Paying Attention

IMG_0538I 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.

Cedar Waxwing, not hiding at all

Cedar Waxwing, not hiding at all

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.

October Ice

My good friend Scott has a birthday today. Here is one for him.




I stepped off the train in Rock Springs

hours before we had planned to meet.

The air smelled of rain falling

but not reaching the ground. I wandered

among dust until dark, until everything

but the bars closed. Scott was late, then

hunched over the Volvo’s wheel as he drove

past me on the curb. When he stepped around

to the passenger seat I drove us into a night

already ripening into tomorrow.

We headed north, both of us taciturn.

Grass and sage stretched east and west.

Beyond them in the dark the Wind Rivers rose.

The predators–bears, wolves, coyotes–had been shot

or fenced out, so rabbits had the run of the place.

They dashed through our headlights, the pavement

bumpy with their crushed bodies. I sucked in my breath

at the smack and crunch of quick death.

We agreed to sleep under the stars

and the aspens at the Eden cemetery,

outside town. A warm wind blew

over tilted tombstones and the weathered

stockade fence. We cocooned ourselves

in sleeping bags on the dusty ground.

While we slept the air froze. Death

surrounded us all night, our trip

just beginning. Ahead of us

were scuffed boots and several pitches

before we reached any clear view.

We carried a list of adventures and futures

we couldn’t imagine. The ghosts of settlers and nomads

whispered lessons the dead learn when they leave

their bodies to the earth. The words stiffened

in the cold air, drifted with the scent of sage,

wrapped the fence, the stones with blankets of ice.

We lay in the moments before shadows,

reviewing frame by frame what might come,

then lifted our bags and scattered frost

into the dust. When wind rubbed smooth

our tracks, these fragile crystals would melt,

moisten grass and bits of fur

and the remnants of bones. These blades of ice,

pulled from October air, would rise, fall

again and settle in sedimentary cracks.

With the patience of ice they would push down

stone after stone from the peaks the morning light

had just begun to warm with the scent of day.

Best Part of the Day

Today this was waiting for the bus in the afternoon.  I had two meetings cancelled today which meant I had time to go home before I worked in the evening.  I walked down our long driveway with my wife and my son, the sun shining on the snow, the air cold but typical for late January.  It was beautiful.  I thought of nothing else at that moment.  I watched my son run and jump in the snow and I was content.

The school bus has given me that–time to just be outside on a fine day and look around and be with my family.  And then my daughter gets off the bus and she is such a big kid and I am a proud dad and we walk back to the house together.

Today, as on many days, it was the best part of the day.