I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Birds and books

Common loon in early breeding plumage
I belong to an email group called "Whatcom Birds" that sends wonderful pictures and information into my emailbox about the goings on of the birds in our area (Whatcom County). Joe Meche put this one up last Wednesday with the following caption:
Quite a few loons at the Moo this morning, both Common and Pacific. Many of the Commons seem to be getting into the early phases of breeding plumage....in mid-February! Rafts of PALOs were close in to the back of the resort, calling back and forth, feeding, etc. Fun times ahead! 
The "Moo" is short for Semiamoo Spit,  a place where birds congregate in huge numbers. I only know all this because of the information I've gleaned from the group. It's a wonderful way to learn about the myriad variety of birds we are blessed with here. The acronym you might not recognize (PALO) is the shorthand that birders use to describe the species: the first two letters of each part of its name (PAcific LOon).

I got interested in birds when I started feeding them from my front porch here in Bellingham, first with a single feeder and gradually growing to many more, and they came in huge numbers. Goldfinch and chickadees, wrens and nuthatches... and English sparrows, that greedy invasive species that began to come in such numbers that I tried to devise ways to allow the other birds to eat. I hung bags of black nyger seeds, which the sparrows don't eat, and got upside-down feeders that allow those birds that can hang inverted to use (English sparrows were laughable to watch but couldn't make use of them) and that helped some. I also had juncos, grosbeaks, and the occasional flicker show up.

Before long, I was spending way too much on bird seed and having to clean up the mess they made under the feeders two or three times a day. It began to be quite a chore, not to mention that my neighbors were bothered by the detritus. When we moved to another apartment in the same complex, I stopped feeding the birds. It was August when I stopped, so it didn't cause them to lose their food source during the winter months. It was time. I am still captivated by all the birds in the neighborhood, as I have neighbors who feed them, so I continue to enjoy their presence. But nothing like before, and it's just as well.

Maybe one of these days I'll become a birder, equipped with binoculars and expensive camera equipment, stalking the Semiamoo Spit myself. But for now, I seem to have little time or inclination for such an activity. Maybe when I can no longer hike and go for long walks I'll take it up. It's good to know that when one door closes, another might open if I can just find the doorway.

Tomorrow will be the anniversary of my last skydive, speaking of doors closing. I still get notices to attend various skydiving events, and I read them carefully. Not because I'm going, but because I still get a thrill thinking of all those events I attended for decades. I've taken up volunteer activities to replace it, and I don't miss skydiving, even if I still think of it often and study the pictures of formations that pop up on my news feed in Facebook. Many of them are my friends who were skydiving buddies back in the day.

For now, I am enjoying myself in different ways. I've just finished a wonderful book, When Breath Becomes Air, recently published and already a bestseller. That link takes you to another Sunday post that reviews the book. Paul Kalanithi was a young doctor who was diagnosed with lung cancer (he never smoked) and realized that his days were numbered and wanted to write his memoir about what he feels makes life worth living, and this book is the result. I finished reading the book and immediately started reading it again, to make sure I don't miss any of the important messages he imparts. His wife Lucy, also a doctor, finished the book with a very moving epilogue.

The Kalanithis had wanted to have children someday, and when he realized they wouldn't have the chance, they decided to save his sperm before he started treatment for his cancer. The two of them did end up making a beautiful daughter, and she was not even a year old when he died. He wrote a message to her grown-up self that holds the entire beauty of this book in a few words:
When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.
It's partly, I guess, that I am now volunteering to help others write their Advance Directives for Health Care that I think quite a bit about what I've been and done and meant to the world. My own mother went into a coma during her final weeks and we, her children, met in her room (she was in Hospice and at home in her own bed) to discuss how to proceed. She was given a morphine injection every 12 hours and had apparently waited for me to arrive before dying; that very night when I got up to give her the shot (I was sleeping on a cot in her room), she gently slipped away, with us around her to witness the moment. It was very beautiful and makes her passing a serene memory. I can only hope for a similar death.

For now, however, I'm still filled with life and the joy of being able to decide what, among the immense choices I can make, I will do with my day. It's starting out like many Sundays in past years with a post on this blog, familiar surroundings and my partner still sleeping lightly beside me. I'll head to the coffee shop to help a friend finish his Advance Directive over our coffee, discussing his wishes if he were to become unable to make his own decisions. He promised me he would ask his son if he would be his Health Care Agent in that event. John is 76 and in moderately good health. I'll breathe easier once he's finished it. It will be my first finished Advance Directive other than my own.

And the time is coming to bring this post to a close and move into my day. I am hoping that you, my dear reader, will have a wonderful and fulfilling day. Until we meet again next week, be well.


Marty said...

You would think that this post would produce feelings of sadness, given its subject. Instead I found it soothing, as you recounted your plans for the day.
You're doing good things with your days, DJan.
And thank you for the book tip - I'd heard of it before, but had forgotten about it.

Linda Reeder said...

All of your writing and thinking about death would worry me if I didn't know, as you said, that you are so filled with life.
You do good things. Have a great day. I'm afraid we'll be sending some rain your way before this day is done, but more sun is to follow.

Linda Reeder said...

Oh, I forgot. We used to feed the birds too, but then it became easy picking for our adopted cat. Now we just have one suet feeder up, which attracts chickadees and nuthatches and bush tits and flickers. It will do.

Marie Smith said...

I always look forward to you Sunday posts and you never disappoint.

Like many wild things, birds bring enjoyment and work or mess. My mother-in-law fed the crows until they started to hang out on her neighbour's balcony and leave a mess there. They never meesed up her own place. They are clever creatures!

My mother died suddenly in my arms and it gave me a different outlook on things.. I try to live every day as if it were my last, without regret, peaceful, doing things I enjoy for myself and others. Every day is special since I've come to live like that.

Have a great week doing what you love to do, dear Jan.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that you and I have written a post about death but from different perspectives.

Take care and have a good week.

Far Side of Fifty said...

It will be good for you to get your first advanced care directive under your belt! I am certain John is thankful for your help. You will become more comfortable as times goes on. It is a wonderful thing you are doing.
I hope you have a wonderful week! We feed the birds, yes it is expensive and messy but we enjoy them so! :)

Elephant's Child said...

Another gently thought provoking post. On so many levels.
Have a wonderful day, followed by many more.

Tabor said...

I live far enough from neighbors that I am the only one who has to deal with the mice, moles, voles, squirrels etc. that bird seed attracts.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, After reading today's post I went over to Audible and found When Breath Becomes Air and added it to my library even before writing this comment. My spouse had alread told me it was a "must read" so with your recommendation as well I will get started listening later this afternoon. I enjoyed reading your experience with the birds. About a year ago I moved into my current location and asked the landlord if I could put a bird feeder on my deck. He said absolutely not. Hmmmm ... Yes, he is pretty hard nosed and said the reason was the mess the birds make for my neighbors. I guess I feel better now knowing your experience. It would be fun for me, but not so good in this high density location. In future years I hope to live in a place with a little more outdoor space and I will surely put up a bird feeder. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts via Eye on the Edge. Have a great week ahead!

Red said...

I am a birder but not in over the top. I enjoy birds in my yard, bird counts and bird tours. In fact, I lead some bird tours. The big cameras and lists are over the top. just heard a crow. We've had crows all winter. Usually we don't see them until the end of March.It's been a beautiful day here...sunny, plus 2 C. I did go out but I'm protecting myself with this broken collar bone. I don't want to fall again.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I just caught up with several of your posts, and they gave me lots to think about. I am feeling stressed and a little impatient because I have a lot of things I promised to do and many more that I actually WANT to do, and I just don't work at the pace I once did. So I have to keep reminding myself to accept what is. Including the lack of birds in our yard because we had to cut back the huge tree where we could hang feeders. But yes, feeders brought the birds that taught us to love and admire them, and that's a blessing!

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

They are wonderful creatures.
great shot.

Have a blessed week

Glenda Beall said...

Again, your post hits home with me. My blog post today is about Aid in Dying. I saw a piece on that this morning on CBS Sunday Morning. I also want to learn if there is more I can do about end of life that I haven't done. When your doctor doesn't offer anything of value to help with the fatigue and pain you live with all the time and when she says kindly, "I hate to mention it, but we can't discount your age." Well, that gets one to thinking.
Have a great week, DJan. I know you will.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

You're the most evolved paragon of a Sagittarian, DJan. You haven't just fulfilled the archetypal potential of that sign, you've surpassed it! A beautiful post.

Rita said...

Cost, mess, and rodents--plus I think it's against the rules here in our apartment complex--those are the reasons I don't feed the birds even though I love watching them.
Sounds like a good book! Maybe if we get set up here with library outreach I can ask for some books again. I put it on my library list. :)
Funny, I was just thinking about how when I was a teenager I wrote about my goal in life being that when I leave this world I hoped that if anyone thought of me that they would smile...even if they didn't remember my name. When we were little my mom had a job delivering photographs around Minneapolis and I remember being in the back seat and looking out the window at the drivers behind us at the stop lights. I would smile and wave at people till they smiled back. Nothing made my day more than seeing the face of someone who looked crabby or angry or sad break into a reluctant smile. It is still my goal in life. To lift souls, I guess. To hopefully add and not subtract. ;)
You do that, my friend. I always think of you and smile. :) :)

Friko said...

I’ve been away from blogging for much of the past few weeks, have barely had time to do any posting myself, but I am feeling easier in my mind and hope to visit your Sunday morning thoughts more often again.

This business of preparing for an end with dignity is much on everybody’s mind. You have given me the idea that I should make some kind of forward directive myself; we have Wills and other official documents signed but writing a ‘last wishes’ paper has not really crossed my mind before. I must think about it carefully.

I both feed and watch the birds in my garden and derive much pleasure from them. There’s an awful lot of life going on out there; I hope I will soon be out there myself, gardening.

Barb said...

I stopped feeding the birds many years ago when the coyotes were drawn to the feeder in the winter and the bears in the summer. Sometimes, I throw out bread or crackers for the Gray Jays - they swoop and clean them up in no time. I've heard that book is very moving. Just what you shared brought tears to my eyes.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Just popped in to wish you a fabulous weekend and a grand week ahead.

stay blessed.