#100 Consider the Roses

Rugosa Branch Bird2

Consider the Roses.

June loveliness

the beach roses

in full scent

the large pink clumps

and green leaves

dotting the landscape

clustered on the seashore

dead branches always

poking above the roses.

The conditions for

rugosas

four season harsh

growing on the edges of

a rough and often cold

Atlantic.

The fierce winds coming

off the ocean creates

harsh bare stalks

with sharp

protruding thorns

good perches for

little birds who

stop and sing

surveying their territory

sounding

like joy.

 

Mid-summer blossoms

start to form hips

the seed pods which

form in clusters

begin as orange

but by late fall

turn a

deep red hue

eventually looking like the

dried fruit

they become

a nutrient packed

food source for the birds

and small creatures that

scurry around the shore

finding safety among rocks.

 

I’ve shooed away

blossom pickers

who arrive in June

plucking the blossoms for

whatever purpose

informing them their harvesting

robs the critters who live here

of an important food

for their survival.

The pickers fail to notice and

are annoyed at my interference

in their quest.

 

Foraging humans

are not my cup of tea

the animals and birds have

no grocery stores.

Humans who are fond of

harvesting wild foods rarely

seem to consider the effect

of their actions.

One human meal may

be many days of

sustenance

food for families

of many small beings

who make these spaces

home.

 

 

 

# 41 The Memory of Color

The Memory of Color.

Skybluepink. That’s a color my Dad taught me when I was a little girl. You know this color too, just probably not by this name. Skybluepink fills late afternoon skies or, sometimes like this morning, it shows up at sunrise. When those particular colors fill the sky I hear “skybluepink ” in my mind and I smile in immediate response, the very non-nostalgic me remembering my Dad. Every time.

I’m thinking that you, too, have color memories, secret joys attached to cherished moments. I can picture in my mind’s eye, my first awareness of pink light at sunset bathing a usually very green Vermont hillside with intense rose-colored light which felt like fairies were remaking the world. And surely you have stood on dew-wet morning grass as the sun rose after a night rainfall, the rays of yellow light streaming, outlining each leaf with golden edges, the moment so beautiful nothing else need be asked of the coming day which had already made it to spectacular.

Some days color is the  highlight, and some days the lack of color is what is most remarkable For some of us, the awareness of color is reward enough for simply being.

#37 Astronomical High Tide

Astronomical High Tide.

The first questions to ask:  How big is the passing storm system?  What is its timing in relationship to the full moon?

Follow with: Checking the National Weather Service / NOAA forecasting website which provides detailed information on predicted wind direction and speed (in knots), and sea heights.

Followed by: Tide/Tidal search for the closest coastal near your location. (a few miles of coast line can make a difference) giving high/low tide times.

To complete the picture: The National Data Center Buoy App, real time measurements from instruments on that buoy you can see from shore giving exact wind speed and direction, wave height, wave  frequency and more.

Living on the edge of open ocean the dangers are obvious.  But the loveliness of marsh, the serene grasses and placid waters, can become swollen masses altering contours of wildlife refuges, tidal rivers, house distances from rising waters along marsh roadways. Serious business all.

Mostly, day-to-day life goes on. But ears or eyes stay alert for two phrases in proximity: “Astronomical High Tide” and the dreaded “Nor’easter”.

Together they scream “Watch Out!”. That’s when specific information becomes critical.

Note. For more information on astronomical high tides: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/restles4.html

# 36 / # 37 Star Shine / Lemonade Out of Lemons.

Star Shine.

Four a.m. Both the sky and the water are black. Venus and Jupiter are hanging low in the east just above the water. Their light is a shimmering path: star shine. Being awake to see this is a privilege, a joy, a revelation.

I once read that for human life to function at its optimum the ideal would be two periods of sleep separated, three or four hours long in each segment. The idea behind the theory is that eight hours of sleep at one time divides the waking/conscious mind and the sleeping body/unconscious mind for too long, a disconnect where flow is interrupted. My thought on this theory is that such a wake/sleep pattern would require true darkness, darkness without streetlights or floodlights illuminating the driveway but being up and active at night would require artificial light or not much would get accomplished. In any case the ideal behind the theory and the demands of modern life seem mismatched, even if the principle has merit. It might however, be a soothing thought for those with insomnia, those who feel out of step with those who profess to sleep deeply, while it offers hints of other possibile alternatives and a way to change perspective.

And star shine might not be missed.

 

******************************************************************************

Lemonade Out of Lemons.

Awake once again at 4 a.m., apparently a magic hour. Hanging in the sky just a bit above the water’s horizon is a threesomed beauty: Venus to the left and down a bit from a glowing crescent moon and hanging a bit further to the right and upward,  a bit fainter Jupiter. The diagonally close line of brilliance pulls me out of bed, gaping at the sight. Other points of light dot this totally clear black sky, planets, stars, satellites, and whatevers shining into the winter’s night cold.

The blessedly calm ocean can be seen by the light of these shining bodies. A quick check tells me it’s three degrees with a ten mph wind out there but, while the heat is still blowing out of the ductwork, I can sit in the window and marvel that I am not sleeping through this gift of nature.

 

 

#34 First Light

First light.

Six a.m. First light this morning is a steak of graywhite along the horizon line separating sky from water, merely a slight promise another day will come forth. The ocean’s background sound is a low rumble, the sound of a jet engine distantly high above flying in cloud cover, registered as “up-there-somewhere”.

Every day’s beginning, planned or widely wildly open, dreaded or ripely anticipated, special or ordinary, lonely or too crammed, once all these string of days were taken for granted (and maybe some still are) but the accumulated lot now carry the heft of underlying awareness. These days, each day actually is precious, holding the possibility of ordinary, or not, and either is welcomed.

Didn’t we, as children, understand this? The bookends of old and young, the balance we did not see although in all those busybusybusy in-between years we surely noticed the magnetic attraction of the bond between grandparents and their separated-by-one-generation children, each feeling altered time of the day’s beginning.

The white-gray-black palette has been joined by pink and orange that steadfastly turns the gray to blue. The shadows in the cold room begin to lessen. I struggle to keep my mind blank and free for as long as I can because “empty” stretches time and awareness.

It is where peace lives.

# 33 Pitch Black

Pitch Black.

Still a couple of hours before sunrise. The room—cold and very very dark—the near perfect black breached by only the light of a few offshore buoys, dots of a greenish-blue tinge barely enough to interrupt.

I wonder how few of us who love such darkness remain. Even when we work hard at keeping it we now have to contend with the energy vampire lights on so many devices–the smoke detectors, the fridge, even the toothbrush all have annoying darkness intruders, little dots of red or green or blue glowing in the night.

Blackness feels like a health elixir, enveloping my being like a soothing cloak, the perfect balance to sitting in the streaming window sunshine of the morning. The equation of dark with danger, the idea of flooding night spaces with artificial light for safety, baffles me. I came to this over years of camping. Flashlights, considered essential night tools, taught me that our eyes adjust accordingly and using one created a false dependency. Turning it off quickly allows seeing in different ways. Experiment: walk outside on a starry night with a bright flashlight then turn it off and watch how soon you become aware of the brightness of the stars, even being able to see your shadow from starlight.

I’ve read a few articles on light pollution and the possible links to disease. There are dire warnings. How lovely it might be to shut down the lights of buildings when not in use, saving energy and possibly contributing to health at the same time. Could street lights be dimmed or extinguished in the wee morning hours?

How would our lives change if more of us could experience true dark?

#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?

#31 Work

Work.

The overnight rain has changed over to snow. Dawn’s light made evident an angry gray chop coming out of the north, an unpleasant morning. Puttering about, engrossed in household routine, I looked out upon hearing a motor. A sit-low-in-the water lobster boat was making its way away from shore, the view of it blurred by the snowfall and gray murk hanging over the water. Soon it would disappear into the “marine layer”, out of hearing and out of sight but not out of mind.

The work done by those who make their living from the sea can be viewed through many prisms and I am not qualified to do anything but observe from my window. I can think of the hard physical toil that must be part of such work but I wonder if it is accompanied also by a sense of freedom, of provenance, or desperation, making a living as one can? At a one point in my life I worked hard via the homestead model, of physical labor that comes with large gardens, putting food by, and tending to pigs and chickens, yet I understand that I know nothing of the magnitude of sea work.

Late in the afternoon as the light began to fail I saw the same lobster boat headed home, still the only boat I saw out there all day. I hoped there was a good catch coming home with it. One intrepid boat moving steadily out then back. May you stay safe today and always. Godspeed.

#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?

#28 Storm’s Coming

 

Storm’s Coming.

What did it feel like as a storm arrived in times before advanced weather forecasting? As the wind howled and the snow started to pile up against buildings the ferocity and duration of the storm would have been unknown. Did the folk knowledge of the times give them accurate indicators of what was coming? How long a storm would last? How fierce it would be? How did they read the signs and how did they prepare for what was coming?

Thinking about weather seems to be a primary human concern.
In modern life I think there may have been times or places where inhabitants of say, San Diego, felt they were living in a weather paradise but I doubt that now there are many—any—such places remaining without at least cyclical weather concerns. Drought, fires, mudslides, flooding affects all and now the Golden State itself is a prime weather worry.

New Englanders historically prided themselves in how they faced the tough and varied weather conditions of their region. I think of this as mostly winter centered but those on the coast had to deal with storms that raged in all seasons. I wonder about about Florida or Texas for example, and if they had their own folklore centering on hurricane or tropical storm survival that they told about themselves. 

There are occupational categories where weather is a primary determinant of success or failure; farmers, so dependent on the abundance or lack of water, or fishermen dependent on being able to get out in their boats are two obvious examples.

I find myself wondering about our regional and collective histories regarding weather. The stories of the Dust Bowl era may be experienced most intensely through the stories written about them, think Grapes Of Wrath. A lesser known book, Issac’s Storm by Erik Larson, tells of the 1908 Hurricane that hit Galveston at a time before much was known about the formation and patterns of such storms. Weather has come a long way. While technology has developed as a highly accurate predictor we are as far away as ever in terms of controlling it. I believe humans thought they would someday be able to do that but as climate change awareness spreads the magnitude of weather systems counter such thoughts Fire has become huge and not just in California and the American West. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods in various singularities and combinations are gaining strength and dominance. Each of us, whatever our environs, need to pay total attention to weather conditions at least some of the time.  

A storm is coming. Even if I hadn’t heard this news on the media, my body felt the air pressure change, the odd oppressive feel of it, alerting me. Such awareness has always been a part of animal life. Grocery store behaviors begin to intensify as soon as a major storm is predicted and, if you are an adrenaline junkie, you can go take part in the frenetic feel of crowded stores and emptying shelves in the few days leading up to what’s coming. I thought of this today feeling and hearing this energy in Trader Joe’s while I also thought that the stuff being taking to checkout may well be endangered if the power goes down. We often don’t incorporate that factor and for many it feels unnecessary as they also stock up on generator fuel. Just how prepared we can get depends on the size and duration of the storm, think Hurricane Katrina or Maria. We are reaching back and at the same time, ahead, to places and times when the unknown of storms was predominant. Back to the Future.

 

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

#27 Hot or Cold

Hot or Cold.

Where once a three a.m. rise would have been to put another log on the fire, now it involves putting another blanket on top of the pile already there. The chill of the winter house permeates causing sleep to thin to awareness of cold, proof positive that thermostats do not work.

It is not discussed, how the succession of winter months brings cold into living spaces starting at the edges of rooms then working its way into the center. The theory of house heating methods lie in the form of presumptions simplistic and false. You want the room to be X temperature you set the thermostat to that desired temperature and when it gets below that measurement the mechanism triggers the furnace to fire, distributing the resulting heat until the measurement is once again reached and the fuel firing is shut down until the next call for heat.

Only how does that explain why different layers of blankets are required on different nights? While the thermostat is set at a night-after-night constant still every night is a juggle as to which bedclothes are needed. The flannel sheets, the cotton blanket, topped by a thin but sturdy quilt works when nighttime temperatures hover in the mid 40’s but if it dips to the 30’s I will be awakened in the deep hours to pile on polar fleece. If it dips to the 20’s I’ll need wool and below that it’s time for the down comforter. In terms of the thermostat this makes no sense.

This process works in the reverse as well. Feeling particularly chilly at bedtime I might have added a layer but if the nighttime temperatures rise I will struggle out of sleep, hot skin tingling, to throw off blankets which will  added back as I cool. Up and down, rarely a night happens where bedcovers and room air temperatures move together in harmony.

So what is it with thermostats?

See:

Two Theories of Home Heat Control .
https://www.healthyheating.com/downloads/Thermostats/MAIN.PDF
*Note: Written in 1986, a fascinating explanation of why there are thermostat battles between members of the same household.
Explain That Stuff: Thermostats.
https://www.explainthatstuff.com/thermostats.html

#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…

#23 Bountiful

Bountiful.

I drove the Pike in a spontaneous response to an invitation that I had not thought I could fulfill but, because the day was so gorgeous, I wanted to feel every last minute of it so I ventured forth. As time was tight I chose the fastest route and as I zoomed to match the speed of fellow travelers on the interstate, I turned on the radio and felt the power of rock ‘n roll reinforcing the spirit of the afternoon. It had been a long time. The toll booth man witnessed yet another crazy, her head bouncing to music, headed to the highway.

In the hour’s drive I felt the rightness of this geography, how I simply loved the light, the trees, what this land feels like, and how my psyche feels (expansive and grateful) being here. I do not claim anything but residence. My ancestors did not occupy this land yet it feels right anyway and the natives seem tolerant.

I’ve seen this happen in other places to other people.  A connection is made on a vacation, or via a workplace transfer, or whatever wildly creative reasons that urge geographical movement. In this new place we feel more like ourselves breathing more deeply, our psyche expands, we begin to sense possibilities. Something shifts.

For all the rightness of moves motivated by longing, this is not to suggest it is an easy path to completion. There is taxing physical effort, both leaving where we are and getting to where we will be. There is pain of separation from the known and, especially, the pain of separation from friends, family, colleagues. Never underestimate this pain and its frequent sidekick, loneliness, and the long path to making new connections. But this caution is not meant to deter.

There is no substitution for rightness which finds you. Somehow.

#19 Saturation

Saturation.

Does the camera lens capture the colors of nature accurately? In this age of photoshopped everything all images are suspect. Critical, skeptical seeing has become the norm. While highly useful for watching media, reading print, reading the expressions on the faces of politicians, the wry eye gets in the way of allowing the pure joy of reveling in nature’s palette. Immersing yourself in pure color is bliss.

There is much to be said for daily life in a stripped bare environment, the zen if you will, of particular places. Rocks and water, clouds and sky offer ranges of color which astound. Space and time and quiet allow enhanced awareness. Color emerges out of this frame. With some practice, a camera can be used to isolate, then emphasize, what can be seen. Therein lies one of the joys of photography.

As in all things the spectrum of this isolation has grown to the point that backgrounds are being erased and precise images of birds or wildlife are shown in detail that totally removes them from their environments. It’s a preference on the part of both photographer and viewer. However, color can be one of the winners of this technique–think of the neck feathers of a Ruby Throated Hummingbird.

My personal eye revels in the larger landscape and color ranges on a more vast scale. A morning of dense fog renders the world in shades of gray-white, all other colors present muted in the dense light. Crystal clear mornings, mornings bursting forth after a night of storms, can dazzle with brilliance, the flashing of diamond whitesilver from the top of waves and intense blues and greens far beyond the crayon box palette in the rolling waves of the ocean. I have been surprised by pure gold light on a beach at daybreak and by teal sky streaks at sunset or sunrise.. Such color intensities need no enhancement, just a touch of sharpening detail here, a bit of shadow lightening there. Even the most technologically advanced camera is not as perfected as the human eye.

Nothing beats rising from sleep, mind blank in the transition between occupied realms, and witnessing the sun rising between the edge where water meets sky, when the joy of pure color is nearly all there is.

That is true saturation.

 

 

#18 Frequency.

 

Frequency.

It has turned into a wild night. The rain first came down so lightly I wondered if it would be enough to saturate the dry ground, but a few hours later it is slamming against the front of the house, coming off the ocean in sheets, enough for me to check and latch each window. Now after only an hour or so of sleep, the sound of the storm has pulled me into AWAKE. The urgent roar of the waves pounding the rocks has been translated by my body into cause for alarm. That urgency comes not only from the sounds indicating the size of the waves but also by their frequency which triggered body response even in sleep: alert instead of dreaming, panic instead of calm. 

In what other circumstances does frequency alone signal “Problem”? What else triggers our “too-soon” response? Why have I not noticed frequency-as-a-cause-of-alarm before now? 

Here are some other possibilities that generate frequency alarms: Body Functions. Intense Emotional Responses. Absences. (and their opposite) Visitations. Car Noises. Tweets

Newly aware, I shall pay attention. For now my thoughts struggle behind this wall of panic as the waves continue their fevered pitch. 

#15 Morning Skies.

Morning Skies

Streaks of light, yellows and blues today, reds and fuchsias tomorrow, bold or delicate, each day the brushstrokes alter. The sun always rising, breaking over the horizon, the proverbial ball radiating out to the world giving life, giving energy. Some days, even when its radiance will soon be obscured by clouds, it clears the horizon free and glorious.

The room is cold despite the warmth of the colors reflecting from the walls. If the clouds don’t form Fall’s morning chill will be overtaken by the warmth from the light coming through the windows. Ah, to sit in the bay window chair napping like the wisest cat, embracing the light, the heat, the reprieve.

I rise early on such mornings filled with light not wanting to miss nature painting the sky and the water with color arrays.  Leave for another morning, the dawning of black and white and gray, burrowing further under the covers, postponing chill.

Today I rise to watch this mystery. Will the colors remain or will they drain, giving way  to clouds, to another day absent of the colors that bring such joy?