Please Stop Killing Snakes!

Sigh. I was in the process of writing a very pleasant post about some lovely dragonflies, but something more important has come up, prompting this brief subject detour.

Three times recently I’ve seen posts by friends on Facebook proudly proclaiming “victory” because they’d killed a snake in or near their home. The posts look something like this: “Me 1: Snake 0,” as if it’s some sort of competition…or even a war. They usually go on to describe the weapon they used to murder the poor animal, and then lament the mess of blood they have to clean up afterward. And these posts are usually responded to with cheers from their friends congratulating them for their bravery. Never once does anyone ask if it was a venomous snake or was threatening them in any way. That doesn’t seem to matter. All that matters is “off with its head!”

Hog-nosed Snake - head crop
Young  Eastern hog-nosed snake, about 8 inches long. He eats toads, not people. (Toledo, Ohio)

I get that lots of people are afraid of snakes, I really do. I’ve been startled by them many times on my walks, as they suddenly slide across a path and slither into a meadow. I don’t like that feeling of being startled. But this attitude of killing every snake just because, well, it’s a snake…well, that bothers me deeply. I think if people took the time to learn more about snakes they wouldn’t be so quick to act with aggression. So that’s why I’m writing this today, to urge everyone to just slow down and think about these fascinating animals.

I know many people will have stopped reading this already because they feel a sermon coming on. And I guess there’s nothing I can do to reach those people who aren’t willing to reconsider their views. But for those who are open-minded enough, I decided to write a little bit in support of snakes, and to suggest ways to overcome that all-too-human instinct to decapitate them and then want a medal for it.

Garter snake head closeup (800x662)
Eastern Gartersnake, very common and completely harmless (Toledo, Ohio)

And by the way, I’m not trying to say that you should welcome snakes into your home, not at all. They need to be removed to the outdoors, gently and safely, by someone who knows how to do that. This is about the indiscriminate killing of snakes outside, in yards and gardens.

Okay, let’s do this. First of all, I find the best way to overcome any fear is to educate myself about whatever it is I’m afraid of.  The Ohio Division of Wildlife has a fantastic series of guides to help us learn about the various types of animals in our state. Your state may have something similar. A quick perusal of the snake section in their Reptiles of Ohio Field Guide tells me that there are 28 species of snakes in Ohio and only three of them are venomous. Here’s their page on the Eastern Massasauga, for example:

Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake Ohio

They also give you tips for determining if a snake is venomous or not:

Venomous vs non-venomous snakes Ohio DNR

This little booklet has helped transform my fear into curiosity and wonder at these beautiful creatures. And even if I’m still “afraid” of venomous snakes, I know that they prefer to get away from me and will usually only strike if provoked. I guess I’m more respectful than afraid, really.

So, now we’re armed with knowledge about which snakes are venomous, and therefore we know that none of the others should be feared. At all.

But there’s more…not only are they not to be feared, they are desirable animals. One of my friends who killed a snake recently has also been concerned with rodents in her garden. The irony of this was not lost on me because I know that a snake will take care of that rodent problem for you, lickety-split. (Now there’s a phrase from the early 19th century for your enjoyment.)

Not only do snakes control rodents around homes, but they do it for free! And they don’t destroy the garden by digging holes either (although they do use holes dug by other animals). They don’t spread diseases. They don’t harm your plants. And they don’t want to see you any more than you want to see them. They just want to be left alone to live their quiet, unobtrusive lives.

Garter snake sketch (1) (800x600)
Gartersnake sketched from my photo.

A few years ago I tried to sketch a garter snake I saw on the beach in Michigan. I’m not much of an artist, clearly. But the process of trying to draw this one forced me to look at it much more closely than I’d ever done before. And when you look closely at them, they’re incredibly beautiful. Worthy of admiration rather than scorn, in my humble opinion. Could you catch a mouse or frog if you had no arms or legs? Didn’t think so.

I just wish we could all be more appreciative and accepting of wildlife instead of killing every insect or reptile that dares to come near us. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that.

Thanks for reading. Back to dragonflies soon. 🙂

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.

Squirrel in my tree (759x800)
Fox Squirrel eyeing the new human
European Starling in my yard (800x590) (2)
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.

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. 🙂

Alright

I know, you’re all waiting for my second installment of the Panama trip, aren’t you? I’m sorry to say that I’m not very motivated to write that part anymore because my life has taken a dramatic turn recently and my priorities have changed: Shortly after we returned home my husband and I decided to end our marriage of 16 years.

I’ve debated whether or not to write about this personal situation here. That’s why I haven’t written anything lately, because I felt blocked. It seemed somehow dishonest to go on writing about normal things as if everything is okay, when in reality my entire life has been turned upside down. But this blog has been an important part of my life for years, and I miss interacting with you all. So I’m going to be open about it in the hope that it will relieve the burden of the big secret I’ve been carrying on my shoulders. I’ve been writing furiously in my journal, of course, but that’s where I let all the crazy thoughts tumble out without editing them. But I think sharing some of my experiences here will serve another purpose — helping other people who find themselves in a similar situation. And since almost everything in my life  has changed recently, it will give me some comfort to maintain at least this one familiar thing as I go through this difficult transition.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

Despite realizing long ago that it would eventually come to this, it took me years to get up the courage to finally go through with the divorce. And it felt like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I was terrified of having the conversation. And yet I knew it wasn’t fair to either of us to continue just going through the motions without our hearts being in it anymore. If there’s anything sadder than divorce, it’s settling for an unhappy marriage. Life is short and we both deserve better. It’s my hope that we can look back in a few years and be happier, healthier people.

So I’ve been in panic mode for the past couple of months as I tried to come to terms with what this means for my future. Along with all the emotional and financial turmoil that comes with a divorce, I’ve got the added problem of having no job and very little work history for the past 14 years. It’s going to take some time to get myself back into the work world after I get my head on straight again but I’m planning to resume my freelance indexing career and add proofreading services too.

Rochester Municipal Park bench and creek w sigI moved into an apartment a couple weeks ago and am pretty much settled in now, with just a few boxes that I can’t seem to fit anywhere. Moving from a 2700 square foot home to an 1100 square foot apartment meant that I had to let go of a lot of things that meant a great deal to me. It was torture trying to come to terms with not being able to take the antique furniture I’d discovered at flea markets, and my kayak, and — oh my gosh — my books. One day as I was trying to sort my books I ended up sitting on the floor in front of the bookcase sobbing my eyes out.

Rochester Municipal Park (13) (800x600)You may remember that I’ve written before about how much I love my books, here. But I had to tell myself that they’re just “things” and I can always borrow them from the library. One of the hardest things was leaving my beautiful knitting books behind. Those books are loaded with amazing photographs of sheep and lovely hand-dyed yarns…just really nice to browse through, even if I’m not knitting much anymore. So I took about 20 of them and left all the others behind to get donated to the library. I also took photos of all the books I couldn’t bring with me, so at least I won’t go nuts looking for something I don’t have anymore.

I reminded myself that I’ve been saying for years that I don’t need “stuff” and I wanted to simplify my life anyway. It’s just that having it forced on me in this way, when I’m already dealing with the grief over the loss of my marriage, was just one more trauma piled on top of everything else. It’s so easy to say, “I don’t need stuff” when you don’t have to let go of that stuff.  I’m so glad that I found a therapist to help me through this process, as she’s already taught me a lot about myself and talked me through some of the hardest parts of this whole thing. She helps me think through my fears and she’s helped me see that I really tend to beat myself up for my weaknesses, especially while I’m making such a huge transition in my life. So I’m trying hard to be kind to myself for the next couple of months as I adjust to my new reality and figure out who I am again.

Robin with red berry in beak w sigAnd of course I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about healing from divorce, about dealing with the grief. It’s very similar to how you feel when someone you love dies. You go through shock, sadness, and denial first, and then slowly you begin to function normally again. And eventually you have some happy days sprinkled in there. But then, when you least expect it, you’ll hear a song or watch a movie and be reminded of something that breaks your heart all over again. For a few weeks I couldn’t even listen to my iPod because every song seemed to be a reminder of the love I didn’t have any more. It’s an emotional roller coaster, that’s for sure.

But as bad as it’s been, I can see glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel now. On my good days I can almost picture myself happy again, leading a new and exciting life. And my friends have been incredibly supportive, sending me notes just to let me know they’re thinking of me. When my self-esteem is at its lowest they remind me of all my positive qualities. When I’m having a bad day and feeling sorry for myself, getting even a one-sentence text or email can make it a lot easier to get through it.

Chickadee on red sumac w sig
Black-capped Chickadee feasting on sumac seeds

One of the saddest parts of moving to an apartment has been the loss of the two acres of woods that surrounded our house. I’ve written many times about how much I loved the wide variety of wildlife that visited our yard. In my apartment search I made a priority of finding a place with big trees and as much privacy as I could. Most apartment communities are arranged so your view is likely to be of another apartment building, but I was really lucky to find a place where my view is of a lovely strip of woods. There are two sumac trees right outside my windows (although they look like they’re almost dead), and big cottonwoods and oaks too. The fall colors are beautiful right now.  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I started my new “yard bird list” on the day I moved in. Since October 1st I’ve seen 17 species of birds already, without even stepping outside the apartment. And even better, I’m getting close up views of them when they come to the sumacs. The sumac trees are a big draw for birds that love feasting on the big seed heads, so I have hopes of good birding all winter long here.

All of the photos in this post were taken after I moved into the apartment. Looking at the photos helps convince me that I’m going to be alright here. My living space is comfortable, my cats are settled in, and I still have birds! Birds have been such a blessing in my life in recent years. They’ve taught me lessons about nature. They’ve graced me with their beauty and resilience and charm. They’ve brought me the best friends I’ve had in my entire life, kind-hearted people who share my respect for the natural world and who accept me for who I am. Even when I don’t know who I am.

Yes, thanks to birds and birders, I’m going to be alright.

Northern Flicker right outside my window
Northern Flicker right outside my window

Having an Extrovert Episode

Reaching hands and sun via Flickr by timove with frame and captionYes, you heard me right: Extrovert Episode. You’ve probably not heard that phrase before, because I just made it up. But if you’re an introvert, you’ll immediately understand what I mean by it. It’s meant to describe those times when we introverts become unusually outgoing and involved with other people. We all experience this — sometimes for a short time (a few hours) and sometimes for longer. I’m in the midst of one of the longest extrovert episodes I’ve ever had, and I find myself thinking about what prompted me to reach out to the world this time.

I think it’s because in the past couple of years I’ve developed relationships with a small group of really interesting people who accept me for who I am. Many of these friendships began as a result of this blog, and I’m so glad I nudged myself beyond my usual comfort zone to open up about my life. I’ve been able to help other highly-sensitive people learn about themselves and how to cope with our always-doing-something-busy-busy-busy society. I’ve also connected with other people who love birds and nature as much as I do. Both of these groups of people have enriched my life in various ways, and I’ve been surprised to see how much overlap there is between the two. Maybe that’s part of the reason I feel so fulfilled by these friendships, because I’m connecting more often on a deeper level with people who share my outlook on the world. One of the most basic human needs is to be understood and appreciated by others, and I’m extremely grateful that I’ve started feeling some of that, finally. Every single person who has taken the time to get to know the real me–and allow me to know them better–has helped give me courage to stay “out here” in the world.