# 129 Moral? Ethical ?

Moral? Ethical?

I watched a beautiful Cooper’s Hawk concealed within the bare tree branches very near the feeders. A patient, watchful, no doubt hungry hawk sat waiting for the little birds to come for breakfast as they do nearly every morning. She/he sat for a long time without any other birds in sight until a FedEx truck turned around in the parking lot and flushed the hawk from its hiding-in-plain-sight spot. A bird feeding station becomes a hawk feeding station. All bird lovers learn that there are far more little birds than raptors and that everyone needs to eat. It’s nature’s way. Accepting this in real time in front of you is a wholly different matter.

The beautiful white-with-spots Snowy Owls come down from their far northern summer grounds of Canada [irruptions] to the northern latitudes of the U.S. in the winter. They, too, are looking for food. As they are birds of the tundra they like wide open areas, marshes, long stretches of beach, or airports; vast flat areas with long sight lines. They sit still for extended periods of time perched in higher places (chimneys, tall poles, or sometimes merely rises on the ground) waiting for rodents to resume their normal scurrying. This gives avid photographers a lot of time to stalk a perfect Snowy capture, that odd term photo buffs use for a good photograph. When Snowy’s are disturbed by too avid shutterbugs they fly off without a successful hunt. Emaciated, starving owls sometimes end in wildlife rehab centers, or at least the “lucky” ones do and they make it. Others die in this habitat as a result of trophy hunting by those wanting to get their “shot”, each feeling entitled to do this despite the obvious reality that getting sufficient food is why the Snowy is there in the first place. The the code of conduct guidelines for birders is that if you’ve flushed a bird or if whatever the bird is doing in it’s habitat is disturbed, you are too close. For birders, that’s the purpose of very expensive binoculars or scopes. “Serious” photographers also have equally long lenses but now they want to get close enough for tight head shots, focused eye details,  or close ups of talons thus eliciting social media and Facebook group members to swoon and praise.

Trophy hunting is always putting the wants, the desires, of the human before basic needs of wildlife survival. There is only the thinnest of lines separating camera and gun when the lives of the wildlife are at stake. Photographers protest such a stand as extreme but if their objects of desire die as a result of their actions, is it?

The elected leaders of the nation go golfing and skiing over a Christmas holiday as the pandemic guidelines require everyone to stay home. Do what I say not what I do “ leadership”. Cases spike alarmingly upward. The government heads are on vacation while vaccine distribution is not yet detailed, stranding potentially life saving help in warehouses. Congress passes a mere sketch of financial assistance as families are evicted, unemployment benefits lapse, and children go hungry. This legislation goes unsigned for days as the petulant president clings to fantasies of retribution towards those who accept reality. I am not writing divisive political commentary; this is an observation of breakdown and chaos, of unnecessary hardship and loss. 

How do we measure our individual morality or ethics? It seems as even the most mundane parts of daily existence are now laced with ethical chaos. What is safe? How do I get food and other necessities? How to I prevent exposure and how do I make certain that I am not an unknown spreader? Every choice of staying in or going out or desperately wanting to see family, friends, and loved ones can be a life or death matter. 

We have arrived at a time of ethical and moral upheaval. Exhausted and drained by nearly a year of unknown onslaughts our greatest challenges are still ahead. How we handle every choice we make is up to us and it can and will make all the difference in the world.

Irruptions: See https://valleyforgeaudubon.org/2020/11/22/what-is-a-bird-irruption/#:~:text=Bird%20irruptions%20follow%20

#115 Season of Color

Season of Color.

Most photographers relish fall. They wander the back roads of New England, especially in the Northern mountainous regions, looking for ponds or lakes to reflect the glorious colors of the changing leaves. White church spires provide good contrast as do old barns. You’ve seen a million such images and will most likely be drawn to them all of your life.

My few attempts at the photography of fall are not that successful. Oranges, reds, and yellows are not the colors that draw me but color itself pulls me like a magnet, only my palette longings are the blues, greens, and silvers of water. (Mostly.)

Color is a language, an emotion, we can feel with our being. We are affected by color whether or not we are aware of the ways it moves us through our lives. I was thinking about this recently driving around the marshes looking for Egrets, one of the last migration hold outs. In mid-Fall the Egrets begin gathering together, their beautiful white plumage and their gracefully long necks striking as they wade the marsh in a seemingly endless daylight quest for food. Nature makes no attempt at camouflage when it comes to Egrets: your eye immediately catches their stark contrasting white and oh! to see them in flight, those glorious wings in air.  As long as the Egrets are still here we have not yet been abandoned to the coming cold.  My quest for seeing Egrets is three-seasoned which means I stay alert to the backdrop of the marsh for most of the year. As beautiful as are the golden grasses of fall or the fist hints of spring shoots but, more than anything, I love the flow of long, lush, deep green grasses with wind sway patterns that takes forever to fill the marsh, well into the heart of summer. The profusion of shades of green beyond imagining signals abundance as only a marsh can paint it, the epitome of green, the color that resonates “life”.

Whether we treasure a vast expanse of color like the fall hardwoods of New England or the subtle silver palette of the ocean on a cloudy day, something within us is stirred by color itself. Have you felt such an immersion? You may attribute your feelings to all the elements present: the smell in the air, the sounds of wind or water, or catching a glimpse of wildlife, but still, I challenge you to go to a place that moves you and, as much as possible, confine your awareness to the predominant color present. Drink in the color with your eyes and your being. Feel how it moves you, is present within you.

If yellow, orange, or red is what draws you there’s little time left to play with their spirit. I checked the marsh again today for Egrets. They’ve gone. 

#97  Size Matters

Size Matters.

A Great Black-backed Gull landed on the roof of a nearby house, checking out the surrounds for food scraps. A resident Herring Gull swooped in trying for territory protection. The Black-backed was not having any of that nonsense, in bird terms, shrugging off the Herring Gull clearly implying “Are you kidding me?”

Awhile back, I’d been checking out a good birding spot with a friend, a place where the tide comes in (and out) as a river flow into the mouth of a large marsh. A Herring Gull was strutting the beach with a clamshell lunch in its beak. A Black-backed landed nearby and proceeded to walk deliberately toward the Herring Gull who clearly showed signs that he/she knew that they were not going to get to eat that lunch. When the Black-backed got sufficiently close the Herring Gull simply dropped the clam on the sand and flew off. Size matters.

Great Black-back Gull: Larus Marius

Length: 2.1 – 2.6 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.9 – 5.6 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 4 lbs (Adult, North Atlantic population), Male: 4 lbs, Female: 3.3 lbs

 

American Herring Gull: Larus Argentatus Smithsonianus  

Length: Male: 2 – 2.2 ft. (Adult), Female: 1.8 – 2 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.1 – 5.1 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 2.3 – 3.4 lbs (Adult), Female: 1.6 – 2.4 lbs (Adult)

Great Black-back Gulls: “Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. They can be nasty, albeit beautiful, birds.”

From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_black-backed_gull

According to family lore I am a throwback to my paternal Great Grandmother, a tiny 4’10” woman who arrived as an orphan on this continent along with her younger sister in one of the earliest waves of a forced emigration movement from England into Canada now labelled as the “British Home Children”. From 1869 until the 1940’s the descendents of  these neglected-by-history children now make up ten percent of the current Canadian population. It’s a long and mostly sordid story, the gist of which in my family’s case was to keep silent about Elizabeth Chew Hesseltine’s past. Her importance to me growing up was that I was the only short one in a family not particularly tall (but hardly runts). My shortness was attributed to my carrying her genes although in the late 1940’2 and early 50’s that could not have been the reference. I have always been aware that tall people, especially exceptionally tall women, seemed to rise to prominence where we shorties struggled for our existence. Heightists! Size matters.

There are fairly numerous references to the claim that the tallest Presidential candidate always wins. If we ever get to elect a woman as President will this stay true?

According to random Google searches men are usually regarded as “short” if they come in at less than 5’10”. What height is considered “tall” for a woman? Those Google results list 5’6” as an ideal height for a woman in the U.S. (5’11” for a man). My observation has been that thin ranks of successful top-of-the-heap corporate or institutionally prominent women are often near the 6’ mark. From my 5′ tall perspective, this is a “truth” I’ve been noticing for over seventy years. (I am conveniently ignoring the physical stature of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a giant among women.)

I used to think that those who exceeded considerable height could be kind, that they never had to resort to bullying behaviors used by those of lesser stature, that their size alone dictated they did not have to resort to tactics of the very short,  know: that “gentle giant” thing.  That thought lasted until a 6’5” wife beater was outed in my small town. And now there are lots of political examples (and no, we won’t name names).

There are lots of size issues in the Animal Kingdom and bird species obviously have different adaptations where size may not be the critical issue but I doubt that would be a consolation for that stymied Herring Gull I watched this afternoon. I stay rooted: size matters. Or maybe, with nods to the Justice, that should be “Attitude”.

Photo Note: Herring Gull at Two Lights

#96 Seeing Is Believing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing?

Researchers inform us that birds can see and differentiate color in ranges not visible to the human eye. Humans cannot imagine what it would be to have the precise vision of a hunting raptor flying high above or what it would be like to have unaided infrared vision. Researchers tell us a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than that of a human. How can we possibly make sense out of such information?

I watched a brief clip on social media of a two people coming together in a hug using a homemade device made from a clear shower curtain with two sets of plastic arm protectors so each could stay safe from virus transmission. An irate viewer commented on the ridiculousness of this saying she “would not live with such fear any longer”. I didn’t stick around to read the comments to her comment but I thought that in a way she made a valid observation; fear is permeating everything. But we know, don’t we, how the science of virology works and repudiating fear is not part of this knowledge. We can throw up our hands, go to church or to a beach or a bar and mingle freely with others and, later, others may read headlines on the numbers of us who have become infected and who have died as a result of our actions. Our conceptualization of reality is tricky business.

What is it about our own particular version of reality? How do we know what we know? Much comes from out of our learned experience yet we often don’t have a clue about the realities of even loved ones closest to us. What did we  learn and retain from our education?  If only it was as simple as those who spent the longest time in institutions of learning and wracked up the most letters they could add after their name insures that they  always get to be at the top of the heap. Turns out that’s not quite right. There are so many different ways of knowing. Aren’t there?

Sitting in the midst of the time-out pandemic it seems like the perfect time to let such thoughts whirl in our minds. We have been watching daily media showing what divides us politically as we move farther and farther apart in our disbelief of the other side’s unwillingness to see obvious truth. Is this not one of the deepest mysteries of human kind?

In the protestations of that irate woman’s negative reaction to a backyard invention, the shower curtain virus protector, I heard a truth. Reading science-based media reports about how this particular virus spreads and the various ways it has inhabited human bodies, I hear truth. Our daily lives are permeated with fear and the threat to our continued survival requires us to abide by rules that make sense to many of us that means following the rules of science. What is compelling is how we are each attempting to make sense of our world, our worlds, now turned upside down but with or without this virus this was always the case.

A vegan finds the killing of animals for food abhorrent. A gourmand finds the consumption of rarities a joy. A five year old may only eat rice or pasta plain with only a bit of butter or with nothing at all, for months on end. These are operational realities. How do we make distinctions which incorporate such disparities? What, when, where, how do disparities lead us to seeing variations of other realities as crossing the line into unacceptable madness?

Extraordinary to me is that our entire planet is enveloped simultaneously in a pandemic that challenges us like no other point in our experienced history. Can this be true?  When we cannot fathom the motivations and/or actions of someone who shares our living space then how can we possibly fathom the actions of someone, anyone, across the globe? And yet here we are seemingly all in the same boat at the same time. If you are trying to make sense of anything about this pandemic you are also asking the questions of what makes things real and what makes us human.

Note: Apologies for duplication of a photo used in a previous post. It was too perfect not to use for the topic at hand.

Here are a couple of links about known animal abilities:

https://www.everythingbirds.com/articles/birds-vision-different-from-ours/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

#94 Corvidae


Corvidae.

From Wikipedia:

Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family of oscine passerine birds that contains the crowsravensrooksjackdawsjaysmagpiestreepieschoughs, and nutcrackers. In common English, they are known as the crow family, or, more technically, corvids    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvidae  

Pity the crows and the ravens. Their biological family name is tainted forever. You perhaps saw the photos circulating of empty beer shelves in stores with the exception of piles of Corona brand beer left untouched? Spell checkers of the future are going to autocorrect “Corvid” to “covid”.

Whether ignorance or laziness or what other motive I’ve failed to understand, the vast majority of human consumption of media seems incapable of making finite distinctions in words or spelling. Remember the pronounced and emphasized use of “Barak Hussein Obama” by his political opponents? Saddam Hussein. King Hussein of Jordan. Labeling lumps are done purposefully by those who understand how to exploit the masses. Am I being political? I don’t believe so. I am a lover of words. I love puns and pine (at least for this one attribute) for the punners I once knew, now no longer in my life. I am a logophile or a logomaniac if you prefer and I am befuddled each time I witness word deception for political (or other) gains.

Back to the crows and the ravens, maligned members of the “Winged Nation”,  the term I recently heard from a woman (Sherri Mitchell*) from the Penobscot peoples on a Zoom replay. I am stunned by the beauty of this concept. I do not wish to be guilty of cultural appropriation but could we please, please adopt this way of seeing this wondrous part of the animal kingdom? I’ve written before about these sleek (well, crows anyway) black beings of great intelligence. I regularly watch a family who shares, maybe reluctantly, the outdoor space where I reside. I feed them peanuts in the shell in the winter. I think they recognize me although they still keep their distance as they must and should. They are wild beings and my motivations and behavior as a human are to be carefully watched. I am, by association, dangerous to their survival despite the offering of peanuts.

I am only the most casual of observers. Bernd Heinrich* is a scientist who has been studying and writing about Corvids, particularly Ravens, for quite some time. I got to hear him in person at a talk he gave at my local library. If you also love the crows and the ravens check out his books. Any glimpse we can expand on such a magnificent family of birds will enlighten.

____________________________________________________________
*Sherri L. Mitchell - Weh'na Ha'mu Kwasset  is a Native American 
lawyer, author, teacher and activist from Maine. 
Mitchell is the author of Sacred Instructions; Indigenous Wisdom 
for Living Spirit-Based Change. 
humanity.https://sacredinstructions.life/about/

See Also: Embracing the Journey - Facing Yourself    
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/play/75wsJL-vqW43HNyc4gSDCvF8W9XrKv2s0ykeqPMFzR7mAnkCMwCgMOASMOJVon_D8Xv3QhbhHQTWZ4g2?continueMode=true

*Bernd HeinrichRavens In Winter. NY: Summit Books, 1989.
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-birds.
NY: Ecco, 2002.

 

# 88 Sound

Sound.

The nights are never truly silent. Even during the most quiet time, when the tide is furthest out and the winds are calm, there is still the constant backdrop of waves colliding with rock. When the fog horn is not sounding, that is as silent as it gets. I would have thought that this sound would fade from constant awareness into backdrop as does a heartbeat or the sound of breath, but that’s not the case. 

These days of early spring are not silent either as the songbirds sing for mates and territory. But it is the absence of other sounds that holds my attention and gives awareness that not all is right in the world. 

The sound of pickup trucks in the driveway, saying soon the nearby restaurant will open for the season, is absent. The sounds of the school bus picking-up or letting-off neighborhood kids is absent as well as the occasional sounds coming from the closest yard when the boys are out there together letting off indoor steam. The sound of planes  in landing lineups overhead, preparing for delivery of their passengers is (nearly) absent. The diesel engine noise of lobster boats pulling traps is also nearly absent. The hearing evidence of human activity has faded to a whisper.

The sound of my own voice is also mostly absent. There are a few phone calls now and then, but not daily. Mostly there is quiet keying on the laptop or the phone, the silent greeting of words to check in with others and to pass along funny internet stuff. I am noticing we seem to fade in and out with one another, wanting to stay in contact yet there are days we seem to collectively withdraw just a little. 

The radio, often a prime source of sound, is only on occasionally; the news is grim and indeterminate, an anathema to the calm and peace possible when focus stays on light and clouds and water, when watching the Eiders transition from the great flock down to pairs as it’s unfolding day by day. There is spring work to be done, a new brood to make and raise and, although I suspect those things are far from silent, the duck sounds do not make it as far as the house. 

I feel a very particular kind of envy watching the birds going about their lives oblivious to our unfathomable human existence. I think of the times human actions have impacted theirs in devastating ways, but now there is only watching their movements while taking solace that the season is changing and (at least some) aspects of the world are still normal.

#74 Solstice Photo Essay: Snug Harbor Nursery, May 2019

Solstice Photo Essay: Snug Harbor Nursery, May 2019.

Nothing beats a road trip with friends. These photos, some of my favorites from this past year, came from a wonderful day when we headed south, the roads free and clear before the annual visitors-from-elsewhere stampede. The stop at Snug Harbor Nursery in Kennebunk was spontaneous. In addition to fabulous plants and garden statuary Snug Harbor has a variety of birds running around their grounds. I had forgotten how much I really like chickens.

Whether it was the low light of the overcast day, or a camera to computer transference glitch, or goofs related to it being my first time using the new (used) camera, whatever it was the original quality of the images has been lost and what remains can be viewed on a screen but lack the quality needed to print.

As winter wraps around us, it’s most important to remember the Solstice marks the turn to more sunlight and longer days. Spring is just around the corner and that means tulips and more chickens. WooHoo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#64 Dump Run

 

 

 

Dump Run.

Each community has its own methods for collecting or hauling trash and recycling. The town where I live does not charge for these services however each household is responsible for getting our refuse to the Transfer Station which is open four days a week.  To make the dump run more interesting I often combine it with other tasks such as returning library books or going to the farm stand, a bit less boring and, hopefully more fuel efficient. Dump runs manage to be a fairly routine chore in all households.

On a recent dump run a young Red Tailed Hawk had perched on a light post beside the trash compactor. Thinking that it would take off at any second, I pulled slightly out of the lane to have a better look. The hawk had claimed the pole and wasn’t interested in budging and, joy, I had brought a camera. I snapped away, thrilled to be as close as I had ever been to one of these magnificent birds. My enthusiasm was not shared and one of the transfer station attendants came over to tell me to move out of the way because I was blocking the lane. The sting of reprimand stayed with me as I drove away understanding that the business at hand was not to be disrupted by the glorious proximity to wildlife.

For years I’ve talked about wanting a bumper sticker that declares “ Warning: I Brake for Birds”. I find myself ill suited to this rush-rush world zooming so fast and so caught in head thoughts, missing the world of nature that surrounds us.  Before I moved to Maine my work drive was always the longer route where open fields and woods hinted always of possibility. One frosty Fall morning a huge Eastern Coyote stood just inside a fence waiting for me to pass so he could be cross the road and be on his way. The field in which he was standing was filled with dried brown-gray grasses. The coyote was also brown-gray, and where he stood was in perfect harmony within light, white edgings of frost and those yellow coyote eyes. I stopped the car, without a camera, trying to imprint the perfection of the light and the creature in my mind’s eye. A red minivan approached and I waved my arm from my open window, an attempt to signal the driver to slow down enough to share this witness. The car was filled with children probably on their routine morning school run. I never knew if they saw the coyote.

Can you think of the magnificence you’ve witnessed from the windows of your car or house? Aren’t such memories of wildlife or landscape still with you?

I left the dump still stinging from the reprimand. I headed over to the marsh to see if a glimpse of a different critter could soothe my “you stepped out of line” embarrassment. Sure enough, there were shorebirds feeding in the last light of the day and the camera was still beside me.

Watching wild in all it’s beautiful manifestations always heals even if we have to step outside the acceptable bounds of the humans around us.

 

#62 Maliase

Malaise.

*Warning: Familiar Themes repeated here.

Is it because Fall is moving in, the colors everywhere changing to reds and browns and golds, leaving the vibrant greens for too many long months before they return? Fall is the favorite season of so many, but I find the transition–the colder nights, the dying plants, the disappearing birds–disheartening. There are oddities this year: the red and gray squirrels and the chipmunks disappeared a couple of months ago and they have not returned.

Monarch butterflies are on the move, headed south, gathering nectar for sustenance along the route from the last blooming rugosas, sedums, wild asters, and more. I’ve been watching them flutter by, mostly solitary but sometimes with one or two others, their purposeful migratory movements disguised by the way they seem to meander from plant to plant, so unlike hawk migrations. How do such ethereal creatures fly so far? How do they cope with cold nights and the increasing Fall winds?

Darkness arrives early and stays longer, its rapid increase from day to day quite apparent. Sunrise is more spectacular, if I can rise to it before daybreak when it is most vivid. Fall light is edged as the sun rises or sets, the angled light sharply defining rooftops, trees, grasses. Sometimes the light is strongly tinged pink or gold infusing everything it touches. The other evening traveling home as the sun was setting, the porch of a house, geraniums hanging in pots, rockers still in the coming evening, were bathed in strong rose colored light making the ordinary into a vivid, magical place if only for a few fleeting minutes, the whole scene glowing as if someone had pushed an alternate universe button.

I suppose it would help to keep the radio and the social media turned “off” in this time of wind-downs. The air waves are full of malaise, foul stories keep coming in a steady drumbeat, illustrating the lack of Humanity in the human nature of our beings. Fall brings hurricanes, damaging homes near or far, destruction and devastation. These magnificent, destructive, behemoths always felt powerful and dangerous but now, with Climate Change evidence abounding, our vulnerability feels enhanced. What will be destroyed next? What lovely palm-treed place of winter refuge, of tropic promise, will next be forever altered? Refugees, from storms or political upheaval, on the move everywhere. When might you or I be among their numbers?

It feels to me as if the Grifter mentality has spread like a plague, insatiable money hunger accompanied by power dreams, shoving us ordinary folk to the edges of forgotten and unimportant. The media pushes a constant supply of stories of cronies doing wrong and getting caught as the rest of us wonder how so many can gather more than their share of resources now becoming scarcer. So many of us do not care about the accumulations of wealth or power, preferring our lives to be filled with care and love of family, neighbors, friends, just getting by, content to notice what is beautiful in our lives–like sunsets and sunrises, and fleeting wings departing, while we steal off for one or two more moments of beach time., savoring every last moment before the oncoming cold.

 

#61 Seasonal Adjustments

Seasonal Adjustments.

The newly enlarged flock of Common Eider ducks have been swimming in a sort-of formation, back and forth, looking like morning and afternoon drills to teach this year’s hatchlings proper Eider Behavior. Twice yesterday this close-to-shore “parade” was mirrored by a fairly large group of kayakers who, a bit further out, paddled up then back, parallel but distanced from the Eiders. From my window perch it seemed as if the kayakers were also in training, learning proper Kayaker behavior perhaps. For the Eiders their formation swimming is most likely based on survival tactics for the rough winter waters to come, that time of year the kayakers are absent. 

Polar fleece and sweaters are now preferred afternoon apparel of the tourists. Down the road, die hard beach lovers sit wrapped and shivering, in 60 degree temperatures as the sun sets. It’s easy to visualize the glee of Native Northerners as they reach for their jackets; finally, the temperature is reasonable and the roads will soon again be drivable in the ways that seem Maine appropriate. It isn’t as if tourists are exactly unwanted. It’s more like the natives (and not-so-native year rounders) are weary by August’s end. Perhaps their longing is for a return to stretches of water unblemished by the presence of too many humans. Perhaps they are now able to return to the clam shacks for the preferred Maine cuisine of fried sea-somethings served with coleslaw and fries because now it might be possible to find a parking place and a table.

Many summer birds have all ready headed south. There are egrets still out in the marshes, their beautiful white bodies so visible in flight or on the ground but their days here are numbered. The marsh grasses now are topped by wheat colored seed pods as the marshes transform from lush summer greens into varying shades of russet.

A dear friend pointed out how odd it is for someone (me) who hates the cold to live this far North and the simple answer is “economics” but I dread shivering for next ten months, chilled to the bone until once again the tourists and the birds flock back to this wonderful place.

#55 Familiar Territory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Familiar Territory.

Waking from dreams both In the night and in the morning there is a vague knowing that the dreams are familiar territory. These are reoccurring dreams but I don’t retain specific or detailed memories from them but only the whiff of the known, the sense of having been there before many times. Such sense has also occurred while traveling in real time. When visiting a new place more than once I have had the feeling that I’ve been there before. 

There are daily mysteries all around us. It is the time of year that some of the birds disappear, headed towards their winter homes so long before it seems necessary. What are those long distance flights like for them? Do they relish their travels? Are their flights filled with a joyous sense of visiting familiar places or are the dangers of their migratory patterns filling their awareness? 

This summer, all of the red squirrels disappeared. About the time I noticed their absence, the gray squirrels also disappeared. The cardinals, blue jays, the hairy and downy woodpeckers, the occasional titmouse all stopped coming to the feeders. Will they return? The summer residents are the goldfinch and the sparrows. They fill the small trees from which the feeders hang, chirping madly at times. I think of them as my “twitter feed” (which is as close to that medium as I want to be).

#32 Together. Alone.

Together. Alone.

Starlings swoop over the roof of the house, a whirl of wings and motion, coming to the feeders all at once, together, cramming as many bird bodies as possible into the fairly small swinging platform, heads bobbing up and down, emptying it of seed as fast as possible.

Finches arrive in smaller groups, as do the sparrows, lightly perching on the sunflower feeder, taking turns flying to and from the small trees nearby. Other species, Bluejays or Crows, seem to arrive in various small groups or parings. The woodpeckers, Downy or Hairy or Red Bellied, come alone. In summer, Hummingbirds also seem to be solitary as they zoom by.

The Common Eiders have come together, moving in large numbers, the striking black/white males numerous among the brown females, all strongly swimming back and forth in the currents just off shore. They will stay gathered this way until they pair off, then separate, while the young are growing, months of banded mothers minding their ducklings together, males out of sight or watching from afar.

I’ve been a single woman for many years. I often travel alone whether over distance or on daily errands but I see most other women in pairs or groups, with friends or families. I am often aware that my seemingly solitary life is strongly different from others, this awareness both visual and vocal, over a long period of time and circumstance. When times are good, like now, I am privileged to have both single and married women as friends and we share life stories in thoughtful conversations allowing a wider way of understanding both the past and present of our lives.

Long ago, when paired, I took for granted that “paired” was how the world worked best. That was followed by years of seeing myself as an outcast then, at last, coming to feel joyous for the freedom I had with time and space, alone  enough to become an observer and thinker about such things. It is never that being alone, being paired, or tied tightly with others, means one way is preferable to all others but rather, the flow of being or watching is what gives meaning, allows understanding, makes life’s progress rich and deep.

I watch with interest the activity at the feeders or in big box stores. Who shows up and with whom? And why?  Solitary individuals versus those who prefer to move in groups–I wonder if there is a way to see bird or human activity in any kind of comparative way, furthering understanding of either, or both?

#30 Just a Regular Day.

Just a regular day.

Returning home in late afternoon I noticed that a passing hardwood seemed to have grown a large lump. I pulled the car over and walked back to where I could get another look at this tree. I couldn’t see anything sharp or distinct but, keeping my distance, I walked around to change perspectives. It was clear there were feather patterns to this rather substantial “lump”. The camouflage was quite amazing. I was looking at my first Barred Owl, right there in late afternoon daylight, just sitting in a bare tree branch out in the open. My eyes had picked out an anomaly from a routine passing of a mundane tree clump beside the road in a neighborhood yard. What mysterious vision function enabled that?

My morning had started out badly as I tried to tackle an iCloud password problem and lost an hour I did not have to spare. Lately the subject matter of my entertainment (in the form of DVDs and books) had clumped into a category I’d call “Obvious Screw-ups”. There seem to be quite a number of these in my life and, as if there was a magnetized center, various and seemingly disparate screwy elements I’d noticed pulled together all at once. And then there I was, standing in the shower under a stream of hot water, laughing my head off. I was having a melt-up. Somehow my response to this craziness was not depression but rather hilarity, the convolutions of life  suddenly seen in another light. My response to absurdities came in the form of riotous laughter. What mysterious mind function enabled that?

Really, isn’t all this craziness around us laugh-your-butt-off funny? And then, this shift of the oh-so mundane, the daily slog, the truly silly, gave way to awe in the form of feathers. What mysterious function enabled that?

#29 Abide

Abide.

On the radio I heard a long forgotten word: abide. A Google definition search provided this (my edits):

a·bide /əˈbīd/ verb.  Accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation). “I said I would abide by their decision”. Comply with, obey, observe, follow, keep to, hold to, conform to, adhere to, stick to, stand by, act in accordance with, uphold, heed, accept, go along with, acknowledge, respect, defer to “he expected everybody to abide by the rules”. Informal: be unable to tolerate (someone or something), “if there is one thing I cannot abide it is a lack of discipline”. Synonyms: tolerate, bear, stand, put up with, endure, take, countenance.
This explains why the word feels so forgotten. My first thought when hearing the word was the hymn “Abide with me. Fast falls the eventide”. Does anyone abide anymore?
Zoom zoom. We are so busy with busy; rushing around forgetting to look around us, flying through red lights, getting ours, getting through. To abide means to pay attention, to slow down, to be patient. Now there’s a concept that seems inoperable in today’s daily living. The virtue of patience. (Ah, “virtue”, another fall-by-the-wayside word and concept.) Did I just fall down a rabbit hole? I am not much one for nostalgia so looking for a more reasonably paced world seems anachronistic yet living language, or more appropriate, disappearing vocabulary, is a clue to pay attention to what may be being lost, “waysided” if you will.
Abide. Even the critters I watch daily seem to be averse to the concept. Blue Jays squabble. The Red Bellied Woodpecker flies in, jabbing his or her long sharp beak in the direction of the sparrows accustomed to having the sunflower chip feeder to themselves, but not when the big bully arrives. And those gulls and those crows! Hassle hassle. Only the ducks out on the water seem to have an abiding clue but, then again, I can’t get close enough to them to really see what’s going on and I don’t speak Duck.
Abide. No abiding present in social or other media. My heart aches for lack of civility, for neighborliness and understanding. To “abide” might at least mean toleration but that too seems long gone. But I think I’ll keep the word, keep trying to find examples of it as I go about my daily busy-ness.

Occasional Posting. The GBLH.

The GBLH.

Some time last fall an unclear photo of a large hawk was posted on the MAINEBirds FaceBook Group’s website. The photo had been taken by an out-of-state visitor whose friend belonged to the closed website group made up of both expert and amateur birders.  Charges of “fraud” rang out for a number of days followed by a stream of serious birders  flocking to where the bird was seen. In fairly short order an apology was issued to the original poster as more photos emerged along with an official rare bird ID by a Maine Audubon expert. Then the bird disappeared.

The bird had been identified as a Great Black Hawk, a native of Central and South America. It had last been ID’d in Texas earlier in the year and photos taken there matched the precise wing feather pattern of the bird that showed up in Maine. It was the same bird, a juvenile, gender undetermined. No one had any idea how it had gotten itself to Maine. And then it had vanished.

Months later the bird reappeared, showing up in, of all places, Deering Oaks Park in beautiful downtown Portland. It was photographed almost daily feasting on plentiful gray squirrels and rats, the kinds of prey that any city has in abundance. Hundreds of photos were posted to the MAINEBird FB website and news of the bird spread bringing out-of-state birders wanting to add this rare bird to their lifetime list. Clumps of people lugging tripods with gigantic lenses could be seen when driving past the park. The photos were continually posted online and articles appeared in local and national media. There was much speculation, prescient as it turned out, about how such a bird, a tropical species with it’s incredibly long “chicken” legs, could make it through a Maine winter. 

Eventually, a storm rolled in, sleet and freezing rain, with strong, icy winds. Two, separate, alert bird people made their way to the park to check on the bird and they found it on the ground in very bad shape. Quickly the bird network went into action and, despite treacherous interstate highway conditions, the volunteer chain of bird rescue transporters got the bird to the (more) northern bird rehab facility, where a diagnosis of frostbitten feet was made. The story continues as the bird recovers, the final outcome yet to be determined. Expressions of concern and love, along with donations, poured onto the rehab’s website, a flow of abundance, a lovely example of people deeply caring for this bird gone astray. 

There are currently 20,000+ members of the MAINEBirds FB group, one of the finest moderated groups out there. (IMHO). Copious postings of this beautiful creature, this lone migrant from Central or South America, have appeared for months drawing all of us into a shared web of concern, yet I find myself wondering. Among the  throngs of these deeply caring bird lovers, those expressing love and compassion, those sending checks to cover the health care costs, are there Border Wall supporters, Trump anti-immigration sympathizers? And if there are, what does that mean?  Assistance is, appropriately, pouring in for the care of this bird and, lovely as this is, I find myself thinking about anyone who could care deeply about a single avian migrant yet remain hostile to human immigrants from that same geography living in this same city or in this same state. 

There are, of course, many other examples of human compassion focused on other-than-human species and I have always been curious about the ability to make such distinctions. There are also documented histories, of lone “anyones” being embraced by a community while groups of the same are often perceived as a threat. Maine was one of the places in which such behaviors broke through into national news headlines a number of years ago. Ah, human behavior, capable of such odd twists and turns.

I’m wary of my own critical thinking, of my cynical observations, but the timing of this dramatic bird rescue is a bulls-eye precisely hit as the imploding Border Wall situation is tearing the country (further) apart and the welfare of innocents, both government employees and “detained” immigrant children are all at huge risk. This beautiful creature, this dark eyed bird with its long yellow legs and its lovely feathers, who landed in this compassionate place, is like a mirror held up before us. How can we fail to recognize what we are seeing? How can we draw lines of when to care, when to love, what species, individuals, children, families deserve  assistance? At what point to we rise to intervene to save a life or lives? Why does this seem so complicated?

https://www.maineaudubon.org/news/the-great-black-hawk-what-happens-now/

https://ebird.org/species/grbhaw1/US-ME

Update. January 31, 2019 

RIP

(photo credit: Avian Haven /Maine Audubon)

This is the posting by Avian Haven on the death of the Great Black Hawk.  

https://www.facebook.com/pg/Avian-Haven-381894018553252/posts/?ref=page_internal

Great Black Hawk – 1/31

Yesterday, our senior staff met onsite with two additional veterinarians as well as two wildlife biologists from the Bird Group of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Diagnostic tests that included infrared thermography and doppler ultrasound revealed no circulation at all in the feet or lower legs up to where leg feathers can be seen in the photo posted 1/28. Underneath the bandages, both feet were discolored and beginning to decompose. As of yesterday, the bird was lying down during the day, not just overnight, and was not eating as well as previously.

Frostbite is well known for its insidious progression. When the body’s cells freeze, they expand, burst, and then die. Cells that form skin, muscles, nerves, tendons, and blood vessels are all affected, and once those cells die, they cannot be brought back to life. The goal of frostbite treatment is to limit further tissue death, though the success or failure of those efforts may not be apparent for several weeks or even months. Based on how rapidly the hawk’s feet deteriorated, we suspect that the initial frostbite damage occurred well before the bird was found on the ground on January 20, when frozen feet and associated pain had likely resulted in an inability to perch. Although he may not have appeared to be in distress in the few days prior to his rescue, any injured wild animal will hide discomfort until unable to compensate.

 

Our treatment efforts followed the most up-to-date protocols in human and veterinary medicine. Sadly, however, because foot and leg tissues had already been irreparably damaged, those efforts came too late. For those of you who have asked, our treatment plan included topical applications to enhance skin viability, plus a suite of medications to control pain and promote blood flow to extremities: western/conventional drugs, herbal formulations, and homeopathic remedies. We also used low level (“cold”) laser treatments.

Of course, we had hoped that the frostbite damage would be minor and that the bird might be releasable. Once the extent of the damage became obvious, possibilities for prosthetics use and captive placement were discussed at length. In this bird’s case, neither option was realistic. First of all, the damage was too extensive: both legs as well as both feet had been damaged. Secondly, animals that adapt best to prosthetics are not only less severely affected, but they are also of calm temperament, comfortable around people, and used to being handled. None of us could even remotely imagine a reasonable quality of life for a wild bird having two artificial legs that would need frequent adjustment, and that would likely never be completely comfortable. Related hawk species present in North America are known for their high-strung, hyperactive temperaments, and this bird has been no exception to that general rule. During the hawk’s stay here, we often had to turn off the cage lights to discourage challenges to the cage walls. The wildlife professionals who met yesterday all agreed that the Great Black Hawk would never successfully adapt to captivity, especially without even one foot that could be used in a natural way to perch, grasp food, or land successfully after flight.

The decision to euthanize was completely unanimous among all who gathered here yesterday, though that decision was tinged with regret, sorrow, even heartbreak. It was seen by some of us as an end of suffering, and by others as the release of a spirit from its hopelessly damaged shell. Either way, all of us believed it was the only course of action that was fair to the hawk.

Although greatly saddened that this beautiful hawk could not be saved, we take some comfort in knowing that she or he touched a great many lives, bringing people together and inspiring a greater interest in the natural world. Although this was an extreme case of species displacement, with changing climate and increasing destruction of natural habitats, it is likely that we will see more and more animals dispersing from their homelands into territory they are not well adapted to. A decision as to what will happen to the remains has not been made, though several scientific institutions are under consideration. Genetic studies may finally reveal the original home of this remarkable visitor to Maine.

All of us at Avian Haven extend our profound appreciation to all of you for the good wishes, prayers, love, and support that have poured in during this remarkable bird’s stay here. We intend to dedicate your donations toward funding a special project that will enhance our ability to care for future birds, whether or not they are frostbite victims. For us, and for many of you as well, today will be a day of grieving, but also of imagining this extraordinary Great Black Hawk flying free again in some realm other than our own.

Diane Winn, Executive Director
Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

#26 Up Before Birds

 

Up Before Birds.

My schedule has rolled into one based on natural light and harkens back to a Northeast Kingdom lifestyle I lived years and years ago. Back then I was often up by dawn and out into the garden as the day began. In the winter there were wood stoves to load and a job feeding children at the tiny local school. That beloved place had elevation and was not near water but what is held in common with where I am now is the absence of street lights.

In winter, the black night falls quickly and early and my energy fades with the light. Because I can, I collapse with the light but I wake before it comes back, my longing pulling it into filling the house and watching the sky for first streaks announcing its coming. In the early gray morning I stand watching the birds arrive for their seed breakfast. I can only identify species by size and flight as there’s not enough light to see their colors.

Day before light is like an unopened gift. This morning began with navy blue and yellow streaks contrasting the white snow on the ground. The sun rose with pink-yellow light illuminating, for only a few minutes, this neighborhood cluster of houses. Too many of these are now empty, the scramble for short term rentals driving away those who would gladly be here year round if they did not have to compete. Marketplace real estate creates seasonal ghost neighborhoods formed by water proximity and income inequality. Winter becomes a time of isolation that sharply contrasts with summer’s population crush for those of us lucky enough to live close to the water.

The trade off may be that such places as this remain without night’s artificial illumination, so destructive to natural rhythms that nourish the soul.

#25 Animal Consciousness

Animal Consciousness.

Witnessing even a small murmuration of starlings leaves me struggling to understand how such collective action is possible. Is that because my human-animal mind is so individuality programmed that watching their close proximity movements, their fast flight twists and turns without collisions, their moving air design formations, is so far beyond my human experience? The flight capability of starlings allows me to believe a collective consciousness, a unified “mind”, is coordinating the show.

What can I possibly know about what it is to be a non-human creature? As my most common daily observations are centered on birds I think about such things regularly and, now that winter feeding is underway, squirrels get included in my musings.  Are there collective mind sets in species? Do individuals within a species have distinct personalities? If so, what is it like to be that particular squirrel or a member of that specific crow family?

The explanations based on the science of Frans de Waal in his book “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” were unsatisfactory to me. While I appreciate the disciplined scientific methodology used by de Waal, my soul tires and finds the conclusions lacking. I’m old and impatient and I do not have enough time to wait until Science unveils a proof-positive explanation of human animal, or other animal, consciousnesses. After reading de Waal’s work I am not at all sure I will appreciate (or fully accept) such explanations, even from classic double-blind research. Both scientists and philosophers have been working on this topic for some time now. What they write is interesting but the overriding questions on consciousness remain in essence, unanswered.

What sense can I, in my tiny observational world, make from watching the crows on the lawn or the squirrels on the porch? Hunger seems an obvious motivator of behavior but what is the reality of these lives lived just outside my door?

There are many more articles and books to plow through searching for satisfying answers, working my way through what thinkers and researchers have to say. Consciousness is huge and hugely important.

I suspect critters other than we humans may have a very different awareness as to what all of this means. I feel that telling ourselves we are the smartest beings, those at the top of the food chain, doesn’t cut it or even come close to anything near truth.

References:

de Waal  Frans. Are You Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2017.

Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?”. The Philosophical Review, Vol. 4, No. 4, October 1974, pp. 435-450. http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/maydede/mind/Nagel_Whatisitliketobeabat.pdf

Starling murmuration video.

 

#24 Feeding Birds

 

Feeding Birds.

I love the small, thought-of-as-ordinary, birds. I thought retirement living close to the water would mean being without their presence so I gave away a car full of bird feeding paraphernalia when I moved, but a small flock of house sparrows and goldfinches were hanging out in the bushes around the house and I missed the daily comfort of watching these beloved little birds so I purchased a small hanging platform feeder and some seed.

A year later, I have added a tube feeder with safflower seeds and a new squirrel-proof, metal-meshed feeder with sunflower chips and a suet cage hangs above the platform swing filled with a mix of larger seeds and peanuts in the shell. You can see where I’m going with this…

I was happy to welcome a barely there tail-damaged red squirrel and a few of his or her relatives. Of course, the offering has also brought ravenous, pushy, blue jays followed by big gray squirrels that leap from the railing dumping anything in the feeder on the porch or the ground. The nature of squirrels is to steal and store whatever they can find, a species behavior making it tough for every hungry other. This year’s gray squirrels, particularly plump (and getting plumper), are highly competitive beings who don’t willingly share.

It might be possible to foil the smart and inventive grays for a little bit, but what if I want to help red ones not gray ones, tiny ones not big ones, males not females (or vise versa), brown ones, white ones, black, or blue ones? You can see where I’m going with this…

Lately a Red Bellied Woodpecker has come to the feeder and he or she flies in with intimidating wings outstretched. Much larger than all the rest, feathered or furred, it jabs its long powerful beak toward any who attempt sharing. Is this beautiful black and white stripped pearl gray stomached bird with vivid a red head nature’s balance or just another bully or is that the same thing?

While mulling this over, a gray squirrel leapt from the porch floor to the kitchen window screen in front of me making eye-to-I contact. Was this unprecedented move a recognition of me as the filler of feeders, a demand or request for more food, or a coincidence with no intent of communication at all?  Is my species behavior, my delight and joy seeing these fellow creatures close up, interfering with the natural order of things? How do I allocate my limited resources, and make decisions on who gets fed,  or housed, or helped? And do the bullies always dominate this world? You can see where I’m going with this…

#16 Perfection

Perfection.

Photography allows a particular way of seeing by using a rectangular (in 35mm cameras) frame and paying attention to light and relationship. My goal when shooting is to see if I can capture an image that might draw attention to something that might have otherwise been missed.

For years I upgraded equipment, spending what seemed possible given my circumstances. I talked myself into believing that my eye, my way of seeing, was what counted, but being a nature photographer I wanted to take pictures of birds and that’s where the rubber hit the road. Bird photography requires long lenses and long lenses are heavy and very expensive because the quality of the glass really matters.

Some time ago in an attempt to separate myself from social media political extremism and negativity I purged the social media feeds I had been watching and went looking for groups that focused on nature. There are lots out there and soon my screens were packed with gorgeous images of birds and wildlife. My heart and eyes were happy.

After some months of viewing exquisite images, I started to realize I was losing interest in taking pictures myself. What was the point? I was not, in this phase of life, going to own a 800mm, $16,000 lens. Additionally, my physical limitations meant I could no longer reach the places I needed to get to for the subject matters that interested me. And those social media feeds were delivering perfection multiple times per day.

Some months later I’ve to begin to realize this shared nature photography has become stylized. The “natural” in this new version of nature has everyone straining for etched clarity, each outlined eagle feather crisp with definition.  But in these perfected images a part of nature itself is being lost, the context is missing. As if that was not sad enough then came reports of particular kinds of photographic fraud: captive animals used but presented as  wild; photoshop composites combining images that never existed apart from computer software; bait being used to draw subjects closer to the photographer regardless of the wellbeing of the wildlife in question.

A long time ago I made an observation about music. I’d grown up with parents who loved to sing and car trips provided opportunities for belting out family favorites. Years later, on trips with my husband and daughter, my instincts were to repeat this happy memory. I was quickly shut down by non-flattering voice critiques. The presence of perfected music made by professional singers in recording studios had changed the playing field.  Homemade music, where the act of singing together was the whole point,  had been usurped. Nothing short of perfection was acceptable and now that the whole world is connected perfection is possible, perhaps even required. I am certain, or hopeful, there are individuals banding together in sound finding attainable joy in moments of creative sharing. I would like to think that the power of making music together transcends the perfection so seemingly necessary in recordings.

Might it now be time to reduce the trend and abandon the pursuit of perfection in all creative endeavors and focus on the sheer joy of the creative process itself? And to photograph those birds with their natural surroundings evident?

#14 Transition by Crow

Transition by Crow.

Seasonal transitions are worthy of our attention. The natural world around us is chocked full of sounds, smells, colors, and critter signals so much more rewarding than the stylized seasonal colors of store aisle merchandise.

The crows that seemed scarce all summer are now filling the early morning air with their unmusical cawing. “Raucous” we think, listening to and watching their loud behaviors.

At the end of winter with a scarcity of other birds to watch I had noticed that seven crows arrived together daily. Now, as fall nudges out summer, seven crows have again been making their presence known. Is our linking crows with Halloween partially related to the way they fill the fall air, now absent of summer’s birds?

In contrast to the small sweet birds of the warm days now past, the crows seem graceless, coarse, their black feathers devoid of pleasing color patterns; menacing biker birds with hints of malice to be given wider berth.

Yet crows are savvy. Smart. Strong. Worthy of respect. Those who have studied them inform us we have underestimated their kind.* Like or dislike them they are an aware presence in the transition from warm to cold.

*Marzluff, John M. and Tony Angell. In the Company of Crows and Ravens. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Pr., 2005

Haupt Lyanda Lynn. Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. New York: Little Brown and Co., 2009.