Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Hourglass

Today I present some thoughts about birding under time constraints. As the saying goes, "Time is precious."

A wilting Firewheel Blanket flower
What would you do with the time if you knew you only had 1 year to do it all?

Juvenile Mississippi Kite will soon prepare for migration
 My New Year's challenge was to find as many birds in the US as I could while staying within the top 100 on ebird.  So far that goal has been realized, but the game gets harder and more exciting. I'm feeling the time constraints as we approach mid-September.  Migration isn't going to last forever and the year is now winding down. 

A view of Cataract Lake
Over this past weekend, we went up to Flagstaff, AZ.  It's still hot here in the desert and the upper elevations are much more preferable.  The birds, however, don't care and are moving through both the upper and lower elevations.  For me, it's a balancing act trying to juggle the time and routes taken to the various areas.  So with the time given, we did a "clean sweep" along a corridor to pick up as many new birds as we could for the national and state lists.  Granted none of them were life birds but it was fun playing detective. 

Prairie Dogs watch us while we bird near their homes
Meanwhile in other far away parts of the state, there are rare birds flying around canyon lakes and rivers. It's fun exploring new areas but it's also difficult picking and choosing which bird to go after! Places like Cataract and Ashurst Lakes had sounded interesting to me.  Plus I also wanted to check out these Río de Flag spots around Flagstaff.  All of these places proved to be exciting in their own ways.  

American Crows were everywhere around Lake Ashurst
 Sometimes the birding can seem tedious and like anything, it's good to spice it up a little.  No hotels or tents this time.  Instead we chose to stay in a teepee.  I love to plan trips like these.  It takes a little imagination to make something memorable.  And while our main purpose was to find Pinyon Jays, it was also to have a little fun. 

Our teepee "Kachina" at a Flagstaff Campground
 Inside the teepee it was comfortable and we slept well on our cots. The cool mountain air was so nice!

Have you noticed that birds inspire a lot of art around us?  Everywhere we go now, I see them on walls, beverage coasters, etc.  Last week I was called in for possible Grand Jury Duty!  

A Summer Tanager proves to be good luck!
I would have had to report to our court system twice a week until January.  Thankfully, I have a job that requires me to be with people everyday.  The judge was sympathetic to my situation and let me go. However, while I awaited his decision on that jury bench, I looked out at the colorless courtroom and discovered a bird calendar hanging on the wall.  Seeing that Summer Tanager stare back at me was a good omen.  

A Western Bluebird watches over Micheal
With migration under way, we have had to switch locales quite often.  From cool mountain breezes to the hot desert floors.

Hundreds of shorebirds and only 3 of these Stilt Sandpipers to be found!
So while we are searching for our target birds, I try to absorb everything around us because I don't know how long we'll stay in each area.  There are some spots where I wish we could spend more time. 

The grasses of Lake Cataract were full of Sparrows, Finches and other small birds.  The wind created this dreamy and sleepy feel
But the sand is slipping through that imaginary hourglass.  Every weekend is booked for the next two months.  

Near Lake Ashurst, the Pinyon Jays proved to be numerous and vocal
Once we found the Pinyon Jays, our time was up.  So on Saturday during sunset, I absorbed as much of this golden landscape as I could. 

Lesser long nosed bat
Two weekends ago, I started feeling the time constraints while observing the nectar feeding bats at the hummingbird stations. They, along with the migrating shorebirds and hummingbirds, are signs that fall will arrive soon. 

With views like this, it's a wonder we get any "work" done!
Over the next several weekends, I'll be up on Mt. Lemmon working on Hermit Warblers.  Then it's off to Globe, AZ for the AZFO conference with Gordon Karre.....and then Colorado.  Never a dull moment.  I am reminded, thanks to birding, that time is indeed precious.  

And while on the road, I am always thankful for these wonderful opportunities to explore.  Take your own trek and check out all the amazing birds around our world at Wild Bird Wednesday.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Very Human Dedication

Once there was a time when I gazed over the waters like this boy in the photo above. For me, water was the gateway to inspiration and my imagination. I felt safe watching the waves crash over the cement sidewalk leading up to our local lighthouse. The cold spray would stab my face like tiny ice needles.  In my mind, the waters of Lake Michigan went on forever but I knew they touched another shore on the opposite side. Was it so different?  What would I find?

Mississippi Kite-discovering new things is amazing
Every night, the car ferry would leave the port of Manitowoc and cross over to Ludington, Michigan. The lighthouse of the lake would spy upon the large ferry silently sliding out of port.  From there, it would navigate across the black expanse lit only by the stars and moon.  A mammoth thing this ship was.  I would run out to the lighthouse at midnight along the pier.  There I'd watch this mechanical beast pass into the night sky.  Her cabin lights sparkled like the stars above and served as camouflage in the distant horizon. 

"3rd Star to the right, straight on til morning".  And in the morning the vessel would reach the shores of Michigan. I sat on my Wisconsin pier wondering what was out there.  Some day I would reach that Michigan shore.  Some day. How it would happen was still a mystery......that was the future and too far away to waste thought on.  I was about to leave for college. I had to get out of my small town quick or I'd fear I'd get "stuck".  

Our journeys were only beginning.  Today we are what we set out to be....explorers. Kristen is a park ranger in Michigan.  Our mission?  The Kirtland's Warbler.  Heidi(to my right) is a Doctor of plants.  She experiments on humans trying to create the first human/plant creature in New Zealand.  Our mission?  The Kiwi and other birds...all while finding a hobbit or two:) 
Today when I return home, I don't see it that way at all.  It was just me being impatient.  Today that trip to the other side will happen on that same ferry.  There I will meet my park ranger/college friend Kristen and we'll discover the Kirtland's Warbler together. We took so many epic road trips together before life got in the way.  Now tell me birding isn't exciting??!!! Friends, magic trips and BIRDS!  

My parent's place perfectly captures the essence of comfort....home.
One year later, I would begin my journeys into college life and my travels around the world began.  It was a strange and powerful emotion. I was willing to risk everything to find my "voice".  Little did I know but that strange and powerful emotion would return two decades later. And this time, I knew what it was called. Passion. 

Just beyond the rocks, what will Kathie find?
I work.  I sleep. I burn myself out. And when I'm not birding, I write.  But my life has changed.  How could it not?  After all that we've done this year across America, it's not easy shifting between two lives.  During the day, I play the instructor.  In the afternoon, I search for the Holy Grail.  I am in it deep.  When one thing reveals itself, another comes into question.  I am both certain and lost.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

Gaelyn exposes us to magnificence of the Grand Canyon around the North Rim. I love her stories and I am very grateful for her friendship even though we are far apart.
My paths have led me to some of the most amazing people.  I had been around teenagers for so long that I forgot what it is like to be an adult.  It is true that the young keep me young, but it is also true that there is nothing quite like an adult conversation. 

On this day, I got to put down my camera and have fun with my siblings.  Here we are on a beautiful fall day in Wisconsin.  That is real....not some fake background.  All of us are connected to the great outdoors.  And it all began with our parent's taking us out on camping trips when we were younger. 
These people are some of the most exciting and fun adventurers I know.  I genuinely smile and love listening to their stories for they are my inspiration.  Yes.  I found inspiration again.  Stand on the pier.  Wonder.  Or wonder no more. Just do something about it!

Birders who make me smile....Barb and Melanie=love!

We meet for a beer.  We marvel at a blooming cactus.  We suffer bug bites together.  We stand together and ponder the great and wild dynamics of Mother Nature. 

Intense birders?  Yes.  We four often go rogue or will pair up with others.  These three birders are known as Gordon, Magill and Tommy.  Passion or an addiction?  Hard to tell with this crew:)  Pic courtesy of Tommy D
While people shop in malls and plan birthday parties, we escape into the woods for a little silence and beauty. That's our purchase.  That's our birthday gift. Simple. Not complicated.

Barrel Cactus blooming
Stand in a canyon.  

Nectar feeding bats
Watch day turn into night.  Hummingbirds into Lesser long-nosed bats.   

Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, AZ
Sit in a rocker and watch the world. I am discovering a new emerging friendship with all of these other birders/outdoor lovers.  I wish I could spend more time with them all.  I wish sometimes I were that kid again with all the time in the world.  

Sydney and Annie
This year has been one adventure after another.  So many happy people.  So many wonderful discoveries.

The team from Tucson Audubon...Jennie, Sara, Matt, Tim and Corey
Recently I looked over some of my older work and was shocked by how much I have changed since I began this blog and birding quest several years ago. It has been quite a revelation.  

The Celeste.  We walk up a beautiful trail on Mt. Lemmon looking at all kinds of wonderful things
Without their guidance, I would still be wondering what's on the other side.  But they've given me the tools and knowledge to prepare for the crossing.  It wasn't overnight. 

Janet visits Tucson from New Mexico and helps us keep track of our grassland sparrows!
There is no going back. Just forward. Together we make it possible. Young or old, we are united together by one thing.  Birds. 

Jason educates the crowd and how sparrows track predators from the grasses and avoid becoming lunch
It's not easy growing as a person.  I cannot make crazy changes like I once did.  There are expectations.  There are adult commitments. 

Over the course of this year, I've met up with Jarrod several times around the state. He reminds me to live in the moment and look around. 
When I began this blogger journey about gardening, I had NO idea what it would do to me. I still love plants but it all got me involved with something bigger than photography and gardening....new friendships and discovery.  This thing called blogging slowly connected me to the web of people around it.  Then I met their friends.  So what's it like being around my "own" again after so many years solo? 

This is a fun crew!  Kathie, Donna and Dawn pose for Birders Who Blog, Tweet and Chirp
A whole lot of fun. It's like being in college again.  Road tripping for no reason other than to explore.  Hiking up to our necks in mud.  And it all feels so....young.  The body may now protest once and awhile but there's nothing quite like the feeling of this new found euphoria. 

Our North Rim trek to the canyon introduces us to the extended birding AZ crew.  Amazing people just living life and helping out our feathered friends
The cause of this euphoria?  The great outdoors.  It's the most natural way to learn. This idea of getting a degree from a university doesn't make much sense to me these days. While I appreciate my college days, I don't think I truly learned the "real" stuff from any of it. And I'm still paying back my loans.  When they are paid in full, there will be a shout heard across the world. I speak Spanish.....not because of college but because I lived in Mexico.  I teach.  Not because of any book or ridiculous theory but because I worked with special needs kids living in group homes.  They taught me classroom management.  They taught me that I enjoy working with people. 

Rich Hoyer gets help from another type of birder.  Together we scour our midtown neighborhood searching for rarities while counting birds for the CBC(Christmas Bird Count)
I spend hours every night reading about birds.  Now I dream of birds in Spanish! I am the cat chasing the winged shadows. Over time, I discovered that my former students would combine their love of Spanish with their medical or business degrees.  As for me? How could I have taught them to use their language skills with something else when I didn't even know how to do it myself?  And so I waited for many years to figure it all out. Today I know.  It's crystal clear. My classroom isn't limited to one room. The cost of this education?  Entrance fees to incredible places around the world. 

Linda(far right with that awesome birdy sweater) whips up some delish Pisco Sours.  I hadn't had one of those in years!!!  
Who are these people?  These mentors?  These teachers? These new friends?  Each an expert in their own area.  Each more than just their jobs.  Each an adventurer willing to take a risk. 

My bud Gordon.  What can I say about him?  I love when we get the opportunity to bird.  Together we explored Ruby Road to test camping equipment.  We love the outdoors and we were trying to figure out ways to make these birding treks more affordable while still finding a way to sleep the full night comfortably.  After testing tents, pads, etc, we discovered air mattresses!!!!  Forget the Hilton!  Camping in our own tents is AWESOME....as long as there is an outhouse nearby:)
Old advice rings in my older ears.  It wasn't meant to be forever.  You just made it that way. You have become set in your ways.  Playing it safe.  My mother even said it to me once.  "You're just like your father.  Afraid to take risks."  And she was right. 

Quite often I go alone or with Micheal.  I love those kinds of treks a lot. 
  But there is such a thing called responsibility. Another friend taught me that as well:)

My friend Sydney in Florida this year treks along on these major hikes.  I'd never reveal a ladies age, but she puts me to shame:)  A beautiful smile and a healthy dose of positive is what makes her so special.  I hope she's ready for the Everglades next time as we hope to find a Limpkin, Purple Swamphen and American Flamingos!  Florida was too quick!
How can something like this happen?  Something so incredible. Something so amazing. It's such a big feeling. I often feel stuck.....no stranded....in the details.  An indentured servant to my old self.  My own fault. Thanks to these birders/trackers/herpers/wildlife lovers, they've reminded me to live again and celebrate this journey.

This pic courtesy of Tommy D.   I like this one of us.  We had such a fun time on this trek. 
For years it was my job to inspire the younger generations.  Today I find myself inspired by them.  And by my most excellent friends.  

And it all started with this lady.  We met via Gaelyn.  Then through blogger.  Then at a place called Agua Caliente.  I thought it was so much fun.  And then I got hooked.  Kathie introduced me to so many people.  And we met more people and our worlds grew bigger. 
Years later, I am back at the pier watching the ferry cross again.  I find myself not wondering what I'll discover on the other side but how I'm going to get there because I missed the first departure!

A special thank you goes out to all the birders this year who have shared in the grand adventure.  As birder friend Linda pointed out last weekend, if we hadn't been birding together, we may have missed the Pectoral Sandpiper.  Instead we pushed each other to wade through all the sandpipers on the lake.  And it's like that.  A birder encourages the other to do better.  Together we can accomplish anything.

This is another great crew!  Photographers, birders, wildlife trackers and people who care about protecting our environment in the US and Mexico! L to R Mary Ann, Linda, Michael, and Kathy
And to Kelly R, Larry, Kathleen R. and Pam B., thank you for some great road treks and visits this year at the various places. Pam and I had a little extra adventure when her tire blew out on the interstate this summer in the hellish Phoenix heat.  Luckily we survived it all!  But why don't we have any pics??!!!

Someone once said, "Life is meant to be experienced. Put yourself out there.  Do things you've never done.  Live a life where at the end, you will have no regrets." I have always lived my life this way, and it would be void of meaning without all the wonderful people in the picture.  Some people cross paths once.  Others, over and over again.  And just like the birds we hope to discover, we also realize our own inherent uniqueness in this great big complex world.   Also a special thank you to my readers who follow, read or comment on Las Aventuras.  You, whether you know it or not, also push me to do better with my writing and photography.  Thank you!  Perhaps one day we'll meet?:)

  There's still so much work to be done:)  To meet others who love birds just as much as we do, check out Wild Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Green Joy

She inched slowly across the carpet of ferns. The unceasing fog cloaked her aging body.  From the tree tops, the feathered ones sang their timeless melodies.  

Her solitude cloaked between the woven limbs of trees.  Trapped inside of eternity.  The green joy. 

Her bittersweet memories had become a heavy burden. A sunlight eclipsed by the darkest of clouds.  There she had dwelt for so many years trapped inside her mind. "I wish He would take me. I am ready.", she once told her grandson years ago. How could anyone understand her pain?

Along the mossy emerald path, she inched toward the old totem pole that marked where they had grown their magical gardens together. Here time had no meaning. This ethereal space made her forget the loss. There hung the rotted and forgotten Purple Martin boxes. Once they were home to so many, but now they had disappeared from the skies.  Only the boxes served as reminders that they once existed. 

Her glorious gardens even had pheasants once!  There they would roost up into the dark branches of the forest watching her tend strawberry patches, dill, kohlrabi, ground cherries(her favorite) and so much more!  But they had also vanished. She tried to imagine it all as it once was. 

She remembered the happiest times here. Those moments had seemed like yesterday but in reality happened decades ago. Each moment to be cherished.  Each person to be embraced.  Never knowing what tomorrow would bring. She was the spent dandelion that blew apart in the wind.  And all those who had clung to her had drifted away.  

Once they all celebrated together in these woods and gardens. There she had laughed with her family under the dappled sunlight. But now the grasses had reclaimed the gardens. Only the stubborn rhubarb remained.  This green joy.  A melancholy.  The happiest of memories grown over by moss and lichen. 

"A curse.  Outliving all the people you love.", she once said. She had remembered how she was a central figure to her family. Needed.  Wanted. Somehow life had become busier than she once remembered. Her sons had their own families and life was passing by much too quickly for them to notice. Secondary.  Forgotten.   

The gentle grasses of the prairies gradually gave way to the suburbs. Gravel roads became paved. The meadow covered by dirt. Butterflies that once fluttered freely were hung onto walls and remembered. Familiar haunts had also disappeared.  She had a godchild that wrote her every week.  Her frail hands dutifully ticked away back on the old typewriter next to her vase of ground cherries, pussy willows or fragrant roses. Her own hand writing had become chicken scratch due to the arthritis. 

And she remembered the old days. Often. Horse drawn wagons replaced by cars. Scarlet fever had claimed the lives of her parents by the time she was 14 years of age. There she lived on a farm with her Aunt for the rest of those teenage years.

She had outlived all of it.  Her eyesight grew weak. Her crooked hands carefully guided a wrinkled body to the tree where she first met him. Years later, he'd hold her hand after a near death experience.  "Please don't go." he pleaded, "You're my best friend." She squeezed his hand back and this man of rare emotion kissed her. She would survive. Memories of past and present collided together. 

This place had become a sanctuary.  Before, the prairie grass had grown tall protecting the forest and gardens from the outside world. Today, she could see a road nearing her paradise.  The prairie grass cut.  The milkweed gone. The young sugar maple where she met her true love was now old and twisted. There they sat again at the wrinkled trunk. Helicopters swirled about them as they spun to the ground.  Ballet dancers. 

Within this moment, she is at peace.  Her green joy is revealed. Renewed. 

As the night seized this day, she gazed into the starlight and remembered it all.