Saturday, November 21, 2015

Waiting to Exhale

Anna's Hummingbird with Pyracantha in the background
When you've seen all there is to see, you begin to study better what you already know.

It's that deeper understanding of habitats and bird behaviors that can be quite satisfying.

Such was the case during a trek out to the Santa Cruz flats.  Instead of chasing new birds, we just observed the ones present.

American Kestrel
 The scope comes out and we begin to scan. 

Magill scans the sod farm for Mountain Plovers
Of course, we try and search for that special rare bird or two. But on the Flats, it's always the wintering Mountain Plovers that steal the show.

First decent photo documentation of a Mountain Plover
 Rare or not, I'm never disappointed because I love birds. And it's so relaxing and fun trying to find as many birds as we can while we're out in the field.

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron
I especially love birding with good friends.   Add to the experience cold rainy weather and you've got a great day outdoors.  For a desert dweller recovering from the sweltering hot summer temps, it's nearly perfection:)

Male Vermilion Flycatcher
Subtle visitors come back to visit us during the winter like the Sagebrush Sparrow.  You won't see them unless you take the time to stop and smell the sage.  They aren't shy birds, but they do blend in well with their surroundings. And if you don't know they are out there, you'd never know they existed:)

Sagebrush Sparrow
A Greater Pewee migrates down to the lower elevations and hangs out at a local watering hole.

Greater Pewee
And a hesitant Broad-tailed Hummingbird sticks around longer than normal.

A late Broad-tailed Hummingbird
The holidays are coming and my work is not done. For now, I have a house to clean and final exams to prepare. I am one bird shy of my 700 life bird goal and I wonder which bird species it will be. But for now, during the "in between", I relax and revisit my favorite spots in Southern Arizona when I can squeeze in the time. Until next time.....

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Picking Up The Pieces

Where do I begin?  How does one deal with tragedy after extreme happiness? Most people prefer the company of others.  I need space to breathe.  And I did a lot of birding alone in nearby locations to pull myself together. It is my coping strategy for sad moments.  

American Wigeons
It took me a couple weeks to process what had all happened.  The wedding.  And then the funeral. Why??!!!!  She was so young!

If Aunt Deborah had stayed in Arizona and not come to Colorado for our wedding, would she still be alive today?  My last words to her in Estes Park were, "I love you."  I then gave her a big hug.  When I did, I could see that she was very sick. She was frail and had lost a lot of weight over the past month. Whatever it was, it was much more serious than we had thought. 

Lesser Scaup
It had been two months since we last saw her.  She had been going to the doctors during that time to try and figure out what was going on with her health.  At the time, she didn't know if she would make it to Colorado.  But for Deborah, it wasn't a discussion. She'd be there. Period. 

My mother-in-law and her sister Deborah.  They were inseparable and always there for one another

In fact, she has ALWAYS been there for her family.  When her 5 grandchildren's lives were in jeopardy, she, along with her sister, saved them from their "mother", Deborah's estranged daughter. As a single woman on a very tight budget, she raised FIVE kids with the help of her sister.  When I first met her years ago, I had nothing but admiration for this incredible woman. She had a heart of gold. The best kind of person one could ever know. 

Female American Wigeon
Deborah was a strong woman who survived an abusive husband. After she left him, she went back to school and got herself an education in the pharmaceutical world. When her now disgraced daughter began a life of prostitution, drugs and crime, both the sisters stepped in and took legal custody of the kids. It was a tough love with her grandchildren....but it was love. She sacrificed so much for them so that they could live a good life free from the troubles of her daughter's poor life decisions. There is no question about how much she loved her grandkids.  She wouldn't say it out loud.  She would blow it off and make a joke about it all with a couple foul words.  But there wasn't anything funny about the sincerity and kindness of this woman. Actions definitely spoke louder than words with Aunt Deborah.

At at birthday party years ago, Deborah lights the candles for one of the many birthday parties. 
Deborah was very humble and deflected any compliment a person would give her.  Those who really knew her, saw her for who she really was. In the last couple years, Deborah began to live again and opened her heart up to another person.  It took a long time but she really loved this guy and he loved her back. Of course, she wouldn't say it out loud, but we saw how happy she was. I mean really really happy. She started smiling again which was a shocking new facial feature for all of us:)  I've known her for 11 years and the last two years were some of her best. To see her grin again made her family very happy. Everyone deserves this feeling, but not everyone is fortunate enough to experience it. 

Reid park near my home
Going back to the Colorado situation. On their drive back to Arizona, Deborah began experiencing breathing issues.  Once they arrived home that evening, her boyfriend forced her to go to the hospital where she stopped breathing.  She was put on life support, but it was too late. 

Gilded Flicker
Meanwhile, the rest of the family was trying to scramble back to Arizona from Colorado.  As we drove down, we blew out our tire at 80 miles an hour!  We were stranded near the New Mexico border for an evening, but we were happy that nothing worse had happened. Strangely, we spent the entire morning searching for a rare tire, not a bird, in the town of Trinidad.  We were finally able to locate just one well used tire on that very stressful morning. It got us home but not in time to be by Deborah's side. 

Agua Caliente Park
When we got to the house, there were relatives already there. At the Buddhist ceremony, we all joined together in a mass chant. The chants were loud, painful and fast. Over and over and over again. Louder and stronger it went as the Buddhist Sangha lead us through our pain. It was very healing as we all let out our inner emotion. I was so glad to be a part of my new family for this time period. 

Mute Swan
Some pray.  And others will chant. I tend to escape to the outdoors and quietly walk alone for times of reflection.  

It's a complicated thing processing true happiness and then extreme sadness. But that's life, isn't it?  It's the journey we all have to make. 

In Scottsdale
During our wedding and during Deborah's farewell, I saw the beauty and power of nature around me.  It speaks to me in ways I can't even explain. It's my church, my temple, my synagogue, and my mosque all in one. IT is my faith. The photo below was taken after the funeral on a private walk in Sierra Vista.  I had a random thought of Bob Ross and Deborah together and laughed at that strange image. 

near the San Pedro River, Sierra Vista
This post is dedicated to you Auntie Deborah. Your presence will be missed here.  Do not worry about your grandchildren. They will be loved and well cared for. And you are loved Deborah more than you could ever know. I know I know. You hate compliments and would probably say something sassy back to us.  But it's that sassy part we loved about you. It let us know that you loved us back. You will never be forgotten. 

Here is a photo of Deborah's family.  When I first met Micheal, they were all little kids.  Today most of them have grown up and one is married!  Her legacy will live on within each of these kids. 
I'll be back soon blogger friends.  It just has taken me time to get back on my feet and process everything that has happened.  Writing is therapeutic for me and it helps me organize my thoughts. I'll be back soon with my upcoming projects for the final part of this year. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Perfect Moment

This post (and an upcoming one) have been difficult for me to write. I'll do my best to try and capture my thoughts with the words behind those special and very sad moments. The write today was inspired by the healing power of nature and family.  I guess after many years of silence, it's time that this tale was told. I'd like to share with you all a story about a kid I once knew.  Like most people I know, he has changed over time.

As a boy, he grew up wondering what the world was like outside of his small town.  He had BIG ideas about what he'd do with his life. Maybe he'd become a teacher?  A park ranger? Or a weather man! 

As he grew older in that small town, he became aware that he was different from other people.  Much of his thoughts were kept hidden and secret because he didn't want to be hurt by others. And even though he tried to avoid confrontation, he was spit on, laughed at, and beat up several times for being different.  Unfortunately, he'd take his anger out on his siblings. His parents didn't know how to speak to him because he shut them out. There was no one he could turn to for help because they would all try to fix him with their religion. And he didn't need fixing. The science fiction show known as Star Trek was his escape. He eventually left his small town and pursued his dreams. It was safer that way. Over time, he developed a tough skin.  And there was a growing anger towards people and organizations who supported hate and ignorance. After living a life in hiding, it was time to fight back with words and actions. There was no turning back.

He went on to live an amazing life. Free from the trappings of a small community, he was able to form his own opinions and attitudes about the world. He got a job at a place where he could make a difference. Or at least challenge their thinking about the bigger world.  And maybe make them laugh or smile once and awhile. But it was always a safe zone. He also became a secret guardian for all those who were different. And he watched over them making sure that they wouldn't be bullied or hurt like he had been during his childhood. Sometimes he made a difference. And other times, he would lose one of his students to drugs or suicide.  These events hurt him the most because he felt that he had somehow failed them. With age and experience, the man realized he couldn't save every student. And over time, societal attitudes began to change and his important role was no longer as important. 

In his personal life, he met someone and settled down. Over the passage of time, he watched each of his siblings get married. He was so happy for them. And even though he was the oldest and had been in a relationship for a decade, it didn't matter.  He couldn't get married. But then things changed.

His partner wanted an official ceremony. So after much thought, it was decided that their union would happen outdoors and surrounded by family.  At first it was going to be somewhere far far away.  But when he thought it over more, it made him sad to think that his parents could not attend. Therefore, it had to be closer to home. What did both of these people want more than anything else in the world?  Their families present.  And so began the plan to unite nature and family together.

The families arrived from different states and rented cabins where they all spent a week together away from WIFI and work.  It was a rare event and not something experienced since the man's youth.

On the day of the wedding, it began to snow.  There they stood, married by the man's brother-in-law and surrounded by his entire family.  In a moment shared with his wonderful friend, they watched an elk dance in the freshly falling snow.  It was the most perfect moment.  A tear rolled down his face.  This was the spot. There the elk, family and birds watched as the couple made their vows. Instead of rice or bird seed being thrown up into the air, Mother Nature provided the crowd with snowballs.

Normally this man cringed at the idea of showing any emotion, but during the ceremony, he felt so happy. And loved. It was like a warm blanket on a cold winter day. A perfect moment.

People told him that getting married was a life changing event.  He just didn't want to believe it.  Maybe it was his defense mechanism that he developed as a child to protect himself from getting hurt by others. For whatever the reason, he was so happily wrong about it all. He felt whole again. No one could have planned for this magical ceremony. The snow. The elk. His father muttered, "An act of God."  The man simply replied, "Mother Nature." The two would never openly agree with each other on the matter but in their minds, they knew that they were both correct. Others froze their toes off and said, "Brrrrrrr."

Life is full of surprises.  And this world is still an amazing place.  AND BIG!  But none of it compares to the great big love of my family and friends. I'd like to thank my parents for being outstanding people. I don't know where I would be today without their love and support. To my siblings and their spouses, my nephews and nieces, to Charlee, to Mat and Linda for putting together a special ceremony, to Mitch and Rachel, to Kathy and to Deborah. Your last days with us will not be forgotten. I'll be writing about her in the next post. It was an emotional roller coaster ride for all of us. I'd also like to thank Kathie Brown for being with me during this special time. I now understand the meaning behind the "Maid of Honor" or "Best Man".  She is an amazing friend and I am so thankful she was there to help me process my emotions. While we were out on the trails, I realized how much I missed birding with her. Sometimes we "disappeared" together onto the trails to sneak in some birding time. Behind every new bird or critter or landscape, there is a heart that beats behind this experience called life. And it is good. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Winter Wonderland

The calm magical moments of snow gently falling.

Makes me pause. Inner joy!

Absorb. Wrap my mind around it.  Reflect. 

When chaos happens and balance is lost, I surround myself in these memories. These moments.  And I am whole. 

And it is here in these memories that I restore my faith in people and the world.  Happiness. Centered. At rest. 

The silence of a snowy forested path.  Peaceful bliss.  My personal Xanadu.

Oh gentle snow.  You are as majestic as you are graceful.

May you stay forever in my memory. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

All With The Family

The Matthew-Reeser's Bird Sanctuary
Another October flew by much too quickly. I was joined by my dear friend Kathie and family members for the Big Event in Estes Park, Colorado.

Mountain Chickadee
While there, we celebrated several days of birding, shopping and exploration.

Estes Park is a smaller town situated at the borders of the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park.

My sister and her daughter at Rocky Mountain National Park
While we were there, we soaked up as much wilderness as we could.

Kathie and Jared watch the children climb the now rocky Alluvial Fan
At our cabins, we created a bird sanctuary.  My family would laugh at us from their cabin patio.  Why?  Well, Ms. Kathie, Micheal and myself picked up a lot of bird seed and wood.  We'd sit around the fireplace and watch birds.  We had hundreds of them come and visit our cabin.  And all we had to do was just sit and watch them from the living room window:)

Black-billed Magpie
The evenings were wonderful.  Everyone sat around the large outdoor ramada sharing stories and drinks together.

As is tradition, my family puts together a dance for the big day.  Our wonderful dance was a mix of popular science fiction movie tunes and finished off with a childhood favorite, "Xanadu!"

Pic courtesy of Kathie Brown.  Awesome shot of everyone!
At times it was windy. Or snowy.  Or rainy.  But always COLD!

A cold Steller's Jay
We birded one of my favorite spots in Estes Park which happens to be near their golf course.  

Clifford goes on assignment for a class project
 The locale is known as the Matthew-Reeser's Bird Sanctuary.  Most of the bird life is found along a wooded corridor next to a fast moving stream.  I suspected American Dippers hung out at this location, but I had "dipped" several times on this bird in June.  Persistence(and timing) paid off. 

Classic American Dipper shot
And it wasn't just a far away glance.  Both, Kathie and myself, were able to watch two of these birds nearby our trail.

And along the way, we stopped looking at the birds and just enjoyed family and fall.

But then a Steller's Jay would steal the show:)

Here is a video of our American Dipper encounter.  If you are a lover of everything wildlife, I highly recommend Estes Park.  More to come from this amazing locale.......