A Brave New Year
It’s time to return to blogging after my couple of weeks off. They were very good weeks and thank you for letting me take them! Noah (20) and Johannah (18) were home for Christmas. Noah spent a week with us and Johannah a whopping 3 and a half weeks! We played games (lots to share there in the upcoming weeks), we drank hot chocolate, we laughed, we watched TV, we went ice skating, we stayed up late talking. I enjoyed and savored every day.
However, I discovered while enjoying and savoring that my creative energy is utterly depleted. I collapsed many times on the couch loathe to get up again. I avoided the computer and left my desk a mess. In short: I’m in serious need of a recharge.
I feel a little like an out of date cell phone whose charger got lost and now only gets recharged in teaspoon sized bursts while driving in the car. My recharging usually consists of minutes here and there on the run, not a quality pause in the midst of a busy life. That means I can sustain a creative charge for, oh, say, a day and then I’m all out of juice again.
I haven’t had a good long drink of quiet, nurturing or rest in a good long time. As Christmas break unfolded, I unraveled. I sat in front of the fire, I knitted yet another scarf (I only knit scarves because any other pattern becomes stress-filled stitch-counting rather than the soothing, rhythmic, mindless clicking of needles), I watched Top Design and reruns of Friends, I made and ate good food, I put whipped cream on every hot drink, I cuddled kids and took our dog for walks, I fed our birds and ignored the mess in the basement.
Each time I walked by my office, my chest tightened. I know you want me to do taxes and make decisions, to answer email and to plan classes. Just not now. Just a little more time off, please.
One way I seriously recharged was to get out of the house and into nature. Liam and I signed up for the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. On Sunday morning, December 30th, Liam and I got up dark and early. We clunked around the kitchen making tea with milk and pouring it into a thermos. We assembled turkey sandwiches, trail mix bars and clementine oranges into our mini picnic tote. Then with two pair of binoculars and extra layers of clothing, we headed into the still black morning and drove 25 miles to the Cincinnati Nature Center.
We met other binocular clad counters. Liam and I were happily assigned to a group of all novices led by one expert (and I mean expert). This guy not only could replicate the calls of numerous birds, he could recognize them from below, by ear, by flock and wing beats. One time we thought we heard a red-tailed hawk when he changed his mind and stated, “Nope. That’s a blue-jay imitating a red-tailed hawk. They get close, but their pitch is off.” Oh. My. Goodness. Yeah, I’m more the kind of birder that says, “Hey! There’s a cardinal. I can see it right there sitting perfectly still and it’s all red.”
Anyway, we tromped through endless mud and dead leaves already composting into mulch, up hill and over dale. What struck me about the experience was how quiet it was. Bob, trustee expert birder, told us that bird watching is really more “bird listening.” And it was true. We hardly talked at all. Most of the time we stood very still waiting… hoping for some movement, some flutter of leaves or swish of brush.
And I loved it. The quiet reminded me of the library, yet it was outdoors where my lungs filled with yogic breaths of air. Therapeutic. Even after three hours of rubber legs, frozen finger tips and growling stomach, I didn’t want to quit. It felt really good to focus all my energy and attention on one little tiny thing: counting birds in the bush. I wonder if this is how golf feels for executives.
We returned to the center to eat lunch and many cheerful birders welcomed us. It might be difficult to appreciate just how odd it feels for me (who lives in her head of ideas and virtuality) to be in a room of people who enjoy conversations about numbers, biological components, ecology, and international tourism that takes travelers to car camping in Kenya as opposed to pensions in Florence.
Liam and I returned in the evening for the final count which included all the birds of our region. We laughed every time the room gasped when a count was exceptionally high: 3,743 robins or disastrously low: 0 kildeer (the room exhaled a mournful sigh realizing that the kildeer had not survived suburbanization of the farmlands since not one has been sighted for the last six years).
It occurred to me that mothers especially give, give, give until they are all given out. We take mini-breaks (drink a cup of tea, read a novel in the car while waiting for ballet practice to end, stand in the shower for twenty minutes instead of fifteen, watch a TV show while emptying the dishwasher). How often do we really stop the world and get off for several hours, for a week, for a month?
Nature and birds took me away from the world of words that I inhabit and allowed me space to be. Family gave me the hugs, love and validation that comes from connectedness rather than performance. Christmas injected “the special” into what had been an ordinary fall.
I hope you too find a way to recharge as we head into winter. I’m ready to be back. Peace and wonderful birds to you.