Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

The woodpeckers found us again this year. It’s a treat to see them. We have a male and female munching on the black oil sunflower seeds. They are a nice size and lovely to look at.

I used to think that all woodpeckers only came in the Woody Woodpecker persona but that was incorrect; woodpeckers come in lots of variations. I believe our kind is a Northern Flicker. I know that dedicated birdwatchers need to identify what birds they see but I am not obsessed with identification. It’s the visual aspect of bird watching that gets me. I don’t have a life list of birds, either, documenting the birds I see in my travels though I have been privileged to see many different kinds. A birder likes to observe birds in their natural habitats. My backyard may not qualify as natural because when I put out seed for the birds, it automatically changes the environment. I say that the birds will find food wherever it is so why not in our backyard? I’m pretty accepting of whichever birds show up.

I’m sort of like that with people, too. I am always impressed with how much variety there is in humanity. It’s amazing to think that the category of person can come in so many sizes, colors, shapes, and individual details. Like the birds, each person has his or her own characteristics and personality. Pretty remarkable, I say, whether bird or person. And inspiring, too, that our world can support so much diversity, as long as we value it.

Lots of woodpeckers have red heads:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

For some reason, the squirrels like to sit on our patio chairs. Usually they sprawl flat out along the top or laze quite comfortably on the seat. They are aware of the people who live in the house but we don’t seem to bother them unless we open the door and chase them away.

This time a squirrel was upright on the back of the chair, facing the yard. He (or was it she?) knew we were watching but it did not bother him. He was relaxed and seemed to be taking in “his” property, observing the colors of the leaves, the birds as they flew on and off the feeders, the other squirrels zipping along the ground around him. He had the look of being master of all he surveys. We didn’t have the heart to shoo him off.

We have lots of squirrels in our backyard. They make nests in the trees, eat the seeds that drop from the feeders and sometimes find a way to get around the baffles and onto the feeders themselves. They chase each other during breeding season, run strangers away, or sometimes they scrabble just for fun. We complain that they share too many of our vegetables and use our patio for their own social gatherings. Occasionally, one will look in our kitchen window and stare at our table as we eat. We can almost hear the question, So, what’s for dinner?

This was different, however. The squirrel wasn’t looking for handouts. He wasn’t in breeding mode or protecting his turf. There was a peacefulness about him, unusual for a creature who seems constantly active. The squirrel’s tail stretched long and rested down the chair’s back, not twitching like I was used to seeing.

He/she stayed there for quite a while. I was transfixed with every turn of the creature’s head. There was something sacred about the scene. Did the squirrel feel connected with what he was seeing? Once, he turned and looked toward the glass door through which we were watching but did not register any fright or inclination to scoot away, then turned back and continued what now seemed like a vigil.

I couldn’t tell if the squirrel was owning what he/she saw or being embraced by it. It didn’t matter. As I watched, I felt a connection – to the squirrel, to what was being observed, to the larger sense of nature. Suddenly everything seemed new.  It was a broadening experience propelled from a very simple cause. It made me aware that the world is always different, depending upon one’s view. 

I turned away before the squirrel did. In the morning, the backyard was once again bustling with activity. I couldn’t tell which squirrel was the philosopher but I could appreciate the idea that everyone, whatever our size, has a personal perspective to offer.

An overview of the Eastern Gray Squirrel:


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Early Morning Clouds

Early Morning Clouds

I am not a morning person. It takes me a while to gather my energy so much of breakfast preparation takes place automatically. It’s a good thing oatmeal doesn’t need special attention.

Having said that, I am often startled out of my lethargy when I look out the kitchen window. Sometimes a new bird will surprise me or a flower that planted itself will suddenly appear. This time it was the sky that did it.

The trees were just awakening themselves, their leaves barely hanging on in mid-season. They seemed to be framing something that drew my eyes upward. Just above and beyond them was an exuberance of white clouds. It woke me up right away. I sensed myself being drawn upward into the vastness of the sky. How much larger I felt! 

Clouds often represent things depending on their form. The lighter ones tend to be associated with air and movement, higher thought, expansion and enlightenment. The darker ones are seen as more related grief or omens of change. But whatever the symbolism, there is always movement involved. Clouds are not indicative of the past; they exist in the present.

I wasn’t seeking the clouds’ meaning in the morning but I responded to their presence. They moved along at a slow pace, inviting me to dream along with them. And so I did for the rest of the day, making up my own symbolic definition of infinity, allowing myself to bask in their, and my connection with all of nature.

Chinese symbolism:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tomatoes on the Sill

Tomatoes on the Sill

It has been a good tomato season for us. I rarely bought any this summer. There is nothing better than picking something from your own garden, warm and juicy, and serving it right then. Yum.

But the season has changed and it was time to clean out the greenhouse. Our plants were just about done, though there were several green tomatoes that I couldn’t bear to let go. So I picked the remaining ones and put them on our windowsill, hoping that they would ripen. They wouldn’t be fresh-picked when we ate them but they wouldn’t have traveled for days (weeks?) to get to the market so they should still have a newness about the taste.

This weekend on my regular afternoon walk, I saw that someone else had culled a tomato garden. The wilted vines were laying at the curb – with tomatoes still on them! Some were even red. Why weren’t they picked before the plants were uprooted? Did they have bugs or fungus that prevented a late harvest? It was all I could do to not dive in and rescue the poor produce. It seemed like a gift rejected. When I returned home, I looked at the tomatoes on my sill. One already started to show a blush on its mostly green skin. I was glad I had saved it and the others.

I wouldn’t make a good farmer. I would not be happy if I had to destroy any crops because of blight or government mandate or lack of a living wage due to overabundance. I am grateful for the local, organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free produce offered in my area. I look forward to visiting the farmers’ markets that pop up in Spring, to buying and supporting sustainable agriculture. The little I grow on my own connects me with the earth and I am grateful for the taste it provides. 

There are so many little things that add to the joy in life. Why not tomatoes?

Some easy, practical tips to growing tomatoes:

More involved info:

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Trees are Showing Off

The Trees are Showing Off            

Here it comes – Autumn! It’s been Fall officially since September 22nd but it takes a while for Mother Nature to make the transition. Now the trees are showing off. Red and yellow leaves decorate the streets, both on the branches and on the ground. Some people around my neighborhood are already raking though it seems futile at this point; the trees have just begun their annual leaf-release.
I remember walking through the leaves that gathered on the sidewalk when I was growing up. I loved the crunchy sound of the drying maple leaves as I stomped through them. I still do. I make it a point to shuffle my feet in the colorful piles as I take my afternoon walk. Sometimes I kick the leaves into the air and watch as they fall back down; I stop at actually jumping into the raked mounds as I once did. I can’t help smiling, though. I am re-experiencing a pleasant childhood ritual.
As I grew older, I was the one in the family who did the raking. I never minded – even now it isn’t an onerous task. I don’t mind shoveling either, when Fall shifts into Winter and the snow falls. Yes, it’s work, but it is also a moment to reconnect with a younger me.
I know the leaves aren’t falling to amuse me. Trees are responding to the season. Daylight is shorter, temperatures are cooler, the air is dryer. The trees try to conserve their energy by using the nutrients stored in their roots and trunks. Photosynthesis is no longer available. The colors are there all the time but are masked by the chlorophyll during the warmer parts of the year. Now we can see their beauty.
I wonder if we do the same thing, mask our inner beauty, as we pass through our own sense of seasons. Do we succumb to peer pressure in our teen years? Do we hold back our creative spirit in the workplace? Are we reluctant to express our convictions to politicians, clergy, relatives, friends? Perhaps the trees can remind us that we, too, have a dazzling inner core. Our life seasons may be longer but they are just as compelling – if we allow ourselves to see who we really are.

Why do trees shed their leaves?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure

It was a beautiful Fall day. We were driving to a public park in a nearby town, about eight miles from our home. It was a small park, announced by a non-descript sign, but unless you knew where to look, you’d never see it. Wooden benches were scattered in a haphazard pattern along the grass on either side of a creek. There was a gravel path, mostly overgrown with weeds that led to a bridge that straddled the creek.
We had been here before but on this day we walked further inside the park. On one side of the water we discovered some fields for play, a few swings, and a small waterfall that splashed over the few rocks imbedded in the ground. On the other side were modestly rolling hills and some houses whose backyards led down to the water. The owners had decorated the bank with windmills and plastic flowers that added color and fun to the surroundings.
Further on, the water ran under a main road in town and appeared again under the crossing to resume its amble through the weed-grassy fields. It provided a reminder of the days when the town was mostly farms.
It wasn’t an impressive park but it was a delight all the same. I watched the water tumble onto the rocks and slowly go back to its calm meandering. I saw a young man taking photos – with a real camera – along the water’s edge. I smiled at the couple having a conversation on one of the benches and I let out a sigh as we approached our car for the drive home.
It was the kind of day that helps a person breathe deeper, to set aside whatever might be on your mind, if only for a brief time. But that respite is truly a treasure in our frenetic world. And all it took was a short ride and the willingness to look deeper into what seemed like nothing special. I’m glad we have parks.

Why are parks valuable?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hummingbird on the Feeder

Hummingbird on the Feeder

I had a hummingbird feeder sitting in my closet for a while, acquired with all good intentions of setting it out in the backyard but I didn’t get around to it last year. This summer I decided it was time. I filled the feeder with the sugar mixture hummingbirds like, put it outside my kitchen window and waited…and waited. I occasionally saw one eating from the butterfly bush but I thought they would enjoy the feeder more. Had the hummingbirds found other places to feed?

And then, there it was! There is something so exciting about seeing a hummingbird. It was tiny, only three to four-some inches, yet so beautiful.

I went on alert for sightings and discovered that they came around several times during the day. The bird uses so much energy flapping its wings that it has to eat often. And it is that flapping that gives it its name because its speed creates a hum.

I watched them all summer. I hadn’t realized that they were so territorial, chasing away other birds, even hummers, with their aggressiveness. These little beings were not easily intimidated.

Now it’s Fall. I know they will be migrating but I hope they will be back next year. I’ll make sure that I supply their food. I would hate to miss them. You never know when beauty will present itself.

Hummingbird facts:

More facts – listen to the sound clip:

Hummingbird migration: