A Quiet Day Holds a Few Quiet Surprises

Although I love being active, a part of me also yearns for and requires solitude on a regular basis, say one or two days a week. I think of quiet days as restorative; they allow me to clear the clutter from my mind, focus inward, cogitate on what has been happening in my life, and meditate to slow down the world and find balance.

Today was one of those quiet days. It started with getting up later since my yoga classes are not in session this week; joining my husband (who’s been home sick all week) at the breakfast table for reading the NY Times, and dueling ipads. Let’s be honest: the first thing I did was to see if there were comments on my recent post about planning a trip to Spain. There were several ūüôā

After my newspaper/internet time, I rose from the table and began the day’s chores. First gathering the breakfast dishes, then starting up a new load of laundry. Now I am beginning to feel productive; cross laundry and dishes off the mental list.

Next up is my daughter who has the day off from work. She mentions going for a walk and duck-watching along the shore of the harbor. Since I have been somewhat sedentary for the past day or so due to neck and shoulder issues, I agree to her idea. I shift part of the laundry to the dryer, press Perma-Press, and put on my walking gear.

Off we go in my PT Cruiser to our starting point just 2 minutes from my house. We grab our binoculars and set off on our walk. First my daughter spots the Buffleheads, one of her favorite winter birds because, she says, they are like bobbing bathtub toys…so cute.

Next we see a duck we’ve seen only once before and pay closer attention to its features: one gender has a black bill; the mate has a yellowish bill.It has a grayish body with white feathers on its sides and a very dark black butt. The other genders feathers are much less well defined. It must be the female.

A little farther on our walk and we encounter ducks we’ve seen at a distance, but today they are closer. I guess they are black ducks because they are so dark overall, and through my binoculars I cannot see any defining features. We’ll have to look up both kinds of ducks in our bird books when we get home.

As we reach the half-way point of our walk, a local beach with a deck we like to sit on for sunning, I see a man sitting on the picnic table bench whose shape looks vaguely familiar. Surprisse! He’s a close family friend also sunning and enjoying the view and the quiet of the day. We chat with him for a while. He leaves and we continue sunbathing for another 10 minutes.

We head back on our walk,see the same ducks we saw earlier, and check them out once again with our binoculars. We get back into the PT Cruiser and head home. First thing I do is take the laundry out of the dryer, and put the “delicates” in.

Next I eat a hearty lunch of leftover turkey chile and cous-cous because I am following Weight Watchers and I am really hungry. As I am eating, my daughter identifies the ducks we saw: Sure enough, the darker ducks are American Black Ducks, and the two-colored bill ducks are Gadwalls.

I also begin writing this post as I am having my lunch, eager to get today’s entry done because I have a busy night ahead. In a couple of hours I’ll be meeting my son who is coming out from Brooklyn to attend a lecture with a friend on racism, in a local synagogue. He will then return home with me and we will spend a couple of hours together as a family before bedtime.

It’s been a quiet, well-paced day. Some chores have been done; I have engaged in controlled eating and good exercise; two new types of ducks have been identified; some relaxing time was spent with a friend; I still have the laundry to fold; I will be listening to an informative lecture in a few hours; my son will be visiting overnight.

And best of all…tomorrow’s a snow day which probably means some time in front of the fireplace; a leisurely family breakfast with the NY Times; sharing a couple of meals and perhaps a trip for sushi for dinner (my son’s request), weather permitting.

Life is good, and even quiet days can be filled with surprises!

Walking,Talking and Planning

What is it about being outdoors on a beautiful day like today that makes the impossible seem possible?

Today was such a day. My daughter and I took one of our favorite walks along the bay on one side and the marshlands on the other side of the road. As we began our walk, she began talking to me about some of her ideas. If you’ve read some recent posts of mine, you know she is struggling to find a job and some meaning in her life.

As she talked I felt so grateful that we have the kind of relationship which allows her to share her joys and her sorrows so honestly with me. I felt grateful for the beautiful scenery we were walking past that included the sighting (by her) of two dozen or more great blue herons, deep in the marsh, perhaps resting and fishing as they migrate to who knows where.

image

I felt grateful that I could walk the distance with her; sometimes, these days, I cannot. I felt grateful that we will always have these moments to look back on and for her to store in her memory for when I’m gone.

She talked; I listened. She talked some more; I continued to listen but also made some small comments. She continued talking; I responded. By the end of our walk she (we) had shaped a plan for the next two years (my suggested timeframe) that would allow her to take some small steps toward pursuing a dream she is holding. “I think we have a plan,” I said to her. “One that combines your knowledge, your passion, your limitations and your strengths.”

We walked back to our car and each of us sat silently as I drove home, no doubt thinking about our walk, her plan, and this gorgeous day we shared.

Walking Is Becoming a Challenge

Recently my family and I watched a lovely indie movie entitled Redwood Highway. We love small-scale movies that focus on characters who are going through some kind of rite-of-passage experience. This film was about a woman in her 70’s (Shirley Knight) who decides to embark on an 80-mile walk on Redwood Highway in Oregon to reach the coast for several reasons: to absolve herself of the guilt she feels about making a poor decision regarding her granddaughter; to fulfill a promise she made to herself decades ago; just to prove to herself she can still do it.

image

Her journey was eventful, but walking was often difficult. The Oregon scenery was breathtaking as she made her way along the highway with several detours through breathtaking forests, including some with majestic redwoods. She was fortunate to meet many compassionate souls along the way, with one exception, who helped her to continue her journey. I felt every step she took, since I have been having difficult walking the past few months due to progressive spinal stenosis.

image

Walking has always been my go-to activity because it allows me to relax and enjoy noticing the things that surround me in nature in any season. Now that walking has become such a challenge for me, I am fearful of losing my mobility. I recently had an epidural steroid shot which has eased the discomfort and increased my mobility somewhat and am due for another one this week which I hope will help even more.

On Saturday I made myself walk somewhat longer than I usually do, just to see how it would feel. For the first half-mile, I was rigid and achy and almost felt I would have to turn around. But I pushed on and soon my stride became more relaxed and less uncomfortable. The walk is one of my favorites: along a shoreline with a full view of the beautiful harbor near where I live. On one side of the road are gorgeous large homes, some built in the early 1900’s, many with balconies that loom over the harbor. The lucky one-percenters!

image

When I reached my limit, about a mile and a half, I sat on a broken stone wall to rest my back and gaze at the harbor. I was surprised and delighted to see a lovely shorebird standing all by itself; one that was unfamiliar to me. I took out my binoculars and tried to memorize all its notable features: long, bright yellow legs; a long, needle-like beak for fishing; a beautiful spotted breast and brownish striated feathers down its back with a patch of white. I said to myself, “So that is why I came this far today; just to see you!” Feeling very proud of myself, I thought of the woman in the movie who also completed her journey with difficulty and was rewarded with a very special event, one much more significant than mine.

image

As soon as I got home I looked up my shorebird and learned it is a “short-billed dowitcher.” I am an amateur bird-watcher, but always happy to add a new one to my personal list. I am sad that my walks can no longer be extensive as I would like them to be, but feel fortunate that I still can undertake several moderate walks nearby that afford me the opportunity to be surprised by nature. I hope this week’s injection will make doing so even more of a pleasure and allow me to continue to indulge in two of my favorite pastimes…walking and bird watching.

image

Beachcombing for the Holidays

Yesterday our family was getting anxious about our plans to go to Germany for the holidays. ¬†Mind you, one of the reasons for taking this holiday trip ¬†abroad was to avoid the usual holiday tensions: the decorating, cleaning the house, getting the right gifts, making plans and so on. But the joke is on us. Instead, we are dealing with endless details like booking flights and getting the right seats (two of us have special circumstances), renting a car for part of our trip, contacting and recontacting the friends and relatives we’ll be visiting, trying to coordinate everyone’s needs and parameters; and getting appropriate gifts that won’t weigh us down.

It was a beautiful Saturday, so my daughter suggested that she and I go for a walk, ¬†one of our favorite things to do. ¬†We drove toward the beach about two miles away to walk on the “causeway,” a stretch of land with a straight path along the Long Island Sound on one side and on the other side of the road a beautiful wetlands area fed by the Sound. ¬†The walk itself is about a mile and a half roundtrip and usually offers some form of nature to enjoy whatever the season.

That day was remarkably quiet. ¬†For a place that can be quite windy, there was barely a breeze. ¬†It was 3 o’clock; the sun was already beginning to set and the colors were beautiful fall colors, though somewhat muted by the time of day. We both remarked on the lack of bird activity. ¬†In Spring and Fall we are often rewarded by the activities of the osprey who build their nests on very tall poles, and care for their single (most often) offspring diligently through the early fall. ¬†It’s an absolute joy to watch the parents soar overhead as they hunt for fish to feed their baby; hence, their common name fishhawk.

The winter ducks hadn’t yet arrived so we couldn’t engage in one of our other favorite pastimes of spotting them riding the crests of the waves in small flocks, diving for food and making their unique calls to each other. ¬†No osprey; no breeze; no winter ducks. ¬†Just a remarkably golden sunset streaking the surface of the waters of the Sound.

Meanwhile, we had wandered onto the beach. We usually stay on the path for the duration of our walk, but neither of us was in a hurry to get home and face more stressful travel planning. Within minutes I noticed a  heap of very white sun- bleached bones lying askew at the high tide line. I called my daughter over to see; she is an amateur physical anthropolist and loves nothing more than an abandoned skull or skeleon or animal shell that she will make great efforts to identify.She was very pleased with my discovery; it turned out to be a bird synsacrum (pelvis and sacrum) and sternum.

Not long after, I found another much smaller bone artifact and again she identified it.  It turned out to be part of the skull of a sea robin, also a rare find.  This was turning out to be quite an adventure.  For the next half hour we combed the beach gathering all kinds of local shells: oyster, mussel, channel whelk, clam and numerous others.  She had discovered a couple of small pieces of sea sponge and was delighted since she had never encountered them on the local beaches.  By the end of our hour of beachcombing we had quite a treasure trove of found objects and had forgotten all about the anxieties that had driven us out of the house.

We drove home refreshed and very proud of ourselves. We will carefully pack our treasures in tissue and place them in a special box to bring to one of our landlocked relatives in Weimar, Central Germany. She is also a nature lover, her particular passion being fossils and stones. ¬†Oddly enough, this is the “gift” I am most excited about bringing to Germany. ¬†These are real treasures that are reminders of our life here by the sea, and soon they will become the treasures that will remind her of us, so far away.

 

 

They’re Back!!! Spring Fever in the Local Pond

Moments after arriving at our local park yesterday to walk around the pond, my daughter said to me, “What is going on with the swans?” ¬†Indeed, at a distance it was hard to figure out what the two resident swans were up to. ¬† It seemed as though one might have been injured or both. ¬†They were tangled in a kind of heap. ¬†Then we burst out laughing because we realized they were actually trying to get it on! ¬†Having never seen swans do that before it hadn’t occurred to us that the strange shape we saw at a distance was their attempt at coupling. ¬†I almost felt embarrassed for them…they seemed so awkward.

Continuing our walk around the pond, my daughter then commented on how the water in the pond seemed bubbly underneath the surface. ¬†It was not quiet and still or frozen as it had been for weeks. ¬†We kept walking and soon came to one of our favorite areas…a pond within the larger pond where the ducks tend to gather. ¬†This is always an active place, and today was no exception. ¬†We have been observing a couple of male Hooded Mergansers for weeks enjoying their winter visit to our pond. ¬†But today there was a surprise. ¬†A female Hooded Merganser was suddenly visible, and she was as beautiful as her partner, but in a much more subtle way. ¬†Her feathers are not the dramatic contrast of black and white like her mate, but a subtle blend of russet and black, with several dramatic white stripes on her wings folded close to her body. ¬†With our new minibinoculars we stood there for at least ten minutes watching the couple ¬†enjoy the warmer weather and each other.

About a hundred feet further along the path my daughter suddenly stopped and exclaimed, “Mom, look over there on the bank of the pond.” Sure enough, across the pond there was a good-sized turtle, ¬†completely out of the water, sunning himself. ¬†As we gazed around, we suddenly noticed there were many ¬†more turtles sunning themselves on the small islands in the pond. ¬†They were so well camouflaged they were not immediately visible to our eyes. The bubbling pond water was no longer a mystery. ¬†The turtles had been emerging from their winter hideouts.

Moments later my daughter said to me in a low, intense voice, “Oh my God, he’s back!” while pointing to a spot in the pond just below the snowbank we were standing on. ¬†Then I saw him, too…the huge turtle that has mesmerized us for this past year since we discovered his residency ¬†in our pond last summer. This is not any ordinary turtle…he has extremely long claws, very massive legs (is that what you call them?), and a spiked tail like a dinosaur. ¬†He is kinda’ scary looking…like I imagine the Loch Ness monster would be if anyone ever actually found him. ¬†He was mostly submerged with only his head sticking out of the water, but occasionally floated close ¬†enough to the surface for his shell to partially poke out of the water to remind us how big he is. ¬†And then…as if that weren’t enough for one day’s sightings…my daughter pointed to another head swimming nearby. ¬†It was another turtle nearly as large as the first swimming about 10 feet away from him. ¬†We surmised that it is probably his mate, based on the coupling we had witnessed circling around the pond on our walk. ¬†A small Irish man passing by stopped to participate in our fascination with the turtles and told us he had learned from nearby residents that these turtles were probably 80 years old and some live to be 100!

Seeing these now familiar birds and reptiles brought almost as much joy to us and excitement as seeing an elephant in the wild. ¬†My daughter said, “Well, it’s not California with its sea lions, sea otters and brown pelicans swooping past us over the Pacific waves.” ¬†But it will have to do. ¬†Here on the East Coast we experience nature on a much smaller and user- friendly scale. ¬†But there’s definitely enough nature on LI to keep all of us attentive and engaged.

With everyone pairing off in the small animal kingdom in preparation for raising a new generation, nature is once again rewarding us for making through and long and challenging winter.  In an earlier posting,  one slicer who was extolling the book Wondrous Words, which was changing her own writing style,  talked about paying attention to your choice of words because they make a difference. Well, paying attention to the life around you, the small details, will also make a difference if you really do it. So get off your cellphones, take a walk in nature  and look around you. You might be surprised.