Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Chickadee and berries. — Art by Pat Bean

Fingers Take Over Brain

Amy Hale Aucker, in her book Ordinary Skin, writes about her choice to camp in a primitive area near a natural hot-spring pool despite warnings against doing just such a thing. While her mother only told her to be careful and not talk to strangers, others asked where she was going to plug in the hair dryer.

Even the campground host Jim, an older gentleman, asked if she was sure she wanted to do this.

She did, and she talked to strangers, even a rough-looking vagrant who joined her in the hot pool one night. Jim just happened to wander by, a few times, just checking out the campground. But Amy knew that he was making sure she was OK.

“He was taking care of me,” Amy wrote, noting that other men had also taken care of her during her life.

My first thought on reading this was the campground host, also an older gentleman, who daily checked up on me at a lonely Michigan campground during my solo RVing days.

It felt nice. Taking care of women was how most men were raised in my generation. And some of then took it very seriously. But then along came the female rebellion, when women decided things like opening doors for them wasn’t a good thing at all because it let the man feel superior.

Ha! Men have felt superior from almost the moment they were born, often simply because of the way they were treated by their loving parents, who gave them more freedom than their sisters, and made sure if there was only enough money for one child to be educated it would be them.

I was even told by a male high school teacher that females had no reason to go to college. They would be taken care of by a man. I remembered that clearly the day I realized nobody in my life would be taking care of me, but me. I had no problem with men opening doors for me. All I cared about was getting equal pay for equal work.

That, at least, was/is my generation, and I’m an American woman. In some eras and countries, female babies weren’t even allowed to live. Even today, in some countries, women can’t walk outside their homes without a male escort.

Hmmm. This essay took an unexpected turn, which often happens to me when I have my fingers on a keyboard and they take charge of the brain. My original thoughts were to compare Amy’s experience of Jim looking out for her, with the times men looked out for me.

And, like Amy, I, too, wouldn’t let the fear of being harmed by men stop me from doing the things I loved to do, like my solo RVing across America, or hiking a mountain trail alone because that was my favorite way to be in nature.

And also to note that if I saw a man with his hands full, I would quickly open the door for him. It’s the little courtesies between us all that make life more pleasant. And we don’t have enough of them in the world today.

Sorry for the detour from my first nice thought. But it’s hard escaping the real world.

Kindness, meanwhile, knows no gender.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

These tiny purple flowers grow all around my apartment complex. I try to always take the time to stop and enjoy them. — Photo by Pat Bean

          I just started reading Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs by Amy Hale Auker, and it touched my soul before I had even finished the first page. Amy talks about imagining her wings and fins and claws and then catching the light of the day and snuggling back into her ordinary skin.

I read books for many reasons: To learn new things, to escape to new worlds, to discover that others can feel as much of an outcast as I have most of my life, to share experiences, and to be inspired to live better and write better.    

          Amy’s book is a series of essays inspired by her life on Spider Ranch, which covers a sprawling 72 square miles of Central Arizona landscape whose elevation ranges from 3,400 feet to 6,100 feet. It is full of canyons, bears, cactus and cactus wrens.

          It’s about a woman finding its beauty and her place in this landscape, just as it was in her first book of essays, Rightful Place. That book’s setting was the Texas Panhandle’s Llano Estacada.

          Books like these, and the many others I’ve read that involve wild, rural and isolated lands as inspiration, inspire me to write my own essays about finding my own place in the landscape, like I sort of did in my book Travels with Maggie.

          But instead of living on a sprawling ranch today, I live in a large apartment complex. Thankfully, its located in the shadow of the Catalina Mountains, is surrounded on one side by a tiny bit of undeveloped desert, and has three landscaped courtyards where flowers grow, and giant Ponderosas, Russian Olive, tall Palms and other trees provide shade for the Sonoran Deserts’ blazing hot summers.

          Living alone provides me with all the solitude I need, and daily walking my canine companion, who wants to say Hello! Please scratch my ears! to everyone he meets, fills my need for human interaction.

          Hummingbirds daily dance around my two third-floor balconies, a pair of Great Horned Owls serenade my evenings with their hoos, while coyotes sometimes howl in harmony. As an old broad who has had her fill of yard work and owning homes that had to be maintained, apartment living suits me.

          Life is good. Especially since I have books to let me imagine different landscapes and lifestyles.

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

Great Horned Owl — Art by Pat Bean

          The western sky was glowing orange and purple as I walked down the stairs from my third-story apartment to give my canine companion Scamp his last walk of the day. I stopped to watch — while Scamp watered a couple of trees — as the fiery scene slowly vanished below the horizon. Never have I lived where such a late evening sight happens most nights of the year.

          And just as the colors coalesced into the dark hues of night, our resident female Great Horned Owl silently swooped across the courtyard to land in the giant Ponderosa where she often sits for hours. She and her mate have raised chicks here in the apartment complex all but one year since I moved here in 2013. It’s easy to tell the genders of the pair because the female is about a third larger than the male, a common trait of raptors.

          The night felt magical, as if the Sun and the Owl had put on a special performance for my eyes only. Such moments seem to happen to me a lot, but I never tire of them. While I still have itchy feet that wants to explore all the places I’ve never been, I’m glad my own backyard can still thrill me.

          Richard Bode, author of First You Have to Row a Little Boat, said he once met once met a man who had visited every exotic place from the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall, but then admitted he hadn’t seen the songbirds in his own backyard.

          I met quite a few people like that when I was traveling this country in a small RV. People, like me, came from all over to visit some waterfall, cave, or other wonder of nature, and the person who lived just 10 miles away had never taken the time to view it. How sad.

          If ever there was a time that we needed to be given proof that beauty and wonder can exist amongst chaos, these days are it. I need sunsets and owls, and colorful flowers and fall leaves, and hummingbirds and coyotes to keep me sane.

And thankfully, they’re all just outside my apartment door.

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

A bit messy but I never would have tried this Black-Capped Chickadee post without taking the art class.

I took a bird history/drawing Atlas Obscura Zoom class yesterday afternoon. The instructor noted that birds evidently had a lot of fans, judging by the number of participants who signed up for the short course.

She’s right. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey, 51.3 million Americans watch birds, and the hobby is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in this country.

I became one of the addicted in 1999. And my life has been richer because of it. My latest way to watch birds, given that Covid’s isolated me from taking field trips with other birders, are live bird cams. Check out explore.org if you are interested.

This morning I watched a bald eagle sitting on a snow-filled nest near Decorah, Iowa, a blue-gray tanager at a Panama fruit feeder, and puffins in a burrow off the coast of Maine. I especially like watching the fruit feeder because I personally have to identify the birds that visit it, which often involves an extra bit of research.

I’ve kept a life list of birds I’ve seen personally in the field for 22 years now – 700 plus different species. The list grew rapidly in my early years of birding, but now grows only by one or two birds a year, if I’m lucky.

So, I’ve started a second list of virtual birds. The criteria for this list include a good visual observation, location of the bird, and a bit of research about any bird I list. My impossible goal is that the list will eventually grow to 10,000 bird species, which is almost as many birds as there are on this planet.

As an avid list maker, and an old broad who is retired, it’s an ideal activity, as is drawing birds. It was a fun class that began with the instructor noting birds evolved from dinosaurs. I already knew that. Did you?

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

A bit messy but I would never have attempted this Black-Capped Chickadee pose if not for the drawing class.

          I took a bird history/drawing Atlas Obscura Zoom class yesterday afternoon. The instructor noted that birds evidently had a lot of fans, judging by the number of participants who signed up for the short course.

          She’s right. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey, 51.3 million Americans watch birds, and the hobby is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in this country.

          I became one of the addicted in 1999. And my life has been richer because of it. My latest way to watch birds, given that Covid’s isolated me from taking field trips with other birders, are live bird cams. Check out explore.org if you are interested.

          This morning I watched a bald eagle sitting on a snow-filled nest near Decorah, Iowa, a blue-gray tanager at a Panama fruit feeder, and puffins in a burrow off the coast of Maine. I especially like watching the fruit feeder because I personally have to identify the birds that visit it, which often involves an extra bit of research.

          I’ve kept a life list of birds I’ve seen personally in the field for 22 years now – 700 plus different species. The list grew rapidly in my early years of birding, but now grows only by one or two birds a year, if I’m lucky.

So, I’ve started a second list of virtual birds. The criteria for this list include a good visual observation, location of the bird, and a bit of research about any bird I list. My impossible goal is that the list will eventually grow to 10,000 bird species, which is almost as many birds as there are on this planet.

          As an avid list maker, and an old broad who is retired, it’s an ideal activity, as is drawing birds. It was a fun class that began with the instructor noting birds evolved from dinosaurs. I already knew that. Did you?

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

 

Read Full Post »

Fishlake National Forest … Wikimedia Photo

Sometime back in the early 1970s, when I was exploring Utah’s backroads as part of research for a story about Utah State University’s rural extension programs, I found myself in Fishlake National Forest. Named after Fish Lake, the largest mountain lake in Utah, the forest covers 1.5 million acres and is home to an abundance of wildlife and birds.

          I thought about my long ago drive through that peaceful forest this morning as I listened to and read about Pando in an Atlas Obscura article. Podcast: Pando the Trembling Giant – Atlas Obscura

Pando, which was discovered by researchers Jerry Kemperman and Burton Barnes in 1976 –just a year or two after I first discovered the forest – is a clonal quaking aspen stand. Aspens grow from a connected root system, with each tree being a genetic replicate of all the others. 

          In 1992, the huge Fishlake quaking aspen stand was re-examined by other scientific researchers who named it Pando, Latin for I spread, and who claimed it was the world’s largest organism. It is spread out over 106 acres and weighs an estimated 13 million pounds, and consists of about 40,000 trunks.

Wow! That’s the word that went through my mind as I read that Pando was also 80,000 years old – the stand, not the individual trees, which rarely live longer than 150 years.

I’ve long-loved aspen trees, especially in the fall when their leaves turn golden and shimmer in sunlight, as they were beginning to do near the summit of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I saw them just this past week. I’ve rarely seen aspen trees below an elevation of 8,000 feet.

In 2015, I took a road trip to Grand Canyon’s north rim just to see these awesome trees. But on last week’s drive through, I saw many more aspens than earlier, probably because a fire had moved through the area and the aspens were the first trees to grow back. Their root systems survived the fire. In their fall colors, the young aspens, which grow about two feet annually, also stood out more prominently than other foliage.

My feet are now itching to revisit Fishlake National Forest. But since that’s not on any nearby agenda, perhaps I’ll just do a return trip up to the top of Mount Lemmon, where I saw aspens a few weeks ago. Those hadn’t yet assumed their fall colors, and maybe they have by now.

I know that if you look for it, beauty can be found in your own backyard just as easily as anywhere, like the broad-billed hummingbird that visited my nectar feeder this morning. The secret is simply to look with an observant eye and a heart attuned to nature’s wonders.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

Goose Head Rock: One of my favorite Mount Lemmon hoodoos.

          Monday my granddaughter Shanna and her wife Dawn took me for a drive up to the top of Mount Lemmon. I’ve made the drive a dozen or more times since moving to Tucson in 2013, and always found it enjoyable. This day was no exception, except the passing landscape was greener than I had ever seen it, thanks to the fact that this year the Sonoran Desert got its summer monsoon season back.

          It was so dry last year that part of the mountain areas suffered wildfires, some of the worst in Arizona’s history. The three of us got to see some of the devastation caused by the blazes from one of the upper overlook pullouts.

          The 25-mile drive up the Sky Island Scenic Byway winds upward from mile zero at just about 3,000 feet elevation to more than 9,000 feet at its end. Six life zones are crossed along the way. We lost the saguaros at 4,000 feet and were into Douglas firs by the time we reached the top.

          As an avid birdwatcher, I took along my binoculars, but the only birds we saw were a raven and a turkey vulture, and one unidentified small black and white bird that flashed past us as we were driving.

          Partway up the mountain, we stopped at one of the pullouts where a short trail skims along a canyon ridge, below which flows a small mountain stream. The girls went right on an unpaved section of the trail and I went left, partly because the trail here was paved and I’ve reached a stage in my life where my legs aren’t always stable, but also partly because I simply wanted to be alone for a few minutes in Mother Nature’s company.

          The pavement ended quickly but I decided to venture a little farther, deciding I could handle the unevenness of the rocky path. I did quite well, and was proud of myself. On the walk back, however, I came to a spot where, while I had easily made it up the rocks, I now felt I would fall if I tried to step down them.

          I was frustrated but tried to take it in stride until my granddaughter came along and gave me a hand down. What goes up should be able to come down – or not, I laughed. That was good, not all that many years ago I had cried when my old broad’s body couldn’t handle a much harder spot on a trail without help.

          This day, having finally begun to accept the consequences of being 82 years old, I pushed the incident out of my brain and went on to enjoy a marvelous day on Mount Lemmon with two marvelous companions.

Now if I could just push the image of that unidentified black and white bird out of my brain … maybe it was a downy woodpecker – or not.

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusstic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

Stupid Birds … Or Not

I sketched this red-winged blackbird on an outing to Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake on one of bird outings.

An old friend, whom I often dragged on many of my bird outings, told me that he only liked seeing the big birds. Translated that meant such birds as great blue herons, tundra swans, bald eagles and double-crested cormorants, all frequent sights around Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Bear River areas where I frequently used to go to watch birds.

His comments were also a gently hint to me that he didn’t enjoy standing around for hours trying to get a glimpse of and identify any small bird that preferred to stay out of sight – like the tiny ruby-crowned kinglets that never stopped moving as they flitted between thick tree foliage, or the marsh wrens that sang duets from their hiding places in a patch of phragmite or cattails.

I thought about that while reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude with my morning coffee. She was an avid gardener and also one who kept a supply of seed on hand to feed wild birds. But for this April day entry, May had noted that there were only starlings, red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds at the feeder. “Too stupid,” she wrote.

Now as much as I’m a May Sarton fan, I think she misspoke here. I think her disgust was not because these are stupid birds, but because they are some of the birds that everyone can see almost daily in this country, from ocean to ocean and border to border.

 Here in Tucson, I have three bird species that I see every day: house sparrows and mourning doves when I take my canine companion Scamp for his first walk of the day, and an Anna’s Hummingbird that tries to guard the nectar feeder hanging on my balcony every day from all intruders.

 When I also catch a glimpse of a bright yellow and black American goldfinch, or a Cooper’s hawk skimming overhead, my morning walk seems more special. Like this morning when a broad-billed hummingbird visited my balcony feeder. While the broad-billed is not as brightly colored as the Anna’s – the male of which has brilliant magenta head feathers – I was more thrilled because I don’t see this species every day.

 We humans are a funny lot. Perhaps we are more stupid than the birds. For sure we’re not so fond of the saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

And just what does that mean anyway?

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

Refinding My Mojo

Watching — and drawing — birds is good for my mojo. Art by Pat Bean

          My mojo is in the toilet because of Covid isolation – for the second time given the Delta variant going around strongly here in Tucson. Because I’m 82, even my good friends and family, who are daily out in the world –including one who is a teacher and had had six students come down with Covid within a week of school starting – are staying away from me.

          I’m a social person and it is getting to me. And then there is what’s going on in the world with war and politics. Keeping up with current events is a downer, but closing a blind eye is not an option for this former journalist.

          Ok. Enough is enough.

It’s time to start counting my blessings. That always helps.

          Beginning with the basics: I have a comfortable roof over my head, more than enough food to eat, air conditioning to keep the Sonoran Desert heat at bay, money enough to at least buy a book when I want it, decent health insurance, and I’m loved.

          I have a fantastic canine companion, beautiful views of both sunrises and sunsets, heated water for a bath every night, internet access to the world, birds to watch from my third-story balcony, and an inquisitive mind that usually keeps me from ever becoming bored.

          I’m the last person in the world who should be feeling sorry for herself.

           Even isolation hasn’t been all bad. It’s given me time to learn how much I do enjoy my own company. I just don’t want it to go on forever. Plus, I still believe in silver linings.

          One has to be out there — somewhere.  

           Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

An up close look at a pair of Eurasian Wigeons. — Wikimedia photo

          I was a reporter following former Congressman Jim Hansen around for the day for a newspaper story back in the early 1990s, during which we stopped for lunch at the Bear River Duck Club near Northern Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

          As Hansen and I stepped outside to take in the birdy wetlands view after our meal, a number of nearby members of the club — locally known as the Millionaire’s Duck Club because of the status of its members — suddenly became animated and excited. One of them, looking in our direction, shouted: “Hey Jim!  There’s a Eurasian Wigeon among that flock of ducks out there.” It was a quite rare find for Utah, I was told.

I took a quick look, and noted it down in my notebook for possible inclusion into my story.

Some years later, April 1, 1999, to be exact, I admitted I was addicted to bird watching, and started my life list of birds. The list began with the birds I saw on an outing to Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. But then I remembered that day at the Duck Club with Hansen and added Eurasian Wigeon at the end of that day’s list.

It was an addition that I soon regretted. I could only identify an American wigeon with a field guide handy, and wouldn’t have recognized a Eurasian species if one stood two feet in front of me.

This early episode in my birding adventures was brought to the forefront of my brain while reading the latest issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. There is an article in it by Dawn Hewitt called The Curse of the Least Bittern, in which she writes about adding this particular bird to her life list on Dec. 31, 1982, at a pond thick with birdwatchers. Someone yelled out “Least Bittern,” and while Hewitt says she has no memory of seeing the bird, she added it to her list.

Not sure why either of us didn’t later just scratch the dubious birds off our lists, but we didn’t. We both went on a hunt to actually get a good look at our respective birds. I was the luckier of the two, I spotted the Eurasian Wigeon five years later in a group of ducks at Yellowstone National Park. It took Hewitt 22 years for her to get a good look at the more secretive Least Bittern, which by the way is not one of the 700 plus birds on my current life list.

Hewitt and I are alike in another way, too. We both remember the sighting of that first bird on our lists. Mine was an American Avocet and hers was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »