Just Out of Reach (February 24, 2013)

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As I walked outside and briefly scanned the water, I noted Greater Scaups ducking and diving near the pier.  Only two there but, picking up my binoculars and scanning the cove across the way, I saw more than twenty-five.  Throw in a few Buffleheads and you have a good number of waterfowl to watch and enjoy on this breezy winter day.  The Scaups were close enough to view with my binoculars and to identify them noting the black and white bodies with the blue/white beak but they were not close enough to get a good photograph to share with friends and fellow bird-watchers – at least not with my camera.  Like so many things in life, they were just tantalizingly out of reach. I could enjoy them but, alas, they would not help me accomplish any of my bird watching goals.

How often this happens.  We all have goals and plans that we have labored over and contemplated over many long winter evenings.  Who wouldn’t want to get that perfect photograph of such a beautiful bird? And wouldn’t I love to post a lovely photo on the bird club website and get all those compliments and kudos for doing such a wonderful job? Just some amorphous dreams kept in the back of my mind somewhere and not really precise or definitive.  But even were these thoughts written down in more specificity, isn’t it always the case that some things, some plans, some dreams remain, like my Scaups, just out of reach?  Some dreams just cannot be fulfilled.

I am big on planning. I have always adhered to the tenet that, “if you do not have a plan, you are part of someone else’s plan”.  Anyone who knows me knows that I firmly believe in setting goals, writing them down, and working diligently to meet them.  There are too many things to do in this life and one cannot be just coasting along contributing to someone else’s dream with no thoughts to their own.  Now, you may be exactly the missing link needed to help someone else accomplish their goals but, what about your own?  Are your goals out of reach or are they just there, well within reach, waiting for you to notice enough to reach out for them.  Or, do they sometimes appear to be close enough but maybe never quite as close as you need them to be?

Then again, on this beautiful day, I had not set out with any plans at all.  Had I started out with a goal to photograph those Scaups, I would have failed unless I did a little extra work to make it so.  I could have jumped into the car and drove down to the pubic beach area and tried to get closer to those birds to get the shots I wanted.  And, the birds could have flown away while I was in the car driving….making that goal still a bit out of reach. Birds are like other things in life – they do not sit still and wait for you to get around to adding them to your day.  More planning needed, I expect.  Had I started out to study the Scaups in detail and learn more about their fascinating habits and why they were here on this river on this particular day, I would also have failed.  After all, I could see them with my binoculars but they were just small black and white specks on the water bobbing up and down, appearing and disappearing, as they dove into and bobbled on the water looking for food.  Oh my, two failures on goals I didn’t even have. How would I ever succeed if I start out with failing goals I didn’t even know that I had?

Nope. Let it rest. Today was a beautiful day for February, sunny and clear.  We haven’t had too many of these days lately.  My plan on this day was a simple one – get outside, breathe fresh air, maybe help my husband work on the final trim boards for the new fence, feed the birds, maybe nod & doze in the warm sunshine.  Some days are right for accomplishing big things and getting big work done.  Other days, like today, are best for simple things and maybe just putting yourself out there and seeing what life will give you.  And, today, I was not disappointed.

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Today, I learned that the English Ivy that is swallowing the large old Sassafras tree in my neighbor’s yard is covered with little blue berries.  Who knew ivy had berries?  It explains the Robin standing guard overheard in a tree in my yard watching the berries with all focus of a lion on the prowl.  And it explains why the hill is covered with ivy. Not only does it creep along a mile-a-minute spreading everywhere with runners and vines, it also has berries with seeds good for spreading the plant’s DNA far and wide.

And I saw that there are daffodils popping up everywhere and I am reminded that time and tide, and maybe also spring, waits for no man.  Thinking back to those plans and chores I am not working on today – well, better get planning to work on them soon.  The hosta bed suffered greatly when the contractor put in the new fence – the very one the husband is now finishing up.  I dare not pull aside the mulch and leaves to see if new life will emerge from the roots that I am hoping and praying weren’t too badly smashed when the aforesaid contractor drove his bobcat right through the hosta bed along the fence line.  But, these are things to be left for another day.

Spring will, no doubt, bring new birds and lots of flowers to take photos of to share with friends and fellow-birders.  Whereas today a red-headed House Finch found the feeders in the yard but he had little regard for me and my bird photo dreams.  He flitted off leaving me with yet another blurry bird picture that I will keep in his memory but I won’t be sharing it with anyone.  Today my goals were properly sized.  I set out to enjoy a sunny day and that’s what I did.  There will be other days for bigger plans and schemes but today’s goals were, as Goldilocks would say, “just right” and easily met…..no failures here.

I Know This Place (January 16, 2013)

picture 1As I gaze out over the wetlands, I realize that I’ve seen this place before – maybe hundreds of times. It takes me a moment of pondering and then I know why the place is so familiar to me. I have seen it hundreds of times. I have passed this way on my daily commute. Well, maybe not exactly this way. My memory is somewhat off – I am now seeing the wetlands from the other side. For five years, I commuted to work downtown on the train. And every day I would get to the station as early as possible in the afternoon so that I would get a seat on the “northern” side of the train. That is, the view through the windows on my way home would be on the north side of the tracks. I knew that it would be evening – right around dusk – as the train rumbled through these wetlands and the view would be beautiful. The beauty of nature would calm my stressed-out mind and ease my soul so that, once home, I would be at peace. Sometimes in summer when the sun set later in the day, I would catch a gorgeous sunset as I craned my neck to look out backwards towards the west straining as much as my seat would allow as the train headed towards the east. But I rarely saw any birds in these wetlands.  Occasionally, I would spot a great bearded heron or a solitary white egret as the train rumbled quickly past the wetlands but rarely was there time to hope to see any smaller birds if, by chance, they were there. I saw so few birds there, even big ones, that I wondered if the water was contaminated.  At the time, I wrote a haiku –

The afternoon sun shines

on water peaceful and deep green

But, no ducks swim here

The water is not clean.

 

Okay, well not exactly haiku since it has twenty-five syllables rather than seventeen but it did reflect my thoughts at the time and the “zen-ness” of the moment.

Each evening I had maybe twenty seconds to scan that view. I often wondered if it would be possible to get to those wetlands and explore them, maybe do a little birding. The wetlands appeared to be a part of a small compound of houses, a mini community sitting outside a larger suburban town but isolated from the rest of society by the environment. I wondered who would choose to live in such isolation but remembered that the houses couldn’t be more than three minutes by road from town.  Come to think of it, the location was perfect – close to town and civilization but isolated and peaceful at the same time.  But on long winter nights when the wind howled and dogs barked in the distance, you’d feel every bit of those woods and wetlands pressing in on you and reminding you just how isolated you were.  I had heard of a religious group – maybe a cult – that lived hereabouts whose inhabitants did not like strangers prying around.  The local teens spoke of voodoo churches and slipping down to the area to get their thrills knowing they were still close enough to town to make a quick getaway if things got a little too creepy.  The stories lent a dark, possibly evil mystique to the place.  Why would people live so far in the woods if there wasn’t something to hide? Doesn’t living in the deep dark swamps lend itself to things best not discussed in the daytime?  Or, does it?

picture 2Now I am on the other side.  I can see the train tracks in the distance lending a boundary to the wetlands and cutting the land off from the river flowing near the tracks. I am in a wildlife refuge on a nature drive. Reality is not anything like I had imagined. There is nothing mysterious here at all. Still, it is quiet and peaceful and just a little bit mysterious. The houses I see in the distance are not really isolated or even surrounded by the wetlands. The river is nearby and there are plenty of fields for growing wheat and corn – good bottom land with rich soil for crops along one side of the houses. And the nature preserve with its wetlands along the northern side of the farms. Those huge creepy buildings are now just farm houses, barns, and sheds – all very useful when you work the land. So much more is exposed from this side and with the exposure comes clarity and lightness. The character has totally changed in the blink of an eye – gone from dark evil to benign sunshine – just like anything that is foreign and unknown until you venture out into the wilderness to find the good inside. And near the farms, the refuge is what it is – a place where foxes and raccoons roam and mallards and geese swim and where a couple great bearded herons are known to fish in the wetlands and where the water is actually relatively clean.