Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Experience the Present

My friend Ronda and I decided a long time ago we both have too much stuff. If there’s a contest for too much stuff, I think I won, at least between the two of us. I had a head start, though, since Mom had an antique shop. I’ve made my own contributions of course. At any rate, concluding as we have that we both have entirely too many things and adding to that the notation that our birthdays are less than one month apart, we like to celebrate our days and our friendship with gifts of experience. Experiences take up less room in your garage or closet if you don’t bring home too many souvenirs.

Our present to each other for the last several years has been to go on nature hikes. We both share a love of nature conservation, flora and fauna. And we both go about the same pace, a little faster than a motorized wheelchair, a little slower than 75% off at a bookstore. Nature should be savored and should not result in a trip to the chiropractor. Nature should be ooohed and ahhhed at softly, not screamed at like March Madness. Nature should be generally low technology, since our day jobs land us smack in the middle of technology (we make exceptions for binoculars and digital cameras). Nature should come with a picnic table, a bathroom, pomegranate juice, curried chicken salad sandwiches, trail mix and Girl Scout Thin Mints. Nature should be respected by packing out the trash and watching where you step, including not needing to be rescued or considered under the Stupid Hiker Laws. Within those boundaries, which are in fact loose and flexible in our opinion, we find ample opportunity.

We have explored off-birthday-season adventures and retail rather than nature adventures, usually involving my urging Ronda to purchase the aquamarine ring she’s just discovered that she always wanted. But our favorite outings have been the field trips sponsored by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association http://www.ptreyes.org/. The PRNSA is a non-profit organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to provide education and to raise funding through various programs, like their field seminars, to preserve our connections to nature especially in the Point Reyes area.

The field seminars have offered us a tremendous variety of experiences, including tidepooling at extreme low tides (where I saw this fan-TAS-tic baby octopus lounging in a puddle-sized pool), the earthquake trail (where you can see how the 1906 San Francisco earthquake split a fence so the ends were feet away from each other in a single move), folks uses of plants (which we liked so much that we took the class a second time), a bird-watching cruise up the Napa River, the now-locally-infamous Tule Elk-Whale Watching-Great Horned Owl experience where we nearly ruined our friend Pamela’s really nice car and spring wildflower walks so windy that we almost blew off the Marin cliffs to the beachful of lounging harbor seals below. Talk about the balance of nature! Well, you can’t beat that for adventure!

This year, we went for something a little different and found a gem of an experience. The weather was perfect for our Birding Yolo County field trip led by John Klobas and his daughter Sarah Klobas. Not only did this provide us with a new venue never trekked before, but the magic words “car based excursion” were too tantalizing to resist. What if we went on a full day adventure and didn’t spend the next day laid out flat in bed from being spectacularly out of shape? Think of the possibilities! We would get the nature experience, a bit of a hike without a mountain climb, the picnic, the photos, the whole magilla.

No matter what it must sound like, I am actually not a birder. At least I’m not the kind of birder I associate with bird watchers who keep lifetime statistics on what bird they’ve seen when. But I like to go on birding trips because I tend to see everything else along with the birds. And the people who go on birding trips are usually gentle, quiet, sincere, curious, helpful…well, I’m about to add thrifty and other Scouting traits. But you get the idea. They are calm and they don’t want me to fix anything; it’s a complete contrast to my day job.

We were pleasantly surprised to find John and his daughter Sarah knowledgeable and entertaining. I personally was flabbergasted at the excellent and unobtrusive organization that was part of the trip too. And why I did not expect the enormous variety of birds on this trip I will never know! True to my non-birding status, I gave away my bird counting card to a fellow student who needed one and I do not have a full count of the birds we saw, but briefly: 3 kinds of hawks, an osprey complete with fish in talon, a zillion ducks including a wood duck, at least two types of herons, hummingbirds, a barn owl, a few “introduced” species like peacocks and an ostrich, and a full chorus of songbirds. Of course, there were not just birds, but all kinds of other creatures like a river otter and the usual squirrels. There was even a sleepy little bat in the ladies room at the picnic area who looked like a walnut with ears. We visited Lake Solano made from the creek draining Lake Barryessa, next the home of a generous bird lover named Manfred who let us tramp over his yard to show us hummingbird and oriole nests, and last a wonderful wetlands near Davis and the freeway. Our final show at this wetlands was a huge gathering of yellow-headed blackbirds facing the setting sun for their final warm up before evening.

While at the wetlands, we were surrounded by birdsong. I mused to Ronda, “If birds are the nearest descendants of dinosaurs, I wonder if dinosaur song was as lovely as this?” Watching the pelicans, cinnamon teals, coots, white-faced ibis and blackbirds, I was glad for the advantage of scale suddenly. Birdsong is pretty. Dinosaur song perhaps might not be so restful. This is another good reason to enjoy the present.

No matter what kind of life you have, it’s important to do something like this to balance out your life. Maybe you don’t have a nature-buddy like my friend Ronda, but it’s important to balance your own nature. If you do, maybe those dinosaurs you work with all day will remind you of birdsong. And with that little bit of balance, like the Two of Pentacles, you can keep your life going, stay in the game, make a little progress and stay in touch with the present.

Best wishes.

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