Category Archives: journaling

Bird By Bird: On A Quest for the Summer Tanager

I decided to go on a quest for a summer tanager today.

I’m having a “staycation” while the kids are out of town, so, outdoor adventures close to home are in order.

Last week's run through the woods...aka, "Walking Under Raccoons," or, "Touched by a Swallowtail," or "Wish I had bug repellant with me."

Last week’s run through the woods…aka, “Walking Under Raccoons,” or, “Touched by a Swallowtail,” or “Sure wish I had bug repellant with me.”

On last week’s adventure, I ran through Guana Reserve, where I spotted “giant garden spiders, an armadillo, two white-tailed deer, a raccoon in the trees I walked under, a hawk nest, a white cloud butterfly, a swallowtail butterfly, an impassable flooded trail, snakes in the grass, ticks, fiddler crabs, leaping frogs, lizards, birds, and that was enough,” as I noted on Instagram.

This week, I hit the Guana Wildlife Preserve, where my new photographer friend Don Christian said I might spot the tanagers.  “Just head for the oaks and keep looking up in the trees!” he said.

I was thrilled to hear that I might be able to see these mysterious creatures!  I am in love with tanagers.  Last summer I happened upon several scarlet tanagers in the mature woods of the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was practically euphoric.

My son, Matthew, and I have had summer tanagers on our “watch list” for a few years now, but, I never knew where to find them.

Now I do.

deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

Deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

So, I packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, scribbled the directions in my journal, stocked up with water, two cameras, natural bug repellant (I HATE that stuff but this was necessary!), my phone, and a song in my heart.

So, this is what “following your bliss” feels like, eh?

But first, the run.  I planned to combine bird-watching AND running the trails.  (p.s. this is not really good for spotting birds).  I figured I would run first, THEN come back with the camera.

Well, it wasn’t great for bird-watching per se, but, I did get to see lots of other things:  beautiful Florida oak groves, many swallowtails, fiddler crabs, and lots and lots and LOTS of flies, mosquitos and horseflies.  But hey — no ticks!  (So far, anyway).

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Once again, as I got to the outer reaches, and took a wrong turn, and ended up further away than I thought, I did say to myself, Hmmm…why DO I have to do everything so hard?  As I turned into a grassy section, the signs said the trails sometimes flood.  Did that stop me?  Oh, no.  I just went deeper and deeper in the woods.

I was on a quest, you see.

Well, eventually, the flooding did stop me, so, I had to turn around.  But that’s when I bumped into the baby armadillo!  Such a cutie!  He was hunched up in the grass, as if he was thinking,  “Hey, if I cover my head, maybe she won’t see me!”  But I sure did, and stopped running long enough to take out my phone and snap a shot — even though the lens was steamed up.  I got super close and he untucked his head and looked up at me, with his cute little pink ears and  sweet face.  I smiled and kept going.

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Finally, I reached the parking lot again, and took out my camera for the “bird watch” part.  I thought I had heard an Eastern towhee in the pine section, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Needed the telescope lens of the camera.

So, very quietly, with a LOT more bug spray on me, I headed down the trails.  I saw a weird lizard with something in it’s mouth, which I now realize was a bug he just ate.  Ewww!  I saw a delightful blue bee, a green dragonfly, wildflowers, a painted lady butterfly, and a lovely brown moth.

I spotted a baby cardinal, sitting shyly behind a branch.  I heard bullfrogs.  And I spotted something high up in the trees…yessss…it was…an Eastern towhee!

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same "drink your tea" as they have on my birdsong CD...maybe a Florida version?

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same “drink your tea” as recorded on my birdsong CD…maybe a Florida version?

OK, not a tanager.  BUT, this was the first towhee I ever located on my own, and was able to photograph!  So, that was plenty exciting for me.

So now, I guess I just have to go back, and see if I can get the tanager.  I’ll keep listening to Stan Tekiela’s CDs on “Birds Of Florida,” to try to recognize the tanager song.

But I’ve got one more bird to check off my Life List, and I’m plenty happy with that.

Here.
In the Florida garden.

 

Painted lady

Painted lady

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Actually, I DO like spiders and snakes!

After an indoor labyrinth walk yesterday in Ponte Vedra, instead of heading home, I headed toward Guana Beach, called by the promise of remote beach and undisturbed beauty.

I needed a little “wild” time.

Guana River State Park is a mostly pristine coastal scrub ecosystem, according to the signs in the parking lot at the third beach entrance (my favorite because it’s the most remote). As I headed to the beach from almost empty parking lot, I paused and observed the wildness of the brush along the walkway.

That’s when I spotted an enormous black-and-yellow garden spider making its web. I marveled at its giant body nimbly sliding down long threads and then picking its way back up again, completely absorbed in its work.

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

My face was about 18 inches away, and when a breeze blew the web a bit closer, I found myself stepping back — and then noticed an even bigger spider, with an even more fortified web, sitting quietly in the middle of a long zig-zag of threads.  This one was about 4 inches long, the other was about 3 inches. And, there were two more  “smaller” spiders (two inches) hanging nearby (I later learned these were males).

It was  a little bit of wild, right under my nose.

Satisfied by this glimpse of wildness, I continued to the beach, which was sprinkled with just a few folks. I noticed the dappled sand, still imprinted with the many drops of the recent hard rain.  The waves ran up to the roughness, tickled it, and then ran back.  Two plovers walked in the water just ahead, keeping a wary eye on me.

I took a few pictures and thought, I should tag these, “#OhYeah! #ILiveAtTheBeach!”  I felt grateful to be there.

Remote beach at Guana.  A little bit of wild.

Remote beach at Guana. A little bit of wild.

Back in the parking lot, still wanting a bit more wild, I got closer to a cardinal singing its evening song at the top of a dead branch among the salt-curved tree tops.  Then I walked to the edge of the parking lot, looking for more interesting wild stuff.

I found it.

In the most remote corner, I saw another giant spider, this one even bigger, building its web.  Behind it was another, and then another, and then another, and I suddenly realized, Oh my God, there are hundreds of them, covering every few feet of the wild scrub under the oak trees! This is a truly wild and remote corner. THIS is what wild nature looks like!

Maybe spiders horrify you.  (Remember the song, “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes?”) They don’t horrify me, though I did not care to get TOO close (except to take pictures).  I was thrilled to see them, actually.  I was thrilled to see what “wild nature” looks like, when it’s forgotten, untouched, and unmolested by human hands.

I drove home a little lighter, relieved to know that there are a few places left in Jax that are pesticide-, litter-, and developer-free.

Here.
In the garden.

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The Perfect Job

ImageI found the perfect job for my 17-year-old son the other day.  It’s at the Wild Birds Unlimited store.  They need someone to unload the seed bags from the truck, move heavy boxes, and attend to the sales floor if needed.
Someone who likes nature.
Who likes birds.
Who likes people.
It’s perfect for him!

Which is why, when I suggested it, he immediately said, “No.”

“Sure, Mom.  I can just hear me telling my friends, ‘I can’t hang out with you because I have to go to work at the Wild Birds store,'” he said, a slight smile curving his lips.  Like, “Aww, Mom.  Aren’t you cute!” and then, “Fuggetaboutit!”

Sigh.  OK. That plan did not work out.  Big surprise. However, I won’t lose hope.  His dad has big plans to get him a job this summer, so I’ll wait to see how that works out.

In the meantime, my 19-year-old daughter is home from college, and, after a stimulating conversation last week about why I will not provide unlimited funds for new clothes, even if she goes to Forever 21, she called up a few restaurants to set up interviews. The next day, she got a job.  Then she applied for an internship at the Women’s Center, and on Monday, she was working there.

So there you go.  And I had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Well, maybe a little to do with it.  But, I’m thrilled. It seems that my children DO have their own ideas and opinions, so, I need to let them try them out.

This morning, I’m sitting here in my garden, watching the juvenile bluebirds hanging around the mealworm dish.  They open their mouths, hoping the parents will feed them.  But it seems that won’t work anymore. The parents ignore them and then fly off back to the nest box to feed the newest clutch. It’s time for these fledglings to fend for themselves.

So, here we are, sharing that experience, me and the bluebirds, as we watch out children grow.  We are doing what we have to do, even if it hurts a little to let them go.

Here.
In the garden.

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Forsythia

IMG_5595I bought some forsythia blooms yesterday.

We had a giant forsythia bush on the farm up North, right off the back porch, tucked between the pantry and the lilac bush.

It was the early harbinger of spring.  In the cold, gray Pennsylvania winters, I looked eagerly for those first signs of awakening life to break the dreary landscape.

First, I’d notice the ground getting mushy, half frozen, half thawed. I’d step off the back porch, over the little stone ditch, and my rubber boots would sink into the squishy ground, the thin brown grass under the snow just holding both soil and tread.

A quick left turn, perhaps a slight slide in the mud, and the forsythia would be on my left as I rounded the corner, picking my way toward the Springhouse. The dark stand of bare branches stood silently, and I’d notice the swelling buds. Just a few more days, perhaps.

Soon, a tiny burst of yellow would burst open, like popcorn, and then another, and then another, and suddenly the bush became a cloud of yellow, with a bit of green mixed in among the blossoms. The neat, square, four-pronged blossoms smiled as they gently waved in the breeze.

The wind took their spring message and sent it to the daffodils on the nearby pasture slope.  Their thin green prong leaves and tight buds poked out of the still-wet earth, and soon burst into an echo of yellow color, nodding “Yes!”

Weeks later, among heart-shaped leaves, the luxurious mini-piles of lilac flowers would unfurl, each bloom stacked like the full skirt of a swirling ball gown, elegant, scented, lovely.

By then, the forsythia blooms had melted into soft green leaves, and waited, once again, for their turn, their chance to dance in springtime winds again.

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Springtime

IMG_5239Spring shadows and first lilies.
The nuthatches have nested in the bluebird box and
the cool weather will soon be gone.
Just not quite yet.

 

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Camille’s Birthday

Journal Entry
February 19, 2014

Camille’s Birthday

Oh, what a joy it is, to have a daughter!
Oh, how I can remember EXACTLY
what it was like when she was born —
the entire birth process, from waking up at 3 a.m.
when I felt the contractions start
to driving to the hospital
(and stopping for video camera cartridges)
and how the bumps in the road
triggered more contractions,
and standing in the bathroom
alone feeling a little sorry for myself,
knowing the pain that was coming,
to sitting in my bed
to try to manage my contractions
(dumb; I worked so hard at it that
I actually slowed down the birth process,

which Jack later pointed out),
to fussing at him for making noises
like crackling the newspaper and
squeaking his shoes on the floor,
to him feeding me ice chips from a styrofoam cup
to almost throwing up

from the pain and holding on to him
and then standing up and pushing with him
for three entire hours! and then seeing the crown
of her head in the mirror and summoning
the last of my strength
to push push push so they would not have to
grab her head with the suction cup
and then finally, finally out she came,
that beautiful rose-colored baby 8 pounds 9 ounces
I will never forget
and her will her indomitable will
as she lustily cried her lungs out while the poor nurses
tried to clean her up and ink her foot for a footprint,
and then wrapped in my arms again, tight
in a cotton blanket with a knit cap
in baby colors against our red and blue pillow case
behind me as I looked down at her
feeling absolutely triumphant
and Jack was outside crying
and then we were back again together
showing her off to family but
I never once never even once thought of
letting anyone else hold her
and then finally the next day my mother came
and she held her in her lap
and unwrapped the blankets so she could see
her perfect little body with her strawberry mark
on her shoulder and the dark, dark hair
covering her head, and Jack’s face
inches from hers adoring her
and we were so, so happy.

Camille Rose Guidry
February 19, 1995
9:19 p.m.
Touro Infirmary
New Orleans, Louisiana

photo

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Poem about last night

IMG_4274

They arrived in the dark.
I’d lit candles all around the house,
except on the big table. Waiting.

Wrapped in colorful coats, holding
purses and journals and expectations,
they alighted on my doorstep.

Bird by bird.

I embraced them all,
even the strangers.

They circled around the kitchen
counter, got their drinks, and
pecked at the snacks.

Names were exchanged,
connections were made,
compliments were shared.

No one questioned why I had
a Jane Austen ball gown hanging
on my pantry door. (until later)

Then we gathered in the circle,
and breathed our collective breath.

Inhale.
Exhale.
Inhale.
Exhale.
Inhale.
Exhale.

The pens, and one pencil, emerged.
Some timidly, some boldly,
to scribe their words.

They were heard.
Names were dropped into the circle, like seeds.
Words, intentions, hopes and dreams were shared.
The candle flickered, and held their secrets.

They left in a flurry of jangling car keys,
re-wrapped grace scarves and last-minute questions,
and returned to the darkness from which they came.

But perhaps each carried, in their
hearts, the lit candle, a bit of warmth,
a sip of the sacred.

I cleaned up the kitchen,
went to bed, and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, this time really opened them,
there they were, the birds, on the feeder.
Waiting for more.

Here.
In the garden.

IMG_4275

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The Bluebirds Came to Visit Me Today

The bluebirds came to visit me today.  I stepped outside this morning, onto the front porch, and heard their burbling call before I saw them. The male was perched on a feeder, the female was flying around the nest box. They stopped briefly to take a look at me.

IMG_4244Hello, Dear Ones!
Happy New Year!

Their coats are dusty blue, shaded by winter, but still lovely to see.  The male, perhaps conscious of my appreciation, shyly showed his back to me, then, with a quick hop, displayed his dusty red breast on the other side.

The brilliant red of a jaunty cardinal on another feeder provided a sharp contrast. He was lovely against the dull winter browns outside, even here in green Florida. Then the crisp black cap of the chickadee was revealed as she landed on the feeder, chased off again by a scolding tufted titmouse dressed in sharp grays and warm browns.  I fell in love with the tawny stripe under his wing, so vulnerable against the creamy white of his belly.

As I returned to my chair in the living room, I saw that no birds were paying attention to the feeder in the backyard. That’s OK.  I was cheered by the bright tangerine orange of my new cushions on the garden furniture, a treat to myself for Christmas.

So. A new year begins. I am filled with fresh ideas, dreams and plans, as exciting as tangerine orange, but still in development, like the blue on the back of the winter bluebird.

I can wait.
And hope.
And dream.

Anticipating the gifts of the year, like the sudden flash of colorful birds, landing on a feeder.

Here.
In the garden.

p.s. Photo is my slightly edited version of  the latest cover of Bluebird Magazine, which I subscribe to as a member of the North American Bluebird Society. 

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The Happiness Project, Revisited

As I await winter solstice, the nights are long, and the days are short.  This is a variation of Gretchen Rubin’s truism: “The days are long, but the years are short.”

IMG_4226

I will remember these years, of getting the children off to school.  These high school years, when I did it on my own.  Anchored by my chair, and my journal, I have been present for them, preparing breakfast, helping to find socks, watching the time; all the while, they grew up.

I’ve been waiting to see if Matt would get up, without me reminding him again. Waiting to see if Camille made it out on time, so I wouldn’t have to threaten to drive her to school myself the next day. Waiting to see if the birds would come to rest at the bird feeder in line of sight from my chair; I pause to check them out as I write.

This morning, three cardinals came to rest on the iron table under the feeder — a bright red male, a juvenile in dull browns, and a female. How long will they stay?  I wait to see.

Sitting in this circle of light, I am glad to have been Here, Now, available to my children, and my own self, as we each face the day.

Seasons pass.
Years pass.
Eras pass.

Soon, I will not have any children left to rouse, and the mornings will be different.  But today, I’ll be grateful, for the flash of red, for the circle of light, for the honey toast crusts left on the Matthew’s plate.  All the joys, the simple joys, of being Here, Now, in this moment, in winter’s light.

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, ” says Rumi.

Here.
In the garden.

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The Chapel

Thank you, Divine Mother, for my beautiful chapel, for my red bench pew, for my pine tree altar, as I am attended by the soul birds around me.  (Is it an accident that angels are depicted with wings?)

Sitting on my red pew, drinking my rich brown, morning coffee in the flowered chalice offered by my daughter, I am at one with the Divine, the Good Earth, the way of peace.

IMG_1557The tiny kinglet darts back and forth above my head, playing in the dusty green leaves of Florida’s fall.  The red-capped chipping sparrow eats peacefully at the feeders, unperturbed by my presence.  And far off, the winter-brown bluebird sings, his voice, at least, not camouflaged by the long nights and short days before winter solstice.

Back inside, I light the candle on the piano altar, and two other candles around the room, warming this “inside chapel” of my living room with spirit light.  Gently, my fingers touch the two feathers next to the Tibetan bell, a tiny bluebird feather, a richly colored cardinal feather.

And I smile with the joy of waking up, waking up to the pleasures of the spiritual life, of the clarion call, of the golden circle, of the blank pages of the day.

To love morning.
This is to be alive.

Here.
In the garden.

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