Birds Doing New Things

While I head out to clear snow (yes it’s still snowing on and off in March- ah Spring in Upstate NY) from my own backyard birdfeeders to keep the early spring migrants well fueled against the return of Winter-like temperatures I thought my Fellow Travelers might enjoy a trip to a bird sanctuary in warmer climates. Sylvia’s blog keeps my birding dreams alive through our long cold season.

Tonji and Sylvia's Wildlife Refuge

Sometimes we see birds as predictable creatures of habit. They have favorite perches that they return to day after day. Their behavior becomes familiar and part of the flow of the day.

This has become a familiar early morning sight. 5 White Breasted Woodswallows perched on top of this Agoho tree.

Other times we get to witness entirely new behavior. I thought it was unusual to see a Philippine Bulbul perched on the round pen. They usually hide inside the trees. What was it doing?

This looks to me like a young Philippine Bulbul. Based on the sounds, I think there was a nest inside the aratiles and this bird is one of the young from the nest.

The Philippine Bulbul was carefully, drop by drop, picking up dew from the fence posts.

I’ve never seen other birds do that on the fence posts before.

Soon there was a second…

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Whereing of the Green

So fellow travelers, its St. Patrick’s Day which here in the United States translates to

parades

The rescue’s float entry celebrates HHDR’s 10th anniversary

pints

And a plethora of green garb and deco everywhere but not in my garden.

After a brief 24 hour stop over, Spring appears to have moved on to greener pastures and Old Man Winter is gleefully reclaiming his turf.

Spring flies briefly by

Snowy Saint Patrick ponders

Whereing of the green

“Hey Mom ! Look! I found green!”

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Spring Ahead

So fellow travelers, Delilah and I just returned home from a quick walk.

It is a luxurious 58 ° , the air smells like spring and the sun managed to sneak in a brief but brilliant appearance before the incoming front from the west shrouded the golden light in deep grey storm clouds.

High over head, wave after wave of migrating geese called out as small lines merged again and again into ever larger formations. A distant chatter grew suddenly louder as a massive mixed flock of smaller birds filled the sky with hundreds of black specks. The sound was almost deafening but I stood absolutely still, mesmerized by the vibrant urgency of this annual push for survival. I have seen these migrating bird clouds before but always far above me on the trails. Today I was engulfed in the sight and sound of this tsunami of flight a few dozen feet overhead. Even Delilah seemed intrigued, sitting still on a patch of newly recovered grass by a not quite thawed snow pile. She looked at me, then up at the noisy intruders, scanning the trees where dozens of birds were landing for brief respites.

The wave seemed endless, although I am sure we stood and watched for only a few minutes before all but a few stragglers flew off towards the tree lined river nearby. Ears still ringing from the high pitched cacophony, I started walking towards home. As we picked our way around patches of snow along the edge of our yard, I heard bright and clear, for the first time this year, a familiar call.

Cackling V flies

Cloud of black specks darts and chirps

Robin sings at last

Yes, there in my neighbor’s chinaberry tree sat a robin calling out between pecking at dinner. Finally! The Vernal equinox does not occur until next week, but I will gratefully take this sign that spring is on it’s way.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Where Eagles Soar

So fellow travelers, one soul stirring, rock your heart out concert later

and back home, plowing (yes I mean it quite literally) through the effects of a very stubborn winter season. A few nasty tumbles on icy patches in our driveway had me sidelined for the past few weeks and the doldrums of inactivity left my spirits and creativity flat as the frozen landscape around me.

It’s rare for me to go more than a few days without getting in a good walk, even in winter. Walking clears my head and lets me cast off the little frustrations which come from working within the public education system. The simple joys of catching a bit of light cast just so on new snow, hearing a woodpecker chatter from the bare limbs of a favorite tree, feeling the warmth of sun as it slides towards the horizon a bit later each day, all these little moments of zen which renew my soul are sorely missed when I am housebound.

This morning I had reason to get up early to drive into the city

Yep, donuts!

And trust me these are donuts worth getting up early for because this local donut shop, known for their imaginative creations, has been featuring Girl Scout Cookie themed donuts all week and they saved the best for last-

Behold the Holy Grail of DonutmeetsCookie-  a Thin Mint Donut. (cue Hallelujah chorus) I know right? Who wouldn’t rise with the sun on a Saturday morning to have a chance to get one (or two) before these treasures sold out? Nevermind the frigid temperatures registering just barely in the teens- the kind of still cold air which drives even droplets of water vapor to huddle together in tightly wound plumes spiraling slowly into the ice blue morning sky.

My pilgrimage must have been sanctioned by Divine Grace for not only was I blessed with a parking spot close to the shop, but on the drive home, I caught glimpses of several bald eagles soaring over Onondaga Lake. A quick stop at an overlook along the lakeshore allowed me to watch them, too distant for photos, but within reach of my birding binoculars.

Onondaga Lake frozen over from the lookout point

Bald Eagles have been gathering in increasing numbers to winter over at the south end of the lake, where they can easily hunt for fish in an expanse of open water created by a sewage treatment plant. Aerial majesty made possible from crap* ~

There’s a life lesson woven into that thought.

Incoming Bald Eagle taken a few weeks earlier from a different vantage point on the lake. Look closely to spot it’s hunting partner in the tree. Its a “goodasitgets” cell phone shot but you can find great photos at this link to the Onondaga Audubon photog page on Facebook.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*for the record, the open water is created from warm filtered water which flows back into the lake. The warmth and residual nutrients draw fish (mostly carp) to that end of the lake.  Pollution from raw sewage in no longer a primary concern in the overall balance of the lake, once listed as one of the most polluted fresh water bodies in the United States. The lake’s well being continues to improve after a ten year restoration project to abate contamination accumulated from decades of municipal and industrial dumping.

Ice-ing

So fellow travelers, sometimes the detours which happen along the way lead to unexpected gifts like this lunch stop I made on the way to see my favorite band ,Switchfoot, play tonight in New Jersey.

Goyza and bubble tea at Mitsuwa

My road trips this season have been plagued by weather related delays and cancellations. It’s an “occupational” hazard which comes with being an “occupant” of the Northeastern section of the United States. The most recent casualty of this seasons series of winter storms (I believe this one was named Petra) was a much anticipated backstage meeting with the band

Back in October when I booked the event, I did so knowing anything in February holds the potential for winter weather interference. Still the event was during our mid-winter break, Philadelphia is a reasonable drive and it would be an opportunity to visit with family just outside the city.

Two days before the concert, I began to see winter storm warnings. so I proactively headed to my parents place a day early. The morning of the show, weather alerts popped up on my phone indicating the forecast now included heaviest snowfall right around the time I would be headed into the city. The show ended up being cancelled, but I knew they also had a concert scheduled two nights later in Montclair, so at least I will get to see them before I head back home. My ticket for tonight’s performance does not include the backstage pass I had for the Philly concert- but that will be honored on the rescheduled date.

The day of the Philly event, I had actually opted to drive into the city several hours early, so I would arrive at the venue ahead of the heavier snow. I had confirmed the the location of a Starbucks within walking distance of the venue, so I had a warm familiar place with good coffee and wifi to hang out until it was time to check in for the backstage event- which was several hours before the concert itself. About half an hour before check-in time I decided to head back to my car and just as I was pulling on my coat, a text message popped up on my phone. Show would be rescheduled, date to be announced.

Considerably more relieved than disappointed, I plowed my way through deepening snow back to my car which was miraculously clear; the parking area was located under I-95, providing better shelter from the elements than I expected. I noticed a handful of people, I assumed were others who would have been attending the pre-show event, walking from the venue towards the parking lot. I heard a voice comment, “It’s too bad you came all the way for no reason.” A thought I might have applied to my experience but for one encounter on the snowy drive back.

At a busy intersection where cars were slowly moving through, I had stopped to wait for the next light change. On the corner I spotted someone struggling to walk through the snow, carrying a tarp and a piece of cardboard. I reached into my bag, grabbed some cash, rolled down my window. He came right over, calling out “Oh God Bless you Ma’am” before I even handed him the money. “God bless you too sir and please get yourself someplace warm,” I told him “ Thank you Ma’am I’m trying, I will.” I watched him trudge down the sidewalk before driving away, not caring that a few cars passed around me- although they at least refrained from the usual horn blast one gets when you hold up traffic.

Every element of that crazy weather driven day aligned so I had that chance to share one act of kindness for someone whose situation far outweighed any disappointment of a postponed event. Better yet, the sleet held off until just before I pulled in at my parents home. A kind of Ice-ing on a day with surprising gifts of gratitude.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

A Different Choice

So fellow travelers, a series of winter weather fronts has laid down layers of thick ice concealed beneath pristine, powder soft coatings of fresh snow.

Walking even a few steps has become a treacherous undertaking; I fell hard in my driveway getting out of the car a few days ago. Fortunately the fall resulted in nothing more than a bruised knee, sore wrist and a stiff back which was easily tweaked into place by our most excellent chiropractor. So now I use my Kahtoola NANOspikes even to walk the short path to refill my back yard bird feeders.  

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Frequent visitors to the backyard feeders

My recent newsletter from the Cornell Ornithology Lab informed me that chickadees can lose up to 10-15% of their body weight overnight trying to stay warm. Since their bright chirruping keeps my spirits up through our long cold winter season, I feel it’s the least I can do to keep these winter residents supplied with the fuel they need. The marauding squirrels are welcome too, as they provide our dog’s primary entertainment on days when it’s too blustery to walk.

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Now where did that squirrel go?

There have been too many of those this winter, at least that is how it feels but then I usually feel as if winter has dragged on long enough by the time Mid-February brings us the gift of a week off from school. “Winter Break”  is when I begin to wish Winter would give us a break. It rarely does. A quick search my blog history reveals post after post of February Blues entries.

Winter Break week does offer the blessing of getting to sleep in a bit, which has resulted in some truly bizarre pre-waking REM states.  This morning’s “ visions of surviving after a meteor strike” epic brought up this Haiku

Deep in winter sleep

Phantom demons rise and fall

Awake in the Dream

Lucid dreaming has not happened for me in quite awhile and this episode brought out some deep fears which I have been contemplating after morning meditation.The dream kept producing moments where I had to make split second decisions in the midst of absolute chaos. When I woke up I was struck by the parallel feelings I gathered from a recent blog post by my friend and accomplished writer, Jennifer Bowman in which she called for more tolerance of our darker emotions, particularly depression. The idea of allowing space for those times when depression is a natural result of the stuff life throws at us.

Jennifer also pushed back a bit at the concept that we can choose how we feel and called out the social media trend of memes which invoke “Choose Joy” as an admonishment, particularly of women, to take responsibility for their emotional states. Someone faced with the struggles of coping with a potentially fatal diagnosis,  the sudden loss of a loved one, a major career change or dramatic financial shift, these are not likely helped by such admonitions. Another friend, Tom Atkins, who writes often about the daily challenges of clinical depression speaks honestly of the void of positive thinking this state creates.

Perhaps it is less about choosing the emotion and more about choosing how we think about that emotion- a point made by both my friends. Whatever the feeling is, depression, rage, sorrow, bliss, wonder, it is not good or bad- it is at that given point in time quite simply what we are feeling. To layer judgement on top of the feeling obscures the potential within that emotion- if it is “good” we may begin to fear any change which might bring it to an end, if it is “bad” we may try to gloss over it or bury it deeper to avoid facing it.

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So then, instead of the pressure to choose “joy” or any other feeling we judge as “better,” what if we allow ourselves to “choose comfort,” to find what would ease our struggle enough to sit with the sadness, pain, anger or depression long enough to hear what it is trying to tell us. In truth, no matter what they are, our emotions are always telling us something about what it is we need. If we choose to listen, we have a chance to meet those needs and that chance can give us just enough hope to take the next step forward.

Walk gently on the path my frends and may adventure find you ready.

Atmospheric Pressure

Your thoughts are the atmosphere through which you move.” Hugh Prather

So fellow travelers, the quote above was the recent thought for the day from an inspirational calendar which sits in a spot I walk by several times a day.

It syncs nicely with this line from a book I am reading : “What are you saying to yourself ABOUT yourself?”  (Crabby Angels No Bullshit Guide by Jacob Glass*)

As one might surmise from the title, Jacob’s writing style is down to earth, pull no punches, cut through the C*R*A*P with a perfect balance of humor and genuine kindness. The message is, yes indeed, we can put on our grownup boots and get on with living our best life while being kind to others and more essentially to ourselves.

I downloaded his book to my kindle to take along for my recent trip to the Midwest, anticipating extended wait time at airports, as I was traveling through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I know, who does that midwinter, right? Still, I had a specific reason to head that way, at that time and I counted on those Crabby Angels, as Jacob calls the Inner Voice, to get me there and home again as needed.

In the book’s introduction Jacob describes how he came to find the inner guidance of these “angels” during a period of spiritual growth in the mountains and deserts of Palm Springs. Uh huh, the same mountains and deserts which gifted me with my own moments of awakening last year (cue temple bell.)

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Purple Mountain Majesty seen from Joshua Tree National Park July 2018

He says “they (the angels) are not really crabby, at all, just blunt and to the point.”  My kind of Inner Guides. Cut through the mystical mumbo jumbo and “JUST STOP… all the bullshit and manipulating and resisting.”

Now I do understand the mere mention of “angels,” “inner guidance,” “spiritual growth” or “spiritual” anything is mystical mumbo jumbo to many. If exploring this path is not comfortable for anyone right now, think of this post as a little walking path which you can easily circle back to your own main trail from. Feel free to by pass it or come explore the alternative views this side trail offers.

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Trail Marker at Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center Carlsbad CA

Some of my friends are continually amazed by my solo travels, as if I am some fearless explorer navigating the Great Unknown. In truth there is frequently a moment before I set out on any trip when I have to ride out a wave of anxiety. It does not matter whether it’s one day of scouting birding spots, a weekend at a familiar campground or a couple of weeks exploring uncharted roads or new vistas. The thoughts of all the things that could go wrong try to stuff themselves into the spare pockets of my backpack and, like the extra pair of shoes I inevitably decide I don’t need to bring, I have learned to unpack those thoughts and leave them behind.

Being fearless is not a state where one is not afraid; it’s a state where fear and doubt exist and you go ahead in spite of those feelings. One proceeds not recklessly, but mindfully, in full awareness of the reasons for those fears and equally aware of the reasons those fears have only the power one gives them. It is a state reached only through consistent practice, a way of being one can live in if we allow ourselves to grow into it. I am by no means a master of anything other than finally becoming more conscious of my thoughts and what they are telling me about myself in that moment. This trip was an extended period of practicing that kind of mindfulness and it turned out, Jacob’s book was the perfect companion for this expedition.


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Wall art at JFK airport

The journey out was amazingly pleasant and delay free, the travels home were more challenging.  The day I was scheduled to fly back East I woke up to a series of weather alerts and text messages. One flight was already cancelled and the rebooked flight was also delayed. This actually worked to my advantage as it gave me enough leeway to wait out a passing weather front so my drive from Decatur to Chicago would not be through freezing rain. By the time I returned the rental car at the airport, my flight itinerary was on its third cancellation. On the phone with a genuinely helpful customer service employee, I opted for any flight which would get me out of Chicago headed east to any airport by day’s end. The open ended approach granted me a seat on a flight which, if it got off the ground within two hours of it’s scheduled time, could get me home late that evening.

During the time we waited for the plane to be de-iced for takeoff, I read halfway through Jacobs’ book then slept for about an hour, a rest made possible by the miracle of sitting in a row by myself. I woke up when the captain announced they were pulling back up to the gate to allow people to disembark, a new procedure now required by federal regulations when passengers have been on board for two hours waiting for take off.  He clarified that once we did so the clock on the flight’s three hour cancellation window would be reset and as long as the de-icing was safely completed we would take off. Knowing the chances of getting on any other flight that night or finding an affordable hotel room within Lyft distance of the airport were slim to none and with a deteriorating weather forecast for tomorrow, I opted to stay on the plane. Heading east, away from the incoming Polar Vortex and snow had to be a better option.

20190128_104550[1]The vast windy plains of the midwest from Route 55

That flight, one of the last to leave O’Hare that evening, left four hours and twenty minutes late.  But the point is, it did take off.   

All of the details in this account relate back to the opening quote. At every point in all of the constantly changing scenarios, I had the option to choose the focal point for my thoughts. All around me I heard distressed conversations about missed business appointments, cruise ship departures, important interviews. Did I just want to get home? Absolutely. Was I frustrated, tired and hungry? Yes. Could anyone connected to the airline do anything about the weather? Absolutely not. So I focused on the things I could manage; I called my husband, emailed my administrator (who replied with characteristic good humor about trying not to reprise Tom Hank’s role in Terminal) and went back to reading Jacob’s “crabby angels” who assured me:

“All is well with you even when the circumstances are not to your liking…If you can relax even in the middle of a seeming crisis, you will find Alignment and therefore find your peace.” (Chapter 5)

Inner peace while navigating the realities of current day air travel- now that’s spiritual progress

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*Since the first Crabby Angels Chronicles, published in 2010, Jacob Glass has written numerous books, including one for teens. If the ideas interest you, my favorite source for his work is found here.

Journey

So fellow travelers, I find myself navigating airports, car rentals and unfamiliar highways this weekend on an unplanned journey

This is a trip prompted by a calling of the heart, a response to a feeling, an inner directive this is a time when hugs need to be given in person.

After two consecutive major winter storms which disrupted air travel and shutdown major roads in the Midwest and East Coast, Mother Nature blessed my flights here with clear weather.

Even with a snowy drive to reach my destination last night, the morning brought a cold but beautiful sunrise, complete with a halfmoon cookie in the sky.

The memorial I am here to attend is a tribute to a friend’s husband, a man I never met in person yet feel as if I now know well through the wonderful stories his colleagues and friends gave at the celebration.

And what a beautiful celebration this has been. A room full of so many people, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, callings and professions all touched by one extraordinary human whose life has been dedicated to kindness, family and joy.

Oh yes, and pie

~ lots and lots of pie because he loves pie just as he loves others, all kinds are equally awesome.

“Loves”, in the present tense because as a family friend said in her tribute, the essence of who he was as a person, his energy, still is. She referenced the Law of Conservation of Energy, a basic principle of physics and her words proved true.

Love, kindness and joy filled that room, embraced my friend and her two young daughters, already working to mend their broken hearts. Their lives, forever changed, will go on supported and surrounded by the “bigger circle” he created for them.

Ducks at a park nearby.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Successful Simplicity

Insight and something worth considering from a good friend , fellow writer and in many ways a mentor who makes a difference.

The Wisdom Letters

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This morning on my poetry blog, I posted the poem below:

Every. Thing.

Simple curved wood.
A few tacks.
Stain.
Shellac.

A place at the table
void of clutter.
A pair of pencils.

Enough.
No more.

In the next room a clock.
The pendulum swings silently.
Time is told.
No more.

Every.
thing.
tells you about
yourself,
about what is enough,
and if you poke at it,
why.

Simplicity and Minimalism are all the rage these days, but…

We are told how many books we should have, how to fold, what to cut out. The Ipod, that now nearly extinct music player that once dominated our life reduced a wall of audio equipment into a tiny little thing that fit in our pocket, with one of the great user interfaces of all time. In business circles, we are told to simplify, simplify, simplify, all while the world demands…

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Walking Towards the Light

So fellow travelers, even after hitting “publish,” the last entry felt incomplete, yet I had resolved to start writing again, so I pushed an ending onto it and posted the first entry for the year. It felt more like the final entry for last year and on thinking so, this quote came to mind:

So the last shall be first, and the first, last: for many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16 ) King James Bible

It is no less mystifying to me now than when I first heard it in Sunday school over five decades ago, so rest assured I am not going to veer towards biblical pontification here.

All I know is when the phone call came this morning saying due to weather (ice this time instead of snow) school was closed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and the opportunity to sit down and review. After the final edit, I rarely re-read entries once they are posted because like an art teacher once taught us, there comes a time to put down the paint brush and walk away. Yet as I said there was something which felt incomplete, so I began re-reading and as I did, two things became clear
~ I am tired of being upset and angry about the past “situation” at work.
~ I am processing grief on several levels, past and present, and this process is weighed down by the unresolved anger so I need to attend to that first.

Traditional Japanese New Year’s decorations

Early in my exploration of spiritual paths, a group of friends and I learned a technique for working with challenging emotions. After going through the basic breathing for focus and relaxation, we visualized ourselves in a safe and sacred space. Once settled there, we would invite the emotion to enter the space, where it would be present but unable to hurt us in anyway. This allowed us to have a dialogue with the emotion to discover what it “needed” from us. The session had fascinating and for some, profoundly moving results. This morning I decided to sit with this unresolved anger and see what it had to say.

Often when I practice this technique, my anger appears as a restless, pacing tiger. Today it showed up as a snarling badger. My first thought was “I miss my tiger,” probably because while I respect the potential danger of a tiger’s power, they are after all simply big cats and I have almost as much affinity for cats as I do for dogs. We would have several if our current resident Diva was more accepting of cats. My tiger has become familiar, this badger was a mean, unpredictable intruder and it let me know in no uncertain terms it was RAVENOUS. When I asked what would satiate it’s hunger, it told me it wanted to eat my heart. No, I said, my heart holds all my hope and joy and you cannot have that. The badger screamed so loud it startled me,  but I also felt myself propelling all my frustration into that scream until there was nothing left. The badger** looked at me calmly, turned and walked away. I came out of this meditation with my heart racing and sense of release so powerful, I started sobbing.

It is time to relinquish my efforts to get any response from the district adminstration about the systemic failures which allowed a volatile situation to continue for so long. I will walk away from my career next year knowing I did what I could and hope the changes needed will come before any one is seriously physically harmed.

My time and energy are better given to other needs calling for my attention. Last year ended with a heartbreaking loss for a colleague, a young teacher whose first child was stillborn at seven months, something very close to my own experience 31 years ago. We began this year saying goodbye to an elder family member who had made the passage beyond life just before New Year’s Day. The carnations at her burial brought sudden memories of her sister ( my mother-in-law) who left this life two and a half years earlier.  A few weeks later our younger daughter returned to Portland, to continue her search for a way forward, her future more uncertain than this mother’s heart can abide. So those tears ran wild until there were none left give, running with my hope their salt can heal the fractures into a stronger spirit. Strength I will need for the journey come, because life goes on and it is time to set out on the path again.

Winter Light on a favorite path

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

**Postscript: In fairness to the many taxidea taxus who inhabit our region it should be noted that although they are omnivores who consumer small rodents and birds when they can catch them, their diet consists mainly of earthworms. I think my heart is safe.