"Coloring the Conservation Conversation--One Word at a Time!"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Me!

It is a New Year and I suppose there needs to be some compulsion to write a blog to such.  As the 365th day clicked off of the calendar, I looked in the rear view mirror of the months trying to put some label on the year.  Why not do it by season? The seasons are certainly easy to define.  Well, let me take that back, they used to be easy to define –by temperature and the passage of migrant birds in autumn, the dying of things in winter and the rebirth of the same in spring; the swelter of summer and the world growing wild.  Things now though seem to be all askew with March temperatures visiting us in December and neotropical migrants that should be cavorting with toucans somewhere south of the equator hanging back to enjoy the confusion that climate change is bringing. The deer folk seem to like the chill of an October frost but those have been a rarity of late, with make-me-shiver temps not coming until late after Thanksgiving or into the next year. And so seasonally defining this past year would be a difficult thing for me.  There are others things to define my seasons though—dispositions of the heart and soul.

My year begins with autumn.   I am a Fall person at heart.  I feel at my best in that season of dramatic change when leaves blush brilliantly and things are moving to meet the demands that survival requires.  Autumn is the season of the hunt and the chase.  This past year was in some ways an autumnal one for me, full of change and the possibilities for it—some potentially extreme.  In the hunting, I’ve found new dimensions of me that will require senescence –some cleaving away to die, so that other things can be reborn in another season.  I think I’m migrating mentally to survive the next phase of my late 40-something life, whatever that might be.  In my autumn, the frost has fallen on some things that have been fixtures.  It is time for them to fall away and become the nourishment for new growth.

Winter is the season of silence and contemplation.  Imagine woodland lying silently, eerily, in new snow.  It is as if someone or something has laid a white blanket over everything. Winter snows are uncommon here but when they come, I must be out in it somewhere where the silence still sits. These are the times  and places to think cleanly ; maybe to trace the tracks of wild things that might otherwise go unseen.  In my winter, I learned to love the beauty of bare-boned sycamores—all splotchy green and chalky white—as much as their towering green canopies filled with birdsong.  I thought deeply about a lot—maybe too much.  Me thinking is a dangerous thing, but it is largely all I have and so it is what I do in the time of dormancy.

In the season where trees bare their boney branches and the skies are often leaden with low hanging clouds, things formerly secreted away in leaves or green tangles are exposed.  It is naked nature.  A white-eyed vireo’s nest that was once carefully concealed in a tangle of briers and saplings to raise the next generation of skulking, scolding, spectacled songsters hangs now in tatters. I can only imagine that it was hidden well enough to keep the cowbirds away and the rat snakes at bay.  An empty bird’s nest is an allegory for hope.
My winter was a revealing one too.  Perhaps middle age brings the truth of what lies beneath to a mortal reality.  Half way up and half way to go, one begins to see things in a different light.  A low- sitting winter sun suffuses everything with a stark, limited illumination that you know will only last for so long.  The coming solstice will bring darkness earlier and earlier.   Sitting in a deer stand in the last days of the season, the evening hunts are almost melancholic for me.  I sit and wait for deer to emerge from the shadows but it is a limited hope.  They tend to come out mostly beyond my capability of seeing them; presenting slim silhouettes at which I am unwilling to take shots that would not be true.  In my winter, I am learning to accept those images that step out of the shadows and appreciate  their  amorphous beauty without having to possess them.  Uncertainty is—or has been—an uncomfortable thing for me.  Even as a scientist who has been trained to accept certain levels of it, I want somehow to control things, lower the “p” value that life presents.   This past winter taught me that the unsure things are to be relished; that control is not a necessity.  The mantra that Philip Booth teaches in his poem “How to See Deer”—“Expect nothing always—Find your luck slowly” is one I repeat several times daily. It helps me to understand the limits of the light and to temper expectations. The deer will come in good light and in life the opportunities to make “clean shots” will too. I must simply learn to “wait without waiting.”  

 And then there was spring and summer--the seasons of rebirth, growth and maturation.  After the melancholy of low light, I anticipate spring as much as anyone.  The buzz of the first northern parula or twittering of the first purple martin in March is a sign of life’s resilience.  It is a burgeoning of biota as things spring from the ground, bloom, throw caution (and pollen) to the wind to recreate and procreate. My spring was filled with the trill and thrill of dawn chorus and the will to awaken those around me to new ways of thinking and being.
I learned this past year that I am still growing—although not as rapidly as I once did, I am still putting on the sapwood.  Physically, it is something that is all too easy to do.  Mentally and spiritually it is something that seems to have accelerated in this past vernal swing.  My mind bloomed to a fresh, new openness in many ways.  Ideas that sat like bulbs underneath my soul’s soil unfurled themselves and struggled up to find the light of a brighter sun.  In my summer it all grew to abundance, sending out tendrils and wandering roots to gather nutrients, space and light to bolster the new being.  And so in the seasons of me, I have come full cycle to another opportunity for change, contemplation, rebirth and growth.  I look forward to the next whatever happens to come.  I will share as it evolves  and hope that you will do the same.  Happy questing!



  1. I am awestruck...I can't think at this exact moment; it's as if the vibrancy of your words have reached out from the page and grabbed my hands and have me in a sort of semi-hypnotic state...The blend of science and figurative language awakening the senses, done so eloquently, without the drone of scientific vocabulary that would tend to wear us lay people down...but words that live so beautifully in harmony with nature... V.Leaverette

  2. Drew,

    There are some superbly profound statements in this peace. As usual, you continue to provide a sense of admiration and inspiration.

    My TG project has focused on phenology, so I can completely relate to your comments about confused seasons and ecological relationships. We can no longer easily define the seasons by what once happened in nature in predictable timings.

    I too, am a fall person. I love the line “I’ve found new dimensions of me that will require senescence”. I once for a short time studied senescence in the abscission zones of plants – that small area where leaves, after being drained of chlorophyll, will break off from the mother plan. There is beauty in the aging process, recognized by too few.

    “…the beauty of bare-boned sycamores” – Simply lovely as anyone who has truly observed a sycamore in winter would know.

    “An empty bird’s nest is an allegory for hope.” – I saw several on the CBCs I recently participated in. It is always fun to see in winter that which was not obvious in the other seasons, but I love the idea (but would have never thought to consider them in this way) that these are a symbol of hope. In these times of continual international conflict, ecological disruption of massive scale, brains turning to mush by (cough) reality t.v., mindless media, hollow political campaigns, and perhaps also poor nutrition and a few too many contaminants, gosh knows that we indeed need hope.

    “Ideas that sat like bulbs underneath my soul’s soil unfurled themselves and struggled up to find the light of a brighter sun.” I am so glad that your ideas are being unfurled and that you are willing to share them in writing. I am still struggling to find my new voice after the TG and Wildbranch experiences, but those of us with scientific training must find a way to spread hope, information, truth, and show that there is much beauty around that is truly worth fighting for. Not to share with our highly educated peers, but to the people outside the ivory towers who have come to distrust both scientists and those who care deeply about the environment.

    “Me thinking is a dangerous thing…” – Well perhaps. But it is what the world needs; what we all need. Thanks for these reflections and a happy 2012 to you and your family.

  3. Smile....Wish you were here to go exploring...I found a third pond as I checked on the timber crew last week. I couldn't go to see it until the crew was finished in the area. Bundling up and going out the door in a few minutes...
    Love to you...Cheryl