And just like that…my world changed.

It was a simple enough passage in the book I’m reading, “Nature Principal” by Richard Louv.  He mentions bird watching and how it not only adds a layer of awareness to outdoor activities, it awakens the senses.  I bought “Birding by Ear.”  I bought “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America”.  I took to my back deck and I watched.  

It was a beautiful morning on Memorial Day weekend.  Sunday.  The trees, not quite complete in the budding process, allowed some view against the crisp, blue sky. Still, the leaves allowed cover for the majority of the songbirds; I could hear them but could not see them.  Then, a flutter and a series of quick, rapid dashes of three small birds, flitting from branch to branch.  Somehow I’d forgotten I might need binoculars, so after retrieving my husband’s good set, I returned.  I figured out how to adjust them and pointed them towards where the movement had been moments earlier.  I searched, the lenses pressed to my eyes, my grip tight (it would take a few hours before I finally relaxed my grip).  Then, suddenly, there it was.  A “she” I would assume from her more muted coloring.  But she was breath taking.  I have never seen a bird through a set of binoculars…not that I ever recall anyway. I continued my quest, watching and focusing in on my surroundings for the next four or five hours. When I couldn’t see a bird, I examined the trees, the branches, and the leaves. I became part of my landscape.  I watched a tiny hummingbird preen himself for so long I finally had to lower my arms and shake out my neck from the strain. I studied the blossom of the Ash tree, a late bloomer in our yard.  I saw what I believe was a Scarlet Tanager and then a Yellow Warbler. I found a fallen Birch tree loaded with polypore.  I continued to watch the small trio of birds most of the morning and early afternoon until they decided they’d find someplace better to be.  I’m thinking they were the White Breasted Nuthatch, but I’m not positive.  But you see, that’s not the point.

I’ve been advised to begin living more in the moment.  I tend to worry, to create scenarios that may or may not come true. My mind toils on the “what ifs” and “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” in life.  I’ve a very overactive imagination and it can lead to chaos in my life if I let it.  So recently I’ve made more of an effort to remain aware. To live in the moment.  I’ve picked up yoga again; just me and the mat (and my animals as everyone knows you cannot be on your mat without the animals joining in…).  But there’s nothing I’ve found that puts me in the moment like bird watching!  After a few hours I realized I’d been fully present every single moment.  I listened to the songs, watched the trees intently for sign of wings. I thought of nothing else. My mind didn’t wander, didn’t creep towards darkness or sadness.  I was rewarded with bright red birds, gorgeous yellow masked ones and playful Chickadees.  I got to see a world right off my back deck I had never paid a stitch of attention to before.  They’ve always been there, the birds. And I’ve always been here.  Almost like a parallel universe; but isn’t that what nature is for a lot of us? A parallel life we forget exists? I get so caught up on the day to day struggles I forget the flowers, the birds, the trees. The ever changing world around me. It’s always there and while I’m very in tune with nature on a regular basis, lately I just haven’t been aware.  

So, with binoculars in hand (at least until my husband takes them back) I search the trees continually for the sight of a new bird.  I watch, listen, sense where the bird may be based on the calling. It’s simple. It’s free. It awakens my senses and allows me to be fully and completely alive.  It’s allowed me to achieve something nothing else ever has. In that moment, I’m no where else.  I’m not in the past or the future. I’m right here. Right where I’m supposed to be.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (and understanding)

I’ve never been one to read a book the moment it hits the shelves.  JK Rowling had finished penciling book 4 before I jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon (and devoured, with great joy, all of them several times).  Other than JK, I usually prefer my authors dead and buried somewhere in the vicinity of London.  About a century or two ago.

Generally the books I’m reading are things no one else has ever heard of, never mind read. Perhaps that’s why, despite my interest, it’s taken me so long to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (AVM) by Barbara Kingsolver.  I recall seeing it on the shelf at my library and saying, hey, I need to read that!  But walking away with Drood instead.  But this weekend, for some unknown reason, I went to Borders specifically for that book.  Something told me it was time.

I believe there is a natural chain of events that happens in our lives and for me, things have to be just right for ideas to stick.  I am not a firm believer in anything, so reading one book on a subject will not make me a follower of anything.  I have never been good with diet books; the simple idea that eliminating certain foods is good for you when I know from nutritionists, doctors and general knowledge that it is not good for you, well, it doesn’t settle with me.  I don’t take anyone’s word for anything. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always had an issue with religion as well.    Call me a skeptic, but in reality I’m just a historian.

Just recently I’ve begun to see a pattern to my madness.  Whereas I once saw myself as unfocused and procrastinating, I’m beginning to see that my last few years were building layers.  A foundation to what is to come. Blasting away on the keyboards, in notebooks, in the margins of reference books, I spent one year completing a novel.  And then, like a switch pulled, that desire was gone, replaced with the driving need to be outside. I wanted to hike every waking moment and tackle every mountain in my path.  I focused on nothing else.  I couldn’t bear to spend a morning typing when the woods beckoned me.  I replaced my hour writing with two hours of hiking.   Not a day went by when I wasn’t outside in some pursuit.  Then, like all good things, it tapered off to a normal amount and now, this year, I chastise myself for not doing enough of either.  I write intermittently and hike when the feeling strikes. Not that I’m slacking by any means: Mt. Washington, Cardigan, the Greenway 10 mile trail, countless hikes after work.  I am even writing again.  But neither activity receives the focused drive I had in previous years.

But this, I’ve just recently realized, is not something I need to feel guilty about.  My years of single minded passions is melding perfectly into the right balance of both.  I’m reminded of why I hiked in the first place.  It gave me a sense of peace and made my words flow.  I write because it gives meaning and purpose to the life surrounding me.  Just like Jo in Little Women, I have cut my hair to buy presents when the rest of my family has sold their possessions to buy combs for that same beautiful hair.  I’m always going all in on something at the cost of something else.  Only now (perhaps due to age) am I seeing the passions in my life blending, playing off each other, and becoming the meld that makes who I am.  As I look around me, I see all the elements coming to fruition:  my love of the outdoors, my love of the local, and my love of writing.

The tag on the book was right.  This book has changed my life but not only in the way had it intended (if there really was any true intention).  Sure, I plan on seeking out local foods and being as sustainable as possible on my little one acre of Heaven.  But it goes much deeper than that.  Reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle made me see the balance that is happening in my life.  While the focus was about local food and the difference even one family can make, it seems like a metaphor for so much else.  For the same reason I love reading Harry Potter over and over again, I enjoyed the layered messages in AVM.  Like all books ingested at the right time, I’ve taken from it things the author probably never even knew was there. To me, it really is about so much more than growing a garden, raising some chickens and getting to know your local farmer.  It’s more than learning moderation, curbing desires and caring enough about your fellow man to give up bananas.  The biggest lesson (for me) was about finding the middle road that is comfortable and natural for you; the simple fact that we don’t have to be purists to make a differenceYou don’t have to go all or nothing in life.  I don’t have to go all or nothing, I should say.  My happy place is a perfect merge of flavors, if you will: a little writing, a little nature and a lot of perseverance.