Thursday, October 31, 2013

Recognize Me In Costume?

I am a real treat for birders to spot in the field.

I can be a bit tricky to identify, but only the very first time a birder sees me.

Mother Nature gave me a very special costume that doesn’t even get messed up if it rains all day on Halloween!
emilysiwsiw likes to watch and photograph me (and post pictures of me on her blog). She thinks I make facial expressions that remind her of her favorite big dog, the greyhound:


Do you recognize me?

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Brotherly Love: One Riot, One Ranger

Birthdays are a big thing in my family.  I give all the credit to my mother.  My blog post:  “Happy Birthday, Bonnie Ruth” is a tribute to the transformation of my mom, on family birthdays.  If for no other reason, you may like looking at that post for the 1940’s circa photos of THE gorgeous Bonnie Ruth, my mother:

In tribute to our mother, I’m only certain of two things on each and every one of my birthdays:  I will hear from both of my brothers; cards will arrive before my birthday, and phone calls and text messages will arrive on my birthday.  I hold precious this family tradition.  It is a celebration of more than my birthday.  It is a celebration that, for better or worse, we three siblings share our family-of-origin attributes.  And we carry forward traditions that our parents taught and loved.

I pause today to celebrate one of my brothers' birthdays.  In celebratory spirit I share one of my favorite childhood family photographs:

Yes, that chunky monkey post-toddler-age little girl would be me.  This picture has a wealth of stories embedded in it:

Note the brother, far left, is sporting suspenders and a rough-and-tumble cast on his left arm.  And a probable fist with his right hand, locked and loaded?
And then there is today’s birthday boy to the far right, sporting a holstered toy pistol and a less-than-threatening choke hold on kid sister.  This brother, then and now, carries a good bit of the kind-hearted Sherriff Andy Griffith personality and none of the outlaw personality.  The probable riot this kid sister initiated to require the good ranger to respond is beyond my memory.  Oh what I’d give to listen to, and watch, the “goings on” that led up to this freeze-framed moment in time.

But what I love most about this photo is our mother’s relaxed smile.  She has a hand-hold on me and a smile for the record books. I have few pictures from my childhood that sport this smile.  She has passed that smile down to at least two generations of women.  But when she wore it, I’d never seen such beauty.
Without knowing the before-hand events captured in this photo (and do you think I’d believe any brotherly stories?), it is obvious from our mother’s relaxed pose that no real ruckus is occurring.  No correction or behavioral modification was about to be commanded.  And more subtle (but known to this sister) is that both brothers are having fun in this one moment in time.  I recognize both of those lop-sided smiles, still worn at family gatherings, some well-over-half-century later.

And as in all photos from our childhood, we four are all squinting as we look directly into the sun, our dad’s favorite framing to photograph his beloved family.

Happy Birthday, D.L.!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Swamp Sparrow Life Lessons

I’ve always needed a good bit of down time to reflect on my life. Before you call me narcissistic, I spend much more time pondering the “bigger” life as possibly viewed from Mother Nature’s binoculars.  Some call it day dreaming; some call it wasting time.  I call it food for thought.

I bird for many reasons, but perhaps I most love to watch these feathered friends teach me about we humans, and our narcissistic concept of uniquely created in the image of.
A muted day at Brazos Bend finds me watching and wondering the life view of this Swamp Sparrow.  The Swamp Sparrow acts out a demonstration of my own repeating patterns of behavior.
Stilled by life, she seems to pause and contemplate her own reflection:

Startled, as I am when reflecting too closely on my own life, she appears to jump away from what she finds:


She turns her back and hides within her own world, hoping that her blinders, and the blinders of others, will mute her uniqueness within a forest of the many:

And then the Swamp Sparrow turns and watches the watcher:  

When I turn, and see a friend come into view, the day is not so muted.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Lovely Day at GISP

Friday afternoon, before the weekend crowds arrive, a strong easterly wind is my trusty companion on the marsh side of Galveston Island State Park.  The easterly breeze is a best friend to chase away mosquitoes; and the same breeze an unintended foe, challenging serious birding and birding photography. 

My 400mm lens becomes a square sail as I attempt to point it outward.  I anchor it with arms tucked close to my body, but my body sways as a human monopod in such wind.  My trusty birding hat, with neck tie, replaces the baseball cap that immediately blew off my head.  But I have no complaint:  a full ball sun and low humidity made for a lovely day at Galveston Island State Park.

I look out on the deserted weekday beach, saving a favorite walk for a less windy day:

 The picnic area quietly awaits the noise of the weekend crowds:


I drive over to the marsh side of the park, where many beach-loving families never venture.  The grasses and diverse vegetation are lush from a summer of good rain:


I attempt to shoot photos of Long-billed Dowitchers, Blue-winged Teals, and Greater Yellowlegs, while Brown Pelicans fly overhead, seeming to delight with the winds that carry them in perfect flight formation.  An Eastern Meadowlark watches over me, giving me that judgmental look of “Girl, what are you thinking in this wind?”


A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, amazingly still, watches me shoot many a blurry photo of a Pine Warbler.  The flycatcher accentuates the dead branches of a complex group of snags that were once a living motte.  The long ago human planting of this motte created a treasured destination for birders, giving safe refuge to fall and spring warblers to stop for rest and food.  And although the grasses and shrubs of GISP have indeed made an incredible recovery, the motte turned snag is a standing reminder of Hurricane Ike and Mother Nature’s capacity to create and destroy.

But today it is the flycatcher’s peace that I take with me:


Friday, October 25, 2013

RVing into the Future: Goodbye Airstreaming Life

My camping and travel lifestyle started at six weeks of age; or so I’m told.  This fact says nothing remarkable about me, but says a lot about my parents; and describes a pretty powerful strength from my mother, yes?  Schoolteachers both, vacations were always about camping travels.

And so I believe I can claim camping and travel as a part of my genetic makeup, and most certainly a big part of my family-of-origin influence.  And as I fledged my parent’s nest, my college years found me tent camping (when not in school or at work).  Cades Cove and Mount Pisgah were favorite destinations in the lovely days before the noise and smell of campers with generators.
Then followed the caretaking of a young family and vacations in pop-up trailers and camping vans, treasured memories from what seems a lifetime ago:

These last several years have provided me the luxury of traveling with an Airstream travel trailer, a true condo-on-wheels:


I have pulled a 30’ Airstream through much of the western U.S.  I’ve backed it into many a beautiful park’s campsite:

I’ve found parking lots large enough to stop and buy groceries and supplies:

But time marches forward, and this is a season of change for me:  driving 50’ of tow vehicle and trailer; hitching and unhitching; and lifting LP tanks off the trailer for refill are three of the main reasons it is time for me to gracefully say goodbye to my beloved Airstream way of life.
I know a LOT about Airstreams:  the good; the bad; the important; the easy; the hard; the frustrating, and the ever so convenient.  I’ll probably blog about some of these subjects, especially as I believe women frequently do not know enough about RVs before they purchase (women are a fast growing customer base for the RV industry).  Easy example:  if you don’t know the size of the rig’s grey tank, you don’t know if you are purchasing the right rig.  And if you don’t know what a black tank back-flush is, you need to, for your health and happiness and for that of your RVing neighbors.
But today I’ll keep it simple and make a statement that polarizes RVers in the way that politics is polarizing a bunch of folks that otherwise display mostly calm common sense:  I’ve never liked, and never wanted to own a motorized RV.  I like a condo-on-wheels that doesn’t include an engine and a driver’s seat.
But life is all about change and adaptation and glass half full, yes?  And so the beloved Airstream is sold and a 25’ motorized RV is on order.  And hear me now:  I am very, very excited! 

A 25’ motorized RV should be VERY easy for me to drive across the U.S, as it is only half the length of what I've Airstreamed through gas stations, parking lots, and unknown roads and towns.  I will not have to unhitch (easy) and hitch (hard) a complex and heavy weight-distributing Hensley Arrow hitch system.  The LP tank of the 25' RV is a permanent mount, allowing a remote fill without removing the tanks!  These three constraints have been MY three most difficult travel challenges--and with the 25' motorized RV, these three are solved!
Will there be new complexities and new challenges?  Yes (I’m already studying the owner and maintenance manuals for the new RV's chassis.)  But simply stated:  It is time for me to be motorized RVing into my future, and that is what I’m doing!

But first, I had to hurry up (already sold the Airstream) and wait (it’s going to be a few months) for the new RV to arrive.

And as I mentioned yesterday, there are far worse places to be stuck in fall and winter; daytrips around the upper Gulf Coast of Texas is where I’m going to be wandering and wondering for awhile. 

Today, I say goodbye to my beloved condo-on-wheels and all the beautiful places it allowed me to call home:

And the soon-to-be future will have me on the road again, wandering and wondering.  And today, I’m headed out to enjoy the outdoor air conditioning and call out:  Come on birds!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Penta-tastic Walk

There is a reason I’m not spending my favorite season of travel in my beloved condo-on-wheels, traveling near and far.  But today is not the day to share; maybe tomorrow.

I can’t complain too much about being “stuck” on the upper gulf coast of Texas.  This is the time of year that Mother Nature mostly blesses this habitat with her perfect outdoor air conditioning.  And after a summer of heat and humidity, I’m now spending my days outdoors, as much as stick-house living allows.
Yesterday afternoon included a long walk.  Outdoor walking is one of the most important habits of my life.  I know that I can go to a gym and get on an elliptical or a stair-stepper or a treadmill and burn more calories than an hour walk outdoors.  But the gym, or any indoor venue, does not bring me the mental, emotional and spiritual therapy of a long walk outdoors.

I didn’t discover the healing powers of outdoor walking until nine years ago.  A life-event medical emergency almost took my life.  It definitely took away my health as a long recovery period was involved.  But my recovery did declare victory over a near-death experience.  There is no question in my mind that my recovery was in large part due to friends who got me outside, got me on my feet, and slowly walking.  My first walk was not 25 yards. 
But with each outdoor walk I found a strengthening and a calming of my selfhood.  And with a great deal of daily walks, each one a little further than the last, an hour walk became the magic length that separated me from a turning inward, to focus on my own selfish problems and challenges, to a turning outward, to the overwhelmingly larger-than-a-single-life landscape of Mother Nature.  I walked in rain and heat and cold.  Walking was my life preserver.  A walking stick my faithful companion. 

And now, whether a multi-hour hike at my beloved Lost Maples State Natural Area, or a one-hour leisurely stroll on a neighborhood greenbelt, an outdoor walk is my own personal tribute to:  an hour a day keeps the doctor away.
How can I describe this visually?  Well, when I started my walk yesterday, I walked past a large grouping of penta flowers. They looked something like this:


And after an hour walk, I returned past the same pentas and they looked more like this:
Give outdoor walking a try if you can.  If you can’t, as my wheel-chair enabled doctor cannot, give rolling a try.  And if five minutes is your best first day, that is OK; that is about where I started. But if each day you walk a little further, and if each day finds Mother Nature your focused companion (along with dogs or other non-verbal companions), I’m confident you will find a habit that sooths the soul and strengthens the body. 

I truly believe life-treasures will come into focus, as yesterday did these tiny Heavenly Bamboo berries share their beauty with me:


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Royal Fields: The Golds and Purples of Brazos Bend

I’ve never looked good wearing gold or purple.  I don’t own gold jewelry—it just doesn’t look good on me.  My pocket book never complained over my passing of gold in favor of silver. 

In years past I kept buying purple and violet clothing as I think these colors are so pretty.  And each first wear, I’d looked in the mirror, and know I’d made a mistake.  The new outfit would be moved to the never-wear hanger until donated as a part of my purple donation bag.
Purple, gold and their close relatives are just not this girl’s best choice.  I’m more of a faded blue-jean, khaki and “drab green” kind of girl.  (And I’d like to take this moment to get up on my soapbox and protest the prejudicial stereotyping of my favorite color:  drab)

But I have a couple of friends that look fabulous in gold and purple.  They don’t know each other; their hair and skin coloring are completely different; and they each represent completely different clothing styles and body types.  But when they each frequent the purple and gold pallets of their wardrobes, they look snappy and stunning. 
And what is the deal anyway?  Why are purple and gold so tied to the stereotype of what human history has considered royal?  The answer is long and complex and I know but a little.  As you would guess, much of this history has to do with the economics of supply and demand; the difficulty of production; and that age-old custom of coveting what thy neighbor (or neighboring nation) might claim as valuable resources. 

If interested, a peek into the intertwining of human history and natural history will uncover a specific sea snail that was uniquely required to give up its life in the production of the most royal of purple dyes, going back some fifteen centuries B.C. 
But I’m more interested in what Mother Nature dons each season of the present year.  And she frequently sports a stunning color wheel of purple and gold, in different shades and different hues, especially contrasted by spring and fall seasons.

I’m especially drawn to the autumn gold’s of grasslands, marshes and fields. 
Brazos Bend wears Mother Nature’s color pallet so very well.  The gold’s of an October walk at Brazos Bend State Park:

And the purple’s of the same walk:


And yes, as I stare at my blog's homepage to post this entry, I stop and realize the PURPLE of my title picture and text headers.  Kind of pretty, yes?  :-)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chasing Flight: The Tri-Colored Heron & The Great Blue

It’s not as if I look elegantly poised when birding in the field. 

Birders are known for awkward, semi-frozen positions:  the lean forward, semi-squat with rear-ends sticking out behind more than we’d ever guess; the backward arch, with binoculars raised skyward and chins unintentionally dropped downward until gifted with a bug-in-the-open-mouth; the one-knee-to-ground squat (accompanied by pishing calls) in hope that shy LBJs will pop out from their cover (which they don’t). 
And if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I’m probably most humorous when suddenly shifting gears to recklessly point my 400 mm lens to the sky.  I can’t help but give chase to any and all feathered friends that cross the skyway above me. 

I’ve swirled and twirled with lens raised and shutter clicking.  I’ve tripped backward over rocks and roots; I’ve jumped sideways and squealed at close encounters with snakes, unaware of the mobile underfoot until their hiss or rattle is louder than my shutter.  I’ve skipped forward when my boot landed within a foot of an alligator’s smile.  And all this awkward commotion is simply to give chase to the unplanned flight above my head.  Amazing beautiful wing-beats that are within my 400 mm reach; or so I hope.

I have deleted thousands of out-of-focus birds in flight, and a thousand more photos of empty sky.  But I don’t give up the chase.  I like the challenge.
And it was a Tri-Colored Heron at Brazos Bend this past week that teased me with its short bursts of flight to maintain a polite distance from my birding.

And so this first photo is the result of my chasing flight.  A highly typical unfiltered image: blurred beyond repair. But in this case, the photo is so bad it’s almost good:

After some time of motionless stance, focusing on my Lotus Plant photography, I glanced upward to spot another heron flying directly toward me, obviously mistaking me for a tree or billboard. 
I quickly performed my birder’s two-step dance to raise lens in chase of flight. And on this day, even with the Great Blue swirving away from my reckless motion, I got lucky.   The reward: a focused photo of a Great Blue Heron as it blew past me. 

The stretch of these herons is a lovely sight to see.  Their flight posture reminds me of the elegance of a Whippet or a Greyhound running at full gate.


And so I’ll keep chasing flight and I’ll keep deleting thousands.  But occasionally I’ll have a photo that is so bad it is good.  And every, every, every once in a while:  a recognizable keeper that makes me smile.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Healing Watchfulness: The Downy, the Anhinga and the Northern Cardinal

Humans have not cornered the market on busyness.  We just think we have.  It’s kind of like solitude.  We think we understand the meaningful balance of solitude in our busy lives. But when I spend time “alone” with Mother Nature, I realize there is no such luxury, and no such hindrance, as a solitary day.  Pick your favorite creature to study—they are never isolated from the others of creation.

And so I quietly watch the watchable.  And I’m drawn to my feathered friends.  Busyness is in their nature.  If you tell someone they eat like a bird, you are pretty much saying they are constantly focused on seeking, finding and eating.
What I find is an incredible sense of peace when I watch these feathered beings go about their day in the life.  I encounter a personal healing with my watchfulness when I stop chasing the “rare” and focus on the “common” of the local field or wood. 

And when my viewing catches the ordinary locals, in an extraordinary moment of their own quiet watching, I am overcome by their beauty.  I realize my intrusion into their own world’s version of solitude, as they turn and watch the watcher.  I quietly back away, hoping to leave them to their stilled watch.

This female Downy Woodpecker was in a period of watchful rest after busily feeding, drumming and calling:


The elegance of this Anhinga, quietly turning to watch my own stationary pose, spoke volumes:

And how often do birders ignore the beauty of the “common” Northern Cardinal?  I stood silent and watched this grand male look out over the kingdom before him.  And then he slowly turned his head to watch this watcher:


Please "click on" the photos in my blog for better viewing. 
May all your days be birdy days.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fall Foliage of the Lotus Plant

Many mark their fall calendars and their travel maps to leaf peep in the northeastern U.S, checking websites and tourist hotlines to catch fall color at its peak.  I spent three autumn seasons in Virginia as a work-base for weekend and vacation travels. I treasure many hiking and biking memories, some to the nearby Shenandoah National Park, and one weeklong trip to hike and bike the incredible Acadia National Park.  That destination, on Maine’s rocky coast, brought new images and terms to my brain’s database.  I learned about fjords and that we actually have a few in this one upper-corner of the lower forty-eight.  I had my first experiences with truly fresh-caught lobster. I learned about blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins where the blueberries come straight from the plant, not the can (within the box).

But as a native Gulf Coastie, how I love to visit Brazos Bend State Park on a cool, fall weekday.  With a cool front on its way through Texas, preceded by strong rains and northerly winds, there is no better way to greet the cool temps than a day in this habitat-rich park. 

I looked to the right; I looked to the left.  Not a leaf peeper (or other human) in sight:

As always, I am drawn to the Texas-size lotus plant.  Its fall season is an important part of this habitat’s lifecycle.  The rich brown hue of decay brings striking contrast to the flowering water hyacinth.  Texture; rich, striking fall texture:

And this Little Blue Heron anchors a true-to-life reality, in both size and color, as contrasted to the saturated color pallet of Mother Nature’s fall landscape:

And so if you have friends or family members that are leaf peepers, consider sending them my blog link and ask if they’ve ever peeped at such fall wonders.  Or better yet, just tell them to Google:  emilysiwsiw (with no spaces) to quickly find my most current blog post.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Wordless Summer

A four month summer and I never ventured more than sixty miles from my stick house.  Four months without wandering.  If not totally enjoyable, I’ll credit most of this time as being either overly productive or slightly restful.

There was a lot of background noise in my life this summer but I have no story to tell.  I prefer the wordless approach to most background noise levels.  But sometimes the background noise is hard to ignore and seems to overshadow the intended focus of life.

Pausing my wandering only added energy to my wondering nature.  I’ve daily pondered the divisive polarization of political, social and economic realities that are impacting the collective citizen livelihood.  I’ve embraced frustration; angst; disgust; and a good bit of “if only I could” beliefs that I openly shared with me, myself and I (to which they most heartily agreed).  But to date I’ve remained blog-wordless on this category of wondering. I’m not making any future promises.  
But back to my wordless summer:  Being action-oriented by parental training, I started the summer with an offer of service to a local church.  Most churches go into overdrive during the summer months with community outreach activities. At the same time, with family vacations the norm, churches become short-handed with their paid staffing to cover the summer day-in-the-life administrative duties.  So I freely offered my time to support any and all administrative staff functions that would help the paid administrative staff as they came and went through the summer months.  My offer was greeted with a warm thanks and a too busy to take me up on it response.  I’m still wondering about that one. 

Perhaps my greatest productivity came in the form of shredding my past; literally.  A trip to the local Staples store equipped me with a small, cheap, user friendly shredder; the type of shredder that only handles a few pages at a time and requires frequent emptying of a 1.5 gallon bin.  (I give it a 5 star review!)
And so I spent much of the summer going through files and files of old papers.   When emotional exhaustion accompanied an extended trip through my personal paper history, I’d spend a good bit of time feeding my new shredder that portion of my life.  It was incredibly therapeutic.  I wonder how much money could be saved on counseling fees if paper shredding was considered productive at-home therapy.
But letters are quite different from papers and not so easily shredded—which is probably a good thing.  I had three large boxes of old letters.  I went through them.  I read them.  I cried; I laughed; I wondered over letters from names I didn’t even recognize.  Some thanked me for dinner parties and for being a gracious hostess.  I laughed at these as I can no longer imagine either.  Some wished me good health.  Some shared appreciation for past days as a teacher that influenced.  Some simply shared heart-felt moments of their own life’s challenges, entrusting me with their life experiences.  Some letters were authored by names I still hold dear but are long gone from my life.  Some names are without recollection in my current brain’s data bank.  And a few names are still in my life today.  I grouped and filtered and now have one box of life letters.  I don’t know if they will someday be read by those that come after me, or simply tossed as trash with the other objects of my life.  It doesn’t matter.  Today, they are my life-box of letters.

My summer was wordless in voice.  But the background noise found focus when I truly listened.