Last Day of the Year

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We finally got some snow here in the valley. Not much, mind you, but enough to make things look bright. We took a trip to the hardware store and they filled the new inflatable sleds we got for Christmas. They worked like a charm. Fast and fun. Until one of them found a stick, got a slice, and flattened right out, with me on it. No more of that sled today.

At the beginning of the year I set a few birding goals. First was to find 50 species of birds in Vermont in January. Check. Second was to make a birding checklist every day of the year. As of today, check to that as well. Total checklists: 562. My third goal was to find 300 species of birds. As of today I have seen 406. A sub-goal was to find 300 birds in North America alone. When the year started I had not planned a trip out of the country, but with a trip to South Africa that yielded lots of species not found in North America, I easily made my goal. North American birds: 279. Pretty far off but not too shabby.

I have been thinking about goals for 2017. One goal is to run more. I have not run as much in the past several years. Out of shape, lazy, injuries, depression–I have all kinds of reasons. But I’m done with that. I am going to hit the roads again. Twice a week at least. I would like to say that I will run a half marathon in 2017 but I have made goals like that before and then gotten injured; so let’s say that is a tentative goal. I am willing to put in the effort–it just might not be an option.

Birding goal? I want to move away from the list a little. One goal is to go birding in half a dozen National Wildlife Refuges. They are always beautiful to visit and offer fantastic birding. I will have to hope no group of fruit loops decide to occupy one when I plan to visit, as happened this year in Oregon. I also would like to add some birds to my life list. How about ten? Can I add ten lifers? That isn’t too many but I will have to get out there to make it happen. So I have a list-based goal after all.

And I need to write more. How about I average one blog post per week? That seems doable. Plus I need to make some progress on that book. I will make that one a sub-goal–get an outline done. Then I can take it from there.

This was a good year in many ways. I watched my children grow and do some great things. I took some trips and saw new places. I watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Mansfield. My son and I visited South Africa to see a good friend, plus zebras and lions ostriches. I heard Hermit Thrushes and Golden-Winged Warblers and Baltimore Orioles and Go-Away Birds. I swam in clear water in summer and skied on fresh snow in winter. I baked dinner rolls and made cheesecake. Lots to celebrate.

2016 also offered up some crap. Some of that is the usual crap–work stress, stupid mistakes (did I really back into that car in the trail head parking lot?), stuff that gets tossed around in the course of your standard day. Other crap was a little bigger–Brexit and the U.S. presidential election come to mind. Hopefully we all will get though that garbage in the next few years and come out with some lessons learned. I have less hope for that than usual but I am not totally hopeless.

So here is to 2017. May it be filled with everyday joy and wonder and beauty and fun. And may the bigger crap be less biggery and crappy than it might be. But mostly let’s go for the first bit. Happy New Year y’all!

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Dark Days

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Mornings are dark now. I wake and the sun has not risen. Soon the darkest days will be here. Should I rise and head out into the world when the light cannot be seen? When darkness tucks itself into shrubs and flows over the river and settles on the frosted meadow?  The coming solstice is a time to celebrate the return of light. These days, I am not so hopeful.

In the wee hours of November 9th I checked the news. Then I deleted a few news apps from my phone, the tool I have used to get most of my news. I needed a break from news. I have since then read little, listened little, watched little. I just couldn’t handle it. For my mental health I had to leave the broader world behind for a bit.

In the past I have been disappointed, even surprised, at election results. I have been on the losing side and figured things wouldn’t go the way I would like for a little while. A bummer, but that’s politics. Sometimes you just don’t win. But I always had faith in the process. I had faith in my country. I tend to believe people are good, whether at the voting booth or on the street. Sure, people make bad choices sometimes. We all do. But overall I have believed in the collective good. My faith has been shaken now. This election was not just about a “difference of opinion” but about deciding who we are as a nation. I am struck by what I see.

It is not easy to write when I do not know who will read what I write. I am tired of the demonizing of the “other” or those on the “other side” due to conflicting beliefs. I am happy to disagree with someone if we can try to understand each other. That makes for healthy communities. I don’t want everyone to think the same way. We need to pool all ideas to come up with a few good ones. But now I am not so sure it is even safe to say what I feel.

Our president-elect has done things that are blatantly immoral, unethical, even cruel, and he has accused others of those same trespasses. He has lied and lied and then called his opponents liars. He represents all that is mean and spiteful and selfish. I believe that kindness matters more than most things. Perhaps it is the most important thing. Yet I have seen no kindness from the man who will be our nation’s leader.

I understand why others sought someone who challenged the current order, why change seems necessary to so many, why the circumstances of so many people in the United States are not what they could be. I understand the appeal of someone who seems to speak frankly, who speaks differently, who says things so many people have wanted to say but felt they could not. I get it. But this is not the guy to bring that kind of change.

He will bring change, I have no doubt. But a man whose goal is his own glory will not bring the change we need to make this nation or the world or neighborhoods or communities better places to live. He will bring the kind of change that my children’s generation will have to spend decades trying to fix. We can disagree on how to make positive change. I welcome that. If we disagree on the solution it means we are asking the same question, that we are seeing the problem together. I have no faith that our president-elect has any idea what questions to ask. I have no faith that he believes in the value of asking questions at all.

I say all this taking the risk that you might read this, find yourself disagreeing, and toss slings and arrows my way. So be it. When the days get dark, we need to believe that light will return. This is my candle. Lighting a candle in the darkness can bring hope. It makes one visible, perhaps vulnerable, perhaps a target. But right now, I need hope. I want to believe there are others out there who are willing to light their own candles. I want my nation to be one that celebrates tolerance and kindness. A little light would help right now.

I have been unsure how to approach this space. I could not simply pretend that all is well, that I live in a place untouched by the rest of the nation or the world. I could not write simply about the beauty of falling snow or the glow of the frost in the morning or the smell of fresh bread. I will write about those things because we need them, because we need to see the wonder that surrounds us every day, because those kinds of things make life meaningful. I needed to acknowledge, however, that there is some darkness behind those things now. I can only trust that the days will get longer, that one day spring will arrive again.