Yesterday I participated in the Winter Bald Eagle Survey. My route was the Winooski River, from Waterbury to Lake Champlain. While I did not see any eagles, I got to see the river in its winter splendor. It was cold. The day started at 3 below zero and got all the way up to 6 degrees. Here is the Winooski River as I saw it yesterday.
Took a walk at Shelburne Farms the other day. Ka-pow! The lake was roiled. The wind was up. The leaves flashed their colors. The gray clouds skipped across the sky.
Yesterday rain fell. The sky was dark. By late afternoon the sky was really dark. But then the sun broke through and the hills lit up. Eye candy.
Suddenly this will all be gone. The wind will rush in and strip the trees. The fields will turn from green to brown. Snow will fall. The world will be beautiful in a new way. But this, this is stunning. It calls for expletives and interjections and exclamations and acclamations. And sometimes all of them in one sentence.
The river runs not high but not low. A sand bank toward the far side pushes the water away, causing the current to run faster. Across the river the banks drop steeply. In spring, Bank Swallows nest here, burrowing into the sand, flying low over the water to catch flies. Today it is not spring. Fall’s glory has passed. The brilliance of turning leaves is over. Those leaves lie in wilted piles among the bare shrubs.
But it is not yet winter. The current flows smoothly over rocks and sand and mud. A few moths still flit among the maples. There is no ice under which the water must crawl, no ice to scrape at the log lodged in the river’s bend. Snow does not yet fall. Today there are no clouds and the air is warm enough for scattered green leaves in the under-story to spread to catch the sun. But the sun is low, and will not last much longer today.
Upstream, at the mouth of the stream that melts into the river, a beaver just stirs in its lodge. It has been waiting for the light to dim, for shadows to grow long. It dips into the water, swims, waits again. Soon it will climb the bank to work at the silver maple it plans to fell. Already it has cleared smaller trees. It will chew away the bark, working steadily, wary of predators. Perhaps this tree will fall before winter sets in. Perhaps spring winds will send it tumbling. Perhaps it may prove more stubborn, standing for years before its top branches dip into the water. The beaver, however, does not concern itself with such possibilities. It simply works.
Two Blue Jays call across the bare trunks. A woodpecker knocks. A second calls to it and sends the first flapping away. A small breeze taps branches together, but mostly it is quiet. Crickets, cicadas, birds do not sing. Squirrels stay still. The woods here rest, exposed, not waiting exactly, not sure or unsure, just knitting the past into the present so the future can be only an imagined thing that does not matter to this day.
Soon the sun will drop below the hills. The day’s heat will drift off, like milkweed seeds across a field. In the dark, the river will seem louder. No bats will dot the skies but owls will call. Already owls are planning for spring, finding mates, starting nests. They plan for the future, like the beaver, doing today what must be done for tomorrow. Mice will crawl under dry leaves, finding seeds that won’t become flowers, feeding the owls, thinking only of right now, this November day next to the river that will not stop flowing, even when the ice comes.
I started birding in earnest after I had a stroke. Instead of going to therapy, I went outside and paid attention to the world around me. I tried to run, but I found that I just kept thinking inwardly, going to dark places. It wasn’t fun. When I went birding, however, I was looking outward rather than inward. I was focused on sights and sounds, on the wind and the river under the bridge, on finding something new wherever I was. I returned feeling better, feeling more perspective on my place in the world.
Getting out in nature can have this impact for many people. It is hard not to notice what is around when you are hiking a mountain trail or canoeing a river. Birding for me gave me more of a focus. I had to pay attention. If my goal was to find as many different birds as possible, I had to be aware. Being passive was not an option. So I got out there and I paid attention and it healed my mind. Having a task, a focus, was key. I stopped paying attention to me when I paid attention to what I heard and saw.
Yesterday morning I visited the Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston to go birding. This was part of a bird walk sponsored by Green Mountain Audubon. There were quite a few people there, maybe 20 or so. I meant to count the people but I was too focused on counting birds. We walked the trails for over two hours and, despite the hundreds of mosquitoes, found 45 species of birds. Two highlights were the flock of Blue Jays mobbing a Barred Owl and a Red-Winged Blackbird chasing a Green Heron. We also heard, however, a Brown Creeper, a shy bird who looks like tree bark and whose song is high and hard to hear. Finding that bird means really paying attention so it is rewarding to discover it.
The photo above has a Cedar Waxwing in it. It is perched at the top of a fir. It is hard to see, but I heard its high trilling song, then narrowed down its location and saw it well with binoculars. Birding is not about seeing the birds that make themselves obvious. It is about seeking out the birds that are there, finding them even when they are not obvious. That is the therapy for me in birding.
I will keep at it for now. There are multiple levels of challenge. How many birds can I find with each outing? How many birds can I find each year? How many birds can I find this year in my county? What might I find new today? Can I finally learn the song of the Blackburnian Warlber? There is the life list to consider as well: how many birds can I find ever? I won’t get bored. I will continue to learn and to discover new things. I will keep my mind healthy. And while I’m at it, I will have fun. That’s some good therapy right there.
Mornings these days are covered in dew. The grass–wet. The flowers–wet. Everything is wet. My son’s jacket was left out last night. I found it after my morning run, soggy as the rest of it. The field is dewy and filled with spider webs. The whole stretch of it is filled with webs. They drip with dew and as the sun angles low across the world, they shine. Looking out in the early hours I can see them hanging between stalks of aster and milkweed and goldenrod.
This morning Venus dangled in the sky like a jewel. The wind stirred the fog over the river. The asters, closed for the night, bent in the breeze. The world woke. And I ran out into it and back. And I felt alive. And the sun rose over the beauty of it all.
And there we have a September morning.
I have been getting up early to run these past few mornings. I love to do that. The problem is that it is hard to get up early. At least, it’s hard to get up early enough to be back in time to get all of us ready for work and school and whatnot. I’m rising in the dark, and it is only going to get darker. And then I’ll get all used to the darkness slowly shifting they’ll throw daylight savings at me. I pretty much hate daylight savings. Why can’t we just pick where the clocks will be?
Anyway, I’m getting up early. I have to be all careful so I don’t wake the woman in the bed next to me who has tried so hard to sleep all night. I have to be quiet as I walk down the hall and down the creeky stairs so I don’t wake the children. I always step on some toy or bang into some chair left in an odd place. I rarely get out without some loud crash or bump or screech. But get out I do.
And when I do, the sun is working on the back side of Camel’s Hump and the sky glows and the low clouds are tinged with pink and the world is just beautiful. It is hard not to enjoy it when the day starts off with its show. Cloudy, rainy, clear, snowing, whatever, it is always beautiful. If you can’t see it you need glasses or something. Or you live in a place where you can’t see the world around you. Because the world is just plain old stunning as the sun rises and the wind shakes the dew from the turning leaves and the spider webs grace the goldenrod. I may be tired but it is so worth it.
Tomorrow morning I will try to rise again, even earlier. The farther I want to go the earlier I need to rise. So once I really get to the high mileage I need to get up way early. But I’m just doing the shorties now–one to five miles–just to get out there and feel the morning and to get moving. Sure, I’ll train for something sooner or later, and sure, I’ll run later in the day at times, but I need to remember, when I am bleary eyed and tuckered, that the early morning will give me a shot better than any espresso.
My shoes get wet as I walk across the dew-covered grass. A late bat swoops over the field. The asters quake in the breeze. And the smell of fallen leaves mingles with a far off skunk and damp earth. It makes one appreciate being alive.
New images were just released from the Hubble telescope, the first since the spring, when some repairs were made. You can read a New York Times article here to learn more. Here is one of the images:
Look up into the night sky (if you live in a place that isn’t so flooded with light that you can’t see the night sky) and you can see more stars than you can count. On a clear night, even here so close to so many lights, I can see the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon. I get, well, starstruck sometimes. But this photo isn’t of stars, it is of galaxies. There are too many galaxies to count. And each one of them contains countless stars. And eac star is too big to truly comprehend. It can make one dizzy.
Jupiter is just visible as I write this, rising in the east. It has been hanging around our skies for many nights lately. If I could see over the hill to the west I might have seen Saturn or even Mercury just after the sun set. Dang hill.
The world itself, this planet Earth of ours, is too vast to grasp. I can’t really fathom 6 1/2 billion people, or the depth of the ocean, or the dryness of the Gobi Desert, or camels. And look at that picture. How many worlds are there just within its frame? How can there not be life out there somewhere? The odds are with us on that one. It seems almost impossible that there wouldn’t be life beyond Earth.
I saw a beetle today I had never seen before–yellow and black and green with stripes. Check it out:
Isn’t that amazing enough? And the milkweed on which it sits–isn’t there discovery in the shape and color and structure of those leaves? Countless immense galaxies and tiny new beetles to be gazed upon. I’ve got more than enough wonder for many lifetimes.