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

Tonight after work I drove back into Magee Marsh. It seemed 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

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.

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

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….
...now  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?

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.

 

 

Transitions

Fall foliage (1) (640x427)I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors lately, trying to soak up as much of the autumn beauty as possible while it’s still here. The other day I went for a drive in a rural area about 25 miles away and spent a couple hours taking photographs of the pretty scenery. So often I found myself in awe of the stunning beauty — leaves quivering in the breeze with sunlight shining through all shades of golds, reds, and browns. It’s a struggle to come up with words to express how much I love this season. Places that wouldn’t draw a second glance for the rest of the year are magically transformed into art. Just look at the leaves floating on the water in this lake. See how the sunlight was filtering through to the rocks below? It was mesmerizing, with the leaves bobbing up and down on water stirred by a soft breeze, and the light patterns dancing around below.
Leaves floating on water with dappled sunlight and rocks (640x427)
I stumbled upon this little hidden lake and stopped to check for migrating waterfowl. I didn’t see any ducks there, but this view was worth the stop anyway.

Algoe Lake in Ortonville SRA - with fall foliage w sig

I was thrilled to come across a few Sandhill Cranes, and then some sheep sharing their pasture with a curious donkey.
Sandhill Crane on gravel road
Donkey

Sheep through a fence
This road was typical of the scenery all afternoon, just one “feast for the eyes” after another. I’m not ashamed to say that I got teary-eyed more than once as I contemplated all the beauty around me that day. I experience autumn this way every year, with heightened awareness of the cycles of nature as well as appreciation of its beauty.

Curving rural road with fall foliage and sunlight w sig

But this year I can’t help but view autumn through a more personal lens. Just as the trees must shed their leaves to survive the winter, I had some letting go of my own to do. Just as those dead leaves will nourish the soil that keeps the tree standing, I believe the lessons I learned from the breakup of my marriage will help build a stronger foundation for the rest of my life. And just as new leaves will emerge on the trees when conditions are more favorable, it’s my hope that I’ll have a similar rejuvenation after a necessary period of dormancy.

Rural road in Lapeer county with fall foliage w sig

I’m learning to rely on myself and not to fear the unknown. I don’t know what lies ahead for me but I’m ready to start my journey and find out.

Turning Inward

As I feared would happen, my latest “Extrovert Episode” ended abruptly and I found myself needing to step back from the world a bit. Well, that’s actually an understatement. Last Friday I had a meltdown.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt such deep sadness and been so irritable at the world that I couldn’t make it through a single day without some tears. I could feel it building up over the preceding week or so, as one thing after another upset me: possible U.S. involvement in Iraq (sigh…again?), a beloved pet with a health complication, never-ending noise in my neighborhood (construction as well as loud music at night), upsetting photos on social media of turtles killed by balloons and birds killed after window collisions, and about a half dozen other similar matters.  I didn’t have time to recover from one of these things before the next one was piled on top.

Juvenile bluebird
Juvenile Eastern Bluebird on swingset

And because many of my friends hang out on Facebook (FB), I’d go there and dejectedly scroll through my newsfeed to see what everyone was up to. They all seemed to be having a great time chatting and sharing photos of their lives. And that made me mad too. “How can they all be so happy when I’m so miserable?” That’s when you know you’re in trouble — when you resent your friends for being happy. And one more mini-trauma finally broke the camel’s back, so to speak, and I was Done. I posted a brief message on FB:

Feeling so sad and overwhelmed lately, and FB certainly isn’t helping.This messed up world is just kicking my highly-sensitive self to the curb. I’m going to try to take a FB break for a week or so. I’ll be back when I can go at least a full day without having a meltdown about something.

And then I really started feeling pathetic. Over the next few days I did occasionally look at FB, but I didn’t engage with anyone there. Didn’t even click “like” when someone posted good news. I refused to participate in the world. I was just determined to hunker down and wallow in my despair.

My first time to find and recognize Goatsbeard, a very interesting wildflower
My first time to find and recognize Goatsbeard, a very interesting wildflower

After a couple days I got an email. My dear sweet friend Donna, to the rescue. We met last year in Ohio and bonded further on FB, due to our shared love of nature and our introvert personalities. We were blessed to see each other again (briefly) this May in Ohio, but then she went back to New Mexico and I came back to Michigan. In her email, Donna reached out to me with love and compassion, telling me she understood what I was going through and assuring me that things would be okay, eventually. I cried. But this time my tears were from happiness at being understood. And knowing that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about this overwhelming world.

And then, just today, I received a package from yet another very special friend. Getting a package is usually a predictable event resulting from an online order. But getting an unexpected package with the return address of a beloved friend, not knowing what’s inside? Now that’s what mail should be about! (Remember the good old days of handwritten letters? I miss those so much.) And inside this package was such goodness I cannot tell you. There were some gifts to cheer me up. And then there was the most heart-warming, soul-uplifting (and hand-written) letter I have ever received. I couldn’t even finish reading it without wiping away tears. It was loving. It was understanding. It was encouraging and hopeful. It was exactly what I needed to push me further along in my re-entry to the world.

Wandering Glider dragonfly

 

So to sum up, I’ve seen the darkness but I’ve also seen some glimmers of light ahead. Just the fact that I’m able to write this is a good sign. Several days ago I didn’t trust myself to write anything because I was in such a negative place.  I’m so very glad that I’ve been able to bond with such caring people too, because they are the secret ingredient that I was missing for the first 50 years of my life. Having strong connections with people who understand me has been life-changing…and my life needed some changing, that’s for sure!

Grasshopper

Desperately Seeking Stillness

I discovered a wonderful new blog recently and I think many of you will enjoy it too. It’s called Quietkeepers and the tagline is “Practicing Stillness in a Busy World.” Because the quest for peace and mindfulness is near and dear to me, I subscribed and began reading the first few posts by writer Judy Roberts.

Copyright R.J. Thomas - used with permission
Copyright R.J. Thomas – used with permission

As often happens when I come across a like-minded person in the blog world, we ended up communicating by email. Judy and I quickly realized that we didn’t live far apart, so when I was in northern Ohio for a birding festival in early May we were able to meet for lunch to get acquainted. I felt an instant kinship with her and I think many of my readers will enjoy what she’s doing with her fledgling blog. This is from her “About” page where she talks about trying to live more quietly:

…this is no easy thing for those of us who are creatures of a culture of doing. It requires resistance and discipline, sometimes minute-by-minute.  To contribute to this effort, I hope to talk about such things as the prudent use of technology, the importance of order, coping with distractions, socializing and conversation, finding quiet spaces, making the home a quiet place, and living in harmony with nature.

The whole idea really appeals to me. But oh how I struggle.  With resistance and self-discipline. And with distractions — oh, those evil distractions.

Black-eyed Susan by Rebecca Thomas for my blog
Copyright R.J. Thomas – used with permission

You might think that as a highly-sensitive person, I would already live a peaceful life. And I do aspire to that, but the loudness of the world intrudes quite often. And you might think I find it easy to resist technology too. But I find quite the opposite, that I turn to technology as a less-stressful way to interact with people. After all, it’s on my own time schedule (usually) and at my own pace, right? How harmful could that be? But the reality is that I often find myself losing track of time after checking in on social media each day because it’s so easy to get lured into clicking one link after another on the internet. You know what I’m talking about.

You may remember my recent article about becoming more extroverted and enjoying many new friendships in the birding world. Since those friendships mean so much to me, I might be a bit overeager in my newfound enthusiasm for keeping in touch via technology. But now I’ve got Judy’s gentle reminders in my head, prompting me to step away from the computer more often. And I’m also very glad I took that sketching workshop last month, because I find that drawing is a good way to sit quietly and let my mind wander. I encourage you to click over to Quietkeepers to see if it might be inspiring to you too.

Copyright R.J. Thomas - used with permission
Copyright R.J. Thomas – used with permission

Along the same lines, I read an article on the Utne Reader website the other day called “The Lost Art of Doing Nothing.” The author was bemoaning the fact that it’s now ‘normal’ in our culture to have your face glued to the screen of a computer, Kindle, or smartphone all the time. He said he tried to put his phone away and have a technology-free lunch, but he realized that without his smartphone he felt anxious and restless. He’d lost the ability to sit contentedly and just observe the world, something our brains need us to do:

Which brings me to my favorite argument for why we need to spend more time staring into space rather than into a screen: how else can we encourage the cutting-edge ideas, innovations, and solutions that only seem to pop into one’s mind when it’s disengaged from a specific task and allowed to wander? (Christian Willams, Utne Reader)

This seems to be what Eckhart Tolle meant when he wrote:

Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everyone is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from Being. (from The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment)

 

A good friend recommended the books of Eckhart Tolle to me some time ago but, ironically, every time I sat down to read him I couldn’t quiet my mind enough to absorb the message he was trying to give me. That tells me that I’m in dire need of help in this area. I’m going to make another attempt now that this issue has been brought back into the forefront of my busy busy busy mind. I wonder if you all struggle with this as much as I do.

Bryce Canyon cliff

(Thanks to my talented photographer friend R.J. Thomas for permission to use her lovely flower photos in this article. Click the photos to go to her Flickr photostream.)

Ecotherapy in Barry County

Just look at this and imagine breathing fresh air and hearing birds sing as the sun shines on your face —

Searching for Dickcissel
Searching for Dickcissel

Now that’s a good dose of nature therapy. We just spent a few days on the west side of the state at a Michigan Audubon event called “Cerulean Warbler Weekend” (CWW). It’s an annual festival celebrating this beautiful (and declining) warbler species.  In contrast to the very big festival we’ve been attending in Ohio every May, CWW was small and intimate. We liked it very much — the people were friendly, the scenery was idyllic, and the birding was rewarding.

Field where we saw a distant Henslow's Sparrow through the scope
Field where we saw a distant Henslow’s Sparrow through the scope

The event was based at Michigan Audubon’s Otis Farm Bird Sanctuary, just outside of the small town of Hastings. One of our hikes was a tour around the sanctuary with the resident manager, Tom Funke. Tom’s passion for this property was evident as he explained how and why he had used specific management techniques in certain parts of the sanctuary to tweak the habitat for wildlife. He knew every type of tree, grass, and wildflower we saw, and patiently answered lots of questions from the enthusiastic birders on our hike. I was very impressed with him and the entire Otis Sanctuary. Otis Sanctuary - Cerulean Warbler Weekend (4) (800x479)

Me on the trail at Otis Farm
Me on the trail at Otis Farm

We also went on carpooling and bus field trips around Barry County, searching for warblers, flycatchers, and sparrows, among many other species. We had the extreme pleasure of being led by naturalist Greg Nelson on two of the trips. He took great pains to make sure everyone in the group got to see the birds they were most interested in, and it was clear that he knew this area and its birds very well. He had a very effective technique for teaching us to recognize the calls and songs of the various birds when the woods were just an overwhelming chorus of so many species at once. He’d have us stand quietly listening, and when he heard the target bird’s song, he’d raise his finger up in the air so we’d know that was the one we were trying to see. I really liked that method. Often on these group bird outings there are so many people talking to each other that it’s hard to hear the birds, so I appreciated those times when he asked everyone to stand quietly and listen together.

Blurry Dickcissel singing
Dickcissel singing

Thanks to Greg’s skill and knowledge, I added Acadian and Alder Flycatchers to my life list, as well as Yellow-throated Vireo. We saw Dickcissels, which I thought were new birds for me too, but when I got home and checked my list I saw they were already on it. Then I remembered that I’d added them when I heard them singing last year in a field near home. But since I’d never laid eyes on one of them, I’d considered them a “BVD bird” — better view desired. And I certainly got my “better view” of them this time, although my pictures don’t seem that great. I had perfect views of two singing Dickcissels through Greg’s spotting scope, on a roadside somewhere in Barry County.

Birders on the move!
Birders on the move!

Cerulean Blues book coverThe keynote speaker at this event was Katie Fallon, author of “Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird.” I got a chance to chat with Katie before her first talk on Friday and asked her to sign my copy of her book, which she graciously did. Although I had almost finished reading her book, I still enjoyed hearing her talk about the problems being caused for this tiny warbler by the mountaintop mining practices in West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia. The bird isn’t officially listed as “endangered” yet, but it may well be on the path to that sad status very soon if we can’t find ways to re-create suitable habitat for it.

Kim and Katie looking for Ceruleans
Katie Fallon and I getting a bad case of “Warbler Neck”

I was thrilled when Katie joined our field trip the next morning to look for Ceruleans around Barry County. We carpooled to several locations and found the birds singing easily, but were unable to see them. These small birds spend their time at the very tops of the tree canopy, frustrating birders everywhere. But on our last stop of the morning, after explaining why it’s important not to overuse playback, Greg allowed someone to play the Cerulean song from their bird app. I was glad that he refrained from using playback of songs for most of the morning, trying to get us a view without disturbing the birds. But when he finally relented and agreed to do it once, that was the magic trick — the singing male suddenly zipped back and forth across the road over our heads, coming down a little bit lower in the trees to investigate the song of a “competing male.” I think the bird was still at least 30 feet above us when I snapped these photos. Thanks to Greg and Katie’s combined efforts, I got this life warbler that had eluded me for years. I think it was a life bird for several other people on  the trip because I had lots of requests for copies of my pics.  To make things simpler, I told them I would put the pics here on the blog so they could download them for their own memories of this exciting sighting.

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan
Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan
The easiest way to know it's a Cerulean: that black necklace.
The easiest way to know it’s a Cerulean: that black necklace.

And something very inspiring happened while we were looking at the Dickcissels along that dusty road. Often when you’re in a rural location, you’ll be approached by passing motorists wanting to know what you’re all looking at. As we were lined up to the side of the road with several spotting scopes on tripods and a bunch of people with binoculars looking out into a seemingly empty field, a man in a pickup truck pulled up alongside and asked what we were doing.

And this is where the enthusiasm of my fellow birders always delights me: You’d think we were small children, the way we all crowded around his truck excitedly telling him the name of the bird and encouraging him to get out and take a look at it. Even men in their 60s and 70s were urging him to come take a look. And wouldn’t you know, he was interested and got out of his truck to take a look through the spotting scope. He stepped back and asked the name of the bird again. Dickcissel? Yep. He looked again and looked up with a huge smile on his face and said something like, “Well, I’ll be darned.” And then one of the birders stepped up to him to show him the photo of the bird in a field guide. He spent another minute or two chatting with us about where we were all from and then another vehicle came along and he had to move his truck. But he thanked us and drove off smiling in wonderment that a beautiful bird like that was right here, in a field he usually didn’t even glance at.

And that, my friends, is how you start winning people over to Team Conservation.  It’s all about the sharing — sharing the beauty of these birds and their songs, sharing our enthusiasm and love for them, and sharing the knowledge of how humans can unwittingly hurt their chances of survival. Once people have an awareness of the amazing birds that live among us, I think they’ll be more likely to help protect them. At least that’s how it happened to me.  🙂 Enjoy a few more pictures from this peaceful and educational weekend, below.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Eric looking over the meadow at Otis Farm
Eric looking over the meadow at Otis Farm
Me with one of many snapping turtles we found on roads around the county
Me with one of many snapping turtles we found on roads around the county
Katie and me
Katie and me
Broad-winged Hawk - captive bird from rehab center
Broad-winged Hawk – captive bird from rehab center

Cerulean Warbler Weekend - Eric 024 (800x600) Dragonfly