore such an important part of myself. It impacts every moment of every day, and every interaction I have with another human being. It enriches my life in many ways, but it also means that I feel everything more intensely than most other people do, and therefore I experience more emotional ups and downs during each day than 80% of the population does. Honestly, it’s exhausting just trying to maintain the “invisible shield” that helps protect me from being overwhelmed by the intensity of all the things I see, hear, smell, or feel during each day.

I think all of this internal conflict has resurfaced because of my recent relocation and re-entry into the workforce. I no longer have the luxury of “hiding out” for a few days when I need extra down time, because now I have more responsibilities to other people. And I’m struggling to adjust to lots of things that I thought I’d never have to deal with again, like working in an office with ringing phones and people coming in and out all day long.

So I’m often being pushed beyond my tolerance levels and finding myself unable to get away fast enough. More than once I’ve found myself crying on my drive home just because of the pent-up emotion from a chaotic day. But I’m getting better at it. Lately I’ve been taking short breaks to walk on the nature trail behind our office, and that seems to make a big difference in my ability to cope when things are stressful.

So why am I writing this now? Well, for one thing, writing helps me think things through. But also because, like everyone, one of my deepest longings is for people to see me for who I really am, and to understand me, and to accept me.  I know it’s not realistic to hope that everyone will like me (because I don’t like everyone I meet either), but I think it’s human nature to reach out and try to form meaningful connections with other people. And as difficult as that is for me, I can’t give up trying. It’s essential for my own well-being, and I also feel I owe it to other HSPs to continue my efforts to help our society begin to understand us better. We’re only 20% of the population, but we deserve to be accepted just like any other minority. And we won’t be fully accepted until we’re more widely understood.

And because we HSPs can play a valuable role in the world if we are nurtured rather than scorned, if we are appreciated for our insight and our ability to see things that go unnoticed by a less-attentive majority in this loud-and-busy culture. Did you know that some of the most celebrated leaders in the world were highly-sensitive people? And artists and creative people are often HSPs too. All of these people are or were thought to be highly-sensitive: the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, Alanis Morissette, Barbra Streisand, and, for you Star Wars fans, even George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

If I’m even partially like those amazing people, that’s pretty darn good. I feel better now. Even if I am walking naked down the road.:)

Posted in Highly-Sensitive People (HSPs) | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments