Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Sound of One Hand High Fiving

Smith's Longspur on its way to the Arctic

Last Sunday, Susan and I, along with our pacifist, tree-hugging, birding buddies Pat and Karin, spent a delightful day in an old-growth forest here in Ohio; one of the last of its kind. The spot was chosen (by them, not me) in honor of my soon-to-happen birthday. The day had not progressed too far before I started gnashing my teeth and whining about not getting my 600th North American, lower-48-states, non-pelagic-trip bird on my life list.
I think more to shut me up than to have a philosophical discussion, Pat and Karin suggested I use a more non-violent approach; more Buddhist, more Zen-like. It’s not all that important in the scheme of the Great Mandala. Just let go, set it free and the bird will find you kinda thing.
I must admit, I fell under Pat’s Svengali-like reasoning. It lasted almost 24 hours. For the most part I was cool, laid back, on Monday. Then I read the reports on eBird (, that marvelous birding project from the good folks at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and I snapped out of all that Let-it-Be crap.
A flock of Smith’s Longspurs was in nearby Indiana. It’s a bird that rarely makes it to Ohio. This would be my last-best chance of reaching my self-inflicted goal: to reach 600 birds on my lower-48 life list before I hit that three score and ten mark. Tuesday morning Susan was alternating holding her hands over her ears and making a list of things she had to do—alone—and was helping me pack my bags; holding the door open for me.
I loaded a bag of health food stuff—jelly beans, caramel corn and a supply of Starbucks Komodo Dragon coffee. Somehow, Susan slipped in some pineapple upside down cake, apples and other fruit, things not on the basic-birder diet.

At daybreak Wednesday morning I was in place—north of Crawfordsville, Indiana. Now, when you go looking for a bird near a town named “Fickle,” you’d better have Karma on your side—or at least have your duck in a row. The temperature was a balmy 30 degrees, breezy with a windchill in the low 20s. Car windows down, heater blasting, cruising along the gravel road on idle speed, I was ready.
When I spotted the first longspur after several false alarms sounded by Horned Larks, I could not believe my good fortune. There it was, right were eBird said it would be; looking just like the picture in the field guide. Leaping from the car, I nearly strangled myself with seatbelts, binocular straps and camera gear. Just as I got a really good look at the bird, my cell phone rang—or chirped, since for a ringtone I use the call of the Carolina Wren. I, however, didn’t realize it was my phone. Still untangling myself from too many straps, I spun around to see how in the hell a wren could have possibly gotten into my car.
It was Susan calling. Asking, nonchalantly, if I had found the bird. Her timing is impeccable.
So, there I was, in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere—Montgomery County, Indiana, actually—crepuscular rays of the morning sun warming me, high-fiving with the sky. It’s a wonderful sound.

And Phil Ochs’ words for Susan: Love is the flame that keeps the fires burning.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Full Pink Moon

We’ve had the Wolf Moon (January), Snow Moon (February), Worm Moon (March), and this month, the Pink Moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earlier widespread flowers of spring. Other names for this month’s celestial body include the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.
Moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full Moon. A couple years ago Susan and I had the pleasure of taking a hike, under a full moon, in Bryce Canyon, Utah. The ranger/guide/interpreter told a completely different story about moon names as designated by tribes of that region.
Though the stories were different, the theme was the same: Living one’s life by the phases of moon is much less stressful, or at least has more romantic appeal, than does the artificial calendar we’ve created.
Looking ahead, we have the Flower Moon (May), Strawberry Moon (June), Buck Moon (July), Sturgeon Moon (August), Corn Moon (September), Hunter’s Moon (October), Beaver Moon (November), Cold Moon or Long Nights Moon (December).
But let’s not rush things. Let’s concentrate on flowers and strawberries.

These images were made April 4, a couple days ahead of the actual Full Pink Moon, with some help from our crabapple tree.