Observing Animals in Winter (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This week is going from bad to worse, as I am now dealing with severe insomnia on top of my stress related to attempting to get ADA accommodations. I had a moment of joy, though, as I was driving, when I glanced up and saw flock after flock of Canadian geese flying in formation across a cloudy, mottled sky. I decided to spend some time contemplating ways to connect with wildlife in the winter. Your location will of course determine your options!

1. Widen your perspective

Don’t limit yourself to the ground level or to a visual experience. There may be birds flying overhead, belting out their song, that can capture your interest. Squirrels jumping from branch to branch are another joy. One of my favorite winter memories is standing on a frozen pond watching fish swim underneath the surface (this of course requires knowledge of whether your actions are safe or not).

2. Meet the Dawn and Dusk

Find the times of day where animals are most likely to be active. In general, this tends to be around the time of sunrise and sunset, although there may be unique creatures that will stir at other times. Learn about the winter patterns for your local area.

3. Find the traces

Sometimes it is not solely seeing an animal that might be entertaining, but also trying to determine which animals have visited where you live (if you live in a cold climate) based on their footprints or other signs. I’ve been noticing tracks that are likely coyote near my house; not really the visitor I’m looking to meet but interesting none-the-less!

What do you do, if anything, to enable yourself to watch animal antics in winter? Do you have a favorite spot that tends to yield enjoyable experiences? Do you interact with any of the wildlife where you live?

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

Observing an Insect (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Ants are creatures I most associate with beings that make piles of dirt and which swarm en masse to discarded scraps of food. However, for today’s simple pleasure, I watched ants crawl down an old oak tree. Their tiny-legged journeys inspired me.

At first, I thought the red-hued ant I was watching was solitary, which struck me as odd because ants are known for living in large groups. It eventually traveled in close proximity to another ant and I then saw more. For a while, though, it traveled down the coarse bark on its own adventure. Every scramble forward felt at an impossible angle and I wondered how it was able to cling so adeptly to the wood. The ant wasn’t racing; it meandered. It stopped every so many paces and wiggled its antennae to direct its next motion. Finally, it disappeared into an oaken crevice.

The lessons I took from observing the ant were firstly to pause and “sniff” the air on occasion, by which I mean to check in with myself and my surroundings instead of barreling through the world without reflection. I also marveled at the idea that my journey through life may seem at a certain angle and level of difficulty, but could be viewed entirely differently, were I able to shift my perspective. Finally, I loved the idea of surging into community, greeting others along the way, but also withdrawing into dark and cozy places of rest as needed. What is the last insect you observed? What did it teach you?

Observing the Sun and Moon Cycles (Today’s Simple Pleasures)

In terms of moon cycles, I connect the changes with energy surging outward and then retreating inwards, much as the tide against the shore. The moon is waning today which to me signifies a movement from the manifestation of the full moon towards the inner-directed intentionality of the new moon. I hold fall/autumn in the same phase, as I tend to start to withdraw a bit and cocoon myself more as winter approaches. It’s a good day to make a cup of tea and get cozy.

I learned today there are also solar cycles which last 11 years. Apparently each cycle usually starts off slowly and builds towards a heightened frenzy of sunspots around five to six years in. We are entering the last part of cycle 24, so there is a minimal amount of activity. Sunspots, counter to my intuition, are actually cool areas on the surface of the sun that can be related to “twists” or pent-up magnetic energy that then explodes into a solar flare. Solar flares can impact earth activities such as radio communications. Cycle 24 is predicted to end late this year or early next year, so, for now, all signs are pointing toward a slower, more deliberate pacing of life. How do you connect to moon and sun cycles? To which other cycles in nature do you most relate?

Observing the Sky (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It’s hard for me to remember that the sun still shines even on a day filled with clouds. Today, however, I was able to hold onto this truth as, although there were many clouds in the sky when I observed it, they were almost translucent with plenty of breaks through which the sun was peeking. The wind was blowing briskly as well, as evidenced by each cloud entering and exiting the center of my viewpoint. Everything changes, given time.

The sky represents possibility and a widening of awareness to me. My tendency is to bend my senses to a single focal point–a bird in flight–and to miss all the unfilled expanse in which both being and unbeing can be found. Today a physical condition which has plagued me for over a year threatens to overshadow any other considerations; seeing the sky reminds me that the cloud of my pain is overcast by the brilliant sun of my joy. What did the last sky you observed bring to mind?

Watching a Shadow (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It is raining buckets outside, so today did not provide many outdoor viewing options for my observation. Instead, I used the light in my living room to notice the shadows. As I sat, I realized shadows imply form. They are created in the presence of both a source of light and an object. They focus our attention in a mystery or horror film because they give rise to the notion that something is there, something whose true nature cannot be fully discerned. They imply presence, but, in the absence of a direct view or a mirror, the presence remains without understanding.

I live with so many shadows of trauma in my life–they are cast long and in sharp relief, but the specifics of the events which laid them out are obscured in my memory. Snippets and feelings and pain are all that remain. Even if I am full of shadow, I live in light because I name the monsters. I let be known what I do know to be true.

What I cannot abide well are those who deny shadows, who pretend there are no monsters casting them and who seek to blot out any brightness that would illuminate their dark truths. When one of my abusers communicated their denial to me, they literally stated that there wasn’t even a “pinprick” of light that would show them what I was claiming happened had indeed happened. That metaphor kept at me for a long time, and, through today’s observation, I know why. Killing the light to deny the object to ignore the shadow, or vice versa is the modus operendi of evil and is anathema to what this world needs right now. Shine, stand and outline your truth.