Friday, April 1, 2011

Happiness is...nature, up close!

I've always had a bit of a fascination with birds (as you may have noticed!)  I think it stems back to my mother or maybe even my grandfather.  (It's definitely not from my father. He has an unnatural fear of birds.  Seriously. Being in the same room with one of our pet parakeets flying loose has been known to reduce him to a shrieking, cowering little girl!  --love you daddy!) Whenever we'd go for drives or go camping we were always on the lookout for wildlife, birds particularly.  Mom would always exclaim and point out the windshield and try to determine what kind of bird it was while all of us kids craned our necks and contorted in ways that would make circus acrobats proud, trying to get a glimpse of it out whichever window we were closest to.  Pretty much every bird of prey became a 'hawk' in my mind. (I've still not gotten the hang of identifying most of them unless they are really close, the dark silhouettes in the sky all look the same to me!) 

Grandpa is an amateur naturalist who'd wanted to be a forest ranger when he was younger.  He'd hike with us and tell us what kinds of trees or flowers or animal tracks we were looking at or pull out the bird identification book when we got back to the car to look up an unknown specimen.  (One of the first books I bought when I moved to the East Coast was the Audubon Bird Guide so I could identify all the birds in my new habitat!)

I've always loved watching birds soar through the sky, particularly the birds of prey that spend most of their time gliding effortlessly along the currents.  I'm hoping that one day I will gain the ability to fly (a girl can dream, right?) I even went paragliding the week before I moved from Utah.  It was an amazing experience and probably as close as I'll ever get.

I've had a few brushes with birds up close and personal.  Sometimes they've been at bird shows and aviaries and zoos and things, safely overseen by trained keepers with leather gloves and tightly held tethers.  But I've also had some pretty amazing experiences out in the wild as well. 

Once while hiking, my friend and I rounded a curve in the trail only to spot a bald eagle sitting directly in our path.  He was about 6 feet in front of us calmly minding his business until he noticed our presence and took off.  Watching his spread his enormous wings and take to the sky, almost close enough to feel the breeze caused by the flapping from his wings, is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen in my life. 

Another time while driving down a twisting part of the Romantic Road in southern Germany, my sister and I had the unfortunate experience of seeing a hawk (well, it was big and brown, so of course it was a hawk!) flying straight for us literally at eye level.  There was nothing we could do but scream and pray he would pull up in time. He did.  Barely.  His lowered talon clipped the car at the top of the windshield and we both gasped and then said a prayer that he would have little more than a slight limp from our encounter.  Still, it was breathtaking to see something so beautiful so close.  And to have such a rare view of it, head-on.

Well, this afternoon I had another, slightly less personal experience.  In the library where I work we have a small courtyard/garden area with benches. The children's area is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows on one whole wall looking out into the green space. It gets a lot of play in the warmer months but it's been so cold lately not even the daffodils will show their faces.  This afternoon, however, we had a majestic visitor.  Perched on the back of one of the benches was a hawk (again, he was big and brown so what else could he be?!  Actually, I think I'm right this time!) I stood at the window and watched him for several minutes, preening and fluffing his feathers like an owl, hopping down onto the bench seat and then the ground and then up tot he back of the bench again.  He strutted a bit like a peacock and pawed at the dirt like a chicken, turning this way and that giving me a splendid view of his mottled wings and breast feathers, his hooked beak and razor sharp talons. His coloring was magnificent and his bearing was regal.  I marveled at his beauty until at last he tired of the fashion show, spread his wings and soared off over the tops of the trees.  I watched him until he was just a dark speck in the distance and wished once again for the ability to join him in the blue vastness of the sky.  (And oh, how I wished I'd had my camera!!)

Take a moment to stop and smell the roses this weekend, dear reader.  What bits of nature do you have at your disposal? Maybe you can walk barefoot through freshly mown grass or marvel at the newly blooming blossoms. Watch the buds and leaves unfurl on the ends of spindly branches or peer at recently returned robins splashing in puddles.  Rescue a wriggling earth worm after a rainstorm or trace a snail's iridescent path across the sidewalk. Whatever you do, take a deep breath, close your eyes and give thanks for this wondrous world that is ours.

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