The Snowy Owls have come to the outskirts of Bellingham this winter. They have traveled far from their arctic tundra home in search of food. As I clean out my cupboards and feel disgruntled about the amount of waste and excess I find there, I reflect on the goals of my family’s journey.
Journeys provide lessons and magic. The journey of the snowy owls brings us a glimpse of wildness and courage. These owls have come to our rooftops from a place so remote that few people ever venture there. By traveling into new landscapes and facing unknown dangers, they exercise bravery and adaptability in their necessary quest to survive. Our house is nearly packed and we plan to leave this week. We are not seeking food for our bodies, there is much more than we need here. We must then be seeking food for our souls. To find a patch of wildness, to experience the richness of personal discovery together, and to share our society’s wealth with others also takes great courage. In these moments of preparation, I have found that courage in snowy owl magic.
I hope that on our journey we will lighten our load of consumption and reduce our environmental footprint. I also hope that we can share the abundance of our privileged American life. I want to give special thanks to Crystine and Brian from Uprising Organics (www.uprisingorganics.com) for donating A LOT of organic, heirloom seeds to share with people in the Bahamas. I also want to thank Rowan for visiting the owls with us on a blustery, snowy afternoon and for helping me to contemplate the enriching process of creating art with children.
Rowan's Snowy Owl
Pearl's Snowy Owl
We get mail from almost every conservation group in the country. I often question the efficiency of these mailings, but that could be the subject of a whole other post. Today we got a map of the country from the Sierra Club. I’ve been meaning to take a look at potential routes across the country for our upcoming road trip. Luckily, this one had all of the major highways and cities labeled. I eagerly called Pearl in to take a look with me. She quickly become bored as I verbally weighed the options of spending the night in Albuquerque versus Santa Fe. She wanted to see the map on the other side with pictures of beautiful endangered animals in their native regions. She started asking questions, the likes of which I can’t fully remember because I was honestly thinking about skiing in Colorado. All of a sudden I heard myself respond that “they” were worried about these animals. Well, really I heard her ask, “Why are they worried about the polar bear?” And there it was, what for me is a really big topic.
Before working with young children and having my own, I thought all knowledge to be good knowlegde. I always wanted to learn as much as possible, especially about the natural world. As I switched gears from being an environmental educator for high school and college kids to working with young children, I realized that some things are better left unsaid. Young kids need the warm and fuzzy. They need to feel safe and good about the world. They need reassurance that bad guys don’t win. Sadly, today’s environmental issues, such as hyper-rapid climate change, food security, and wildlife habitat loss, don’t really fit that bill.
With my kids, I try to foster an intimate relationship with the natural world. We spend time outside every day. We find beauty in the swirling clouds, the caw of the crow, the sharp scent of rubbed sage, the softness of moss, a newly germinated pea plant emerging from the soil, and the sweet taste of a perfectly ripened strawberry. Our list for all things beautiful in nature is infintite. At their young age, I do not burden them with the knowledge that our climate is changing at such an accelerated rate that habitat loss is inevitable and the polar bear is likely doomed. Where is the beauty in that? Their lives are long. There will be lots of time for them to worry, ponder, and hopefully find solutions for these harsh realities. So, I was a little shocked to be on the edge of such a big conversation. I sat down and took a deep breath and remembered that keeping it simple works best, always.
“They are worried that there are not as many polar bears as there used to be,” I say. “They want people to help the polar bears.” She proceeded to ask how people can help polar bears. “By riding bikes,” I tell her. She giggled and giggled and giggled some more. Finally she calmed down enough to ask about ways of helping the other animals on the poster- keeping trees by streams for the salmon, buying food from local farmers to help the whooping crane, taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store for the Kirtland’s Warbler, and keeping hotels off the beach for the Hawaiian Monk Seal. She’d heard enough. She walked away giggling to herself that she could help polar bears by riding her bike. It seemed for her silly, fun, exciting, and BEAUTIFUL.
We’ve been searching for owls A LOT lately. Juniper is obsessed and owl hunts help motivate Pearl out the door. Last Sunday though, the sun was bright and I was eager to show Pearl the “winter guests” I had recently seen at Derby Pond. I prepared us for a proper birding adventure, complete with binoculars and bird book. As we reached the access road at Whatcom Falls Park, a woman told us an owl was perched up in a tree ahead. We eagerly scanned the forest as we walked to the pond. We were two-thirds of the way down the road when I felt as though I should look behind us. And there I saw its silhouette sitting on a branch we had just passed. We stayed with it for a long time. It just sat- watching, turning its head back and forth, and enjoying its little patch of sunshine. Its eyes were blacker than black, a deep endless sort of black. There we were ready for ducks, when we were blessed with a Barred Owl. And wouldn’t you know, there were no winter visitors on Derby Pond that day. We did not feel slighted in the least.
As much as we humans try to mold our experiences, other forces remind us that we have little control in how it all plays out. Didn’t I just write that I have taken a break from preparing for our sailing adventure, happy to relax with my kids for the holiday season? Oh well, guess I’m not meant to take a break because I think we may have found a boat deal that we need to jump on, literally, as I fly out next week to Charleston, to sneak a peek. She’s a 27′ Albin Vega- small, not pretty, but a sea-worthy, dependable design. I long ago realized that we could have a pretty boat or we could go cruising. Our financial status in life does not yet support both endeavors. I’ll gladly take fun times over aesthetics any day though. As for this old boat, a retired ship’s engineer prepared her to go cruising with his wife to the Bahamas. They made it from Canada to Beaufort, SC where she became ill, and they decided to abandon the adventure. This tale reminds me why we are doing this now. I have seen so many people wait until retirement to have fun, only to have sickness or death strike. Of course I realize that bad times can strike at any age, I just want to at least try for something great while the odds are stacked in my favor. So, the boat is for sale, cheaply, as is, and loaded with the essentials for cruising in the Bahamas. And cruising in the Bahamas just so happens to be what we want to do presently. Joey misses the girls and they miss him. Lucky me, I get a plane ride all to myself and seventy degrees for two days. I guess I’m now taking a break from Christmas.
Juncos have been the highlight of our walks these past few days. All the way down our street there have been lots of them- flitting about in the trees, hanging out on power lines, pecking at the ground, and singing with their friends. Juncos are slightly larger than a chickadee with black caps and black eyes. They forage on the ground and along tree branches for seeds and insects. In the winter, they congregate in large flocks. I have long since admired Juncos for they are so darn cute. But this week, I really got to know them. Juniper and I (and once our friend, Finley) spent time watching them. I would try counting them and realized that where I thought I saw five or six, there were actually nine or ten. It was akin to noticing one mushroom on the forest floor and then looking around and seeing that mushrooms actually covered the forest floor. I’ve been trying for awhile to figure out the Junco’s call, and finally I was serenaded with it. Their rapid trill and flat “chip, chip” are forever etched in my memory. In winter’s dark days, these little birds happily get together, feast, and sing. So simple. So merry.