Here They Come…

April and May are so exciting here in Ohio! Every walk brings the possibility of finding new flowers and trees blooming, and new birds arriving.  And now that I have so many new places to explore after my move, it’s even more exciting than usual.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet yard bird - better shot

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I’ve been spending a lot of time walking in the beautiful Toledo Metroparks, getting to know the various trails and learning the bird habitats so I’ll be prepared when the birds start arriving en masse. We’ve seen some of the early species starting to show up, but the frenzy of “so many birds I don’t know where to look first” hasn’t begun yet.

Every spring, the various species come through in waves, with the timing of their arrivals somewhat impacted by wind and precipitation systems. What we hope for are winds from the south, because that gives the birds a bit of help on their journey up here. Northerly winds can delay them in getting here, or keep them here longer while they wait for more favorable conditions to continue northward.  To know when to expect the birds, I rely on the weekly BirdCast migration forecasts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Those forecasts help me plan my birding schedule and locations to try to maximize the new species I can find each time I go out. (Yes, despite saying that I’d lost all motivation for the sporting aspect of birding, somehow I got myself into a competition with a friend to see who can get the most species in our county this year. He knows I can’t beat him, but it’ll be fun anyway.)

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Golden-crowned Kinglet

I’m feeling so happy with my decision to move to Toledo. After enduring such struggles for the past couple of years, I’ve finally turned a corner. My attitude is more one of openness to new people and experiences. I absolutely love my house, my yard, and this wonderful city. It’s small enough that I can get across town in 20 minutes, but big enough to have great restaurants, the Toledo Museum of Art, the gorgeous Toledo Botanical Garden, and of course, those metroparks I can’t stop raving about. (And the museum, the botanical garden and all of the metroparks have free admission…can you believe that?) The population of the city is racially and ethnically diverse, much like the metro Detroit area I’ve been accustomed to. You can find almost any kind of food you want here — Lebanese, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Hungarian (Tony Packo’s, anyone?), just to name a few.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

And my efforts to meet new friends are starting to pay off too. I’ve been pushing myself out of my comfort zone constantly, joining everything from book groups to hiking groups. Sometimes it’s scary to walk into a group of people where you don’t know a single person, but I’ve been doing it. I admit to chickening out a couple of times, but most of the time I’m able to do it.  That’s the hardest part, because once I get myself to an event, I always have a great time and everyone is friendly and fun.

I try to be grateful every day that I was strong enough to make yet another huge change in my life. I’m emotionally stronger and happier than I’ve been in a long time. I guess if there’s any benefit to going through hard times, it’s that they make you more appreciative of the good times. They have a motto here that’s posted on signs around town, and I’ve adopted it as my own:

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Why yes, I do believe I will. 🙂

Okay, enough of that sappy stuff. Let’s show you some more birds:

American Coot eating

American Coot – it’s hard to get a good photo of a black bird with red eyes, but I got lucky this time.

Pied-billed Grebes at Metzger 4-10-17

Pied-billed Grebes – such cuties!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Magee Marsh 4-10-17

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – this bird is usually hard for me to find, but this one flew right in front of me as I was searching for an owl

Red-breasted Mergansers - Metzger Marsh

Red-breasted Mergansers – I just love their long head feathers

Okay, stay tuned for some beautiful warblers coming very soon!

Posted in Birds, Happiness and Gratitude, Migration, Ohio, Toledo | 2 Comments

The Power of One Little Flower

Black-capped Chickadee in my yard

Black-capped Chickadee

Well, I did it! I’ve been in my new house for 9 days now. I’m still trying to find places for some of my stuff in this smaller space, but overall the place feels like home now. I’ve got my artwork on the walls and most of the boxes are unpacked. I’ve cooked meals here. Each day I have fewer instances of having to open multiple cabinets to find what I’m looking for. Even half asleep in the predawn hours, I can successfully navigate the now-familiar path from the bedroom to the kitchen to feed the insistent cats.

I’ve started a new Yard List to record the birds that visit my yard. I’m up to 17 species so far, and am excited about what spring migration might bring.

something-to-look-forward-to-594x800Back in October I told you about my efforts to keep my life interesting by always having something planned that I could look forward to.  Using that as a sort of motto has kept me from becoming complacent and taking anything for granted. I’ve worked hard to keep in touch with friends and nurture the relationships that bring joy to my life. And during the past two months, my life has been consumed with the myriad details of the move, so I haven’t had to try hard to have things to look forward to.

But as I get my new house in order and life starts to settle back into a more normal routine,  I’m sensing that I need to redouble my focus on that motto. I’m in a new city where I don’t yet have any friends, and I’m feeling lonely. I know this will pass, but I have to acknowledge the little bits of anxiety about my new life. For months I’ve been telling myself, “When I get moved I’m going to get involved in lots of activities and meet people and all will be fine.” And that was a great confidence-builder as I looked forward to the move. But now I’m here and it’s time for the rubber to hit the road, so to speak. It’s time to take the difficult steps of finding things to get involved with, and reaching out to people who might become friends. I’m making progress, but it’s all a bit scary, if I’m being honest. In my darker moments, I succumb to the fear of rejection, failure, and continued loneliness. But I’m not letting those thoughts stop me from getting out there.

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Fox Squirrel eyeing the new human

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European Starling eyeing the Fox Squirrel

Today I had a moment that I think was cathartic. I’d been feeling a tightness in my throat all day, as if I needed to cry. I thought it was because I’d read a news report that upset me. So I kept myself busy, hoping the need-to-cry feeling would go away.

After eating dinner, I sat down in the living room to write and happened to glance out the front window. And I saw this tiny yellow flower that had just opened, and I started crying. It’s cliché, I know, but I was struck by the symbolism of a flower rising from the ground in the spring after being dormant all winter. I see my own life as a parallel to the life of that beautiful little flower, and it gives me confidence that I too am going to stand up and tilt my face to the sun. And I will make new friends and have a happy and fulfilling life here.

Miniature daffodil in my yard (697x800)

I think this must be a miniature daffodil — I’ve never seen them this small before.

Isn’t it funny how someone can get such hope from a tiny yellow flower?

I’m remembering now that this is partly why I’ve always loved growing perennials–seeing them wilt in the fall and then come back in the spring after resting in the earth through the winter. To an observer who doesn’t know what’s happening inside the plants, they appear to be dying. But they just need that period of dormancy to regenerate and prepare for the next phase of life, when they’ll show their beauty again.  So maybe I’m like a daffodil or crocus, just trying to push through the mulch so I can reach the sun again.

Yeah, I like that.

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

This Moment is My Life

Today I’m in my new home, two days before my move-in day, waiting for various installers and service people to show up. In the quiet times between appointments, I sit in a lawn chair in my empty kitchen, working my way through a seemingly endless list of phone calls on my to-do list. I pause occasionally to pick up my binoculars or camera to watch the flurry of activity at the half dozen bird feeders the previous owners graciously left behind for me. The light snowfall overnight has brought the birds in droves to this easily-accessible energy source.

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My lawn chair and a few of my treasures. I can’t wait to get some color on those walls!

As I walk around the empty rooms of the house with my footsteps echoing around me, my thoughts and emotions fluctuate from excitement and anticipation back to fretting about how much work and money it will take to maintain a home by myself. I think I’ve made great progress in the past year in learning how to control my fears, and I know that no matter what happens, I can figure out how to deal with it. I am braver than I ever imagined. I am resourceful and creative, and I’m willing to ask for help when I need it.

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Empty sunroom, awaiting the two cats who will LOVE it!

A few minutes ago I was standing at my kitchen window looking at the birds, and I realized that I was trying to decide what I was feeling at that moment. It was the oddest feeling, making a conscious decision about how to feel. But that’s another thing I’ve learned recently—our thoughts determine our feelings, not the other way around. If you feel scared it might be because you’re paying attention to the random fearful thoughts that pop up in your head. If you actively force yourself to think of happier things, or even just make yourself smile, your emotions will follow.  You’ll feel lighter, happier, more joyful.

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Garden art left behind by previous owners — I don’t know if I would have bought this for myself, but it makes me happy

Seriously. Try it right now. Put a big smile on your face and notice how it makes you feel. I’m not talking about a grin here. Make it a full show-your-teeth smile. How do you feel? When I do that, I instantly feel more optimistic and happier. It may seem strange, but who cares? Do it when nobody’s looking, or go in the bathroom for a quick smile break. Knowing that it’s often that easy to lift your own spirits, we’d all be crazy not to take advantage of this little secret, right?

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My funky retro bathroom that REALLY makes me smile! Yes, the oddly-shaped sink is pink. It’s SO not something I would have done on my own, but I adore it.

So as I stood at the window this afternoon, I decided to allow myself to feel the joy that was just under the surface. I had a fullness of heart, as if my heart was literally expanding from an excess of gratitude. When you decide to allow YOURSELF to be happy (because I know you will), make sure to ignore that mean little voice that sometimes tries to whisper, “Be careful of being too happy…it won’t last…you know bad things are coming.” That voice is not your friend. Or course it’s true that bad things will happen to all of us. That’s life. But if we deny ourselves the experience of joy just because of sad things that might happen in the future, we’re robbing ourselves of our lives, moment by moment.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m running out of moments to waste.  This moment is my life.

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | 12 Comments

Paying It Forward?

I’ve had the most amazing experience this week, and I want to share it with you.

My home has always been my sanctuary from an overly-stimulating world. My goal whenever I’ve looked for a place to live has been to find a quiet place with privacy, but still near enough to all the conveniences of a city. In terms of the physical layout of the house and the yard, the house I live in now has been the most perfect place I’ve ever lived. It was very difficult to make the decision to give it up so I could move back to the city. But I finally did make that decision, and as I wrote last time, I’ve found a house where I think I’ll be very comfortable.

And as soon as I found my new house, I put my current house on the market. My realtor started bringing people in to see the house a week ago Thursday, and my stress level spiked. Last weekend, after only a couple days of showing the house, I was drafting a blog post about the stressful experience of trying to sell the house while I’m still living in it.

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C’mon, raise the window just a little higher…I won’t jump, I promise!

But much to my surprise, the house sold before I could finish writing that one. It wasn’t even on the market a week. I shed tears of relief when I hung up the phone after speaking with my realtor. No more worrying about keeping the house spotless every day! No more worrying that someone would accidentally let my cats out of the house! But the best part, what I want to tell you, has to do with the person who is buying my house.

Let’s call her Miss M.

Miss M. lost her husband a couple years ago and is looking to move from her large house to a smaller place. She’s in a transitional stage of her life, much as I was 18 months ago when I moved here. On her first visit to see my house, Miss M. told my realtor that she felt at home here, that she got a warm feeling when she walked in. I’ve been told the same thing several times recently by other people, and it makes me feel so good to know that people feel comfortable in my home.

So a couple days went by, other people looked at the house, and then Miss M. made an appointment to come back for a second look. That’s always a good sign. And on this visit she saw a couple more things that she took to be signs that this place was meant for her. One of the signs was, literally, a sign:

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Peace Cat

That’s a little wooden “Peace” sign that sits on top of the bookcase in my living room. The second sign was this:

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It’s a huge calendar that hangs in my garage. It was a free calendar that I didn’t need and it was too big to hang in the house (almost two feet across), but since it had such nice bird photos, I hung it up. Occasionally I’ll flip it to a random page just to change the bird picture. It happens to be displaying these Puffins now. And those just happen to be a favorite bird of Miss M. In fact, she has pictures of these birds decorating her current house.

And of course she fell in love with this sunroom, as I did:

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As I’m sure you realize by now, Miss M. made an offer on my house the very next day. And it was a good offer, very close to what I wanted for the house. I accepted the offer, and my realtor said that Miss M. clapped her hands for joy when she got the message that this house would be hers.

That evening I sat in my quiet living room looking around at my peaceful and comfortable home. When I came to this place I was in a lot of pain, still trying to cope with the feeling of failure after my divorce, and being suddenly on my own in middle age, and starting a new job in a place that felt so unfamiliar. I’m not a religious person, but I sat in quiet meditation that night, giving thanks to this house for sheltering me as I healed, and for helping me feel safe. And it was not lost on me that Miss M. might very well be in need of the same sort of sanctuary as she enters this next phase of her life. And with the act of giving up this house, I made it possible for her to have it. So I hope, in a way, my sacrifice will be a gift to her, allowing her to feel at peace too.

And that realization filled me with joy, and made it immeasurably easier for me to move on. I feel like I’ve paid it forward, so to speak. I have about five weeks left in this house, and I’ll treasure every single day. But I’ve made a huge step toward saying goodbye already, and now I can look ahead to my next chapter with no regrets.

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude, Ohio | 12 Comments

There She Goes Again…

This will come as no surprise to anyone, I suppose.

I’ve been very open about my ambivalence toward living in a small town smack in the middle of farm country. I relocated here because my new job was located in a rather remote place and I wanted to be within about a half hour’s drive of the office. It’s always been very clear to me that I’m a city person, but I tried as best I could to be open-minded, to adapt to this place and see if I could manage to feel at home here. Things got a little easier for a while, but then things changed and I kept longing for the comforts of the city.

I always feel I have to apologize for being a city person. I have friends and family who are small town people and they love that life. And many of them seem to take offense at my disdain for that lifestyle, almost as if I’m insulting them by not liking what they like. And I’m absolutely not judging their choices. I can understand why small town life would be attractive to a family raising children. But for me, at my stage of life and with my circumstances, the city makes so much more sense. There’s better access to everything in the city, whether it’s a petsitter or a doctor, a health food store or a coffee shop.

And let’s not forget the better opportunities for jobs and socializing. About six months ago while I was still working, I tried to find opportunities to meet new people. I was so immersed in the birding community and I felt the need to diversify my friendships outside of birding. Variety is the spice of life, ya know?

So I tried several things. There’s a Facebook group for my small town but it’s not very active. I looked for volunteer opportunities here and found nothing that seemed right for me. I searched Meetup.com for activities near my town, with zero results. All the activity seemed to be in Toledo, the nearest big city. I eventually resigned myself to occasionally making the hour-long drive to Toledo for events. But that seemed like such a big effort (two hour roundtrip in the evening), and I often missed out on fun activities.

This love-of-the-city-life talk may sound hypocritical from someone with a blog about nature therapy, but I think it becomes clearer when you consider my perspective. I’m 55 years old. Divorced. Temporarily unemployed. I just feel so isolated here. When I see it on the screen in black and white like that, I realize it sounds like a pretty daunting situation. (But it’s okay, I’ve got this…don’t worry.)

So although I absolutely adore my current house, and I had a fervent hope that I’d never have to move again (I’ve moved 15 times since college!), I decided that I’m done with small town living. I no longer want to try to force myself to fit into this lifestyle. So…drumroll please…I am moving back to the city!!

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

I’ve found a beautiful little ranch house in a good neighborhood of Toledo, close to amazing metroparks (aha, there’s nature!), and with a lovely yard filled with bird feeders and mature trees. When I was there looking at the house just a few days ago, the yard was alive with goldfinches and woodpeckers, and I felt at home instantly.

I’m looking forward to being able to garden again, something that I’ve not been able to do in my current neighborhood with its strict rules about what you can plant and where you can plant it. (I had to get written permission to remove a dead rose bush and replace it with a perennial.) I miss that feeling of digging my fingers into the dirt and tending to growing things.

My new backyard!

My new backyard, complete with privacy fence, gardens, and trees

I admit to a teeny weeny bit of worry that I’m out of practice and it might be a struggle to keep up with this yard. But much of my self-improvement work over the past couple of years has been focused on ridding myself of a mindset of fear, and trusting that I can handle whatever comes my way. In fact, my home search was at first limited to condo communities because I would be able to sit back and let someone else mow my lawn and shovel my snow. But you know what? I’m healthy and I can still shovel my own driveway. And let’s face it, shoveling and lawn mowing count as exercise, and that will help keep me active. If I’m still in that house when I get too old to manage it myself, well, then I’ll have to hire someone to do it. But for now, I’m fully capable of doing this.

My new bright and cheery living room

My new bright and cheery living room (but not my furniture!)

It’s easy to look back and question my decision to move to this small town two years ago. On the surface it looks like it was a majorly bad decision made out of desperation. But I realize that I learned a lot from my time here.

I’ve learned to trust myself. My intuition can only serve me well if I pay attention to it.

I learned that I’m far braver and stronger than I knew. People kept telling me that, but I didn’t believe it because only I knew how much time I spent crying and scared in my house. But now I know that that’s exactly how you know you are brave, because you can be scared but keep going anyway.

Still standing, still smiling!

Still standing, still smiling!

I learned that I’m open-minded enough to get out of my comfort zone in an effort to improve my life. I’ve learned what I will and will not tolerate from other people in my life. I’ve been knocked down by betrayal and heartbreak, yet I stood back up…eventually. And smiled.

And isn’t that what’s important? That we learn from our “mistakes” and don’t give up? In fact, as long as you learn from it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a learning experience.

I know my future holds more pain and struggles. But I also know it has the promise of more love, more happiness, and stronger connections with people. That’s another thing I’ve been focused on lately–keeping in touch with those people who mean the most to me, nurturing our relationships in person as much as possible, rather than through social media (which often gives a false sense of friendship). And it’s working. Most of my friendships feel stronger than ever now.

I’m over the moon about the next step in my journey–I cannot wait to get back to the hustle and bustle of the city! Toledo may not be a “big” city, but it’s plenty big enough for me. This move will put me closer to my Michigan friends and still keep me near my Ohio friends and family. (Fun fact: Did you know that Ohio and Michigan almost went to war over a border dispute? Yep, read about the Toledo War here.)

The Maumee River at Farnsworth Metropark

The Maumee River at Farnsworth Metropark

I’ll be close to the Toledo Museum of Art, the amazing Toledo Metroparks, great restaurants, bookstores and libraries, the Maumee River (you know I love rivers, right?), and so much more. I’m inspired and ready to fully embrace my next new hometown.

If all goes well, I should be settled in the house before spring migration ramps up. I’ll be very excited to get out and explore those metroparks–they were one of the most important reasons I chose Toledo. And I can’t wait to share my Toledo nature therapy experiences with you. Watch this space. 🙂

Posted in Toledo | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

A Fresh New Year: Why Is That So Important?

Reblogging this New Year’s post from my archives because many of you liked it. And I do too. See you in 2017!

Nature Is My Therapy

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…

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Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | 3 Comments

Clarity

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Typical scenery in Costa Rica – gorgeous mountain views

Do you find that you go through phases in life where your interests change suddenly? I  do, and I’m moving into another one of those now. I think my recent trip to Costa Rica helped clarify things for me — traveling always helps to get my brain out of a rut. More about the trip below, but first a bit about those changing passions of life.

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Resplendent Quetzal

I spent the first decade of this century immersed in the knitting world, spending hours each day creating sweaters, socks, and hats. I went to knitting conventions, took classes, and bought lots of yarn.  I loved it so much I started a knitting design business. I sold my patterns nationwide and had a blast doing the marketing and all the other facets of running a business. And then one day I just lost interest in it all.  I think it was because I’d made my hobby into my job, and that sucked the joy out of it.

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Boat-billed Herons

After the knitting phase, I developed an intense interest in birdwatching, and left my knitting needles to gather dust as I ran around the woods and meadows looking for new species to add to my growing bird list. I joined my local Audubon chapter, attended birding events, and made lots of nature-loving friends. And then I took a job in the birding world. And very quickly after that I discovered that my passion for birding was waning. (More confirmation that it’s often not a good idea to turn a hobby into a job.)

So as I mentioned, I just spent a week at a birding lodge in Costa Rica and was surprised to realize that my enthusiasm for finding new birds had evaporated. I’m sure part of the reason was that it was very humid and muddy, and as much as I like to tell myself that I’m okay with that, I’m not. (I hate to sweat so much that I’ve often wished I could do my workouts in the shower so the sweat would wash off immediately. You think I’m joking about that? Nope.) I think I’m suddenly at a point in my life where I’m no longer willing to traipse around on muddy mountain roads getting attacked by mosquitoes while trying to get a brief glimpse of a bird I won’t even remember in two months.

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Golden-olive Woodpecker

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve just written that, actually, but I think it’s true. I still love birds, but I can’t see myself traveling internationally again for the sole purpose of adding new species to my list. I’d rather spend quality time with birds closer to home. Two years ago, when I went to Panama, I was totally geeked about the birds. But it’s different now. I just didn’t feel it on this trip.

Even when I stood on the balcony at the lodge watching dozens of hummingbirds swarming around a half dozen feeders, I couldn’t summon the interest to try and identify the various species. It’s not that I didn’t get enjoyment from sitting there watching them, but I had no desire to identify every one of them just in case it was a new name to add to a list. I was content to know the names of a half dozen species, and after that I didn’t really care. I know the hardcore birders out there will revoke my “real birder” badge now, but that’s okay. I willingly surrender it.

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Fiery-throated Hummingbird

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One Fiery-throated Hummer and two Lesser Violetears

trio-of-brahma-cows-on-a-hillI do still enjoy trying to get a nice photo of a bird though, and that’s why I’m sharing a few in this post. But you’ll also notice some non-bird photos from this trip. I really loved those Brahma cows standing on the steep hillsides. Talk about picturesque…. (Here’s my Flickr album from the Costa Rica trip, with more pics being added in the next few days.)

Despite this waning passion for the sporting aspect of birding, I did have enthusiasm for some of the birds on this trip. Along with the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal and the Fiery-throated Hummingbird, I was hoping to see some more woodpecker species on this trip. There’s something about woodpeckers that I find irresistible. In fact, if given a choice to watch hummingbirds or woodies, I believe I would choose the woodpeckers. I’ve written a bit about woodpeckers here before.

Cinnamon Woodpecker male

Cinnamon Woodpecker (Panama)

Here at home we have quite a few beautiful species of woodpeckers: Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed, Pileated, Northern Flickers, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. (Here’s a link to my Flickr photos of woodpeckers in Michigan and Ohio.) And when I was in Panama a couple  years ago, I saw the beautiful Cinnamon Woodpecker, the Crimson-crested, the Black-cheeked, Red-crowned,  and the Lineated Woodpecker.

In Costa Rica I saw a few more types, including the Golden-olive Woodpecker and my favorite, the Acorn Woodpecker. We stopped at a feeding station on one of our day trips, and as we walked toward it we saw a small group of Acorn Woodpeckers (aka clown-faced woodpeckers) fly up into the trees.  I didn’t  recall ever seeing woodpeckers in groups before, but I was so busy trying to get photos of them and all the other birds that day that I didn’t think too much about that interesting tidbit. So imagine my delight when I sorted my mail once I returned home and found that the new issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest has an article about Acorn Woodpeckers! (“The Clown-faced Woodpecker with an Obsession,” by Steve Shunk.)

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Acorn Woodpecker (female)

In this article I learned some fascinating facts about these birds. They often live in small family groups consisting of a mated pair and their offspring from past years. Hmm, that could explain why there were so many together that day in Costa Rica. And in addition to the obvious acorns, which they prefer to eat when they’re fresh in the last summer and fall, these woodpeckers actually catch insects on the wing in much the same way as the typical flycatchers do.

I wish we’d had time to stay and watch them for a while longer, but that’s not how things work on these group birding trips, so it was back into the van and on to the next stop….

I’ve been feeling rather unsettled these past couple months. I thought it was mostly because I’d quit my job and wasn’t sure what I would do next. But writing this has helped me clarify what’s actually going on, and now I know that I’m moving into another stage of my life with exciting new interests. And leaving that job was what enabled me to get some much-needed distance from the intensity of the birding world. I’m sure birds will still be an important part of the way I connect with nature, but now I’m free to explore some of the other things I’ve been keeping on the back burner in recent years. I’m suddenly feeling quite optimistic and purposeful, and I think that’s a very good way to enter the new year.

Here’s hoping you have something to look forward to in 2017 as well.

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Cattle Egret on a cow…match made in heaven, lol

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Lunatic in the Woods

Yeah, that would be me. Standing alone on a trail with a HUGE smile on my face. If you happened to come upon me just then it would be understandable if you gave me a wide berth and glanced over your shoulder after you’d passed by. But let me explain….

For the past couple of hours I’d been enjoying a much-needed leisurely walk in one of Ohio’s beautiful nature preserves. It was the tail end of fall migration, and I didn’t expect to see too much bird activity. I had planned to do some thinking about my life as I contemplated some big decisions.

And I did get some serious thinking done, but only in between distracting flurries of bird activity. (So much for expectations.)

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I saw dozens of White-throated Sparrows traveling through the undergrowth in small leaf-flipping gangs. Flitting around above them were flocks of tiny kinglets, both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned. I watched a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos foraging in the grass, my first sighting of that species this season. And wait–what was that? A Brown Creeper!

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Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)

Brown Creepers are tiny brown birds that climb the trunks of trees in a spiral pattern, eating insects and eggs they find in crevices of the bark. They’re beautiful and yet hard to find because they’re so well camouflaged against the tree bark. I’m very excited whenever I get to see one of them. And on this day I’d seen two of them already. (They’re hard to photograph because they move fast, but I was happy to get this photo of one a couple years ago.)

And then, just moments before you came upon me smiling in the woods by myself, I’d seen my third Brown Creeper of the day. When I realized I was standing there with that silly grin on my face I quickly tried to modify it into a not-crazy-just-friendly smile, and I waited for you to continue around the bend.

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That red vine on the tree is another kind of creeper — Virginia Creeper.

Then, alone again, I tilted my face up to the sky, savoring the moment. With the warmth of the October sun on my face, I took a deep breath, feeling days worth of stress leaving my body. I felt lighter, almost as if I could walk on air. And as I write this more than a week later, I’m smiling again at the memories of that special day.

If that doesn’t illustrate the healing power of nature, I don’t know what does.

#GetOutside

Note: If you’d like to read more about the Brown Creeper and listen to its calls, check out Audubon’s Bird Guide, here, or Cornell’s “All About Birds,” here.

 

Posted in Birds, Ecotherapy, Walking in the Woods | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Something To Look Forward To

something-to-look-forward-to-594x800Have you ever been in a rut? You know what I mean, those times when you realize that all you’ve been doing is living life on autopilot, just going through the motions of everyday life. You wake up, go to work, come home tired, eat, fall into bed, and repeat that, day after day, with very little variation in the routine.

That’s where I found myself a couple months ago–deep in a rut. I’d realized that I had nothing coming up on my calendar that I could look forward to, nothing that I was excited about, nothing that represented a change from my routine. Life was so boring.

So I decided that I would make an effort to plan more activities that would put a spark back into my life, like visiting new places, meeting new people, and doing things I’ve never done before.

One evening I was standing in the kitchen and I impulsively wrote this note on my refrigerator: “Something to look forward to…”  And having that message on my fridge where I see it every day has motivated me to start making plans. The biggest and most exciting of these plans is my upcoming birding trip to Costa Rica with a friend, but while I anxiously await that one, I’ve been doing some more exploring of places closer to home.

staircase-in-woods-looking-down-594x800One of the places I discovered recently is Steyer Nature Preserve, a great park along the Sandusky River near Tiffin, Ohio. It consists of 141 acres with four miles of trails that wind around wildflower meadows and crisscross steep ravines. I’ve written before about how I enjoy places with even the slightest elevation changes, something that’s rather rare in northwest Ohio’s farm country.

This park is part of the Seneca County Park District, and they’ve done a really nice job of building bridges and staircases to facilitate access to the trails through the steep ravines. And they’ve included lots of interpretive signs as well, identifying various tree species and giving background on the history of the land.

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I learned names of some trees that I’d never heard of before, like  hophornbeam and pignut hickory. And there are two trees on this property that are nearly 300 years old.

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I sat on the bench near this Bur Oak for quite some time, contemplating some of the events it had survived in its 292 years. How often do you get the chance to touch something that has been alive for centuries? And yes, I’ll admit that I hugged this amazing tree. And then I photographed this Eastern Comma butterfly that had paused to rest on its trunk:

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Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)

I found this huge spiderweb in the woods — it was probably 18 inches across. Did you know that the design of a spiderweb can give you hints as to the type of spider that made it? This one is typical of those constructed by members of the orbweaver family.

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bridge-and-stairs-at-steyer-nature-preserve-800x594As I walked toward that old Bur Oak on my way back to the car, a Bald Eagle flew out of the top of it. He’d probably been surveying the river below for fish. I watched him fly across the cow pasture and land near another Baldie on the far side.

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The Sandusky River at Steyer Nature Preserve

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This frog jumped into the water as I approached the river — he thinks I can’t see him.

I’m so glad I got myself motivated to go out for that walk. Discovering this wonderful spot definitely helped lift me out of my rut, giving me motivation to keep looking for more new places to explore close to home!

Posted in Ecotherapy, Ohio, Trees, Walking in the Woods | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Saying Goodbye

I said goodbye to a friend today and am feeling a deep sense of loss.

I spent the afternoon helping him load his moving truck, along with another close friend. For the most part, the three of us tried to focus on the task at hand so we wouldn’t dwell on the emotions we were all feeling. Of course there was optimism about his new life and hope that everything would work out, but there was also lots of sadness and uncertainty. As upset as I was though, I was determined to keep my chin up and not make this day any harder for him than it had to be.

Even though I wasn’t happy about why we were together, I was grateful that the three of us had this special time alone today. Our friendship is partly based on bonding over some experiences that we can’t really talk to anyone else about. If you’ve ever read about the psychology of bonding over shared pain you’ll understand how strong that bond can be. We have been each other’s support system through some very difficult times.

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My friends on the beach at Lake Erie a couple weeks ago, as we began saying our goodbyes

As the afternoon wore on and we made a few re-checks of the house, gathering up the remaining last-minute items, I started to feel my emotions welling up.

In the late afternoon we finally finished loading the back of the truck, then the two guys began hooking the car up to the tow dolly. As I waited for them to do that, I walked out behind the house and stood beside the wildflower meadow, watching butterflies and bees flitting and buzzing from flower to flower. Turkey Vultures soared over the house and Blue Jays squawked loudly from the trees. I almost cried then, standing in the sunlight watching the vultures and listening to my friends discussing how to secure the car on the towing rig.

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A gift I made for my departing friend

After they got that done, the cat was put into her carrier and loaded into the front of the truck. The snuffling little pug dog would go in at the last minute, after our final goodbyes.

When it came time to close the garage door for the last time, my friend stood in his garage and said softly, “Thanks house, you’ve been good to me.” And that’s when my tears started to flow.

I’m not sure why that particular thing touched me so much. I think maybe because I realized the importance of what he had just done: He stopped to acknowledge the happy times he’d had in this place before leaving it.

Because of what the three of us shared today, I’m thinking a lot tonight about gratitude and mindfulness. About how, even in the midst of sadness, we can choose to be thankful for the good in our lives. And about how important it is to stop and appreciate the best moments as they’re happening. And to look forward rather than backward. I’m thankful for the time I had with my friend and for all I learned from him. He opened my eyes to a different way of seeing the world and dealing with challenging times. He made me laugh–hard. And he gave the world’s best hugs. I’m so glad that we took a group selfie today to serve as a memory of our last time together as a trio of friends.

When I was dealing with another painful loss recently, I was reminded of this line from a Tennyson poem: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  I suppose that’s the way to look at this too–being grateful that I had the experience of knowing this person who was so special that it hurts to say goodbye.

As I write this he’s driving south toward his new home and new job. I have high hopes that he’ll find what he’s searching for, and that his life will be overflowing with love and friendship.

 

Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments