For the Birds

Last week I watched as historic amounts of snow fell, engulfing curbs and walkways, drifting in feet against fences and obscuring cars. The human world slowed, then crawled to a stop. The snow kept coming. The trees sagged, some succumbing, losing their branches to the weight of wet, late-season snow. Animals took to their dens. For days hardly a thing moved under a cover of dirty grey clouds.

In the midst of this, the birds alone continued about their days, overseeing downed limbs and lines and the clearing of roads from above, bearing witness to the struggle of humanity to shelter and warm its own. For the first few days they seemed impervious. And then, on the third day, their hunger was revealed in the frantic attempts of a single, black-hooded junko, a ground feeder, to alight on our feeder, a struggle only intensified by the arrival of dozens more birds, thirteen species in a single hour during a break in the storm, jockeying for position.

This is all to say that I was reminded in that moment how intimately tied we are to other species and how drastically our relationship to the natural world has shifted in recent years. You see, you can walk for blocks in my neighborhood without finding another feeder, something that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Our inside lives that value screens over windows have made them obsolete, but the birds, who pass on knowledge generationally, have not been informed. So they search in vain, for the house with the feeder that suits them, the suet block, sunflower seeds, or easily spilled feeder that lets them feast from the ground. Frustrated, they come to me, all of them, running a tiny bird soup kitchen on a frozen day, putting out trays and scattering seed on snow to accommodate the influx of visitors.

I do not think this should be so. It’s a simple form of giving, the feeding of the birds, and one that I believe nourishes us all, allowing us to connect to the larger world in spite of being driven into our own dens by even the worst of winter’s tempests. It’s a kind of small-scale gifting that helps the world be vibrant and diverse and creates communities of animals inclusive of humans. To feed the birds may be a form of feeding ourselves.   

Of Woods and Words

There are days my wings are clipped and my tethers keep me close to home. On these days I stand longingly at the window looking at the patches of urban woods that sit astride the ridge surrounding the city. I know these woods well and can picture their imperfect, encroached-upon understories, their tangles of Himalayan blackberries, the way utility lines run like scares across their foreheads. On days inside these imperfections mean nothing to me. Rather, I long to be immersed in their unique wildness, the nearby nature that they offer. On these days, cut off from the natural world, looking, I retreat to language, creating the forest around me through the symbolism of runes. From this confined, detached place I become naiad, spirit of water, free to flow through my own interior forest, my private sylvan space. And I am free.

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What's in Ten Minutes?

Time. Of all the nonrenewable resources in our lives it is the one that people seem the most acutely aware of wasting and the least interested in saving. It is of great interest to me to observe how people pass through time, scuttling, lazing, bargaining, floating, or attempting to gain control (particularly of other’s time) whittling down their unknowable number of days and hours with pleasure, pain, boredom, and diversion. Watching the sands pass though other’s hands has a way of making one question one’s own use of time. How, as Mary Oliver asked, will you spend your one precious life?

This year, as I press into new projects, it would be easy for me to feel time as fleeting, a scarcity among my tasks. Only not. As I look forward into the year, the month, the coming days, I’m filled with a sense of expansive abundance that comes from the firm belief that the more consciously I consider my days, each of my precious moments, the larger they become.

Consider this; in every day there is at least one behavior mired in repetition, inefficiency, or lack of productivity, things like searching for keys, considering what to cook, or getting trapped by the over-talkative neighbor, something that planning, boundary setting, or a change of routine might eliminate. Perhaps this behavior, this tick of one’s day takes ten minutes. In a week, perhaps you lose an hour. In the course of a year, you have lost more than 50 hours. More than a full week of work, lost to a habit, inefficiency, or irritant.

Now, consider the effect of eliminating four of these from your life. In one year, you gain yourself a month or more of time. What could you accomplish? What skill might you learn? How much time might you have to devote to loved ones?

How might you change the world in ten minutes a day?

Controlling the Tap

Today, a reminder that things are not always what they seem and that the touch of humanity runs deeper than we like to believe. And that this holds true most especially in the wild. There, industrial effluent runs silently through streams, planes and satellites pass continuously overhead, pipelines are buried in mud and thickets, and, yes, someone controls the water over Niagra Falls. Consider for a moment the millions of people that annually visit the falls to witness a natural wonder or mark a life event never knowing that the flow is increased at peak visitor hours and dropped to a trickle at night when the waters are diverted for human uses. Consider the unnatural and perilous ecosystem created. Consider the hubris in treating an abiding natural phenomenon like a common faucet.

What does it say about us that we are blind to the irony in this situation?

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Simple Resistance

As climate change, political upheaval, addiction, mental and physical health concerns, and hate threaten to overwhelm us, resistance has become a necessary way of life. So this year, as in previous years, I offer you a list of simple but potent forms of resistance to add to your everyday life in the hopes of spurring you to positive change in your own body and life and for the sake of us all.

Go to the library

Visit your local parks

Purchase art directly from an artist

Make eye contact

Eat something you harvest yourself

Buy in bulk

Write a physical letter

Mend instead of replacing

Hug more people

Sit in silence, doing nothing

Solstice

Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, derives its name from the Latin sol, meaning sun, and stit, stand, or stationary. Most of our modern associations with this moment center on darkness and in this year, at this moment in history, it is especially easy to focus on those darker forces at work in the world.

It is easy, in the face of turmoil, uncertainty, and changing times to want to burrow, collapse inside ourselves, and hibernate. But in trying times inaction is a luxury we cannot afford.

Instead, choose to embrace these older derivations and take this day as an opportunity to stand in the light. Be the hope you wish to see in the world.

Birds of Least Concern

It is easy to scorn the most abundant and least beautiful among us. Easy to forget that even such a lowly bird as the common starling in North America, with its metallic sheen and vampire black cloak, might be the exotic myna bird on another continent. Their ubiquity is their undoing. Flocks of starlings are referred to as constellations at best, but more commonly as scourges, filths, or vulgarities. Their conservation status is ‘of least concern.’ I do not consider them a nuisance, even when they arrive in dozens, chattering in the trees outside my window. To me, they are a welcome cacophony, well deserving of their only noble flock name- a murmuration, which serves to remind of me the ecstatic chaos of the world and entices me to step into it. 

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Petrichor

After years of drought and record high temperatures, a delayed start to the rainy season has left Oregon desiccated. Stream beds are dry. Leaves crackle under foot. Clouds pass without giving up their cargo. Everything waits. I long for the sour-sweet smell of the world after the rain, the petrichor of fall.

The Windmills of Holland

Every so often I receive a piece of information that so entirely startles me, so perfectly rearranges my perception of a thing that I find myself questioning if I’ve ever understood anything about the world at all. The windmills of Holland are one such example, wherein I have found that the gap between what I assumed I knew about a thing and what I actually knew was more a chasm than a crack.

Holland. Windmills. They go together. Why? I never bothered to ask, even upon visiting this lovely country. Perhaps a fad? An early and robust form of sustainable energy? No. In matter of fact, an early, ambitious, and robust form of large-scale engineering. Holland, you see, is largely a wetland. The ubiquitous windmills a constant and necessary country-wide drainage system that allowed development. That they still exist today is not a relic of nostalgia but a necessity, especially in these times of riding sea levels. The water always returns.

Ironically, it will be neither technology nor climate change that forces Holland’s windmills into obsolescence, but the very development they paved the way for. Ever larger and more densely sited buildings now block out the wind, stilling the mills.  

Is it a crack or a chasm between what we assume know of the consequences of our actions and what we actually know?

 https://www.holland.com/global/tourism/discover-holland/traditional/functions-of-windmills-in-holland.htm

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Local Histories- The Children of the Tillamook Burn

Between 1933 and 1951 more than 550 square miles of forest west of Portland burned in what were, back then, unheard-of conflagrations. The fires were driven, much like the fires of today, by extreme temperatures and windy conditions and the inaccessibility of the terrain and lack of human power to fight the blazes conspired to render the state relatively helpless. For nearly two decades, the coast range burned. As each fire decimated once profitable timber stands, the logging companies, some responsible for the ignition of the blazes, stopped paying property taxes and the land reverted to public ownership. When the fires finally spent through the available fuel, Portland and its surrounding areas were left to face a scarred and blackened landscape that now belonged to them. In what at the time was more of a visceral, emotive response than a resource management plan, the decision was made to replant.
While several groups had a hand in the replanting effort in the decades over which it occurred, none was as unique as the Portland youth labor that rallied to the cause. Between 1950 and 1970 more than 20,000 Portland school children would participate in voter-funded and school-organized tree planting in what was to become the Tillamook Forest. It’s no wonder that the Portland population has long been known for its progressive views and opposition to the timber industry in what has traditionally been a whole-hearted logging state.
They watched it burn. They helped it grow. It’s hard to log a forest that you can rightly call your own.