Lean Times

Sleep came late last night, after fireworks and thunderstorms finally drove me into the basement with my sweet old lady Jessie (on the left).


And morning came too soon thereafter, since my little lady needed to get up with the sun to empty her bladder.

An hour later I tried out my legs and my lungs on a slow morning run.  Last night’s rain still sat heavy on the forest canopy, and the wind that was with us all day started early, so I ran through mini-rain showers with the deer flies cheering me on with their “teeth” (more like blades, actually).

I cut off the main trial to follow the brook path for a quarter of a mile and was glad to see that we’d had enough rain in the night to quicken the flow of water.  I am humbled by the power of moving water to sooth me.  Research in the field of neuroscience and similar fields of study has consistently documented a connection between proximity to water and overall well-being.  (Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols explores this concept in his 2014 book Blue Mind; the book has received solid reviews and is probably worth reading this summer.)

I followed up my run with  errands and visits, and it was mid-afternoon before I was back in my yard with my eyes to the sky.  We hadn’t been outside long before osprey overhead  caught my attention. I watched with interest and then concern as first two and then three and finally four adult osprey circled our yard and the adjacent fields, as well as several thousand feet of waterfront, for over four hours searching for a meal.  I am guessing that the wind on the lake made it difficult to see the fish.  I’m not sure why the rodents in the fields were so hard to find today.  I do know that the song birds that nest in our woods had a long afternoon of nest defending.

The osprey still have nestlings and I wonder if they’ve had a meal today.

Eventually I turned my attention from the sky above to the ground below. Earlier in the afternoon my younger dog had nearly lost her marbles because a painted turtle had scooted under the deck to use the loose soil for egg laying.


In addition to being a turtle sanctuary, the back deck is also the location of a phoebe nest.  Finally today patient mama phoebe welcomed a clutch of babies today.  (Her first nest was raided before the eggs hatched.)

This time around there were four eggs, though only three have hatched.  I was able to see their tiny beaks by peering through the space between two boards.  (Last week I crammed a bit of corn husk in between two boards to give me a quick visual cue for where to look.)   I wish I could capture this on camera for you but it cannot be done in any responsible way.  I will be eager to check on them in the morning.

Early Morning Mission – Accomplished?

Paddling the inlet


Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

I have a distinct memory of being in the first grade and feeling extremely competitive about learning a children’s song that bears the same title as its opening line: “Hi, My Name is Joe.”  The song now strikes me as ridiculous, but I am certain (hopeful) it served a pedagogic purpose.  It involves a man who works in a button (button!) factory and is asked by his boss to take on more and more work.  (Perhaps this song is meant to serve as a warning).

In any event, I remember being so proud that I learned (memorized) the song before anyone else in the class and then was selected to lead the class in chanting this little doozy.  Thirty years later I am still competing – with who? for what?  Myself, I guess, though lately I feel like all versions of me keep losing the competition.  How to get back in the race?  No matter, I’ll find the starting line again.  I look for it everyone morning when I get up with a head full of tasks to accomplish, most of which I enjoy (yoga) and some of which (housework) must be done.

This morning I managed to get up shortly after 6:00.  When I realized that the temperature was an amazing 45 degrees and the lake’s surface was not wind-whipped, I made a dash for my Sun Dolphin kayak, clutching my cherished Nikon Coolpix 900, a nifty digital camera that I shoot these photos with.  I had less than an hour before I absolutely had to get ready for work (thankfully my button factory boss is forgiving) and so without too much dallying (I am an excessive dallier, I have learned) I headed for the opposite side of the inlet to look for the ancient ones (my snapping turtle friends).

Even as I was paddling across the short expanse, ready to grab my camera, ready to find THE BIG ONE, I was telling myself to calm down, enjoy the paddle, enjoy the sun (so little seen and felt lately).  I saw four or five painted turtles sliding along a few inches under the surface, easily visible because water quality on our lake is excellent right now.  Not finding any snappers, and knowing the clock ticks fastest when I least want it to, I stashed my camera back in its case and paddled another hundred yards into the inlet, hoping for loons, or the beaver.  I saw neither.  Somewhat surprisingly, I did not even see the osprey or the eagles that are so often looking for a meal in the early morning.  No mallards, no geese.  Where have they gone?

In the midst of my search for snappers, I had the good sense to take note of what was in front of me – the red-winged blackbirds.  I watched one male defend his territory, chasing off two other red-wings, and then I watched him sing, preen, sing, then preen again.  Like chickadees, red-winged blackbirds are very common in my yard, so it is all too easy to take them for granted, to look for something “better” to photograph.  This makes the surprise of “discovering” them all the more humbling.  How often the very thing that we frantically search for, that we are certain we must have, reveals itself to be something else entirely.

Usually when I go out with my camera I try to go without an agenda, with no expectations.  I try to stay open to what presents itself, be grateful that it is there, and then capture quality images.  Interestingly, to me at least, is my inability to apply this same philosophy to other aspects of my life.  Perhaps my approach to nature-watching explains why I am so happy when I do it.  No rules, no contests, no pre-conceived notions about what must occur for me to be happy.  This isn’t to say that we should not have standards, and goals, and expectations about life, work, marriage, whatever.  But how to strike a balance between expecting, creating, controlling – and then simply receiving what IS as what is, and doing so gracefully?

Women, especially, are taught not to hear their own voices, not to trust their instincts.  Children raised in difficult circumstances learn the same.  Don’t trust what you see.  Don’t trust what you hear.  Reality is fluid, malleable, revisable.   Yet it is so important to know when a shot isn’t working, to accept that a turtle probably really won’t reveal itself in the next fifteen minutes, to admit that the button factory job will remain horrendously dull.  Only when we can listen to our voices and trust what we are hearing can we decide to paddle in a different direction.  Without this knowledge we compete with darkness, and that is a competition we will lose every time.