|Tuesday, February 22, 2011|
|For eons, humankind survived--even thrived--by being deliberately connected to the natural world. Rhythms of weather, animal migration patterns, timing of natural harvests all played important roles in feeding our ancestors, whatever our ethnic background. Much has been written about the increasing disconnection humans have from nature and the effects of that, which I won't regurgitate here. Although it does strike me that there is something to be said for noticing, for instance, that heavier-than-usual animal coats or nut crops signals a more severe winter. It might have led more of us in the modern era to stock up in advance--if not on fruits and berries and dried meat, then on generators and snow blowers and the like. I digress...|
All of that is one way to "read nature." But when I chose the title I was thinking about another way, also a way of life of indigenous peoples, that of finding personal or tribal messages through appearances of various birds or critters. Native American vision quests sought, among other things, an element or creature of the natural world that would play lifelong significance to the quester, imparting knowledge or strength or skill, or confirming a life-path. Sometimes a different bird or animal would show up for a special occasion to impart its own gifts.
I try to be very alert to that aspect of nature in my own life. Who is showing up for me, in a way different than usual? And so I have a short story to share with you. As many of you know, my husband Pete and I are now facing a medical challenge that will likely alter our path, at least in the short term. We are trying hard to hold to all we know of goodness and peace in the midst of a time of turmoil and change. Not surprisingly, I have found some solace and strength outside, where my heart often rests.
We had the year's most spectacular sunset...in fact, perhaps the most spectacular in many years, the other evening. The glorious colors stretched from east through north to west in shades of pinks and peaches and deep russets and golds. Incredible. I had to dash to find a spot where I could quickly move from one vantage point to the other. I was in Kitty Hawk when the light show began, so I opted for near KH Pier for seaside and by the bridge for soundside. Both are below. Wild temperature fluctuations continue: 70-something, 40-something, 60-something, 30-something. That is just the past four days. During one of those warmer swings, I went over to Alligator River for some quiet time. I went looking for hawks, which were mostly absent from view. Instead, I found basking turtles. They tend to be spooky here, jumping under water at the least movement from me. This day they let me take several photographs, for which I am grateful. They are so optimistic, turtles. The least little sunshine and up they come, out of the mud, to take in every last bit of it. I can learn a lot from them.
My final encounter was with the Kitty Hawk eagle, well one of them at least. I had not seen the eagles at all this season. I have not had as many chances to go looking, either but I took the time to drive by the nest site the other day. I saw no one there. But down the road a bit was one of the adult eagles, perched on a snag. I pulled over and changed lenses. It flew pretty quickly and I admit to momentary disappointment--momentary because instead of flying away, it flew straight in my direction and landed on a bare tree top that was much closer and provided a better vantage for a photograph. Hello, sweetheart, I said.
I have heard eagles call before, that high-pitched whistle that always startles me, as I expect such a bird to have a lower pitched voice than it does. This eagle did something else, something I can describe only as "making the tremelo." If any of you have ever seen a western movie with Native American women singing out you will know exactly what I mean. Through my lens I could see its whole throat vibrating. It was looking away as it began but turned its head and looked directly at me. I just took it in, as strength. Not many minutes later it flew again and I was this time able to catch the moments of take off. Looking at the two pictures of those moments, I was struck at the position of the wings. They looked like half a circle--a sacred circle, the sort of image that might wind up on a Peace Shield. I took Eagle's tremelo and wing pattern as promise, for strength and peace, which I need to receive now. I guess I am not surprised that the gifts I crave came through being outside, in this most special of places.
click for larger image
|A favorite verse: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles...|
posted by eturek at 3:14 PM
|Saturday, February 12, 2011|
|Usually when I think about spring, “R” words come to mind: refresh, renew, restore, rebirth, resurrection. I’m remembering a line from a poet-friend back in high school. Reapers reap, repeating. Spring sets the whole cycle in motion again. Repeating. This year I have been thinking about spring’s sort of schizophrenic, bipolar personality, with volatile mood swings…there’s what we might think of as the manic side: Ohmigosh! Grow! Sprout! Bloom! Migrate! Nest! Let’s have babies, lots of babies! The weather warms up and so do we. Then there is the stormy side of spring’s personality, as frontal systems collide and days-long northeast winds pound the coast. Warmer air meets colder water, shrouding the beach in heavy fog. We tuck in our heads and wrap up a little tighter. It’s not winter exactly but it’s not all warm and fuzzy yet, either. The thermometer swings wildly, too, in 30 or 40 degree increments. It’s spring, and spring brings change.|
Ever since Phil predicted an early spring (God bless you, Phil, good job!), I’ve been even more alert for signs of it here. During the foray down to Pea Island that I wrote about last time, both Liz Corsa and I commented on the color of the dune grasses. They had an early spring yellow-green to them, fresher than the golden color they wear in late fall and winter. We saw evidence on the mainland too, in the guise of a variety of stems of canal-side bushes and plants pinking up with (I assume) newly meandering sap. (Seems too soon to say “running sap” somehow.)
My little apple tree, the one that proudly produced one tiny apple in the middle of winter and then leafed out, that apple tree…well, its leaves are now a pretty russet red. Bless its sap, it is so confused. I am taking the leaves turning as a good sign, as if it is trying to catch up with itself, so to speak. Meanwhile, the crab apple tree is beginning to produce its springtime (we pause for a quick google: spikes? thorns? sharp pointed somethings?) spurs. One website called them spurs. Another called them spines. Whatever. I learn in passing that the crab apple is kin to roses which might explain the needle-sharp whatevers that are emerging now. True leaves and small ornamental fruits will follow.
In early spring, the blue jays, who are not as versatile as mocking birds but do mimic other calls, will add osprey to their repertoire. I have been fooled over the years by many a blue jay doing its osprey impersonation. I heard the first jay give the year’s first osprey call earlier this week (and looked up immediately, hoping. Gotcha!)
Meanwhile, winter doesn’t let go of its authority so easily. We had another snowstorm overnight Wednesday night, with several inches in Colington. The snow stopped shortly after 10 a.m. Early morning skies were pale and grey; by 10:30 a.m. the skies were layers of deep flannel gray and slate and grey-blue clouds and by noon the sky was a deep dark blue with some fluffy white clouds, dazzling and bright with all the white on the ground. By 3 p.m. most of the clouds were gone and the skies were clear again and by evening most of the snow had melted. The air was mostly still in Colington but whipping in Corolla; today we had rain and some sleet by late afternoon with temperatures in the upper 30s or 40 for most of the day. Here comes the shift—the forecasters are predicting a high of 60 degrees by Monday. News Flash: now that yesterday’s snow has melted, I spy the first daffodil leaves bravely announcing their spring arrival, already about three inches above the ground. I’ve been looking for them; I swear they weren’t here three days ago.
Pennsylvania might have its Punxsutawney Phil, but here on the Outer Banks, we have our Pamlico Pelican. All the pelicans I have seen lately seem to agree with Phil about the early spring idea. Many are already wearing their bright yellow spring hats…the area around their eyes is turning pink…the eyes themselves are growing more pale and tending toward baby blue. Yellow, pink, blue—perfect spring wardrobe colors, just right for a year in its infancy, a brand new season of hope and promise to come.
In closing I have two stories to share with you, stories about love and honor. They are really the same story, as you will see. Once upon a time there was an Outer Banks photographer who loved the wild horse herd of Corolla and Carova. She loved everything about them, and she honored them. Recently, while photographing on our northern beaches, she realized a young filly foal had a fishhook embedded in its leg. She took photos to document what harem the filly was part of, and notified the wild horse fund folks, who were then able to find and treat the filly before the wound got any more serious than it already was. Fast forward to this past week’s snow. That same photographer—my dear friend and OBC’s own shellgirl, Karen Watras—and I went to Carova. We hoped to see some horses but none were out and about…until she drove down what was to have been our last little road near the firehouse, and bingo! There was one. Actually, there were a couple. Actually, there was a small harem…with a filly foal…and it was Fishhook Filly. We stayed our responsible and honoring distance away (gotta love long lenses) and Karen remarked to me how calm the horses, even the stallion, even the mother-mare seemed—hardly any tail-swishing, hardly any ear-twitching. Several times the filly looked directly at Karen (not so much at me) as did her mother. I said to Karen, they know. I really believe they know. Your caring could well have saved that filly’s leg…so I don’t think it is a coincidence that we were led to just one small group, and that the group would have been the now-reunited family, with the filly’s leg scarred but healed. I think rather that they drew us to them, so they could say “thank you.”
Here is the other same story. When artist friend Liz Corsa and I went to Pea Island, one thing I did not mention is that we saw a dead loon washed up on shore. We both looked down at it in admiration for its beauty. I have always wanted to see one…but not like this. Liz, being from the northeast, knows loons well. I stroked its bill and told it I was sorry, which I was, and how beautiful I think they are. Nothing much worth reporting there…until now. The other afternoon I went walking down to look at the ocean and at the edge of the beach access was a loon feather. I knew it right away by its characteristic “white eyes”—the same feathers I had seen and photographed, for honor, on the loon on the beach. I picked up the little feather and tucked it in my pocket. When I crossed over the dune the ocean was blue and fairly calm. Gulls were flying around (no pelicans). There were a couple of birds I did not recognize, well offshore. Up came a friend in a truck who knows his offshore birds well. Those are loons, he said, migrating. I about fell over. Look! I found this feather! I said. I went back for my long lens; they were still far enough away that I could not get a close look. But I felt they came in response to my own gesture of love and honor. That is what the natural world is all about for me: that connection. It’s really not about lots of facts or statistics, interesting as those might be. It’s about being in the right place at the right time with an open heart. Getting to share the stories with all of you makes every encounter that much sweeter.
posted by eturek at 11:58 AM