Today was one of those stay inside and huddle days. Lots of pain. I won’t bore you with the details. The cloudy greyness and chill didn’t help.
I read, dozed, watched TV, played games. I did the things I needed to do – take my daughter school, drink some coffee so I could take my vitamins, do the bit of housework that needed doing.
And then I lazed, drinking tea.
Until my daughter came home and needed a ride to a friend’s home. As I was driving home, I noticed the time and pulled into a small park I frequent. It’s by a pond and a lake (well, it’s supposed to be a lake but it’s been drained for the past two+ years for repairs and dredging). The golf cart path cuts through it, crossing the channel between the pond and the lake. It’s one of my favorite places to go to walk, take pictures, and just be out in nature.
So I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck and my sweater tighter around me, got out of my car, making sure to lock it, and wandered. I noticed a police officer had pulled in, also facing towards the setting sun. Multiple people walked, jogged, biked, drove by. A few stopped, at least for a few moments, to look at the sky. Look at the wildlife. No one was loud or noisy. There were no loud conversations. No blasting music. No loud vehicles.
It was peacefully full of the sounds of nature. The water flowing from the pond to the lake where it becomes a small waterfall. Ducks and geese chattering and arguing with one another as they start to settle for the night.
I watched as a heron circled overhead before settling in the tall grasses. A hawk or falcon flew by – too dark for me to tell for certain, but recognizing the silhouette. And I know there are hawks in the area, at least red-tail hawks. The ducks and geese started moving towards the edges of the water, or flew from the pond to the lake and vice versa. Something swam in the pond, not water fowl, not fish, not turtle. Too far away to see much more in the twilight than a small brown head and the movement of a body behind it. An otter maybe.
And then there was the sunset itself. At first I despaired as I watched the sun sink behind the trees, that even with clouds in the sky, the hoped for colors wouldn’t appear. Bit by golden bit the sun disappeared completely from view. Slowly the golden hue rose up into the sky.
I turned and caught the last bit of sunlight as it lit the treetops across the pond.
More and more gold appeared as the blues faded then darkened. While the air was still on the ground, it wasn’t on high, as I watched the clouds shift and morph and move across the darkening sky. The gold became darker and oranges and pinks joined in. The clouds and colors reflected in the lake and pools of water along its edges. As it got later, more and more purples appeared. I tried to catch as much as I could, switching between camera apps and views. And then I just stopped. And looked. My camera in my pocket. Until at the very last when the clouds became a deep stunning magenta hue.
As the last little bit of color disappeared in to the dark of night, I went back to my car feeling so much more alive, more me, than I had when I first got there. I even forgot about my pain (although once I settled in for the drive home, it reared its ugly head again).
It’s nature, all of it. The water, the soil, the sky, flora and fauna. Observing and being surrounded by it until it refills some parts of me that I hadn’t even realized were empty. I have always had access to nature, whether in wide open spaces like my grandparents ranch, or in small city parks while away at university. Walking through forests, sitting by the river that ran along our property when I was a teen, sitting on the edge of a lake or bay or seashore, standing on cliffs watching the sun sink into the Pacific, driving country roads and seeing new vistas, watching various animals as they live their own lives, listening to the sounds of animals and insects unseen, watching the stars and moon appear and wheel across the sky until the sun rises and they disappear from my view again. Even being caught in a sudden rain storm can fill me with joy and make me smile like a loon.
If you’ve looked at my Instagram feed or read some of my other posts, you’ve probably figured out that the Great Outdoors, nature, is very important to me. Spending time outside, in nature, observing, walking, just being, has always soothed and renewed me.
Some of my earliest memories are of lying in the grass in our backyard when I was only 3 or 4. I liked to pick the blades of grass and a chew on the ends. As I grew, my range grew too. On my grandparent’s ranch I could roam freely, so I did, throwing stones into the ponds, picking wildflowers, climbing stacks of hay bales, climbing the hills to stare off into the distance, watching hawks and prairie dogs, and more. During recess at school, I’d go sit in the grass, looking for pretty stones or four-leaf clovers, watching water striders and other bugs in and around puddles.
For several years, in one yard, my father planted a large garden and many fruit trees. We all helped some to care for it, but it was mostly my father’s ‘baby’. There were artichokes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, apples, cherries, grapes, pomegranates, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and others that so many years later I can’t remember. I do remember Dad making pickles with the cucumbers.
When we moved to Washington, at first we lived in town. Less than a year later we moved a few miles out of town, onto two acres along a river. I spent many hours sitting by the river or wandering in nearby woods. I watched otters and fish in the river; eagles and hawks overhead; deer, bears, elk, weasels, beavers, coyotes, skunks. And so many others. Caddis fly larvae in the river were always interesting. We think there were cougars in the mountains surrounding our little valley based on screams heard at night — not human. The bears — we always knew when they were feeding down at the river because the dogs would go crazy. We even had one run along side us in the river once, while we were rafting. For a while we had horses — deer would come and visit with them, then visit our vegetable garden for a snack.
I love storms. The winds are invigorating. The lightning and thundering exciting. In Washington, our front door faced north and the back door, south. There were nights when we could go back and forth from front to back watching two separate storms at opposite ends of the valley. More than once we called in suspected lightning fires. When I was in high school, I attended an art camp on the Olympic peninsula. The most common way to get there was by ferry, as to drive would take several hours. One of the trips was during a storm, so bad that our run was the last of the day. The ferry rocked violently, spray flying high over the bow, various things clanking and clanging. Where did I spend most of the crossing? Outside, of course, in the wind and the rain.
I went off to college, first in Idaho then back to Washington. Then California, Indiana, Illinois, and now Georgia. Always I found places to be outside — parks, gardens, paths. Always I noticed what was around me, near and far — mountains, clouds, rivers, streams, ocean, beaches, cliffs; sun, moon, stars; wind, rain, snow; the flora and fauna. All of it. Already, here, I’ve wandered paths, found two nature areas, and look forward to visiting a third. Now that it’s spring, every day I wander our yard, looking for buds and blooms, animals, birds, and insects.
If I go more than a couple of days without time outside, I feel it — a restlessness, a sense of something missing.
Maybe it’s because my name is Robin but I’ve always had a thing for birds. I’m always noticing them. Just this morning while taking my daughter to school it was a bright red male cardinal sitting on a crepe myrtle. Unfortunately I was too far away to get a decent photo with just my phone camera.
I love to note the first robins I see every spring. And yes, I do talk to them, welcoming them. One winter a few years ago, I noticed that there was a flock of robins in our neighborhood, eating the berries on the trees and bushes. I was a little confused… Didn’t robins fly south for the winter? I did a bit of research, and discovered that yes, most robins do fly south for the winter and what I was probably seeing were either robins hanging around in the area or ones that had migrated down from Canada — Illinois is south of Canada.
Another bird that holds a special place in my heart is the quail — it was my father’s favorite bird. I can remember as a child seeing quail on my grandparents ranch in California. While they do have lovely patterning, it’s that cute little feather that bobs over the head when they walk that gets me. It’s just so adorable. During a visit to the Brookfield Zoo one year, a cute little quail decided he liked me. He came running over, right up to the edge of the enclosure and ‘talked’ to me non-stop, his little head bobbing up and down. I have no idea what attracted him to me — I had no food or anything to offer him. Eventually, sadly, I had to leave him to rejoin my family.
Peacocks — The colors, the pattern, the way they move. I love it all. How the blue is so iridescent in the sun, those incredible tail feathers with their ‘eyes’. On my dresser I have a peacock tail feather I brought back from a trip to New Zealand. The birds in the animal park were molting, leaving tail feathers all over the place. I asked and was told I could take as many as I wanted. So I did, bringing them home and sharing them with my kids. Years ago in California there was a family of peafowl in our neighborhood. We didn’t see the males too often, although we heard them, but we did see peahens with their peachicks. In fact, one morning we came out to find them lined up on the roof of our apartment building. Still not quite sure how they made it up there.
Birds of prey. Hawks. Falcons. Eagles. Love them all. There is such a feeling of intelligence and potential menace from them. I often saw red tail hawks hunting while on the ranch. When we moved to Washington, bald eagles lived nearby. In Illinois, if you passed a prairie on a warm day you would always see hawks out enjoying the thermals. On my commute, I often saw multiple hawks perched on light poles along the roads. And here in Georgia, there are hawks everywhere, in the trees, flying over and circling over the neighborhood. I was startled one day by a hawk swooping silently over the pool, trying to catch a squirrel. Luckily for the squirrel, the hawk missed. I was impressed with how silent the large bird was. Not a sound from it as it passed. It was only the motion of it that caught my attention.
Those are my favorites. What about you? Do you have any favorite birds?
My husband is having difficulty with all the wildlife around here, particularly the snakes & spiders, but before I even moved down here, he was sending pictures of deer in the yard, dead armadillos by the road, birds in the yard, dead spiders from the garage, etc.
Part of it is that he’s very much a city boy who’s just not used to all this, and part of it’s that this is the South with more just more critters of all sorts.
That doesn’t mean we didn’t have wildlife where we lived in Illinois, because we did — deer, foxes, coyotes, mice, squirrels, bats, all the usual suspects that we pretty much also have here. But it was mostly innocuous. We weren’t worrying about poisonous spiders (brown recluse, black widows, brown widows) and snakes (copperhead, rattlesnake, coral snake, water moccasin) or leprosy carrying armadillos. There are even rumors of alligators being found in lakes in the area.
Since I’ve been here I’ve seen one small live snake — no idea what type. Many dead armadillos — I’m guessing they’re not too smart. Turtles. Bats (they were swooping over the pool one night while the girls were swimming). Lots and lots of deer. Many types of birds from hawks down to tiny songbirds.
And spiders — lots of spiders and even more webs. I’ve done some research so I know that the spiders I’m seeing are not ones I have to worry about. The poisonous ones tend to build chaotic webs in dark places. These build organized and beautiful webs out in the open; some are quite large with obvious rings.
One lovely lady, an orb-weaver, who for lack of any creativity I call Charlotte, has taken up residence on our deck. The first time I saw her, I have to admit, I freaked a bit. She’s big. Her body is a good 1.5″ long, with a leg span of probably 2″. She’s mostly brown with pretty markings, and her legs are brown and orange striped. She builds beautiful big webs, with the rings placed perfectly. Once I realized she was not a dangerous spider, I looked for her the next day but she and her web were completely gone. A few days later, she reappeared in a slightly different spot. One evening I watched for a bit while she repaired damaged spots. A couple of days later and she and her web were gone again.
Now she’s been building a web between the fan light and the wall. She’s smart enough not to attach the web to the actual fan blades. Some days she completely takes down her web only to rebuild it at night; other days she just repairs what’s already there. During the day, I can see her curled up on the light fixture, just waiting for evening. I always say hi to her when I go out. And I’ve refused to let my husband or daughter do anything to her or her web. They’re not happy about it, but Charlotte’s not doing any harm.