The Echo of the Call of the Wild

I have been procrastinating writing this post. I wasn’t looking forward to sharing the update that the chestnut-sided warbler we took for rehabilitation was not victorious in the good fight.  He died as a result of his injuries.  Wildlife rehabilitation often boils down to simply giving an animal a second chance that it wouldn’t have otherwise had.  Sometimes this means that release back into the wild is a joyful reality, and sometimes it means a humane end to suffering; at the very least, it means a safe place to slip away from this realm.

I have worked with wildlife in a volunteer capacity, and each loss is a sad one, but it’s the lift you get from occasionally setting a healed animal free that makes the risk of heartache worthwhile.  And you remember every animal, regardless of the outcome.  It’s times like this when my propensity for turning things over multiple times in my mind actually propels me forward, instead of hindering my progress as it sometimes can. The experience of finding this song bird, and being able only to administer the simplest first aid while scrambling to find someone capable of doing more, has led me to take steps toward achieving something I’ve been wanting to do for several years but could not make time to commit to.  There never seem to be enough wildlife rehabilitators to go around (I’ve seen this in the last three states where I have lived), so I am going to be the change I want to see in the world.

I am currently studying to take my New York State licensed wildlife rehabilitator’s exam.  After apprenticing for a year, I will be eligible to apply for a federal license that will permit me to rehabilitate and transport migratory birds.  There is a lot to learn, much work to be done, inspections to muster for, costs to be incurred (wildlife rehabilitators are not paid by government agencies), some reality to face, and hopefully some success stories to share.

image
My membership is official!

I’ve said it before: life is serendipitous, and I am grateful to everyone – human and otherwise – who joins the ride with me.   Thank you for coming along!

The Call of the Wild

After a fierce bike ride on Friday afternoon, as I dutifully removed a can of cat food from the cabinet to answer the yowl of the domesticated, flashes of rapid motion outside the adjacent window caught my eye.  I usually keep the draperies drawn to block the sun’s heat from reflecting off the patio into the house, but it had been cloudy, so I’d left them open and consequently noticed the tiny bird floundering on the pavers. My guess is that, while flitting back and forth from his nest to help feed his young, he collided with the screened window beneath which I found him. When I scooped him up in my hand, I could see he was one of the chestnut-sided warblers I had been so cheerfully watching through my binoculars over the last several weeks.  It was the song of the males calling out their territory that compelled me to the windows every morning for a glimmer of the source.   Warblers often dart through thick, bushy undergrowth searching out insects from the undersides of leaves, which makes it very hard to get a visual on them.

He thrashed about relentlessly, so we placed him in a cardboard box with a heating pad beneath it and a soft dish towel with a few bunched-up Kleenex inside to allow for traction without any loops in which he could become tangled.  The tissues also make it easy to keep birds clean from any waste.  If he was merely stunned, once he stopped seizing, he would be ready to fly away within an hour or two.  It was worrisome that he was unable to lift his head without our support, and I began scouring the Internet for local wildlife rehabilitators.  Unable to reach anyone licensed to accept songbirds, we started offering him water from a small dropper, and were delighted when he reached toward it, inserted his beak into the tip, and drew from it.  I removed the dropper to jiggle more water down to the tip, offered it again, and repeated this until he stopped drinking and settled into the tissues to sleep.  We hoped that, since it had grown dark, it would be fine to release him in the morning.

I was up at 5:00 a.m. to carry the box gingerly outside, expecting him to zoom out of it, but his condition was the same, head drooping unless supported by the towel or a hand.  Seeing the sky, trees, and hearing the other birdsongs, though, he struggled mightily to be among them.  Saddened, I returned to the house and placed the box back on top of the heating pad. He had exhausted himself, and it was in the upper 40s outside, which was too cold to linger out there given his condition.  He had so much fight in him, I thought, we must keep him going until we find someone with better means to rehabilitate him.

I put some moist cat food on the tip of a toothpick, and reached it into the box.  His jet black eyes widened, glinted as he focused on it, and he thrust his beak forward to grab and eat it. This was a great sign!  He ate this way, hungrily, over a period of a few hours while I thought hard about how to get more help.

I suddenly realized that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is only about two hours from where we live, so I called them. Their companion animal hospital connected me to the Janet Swanson Wildlife Health Center, where they were anxious to receive him.  We hurried to gather ourselves and some extra water for the warbler, which he drank from the dropper at stop signs and red lights.  Alice, the kind and – more importantly – skilled technician who greeted us, admitted him swiftly for emergency care.  He was given subcutaneous fluids, dextrose, and an anti-inflammatory for the head trauma he suffered.  It was likely swelling that prevented him from holding up his gold-capped head.  Alice commented on how energetic he was once treatment began.  Hopefully he will heal quickly and released back into the wild.  I will post an update when I have one!

 

In Memoriam

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a federal holiday on which we honor those who died while serving in the armed forces.

A deep and respectful thank you to those who have served, and to their families and loved ones who support them and, in the worst cases, are left behind to endure.

Memorial Day Armed Forces Branches
Photo credit:  darkroom.baltimoresun.com

Hacks for Maintaining Fitness While Traveling

This weekend is for many people the unofficial start of summer, and whether you travel for pleasure or business, you don’t need to let the lack of a [decent] gym or instructor be a deterrent (or excuse!) from scoring your workout.  There are several tools at your fingertips if you have a smartphone, laptop, or tablet.  No matter what your fitness bag is, here are some great resources that will keep you looking and feeling your best.  All apps referenced below are FREE!


Yoga

Yoga Download logo

“Take Yoga Anywhere” is the motto of Yoga Download, and you can do that by logging in or installing their free app!  Most videos are +/- 20 minutes, and they come in a wide variety of yoga disciplines that address at least as many goals: stress relief, sculpting, weight loss, release after a long sit or a lot of standing, to name only a smattering.  Choose a single class, do a couple at different times of day, or string some together for a longer workout, and if you find a practice/instructor you really like, you can purchase and download more videos and/or longer sessions.

Note: Apple devices may present a challenge when attempting to download your purchase, so you might need to install the iDownloader app or something similar.

Another tip: pick up a foldable yoga mat – there are several offered on Amazon.  It’s hard enough fitting what you need into carry-on luggage without swinging a yoga mat down a narrow plane aisle.  The folding yoga mats are thinner, so not always great on hardwood floors, but they are perfect for your hotel room, plus, they fit into your luggage easily.


Strength and Endurance Training

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To borrow a successful tagline, make your body your machine!  Invest in a TRX suspension training system (roughly $200 for the basic kit), download the TRX app, and you are on your way.  Throw a jump rope into your bag and you have the makings for a killer workout at any time of day.  The TRX app has some bugs yet, but it comes with a few short and sweaty workouts to get you started, and you can purchase additional routines that will reside inside the app for whenever you have the nerve to do them.


Name it and Claim it

Fitness Blender logo

For a broad selection of challenging workouts, ranging from bodyweight to kettlebells to Pilates to HIIT, check out Fitness Blender.  Daniel and Kelli, a husband and wife team, will whip you into shape no matter what you like to do.  You can easily sort for the type and length of routine you want, and instruction is clear, human, and often enough funny, and nothing beats the burn better than an unexpected laugh.  Create a free account and you can even save your favorite videos for easy access!


Or…

If you deliberately don’t work out on your vacations, then have at it!  Enjoy and leave the guilt at home with your gym bag while your body gets a good rest, or maybe just a total departure from the norm.  Whatever you do, make the best of it!

Do Nothing Logo

Spring is for Renewal

Adults are obsolete children.

 – Dr. Seuss

A few weeks ago, on an uncharacteristically warm early spring day, I broke free from the forced domestic bondage of winter and drove to a local park for some fresh air and exercise.  I feel like a heel, driving three miles to a park to take a walk, but my home is nestled amid several farms, and if I attempted to stroll down the street this time of year – which I regard as official Deere season – I would be tilled into the earth like a remnant cornstalk.  I realized this danger back in the fall when I was nearly threshed and baled by a tractor.  My husband said he simply didn’t see me there.

Flushed from the thicket of my parcel, I have grown comfortable with the similar solitude afforded by the park.  I might be in the process of desocializing.  To wit, a 30-second interaction with an unfamiliar little girl in the park last month still has me in the throes of self analysis.

It was a busy day in the park.  The walking path encircles two ball fields, one empty and the other being spruced up by a team of adults – this constitutes a crowd scene.  The outside edge of the path separates the park from a row of small, private homes with deep back yards, so the structures sit back from the path and fields.  In one of the yards, three young girls were playing, and I noticed them only because they were there.  I had already walked several laps under the anonymity of my sunglasses and visor, physically in the park but mentally engrossed in the podcast streaming from my earbuds, when I realized that the smallest girl was speaking to me as she approached the easement where her yard meets the path.

I stopped and removed my earbuds to hear her, but the voices that reached me were those of her elder sisters, ineffectively calling her back as they eyed me skeptically.  “I’m sorry?” I asked the little girl, whose age I would guess is about five.  She patiently reiterated, “Will you give me a hug?”

Dumbfounded, I removed my sunglasses.  “You want me to give you a hug?”  She nodded as she continued advancing and began to reach toward me with her arms.  I glanced worriedly at her sisters, who gauged my response from the lower limbs of the large tree they were climbing.  I don’t need to expound on the potentially horrific danger of this scenario if it involved another type of person, and I surely didn’t want to be perceived as a threat I’m not.

On the other hand, if I rebuffed her, would that become some random rejection that would affect her life years from now?  We all have those weird childhood moments that, as adults, we cannot fathom why we recollect, much less with great clarity and profound impact.  Was it my place to counsel her on the somber risks of addressing strangers?  Should I say no, or just ignore her, and walk away?  Did I look like someone she knew and she mistook my identity?  Was I overthinking this?

This is a very small town where almost everyone knows who everyone else is, if they don’t know them personally, and maybe because I frequent this park, she had seen me and felt like she knew me.  I looked at the sisters in the tree again, smiled as sweetly as I could at the littlest girl, bent down, and lightly hugged her.  She wrapped her arms around my sides and I felt her hands rest on either side of my back.  I withdrew and stood up, replaced my obviously feeble “I’m not really here” accessories, and continued on the path while the girl bounded back into her yard, never looking over her shoulder.

Clearly, she had no second thoughts about what was to me not only a thought-provoking interaction, but an emotional one as well.  It was terribly frightening from a child safety perspective, and no matter how I might have responded, I would still be second-guessing whether I did the right thing.  Factoring in feedback from friends and family, the results of my self-scrutiny remain inconclusive.

I can tell you, though, that if I brush away the poison of unspeakable headlines and horror stories, the jaded adult in me felt almost sanctified by this random and completely aberrant interaction.  It’s as though the purity of her faith in people has rubbed off on me, and right now it still feels indelible.  This seal has given me passage back to the kinder, more trusting place I used to inhabit before the occasional mean-spirited or conniving adult yanked me into his or her own harsh reality, where the expectation existed that I might engage on their scorched earth.  No thanks.  They can be denizens of whatever realms they choose.  That said, they are free to choose my playground so long as they leave their agendas in their briefcases or pillboxes and take a lesson from that kid.  Because in her heart, she’s got it right.

 

 

3 Tips for Winter Survival, by The Closet Snark

My friends, salvation from winter doldrums is here!  You are probably thinking, “We are having a thaw, and tomorrow is Groundhog Day!  Winter is almost over!  I don’t need your stinkin’ help.”  I’ll wait here while you tune in to see whether the woodchuck saw his shadow.  Here is a link to some snappy elevator music we can listen to while your hopes are dashed.

… Back?  Happens every year.   I jettisoned that groundhog myth long about the time I cashed in the chips on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  Somehow the freakish creations of Halloween survive year round, but let’s leave that one in the parking lot for now.  Here is my snarky three-pronged approach getting over on winter:

  • Change Your Body.  Did you make a resolution to lose weight or eat healthier?  During the coldest, darkest, most depressing time of year?  Good for you!  I bet you are exercising a lot, too.  I did this with such success, I bulked up enough to earn honest comparison to an American Gladiator.
Jen Widerstrom
Jen Widerstrom. Awesome person, hot bod, but she rocks it MUCH better than I did.

I could have been cracking coconuts with my thighs, folks, harvesting the milk and pressing the oil for a Paleo diet, but what good is that if you look like a dude in your skinny jeans and you are too lazy (or broke) to buy a whole new wardrobe?  Unless, of course, you are a guy, in which case you should not be wearing skinny jeans.  Ever.

  • Upgrade Your Mind.  I realized some months ago that I had never read the highly acclaimed work of the late Sylvia Plath.  Poetry is hard, and I was in for the long haul, so I reached for her only novel, The Bell Jar.  Those of you who read it in school or for personal edification are already groaning.  I picked the coldest, darkest, most depressing time of year to read a thinly veiled autobiographical account of a young woman’s envelopment by mental illness.  Don’t get me wrong; this book is written beautifully, in achingly clear prose and with such utter frankness, you find your arms linked with hers as the despair washes over you, and you love her for it.  My advice would be to save this one for book club discussion, but honestly, I finished the last page and started the book all over again.  If you’re going to plunge, plunge with wanton abandon.
  • Grow Your Soul.  Many sects of Christianity commence the season of Lent next Wednesday.  Give up something you love for 40 days, and you might feel more pure of heart for having made the sacrifice(s).  However, just as there is calm before the storm, there is Mardi Gras before Lent!  Use the coldest, darkest, most depressing time of year to plunge yet again, this time into debauchery and gluttony, because what better way to give something up than to make yourself so sick from it, you don’t even want to think about it for at least 40 days?  Ah, humans, it is our nature to think wisely and act foolishly.1

It could be suggested that all three tines of my snarky pitchfork are good guideposts by which to live, but sometimes you have to fall off of the path to know you’re alive.  I’m not saying this is a good way to live daily, but every now and again, it’s kind of restorative to sit under your SAD lamp on a dreary day with a lot of chocolate and give The Bell Jar another read.


 1Anatole France

Slouching Toward Mid-Winter

In cold and darkness you are traveling,

In warmth and brightness you will arrive.

Caitlín Matthews1

Crocuses
Photo credit: selkywolf.com

In a week and a half, on February 2nd, winter will be exactly half over, and not a moment too soon!  Millions of people in the U.S. mid-Atlantic and beyond are currently snowlocked into their homes while public works employees and emergency responders work diligently to restore order and ensure safety.  Our thanks to all of them for their devotion to humanity!  Even those of us not contending with towering drifts of snow and ocean flooding are shut in because of bitter cold and, ironically, not enough snow to foster the sports that become our deliverance.

The front half of winter was, for me, not unlike the proverbial holiday fruitcake.  It landed on my threshold with a thud on December 21, was colorful with some sweetness, and some bites were a little too tough to swallow.  The real trick is dislodging the remnants without my very teeth, but maybe it’s time to rethink that.  Metaphysical aficionados everywhere know that tooth problems portend an inability to analyze our own deeply held beliefs so that we can move forward constructively.2  While it’s easy to sink into ennui and think this dilemma is all my own, consider that also on February 2nd, the entire nation will look to celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil to advise if, based upon whether or not he sees his shadow, we will endure six more weeks of winter.  It will be a feature story on the evening news and headline local internet/print media.

Groundhog Punxsutawney
Photo credit: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day#/media/File%3ADogGroundHog-small.jpg

Of course we will persevere, and the beloved marmot wrested from the sanctity of his burrow to augur the omen of spring will, like the rest of us, retreat to his den to await the thaw as nature intended.  Winter is deep and dark, forcing us out of the external and obvious, and into the constructs we have created for ourselves.  It is a time for introspection, and because self-examination is hard to do, the Universe helps us by holding our heads below the surface until we stop struggling against the current.  Thanks, Universe!

Groundhog Thanks, Universe!
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Hopefully we breach the surface of spring with more insight, the way forward clearer and less treacherous than it appears from our frosted windowpanes.  The vernal equinox arrives the moment the lightness of day is almost completely equal to the darkness of night, a near-perfect balance that occurs only twice during the course of the year.  Possibly then, in kind, we can contemplate our lives in isolation and in the greater context of the world without over-thinking it or skirting issues, and find equilibrium if only for a few minutes.  Even that is a lofty goal, but hey, we have seven and a half weeks to get there.  Enjoy the journey from the incandescent warmth of your burrow!


 

1Matthews, Caitlin.  “Imbolc.”  A Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings.  Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds, 2004.  p.46.  Print.

2Hay, Louise L. Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them.  Santa Monica, CA: Hay House, 1984.  Print.

Damn the Protein-Coated Nucleic Acid Molecule!

cold meds
Part of my arsenal.

It’s the height of cold and flu season, and I have succumbed.  I nearly forgot that today is the day of week I usually upload new posts, thanks to the foggy headedness that comes along with the sore throat, coughing, sneezing, congestion and aches.  It’s as though my creative energy is either lodged inside my sinus cavities or running out my nose, and everything has gone white:  white monitor screen, white tissues, white towels and sheets being washed almost as frequently as my hands, the white lotion I keep applying to my hands and nose.  I am allowing myself one paragraph to gripe, and then we are on to better things.

I don’t feel like doing much of anything right now, but I don’t know what to do with myself when I am doing nothing.  Worse, I think the futility of my endeavors to entertain myself when I am too fidgety to nap is compounding my relative misery.  I have read every magazine in the house, done crossword puzzles and Sudoku, cleaned and sanitized ad nauseum, watched fluffy snowflakes drift down all day, and even summoned the strength to apply for what looks to be a job I might have invented for myself.  Daytime television is worse than ever, not by the obvious poor quality of selections, but by the sheer volume of the poor quality of selections.  It was bad enough when eight channels ran daytime drivel; now 500 channels run the same types of programs as the original eight.  Why are they doing this to us?

In case you find yourself in the same way I am right now, or for future reference, I’d like to share with you the results of extensive research I have conducted from under a blanket on my sofa.  This is the part where I type the disclaimer that I am not a physician and that if you are experiencing illness, you should close your laptop or smartphone and seek the help of a medical professional.  There are a lot of interesting ways to treat or prevent a cold, some of which are disturbing to put it mildly, but here are some that actually have research behind them:

  1. SLEEP.  Multiple university studies have demonstrated that 7-8 hours of sleep is the ticket to reducing your chances of catching a cold by at least threefold, if not four.  Uninterrupted sleep is best, but if you have to supplement with naps to compensate, that might be better than forging ahead with less.
  2. POWER ON.  As long as your symptoms are from the neck up, your workout is still your friend.  You might not get back to 100% before those who lay low (and vice versa), but you are likely to find your symptoms mitigated.  Which brings me to the next point…
  3. [DON’T] BLOW IT.  I am glad for this reminder as I have just opened my third box of tissue.  Close off one nostril and blow gently through the open one, then switch sides, or maybe better yet, just take a decongestant.  Blowing too forcefully through both nostrils at once can propel mucus upward into your sinuses!
  4.  HUMIDIFY.  This one might be my downfall, because after a humid summer, I am loathe to invite moisture into the air.  I love the dry air, but unfortunately, so do cold viruses.  I personally am compensating with hot showers and lingering over large mugs of hot tea.
  5. INVOKE THE GOD OF CACAO.  YES!  Although I’m not convinced of the research, I would like to be.  Researchers in the UK suggest that hot chocolate might suppress coughing, but they used dairy milk, which notoriously worsens coughing for a lot of people.  I deduce that it’s the chocolate itself that may have suppressed the coughs they induced in their subjects.  In the name of science and compassion for my fellow humans, I am personally taking on this one.
chocolate
I am 85% sure that this 85% pure dark chocolate bar is helping me right now.

Until next time, be well!

Brother Can You Spare an Aphid?

Temperatures have been well below freezing for over a week now, and in these parts it’s dipped below zero with double-digit negative wind chills.  The springfed well that went dry in late summer, prompting the owner of the property to drill a new well, has caught up with itself, the pristine water rising to the surface to saturate the driveway.  It continuously runs down to the road and freezes, layering itself, creating a sheet of ice inches thick.  The best I can do when leaving in the car is aim in the desired direction and hope to stop at the bottom of the driveway instead of shooting across the road and down an embankment.   Treachery!

Ice in driveway
Frozen spring water: Enter top, exit bottom, freeze, repeat.
Ice in street
This is where the spring-generated ice meets the road and continues the path of least resistance down the road.

However, inside this old house, spring seems to be abloom!  Thanks to the unseasonably warm fall and fluctuating temperatures, I have been living in the midst of an ongoing ladybug infestation.  I like ladybugs and I don’t mind them flying around the house, but I was first concerned for their survival. They like a measure of humidity, of which I have little inside, and the aphid population registers even lower since I gave away most of my houseplants before moving.  Aphids, along with some mites and scale insects, are the only things ladybugs will eat, and while I’m into feeding the world since humans are consuming nearly everything there is, I won’t be importing mites to my home.

On the flip side, it can become a little tiresome having so many ladybugs around.  They have landed in my food prep areas while I am cooking, and also on the dining table during meals.  There are worse things in life that could, and do, happen, but it’s unappetizing when even a nice insect drops from the chandelier and plops next to my plate.  Kitchen activities require heightened vigilance.  The beetles have occasionally buzzed my head, landed in my hair, and turned up in my folded canvas grocery bags.

On warmer, sunnier days in the late fall, literally hundreds of them swarmed the south facing side of the house, doors and windows; penetrated the structure through cracks; and occupied every room on both levels of my home as they vied for hibernation space.  I have since learned an interesting equation:

southern exposure + light colored house + clapboard = ladybug beacon

I saw a congress of eight of them high along one vaulted bedroom wall, and over the course of a couple of days, they moved closer and closer to each other until, with my uncorrected vision one dusky evening, they took on a menacing form.  They like to cluster together while hibernating, which I get, but seeing them amassed on the wall over a bed troubled me.  Not being able to reach them for eviction, I left them alone and eventually they dispersed or, more possibly, died.  I have since learned that affixing a stocking to a vacuum cleaner hose with a rubberband can be a harmless way to capture and release them.

I was aware that the United States is home to an invasive type of ladybug, so I consulted an expert on the subject, www.ladybuglady.com, to confirm my suspicion that these were my interlopers.   I think what I have here are Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia Axyridis), a breed that was imported to the US from Asia in the early part of the 20th century for crop pest control.  Over the last decade or so, they have been released around the northeastern United States to protect our hardwood trees.  Both of these initiatives were successful, and hey, no chemicals were used other than, I suppose, the fuel to transport them to release point.  I am given to understand that the releases are no longer taking place in this region, which is probably a good thing since I have enough to at minimum protect the state of New York.  This particular type of ladybug reportedly will sometimes bite if frenzied for a place to hibernate, but I can’t bring myself to swat them.

When we moved into this home, the owner surprised me with the suggestion to set off insecticide foggers, if we went away for a few days, to thwart returning to a maelstrom of lady beetles.  She also crinkled her nose as she cautioned that they smell terrible.  My perplexity at the time had to be visible, but I have since read in several places that, when stressed, ladybugs release a yellow substance that stains and emits a foul odor.  My unscientific mind likens this defense mechanism to that of an octopus or squid releasing ink.  Evidently, a prior occupant disturbed a cluster of ladybugs, and the consequences have outlasted both of their tenancies.

Ladybug Ink
This is moulding alongside a ceiling beam. The staining is “reflex bleeding” left by distressed ladybugs. When they ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I wouldn’t set off foggers to kill ladybugs, but having pets inside the home would preclude me from doing so just the same.  They haven’t bitten me, so I don’t whack them.  As long as they stay out of my food, I can catch and release them outside where they crawl back under the clapboard, hopefully to reorient themselves to torpor and not just reenter the house through another crevice.  If I can steward them through the winter, the gardens this summer will be lovely.

Echinacea in winter