This can be a really exciting and magical time of year and I know that we will share some laughs and glee with family locally and via Skype in the days to come. Both of us are ready for it to begin.
This time of year can be a major challenge as well if you have lost a loved one or, like me, raise emotions when listening to stories about another senseless killing rampage, the loss of a world leader like Mandella or just watching some little kid make news by doing something wonderful for a parent, a friend or a stranger. And don’t even get me going on stories of soldiers coming home to family… I almost have to leave the room if you know what I mean. I’m just saying that it can be tough. Being gentle, caring and loving as well as listening more than talking (or typing?) and being understanding are all goals of mine in the weeks to come.
So, you might ask, where is this all going Bruce? You have every right to do that (that’s me applying “understanding” already). I’m fortunate to have ready access to not only a remarkable family and good friends locally and around the world but also to a world class refuge about 20 miles north of me. You’ve heard me talk about Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the past. When we lived in Bend, Oregon I used to walk to the river and sit on a rock when I needed time to ponder. Now, it seems, I go to Ridgefield. Frequently I go with a friend or two and that always makes a great day. But when my personal batteries need charging I go early and alone. There’s something about being on the refuge in the comfort of a car, a full thermos of coffee and a couple of snacks. It’s easy to mostly ignore the others who drive by and glance to see who or what is in my car. An occassional nod or smile and, rarely, a conversation with someone I might know or who just wants to visit a bit. I can’t tell you what it means to me to be able (and I mean that in the most literal way) to sit quietly at the side of the road, windows down and just watch the birds as they go through their day, watch the reeds and trees and grass sway, listen to the wind and the calls of birds and the occassional coyote. It’s a luxury and I know it. I get to take a great camera along and learn the birds and their behavior as well as how to look for light, behavior and moments that make nice photographs. I can experiment… I do that a lot since I’m kind of a slow learner most times. I love the challenge of “the hunt”. I love it when it all comes out as a sharp, well exposed image of a bird doing something that sweeps by way to fast to fully appreciate in detail. I love being able to look at crisp photos and study the intricate detail of feathers and beaks. For some this is old stuff. For me, a neophyte birder, almost every image is a lesson and a reward. It charges my batteries. It makes me fully appreciate my good fortune. It helps me be ready for the emotions that can spring forth at a moment’s notice .. I hope.
I went to Ridgefield the other day after running a few errands to get holiday packages off to people out of town. Leaving for the refuge later than normal I did not have high expectations. On arrival I talked to the refuge volunteer and he informed me that much of the water was still frozen from our recent cold snap. “Lots of swans and geese… not too much else” he told me. Whatever. I geared up, filled the coffee cup and headed out at a brisk 5-10 mph. The place was beautiful. Open pockets of water filled with shovelers, mallards, pintails and coots. Lots of sparrows flitting around ahead of the car. I pulled into an area Eric and I know as “blackbird row” and just watched and listened as I drank my coffee. I’m trying to learn bird calls after several exchanges with my friend Gerry Ellis and listening to a great presentaton about urban birding by Scott Carpenter. Both of these guys use sound ahead of sight. Real birders do that. It’s all new to me.
I worked my way around the 4 mile loop and was nearing the location where, typically, bird numbers go down except for herons hunting in the field or an occassional egret or bald eagle flying over. Years ago I was with my friend David Gibson on one of my first trips to Ridgefield. We could not believe that we pulled within 10-15 yards of a Red-tailed hawk sitting on a fence post. The hawk sat there and watched (snickered?) as David and I jostled around to gain position for “the shot”. It was a rare moment at the time and the images continue to be some of the best light on a hawk that I have in my files. Well, the other day as I approached that fence post I saw another red-tail sitting there. It had its back to me but hawks swivel their heads around as they plan their next move. I rolled up slowly and took a few insurance shots. Then I move closer and shot some more. I finally moved past the bird and shot back at it so that I could see more of the bird’s breast. It patiently waited for me to do my thing and just sat there quietly. Hardly a wing stretch. Its head moving slowly as it studied the field in front of it. The picture below makes me think about how hard it must be for a bird… big of small… to get through a day. The hawk just looks kind of forlorn to me. Sure, it’s this particular picture but the effect it had on me was real. Without stretching reality too much, I do wish that the hawk could appreciate how it helped me live my day more fully. I wish that I could deliver this bird’s stamina and strength to all my friends and family who can use a boost when the season starts bringing them down. You know who you are. Keep flying….