Day 15: Thai food and a beer, turkeys and mindfulness?

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This is sunrise in my front yard. I love the views so very much!

I am sitting at my computer having leftover Thai food for lunch, accompanied by a Shipyard Chamberlain Pale Ale, I love Maine and it’s pile of breweries, while ruminating on my morning and the past few days. While searching for words, I looked up and saw a doe with her fawn grazing under a tree in the back yard and I am reminded that I need to put up “No hunting” signs on the perimeter of our property.

Something I haven’t really mentioned much is that I see a therapist. I see her for anxiety and depression, and help with getting through the shit show that has been our private lives since September. The shit show is very private, and very personal, so I will not delve into the details of that, but it has made all of the mind gnomes I have even more active and malicious.

The entire episode has been heartbreaking to deal with, but the flip side of the coin is that through all the rage, pain, and defeat, we as a family have found strength, unity, and a better sense of self and center.  We have more family time, we hang out more, communicate better, and overall we seem to be on a good path forward.

The point of the above is that I have always been a fairly high-strung person, and it has only been in the past few years that I have been given a clinical diagnosis of what is going on, and anxiety is a major part of that diagnosis. You wouldn’t know it to look at me most days, but my brain is working overtime, and my muscles are in a wad. I am thinking 15 different things, two scenarios where my world comes to an end, and 25 conversations I have had or will be having, and what I should say, have said, or wished I said. I don’t sleep well, and I have cracked a tooth thanks to grinding my jaw.

A major source of my issues is that I can’t sit still, and even if I do, I am rarely calm. Because of this, my therapist wants me to try mindfulness meditation. She tried using Heartmath on me last week, and to say I was an outlier would be an understatement. When I was focused, or in a place where I should have been fully focused, calm, and mindful, I was at the opposite end of the scale from where I should be, and when I should have been revved up, excited, not mindful, I was in the area where I should have been if I were totally centered. We both got a snicker of that, so today she tried an actual app that forced me to relax.

Today’s exercise was with Headspace, and it did seem to work a bit. I was able to take full stock of my physical self, and see what my brain was doing, and by that I mean it was running amok. As usual. Know what happens when you have spent several years learning to bird by ear? Shutting out the sounds of birdsong becomes an exercise in frustration. I did feel that there was no muscle group in my body that wasn’t tense, and I wondered why all of my weight was shifted left. In other words: I have a long ways to go.

In other news: we have a flock of Wild Turkeys in our yard, and they come in every day for food. Some times it is the full flock of 11, most of the time it is nine or five of them. My favorite thing about them is how darned big they are, and the dinosaur footprints they leave all over the place in the snow. My last favorite thing is the piles of turkey poop all over the place, though I suppose the grass will appreciate it as spring comes along.

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Part of the flock of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo) that think the feeder table is for them.

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I do have Hobbit-sized hands, but these tracks remind me of what dinosaur tracks might look like!

Day 13: SPRING HAS SPRUNG! Er, under the foot of snow.

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Boothbay Harbor, Maine. March 18, 2017 – Snow on the beach?

Today marks the Spring Equinox, which means even more daylight every day, leading up to the Summer Solstice here in mid-Maine, where we will have around 16 hours of daylight. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to actual consistent warm, but as far as winters go? This one did not bother me nearly so much as any of the ones in Indiana, even with two blizzards, want to know why? In one, simple, glorious word? Sunshine.

In Indiana, the best descriptor for the months from November to April is a big, cold, gray ball of suck. The sun is a somewhat rare visitor, which makes the months even harder. Here in Maine? The sun will disappear for a day or two during a weather event, but then it will be back in full, glorious, radiant UV splendor. I have to admit that the usual wintertime blues were mostly absent this year, which was a great relief to the entire family.

Back to this being the spring equinox: some folks here don’t think it feels very much like spring at all, but I disagree. Yes, we might have piles of snow in excess of 10 feet in some parking lots, and drifts up to my hips in the yard in some spots, but those obvious signs of winter aside, it was 51 degrees here today, and I counted no less than five species of birds singing. For an ornithologist, singing is a great sign, it shows that yes, the photoperiod is getting longer, and it is time to really start thinking about the gardens, the bluebird trail I want to start, and watching the sun rise out of my bedroom window at 05:00. It’s not as awful as it sounds; life starts early and is lived in glorious color for hours!

Now, back to the picture above: this past weekend, Youngest Spawn had a two-day basketball tournament in Boothbay Harbor, which is a cute little tourist destination here in Maine during the summer months. In the off-season? It’s a little deserted, but it affords a great opportunity to wander and figure out what in on the menu for the warmer months.

My list, in short, for Boothbay Harbor this summer:

Basically, we have decided that we are settled into Maine now, so we are going to become a part of the state fun. Acadia, Downeast, Machias, kayaking, hiking, Birds on Tap, you name it. For a state with a small population, there is so much to do, and we are looking forward to doing a bunch!

A bit of fun for the weekend: we finally tried the famous Red Barn this weekend. This place is a one-stop place for great food, friendly people, and a huge helping of the best of Maine hospitality. The owner, Laura, has made it her mission in life to be a stellar and shining example of the best of humanity. Have a cause that is near and dear to your heart and needs funding? Laura will have a donation night. Hungry but out of money? Folks here pay it forward by buying extra meals and putting a note on a board, you don’t go away with a gnawing belly. Need an uplifting hug because your day has sucked? She has you covered. This place is where you go to know that humanity still exists, and will hold out a hand to anyone that needs it to get up.

Now that I have lit a spark of happy in you, I am off to tackle more data. I have gotten through more than 30 pages today, and missed volleyball to keep working because I am in that kind of mood. Have a great one, whomever you are, wherever you are, and know: you matter!

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Me, in a nutshell.

P.S… I also netted a life bird this weekend: Kind Eider in breeding plumage with three ladyfriends. Whoooo!

Day 8: why Maineiac, and what in the world do swans have to do with anything?

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This is why swans. Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) adults with yellow bands, by juveniles, Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). My photo, January 2016, Indiana.

I know, I know, “What gives? Your blog name makes zero sense”! If you know me on a personal level, it makes 100% sense all over the place. The above photo is one I took at my winter study site while counting Trumpeter Swans for my Master’s Thesis. Watching these huge white birds, the largest water bird on the North American continent, several times per week, and learning about them really made me feel a connection to them. I joke and call the Trumpeters in this wintering area “My Swans!”, and I hope some of them are still present when I go to Indiana to defend later this winter.

Like many folks, when you say the word “swan”, I used to immediately go to the mental image of the Mute Swan, the big fluffy “love” swan that is depicted in most movies, literature, and is most commonly found in park settings.

Let me tell you something about the Mute Swan: this bird is a right bastard, and it doesn’t belong in the United States or Canada, unless it’s in a zoo.

Wait. What? No! It’s so pretty, and full of whimsy!

No.

It’s an invasive species that is horrendously mean to native waterfowl, strips native vegetation, and mucks up waterways with its waste. It’s such a pain in the ass for conservation that the Department of Environmental Conservation in the State of New York wanted to eradicate them, but thanks to public outcry, had to modify their plans.

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No, seriously, these guys are aggressive dicks, no matter your feelings on Canada Geese. Photo by Harmonica Pete

My frustration with the Mute is that people make baseless, factless assertions that the Mute Swan is native because it has been here since the 1800’s, no. A native species is one that is endemic to its area, not one that required human intervention for transport and breeding. That it is pretty, so it should be allowed to remain, unchecked, in areas shared by native waterfowl suffering from decline.

I have even heard utter nonsense such as: “The DNR wants the eradicate the Mute Swan so it can introduce the larger Trumpeter Swan as a game species”, as noted in this petition. I cannot wrap my head around that bit of stupidity. The fact is, the Trumpeter Swan is not legal to hunt in any state of the union. Not. One. It missed being included on the Endangered Species List by timing and one last population stronghold in Eastern Canada and Alaska. It is only one of two swans native in North America, the other being the Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus), which is allowed to be hunted in only five states, including South Dakota. Most of those states have a strict bag limit, and as soon as a certain number of accidental takes of Trumpeters is reached, the season is closed.

Upon reflection, my level of irateness at the Mute Swan is merely an indicator of overall annoyance at wildlife management, environmental stewardship, and the generally cavalier attitude portrayed by the public, and many of our elected officials. As someone who has been involved with several species who were endangered, are endangered, and can easily be so again, this is a huge, raw nerve.

If you think swans are as stunning as I am, if you would love to know more about our largest native swan, the Trumpeter, I highly recommend The Trumpeter Swan Society. I am a member, and I cannot say enough about their dedication and commitment to these magnificent animals, from restoration and tracking, to education, facts, outreach, and conservation efforts.

Okay, native bird lover rant mode off…

On to the “Maineiac”: yes, I do in fact know how to spell, this is in reference to the recent relocation from the heartland of America to a coastal state, one that I have absolutely fallen in love with. Maine. Of course according to Urban Dictionary, a “Maineiac” is at least a third generation Mainer, but eh, as long as you are a year-round resident, you’re good. Yes, the governor is a teabagging nutter, but this state? It is beautiful, the sun shines most of the time, and Mainers make Midwestern hospitality look like hostility.

So, there you have not only the genesis of “Maineiac Swan”, but also a rant. Call it a twofer, you’re welcome!

Day 5: I think my tractor’s sexy!!!

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Me and Emily, our John Deere 1023E tractor. I love her, quite a lot.

Before I moved to Maine, if you had said not only would I own a tractor, but I would name it, and absolutely adore it, I would have told you a) no, I won’t own one b) if I did, why would I anthropomorphize it with a name and c) adore a tractor? Pretty sure I said the same thing about owning a minivan, but I digress.

Last night we experienced our first Nor’easter, which dropped a foot of very wet, very heavy, incredibly beautiful snow. We can’t tell there is a field in the back past the mowed grass area, and so the non-forested five acres we have looks huge, including the snow-bound 400′ driveway.

This year, after purchasing the house in Maine, we knew we were going to need a riding mower, at minimum, but with more than seven acres, including forest, we decided we would probably need more. Enter Emily. Emily was hubs’ choice, and we didn’t get her until about a month after the house, so by the time she arrived, the lawn was in serious need of mowing, and she needed a name, but nothing was right.

When the kids arrived from their holiday in Alabama, they got to meet the tractor, and in order to explain hydraulics, we used the monarch butterflies we used to captive rear as an example. Sounds weird, right? If you have ever seen a caterpillar eclose from its chrysalis, it is simply astonishing; the abdomen is huge and distended, the wings tiny and useless. As the butterfly dries, it pumps its abdomen, forcing the fluid into the wings, plumping and unfurling them. Like this. It’s a three minute video, but if you have never witnessed it before, it’s fascinating!

The point of the preceding paragraph was that my kids have seen this many, many times, and it was the perfect example to explain hydraulics, they grasped the concept, and because we had borrowed a book from the library when they were little, and it was about “Emily the butterfly”, oldest spawn immediately slapped the “Emily” moniker on the tractor, and it stuck, so Emily she is.

As a side note: we are weirdos, and have named all of our vehicles. My van is “Arthur Dent”, because my kids are ginormous smart-asses, and after I had gotten t-boned, the van had a huge dent in it, thus Arthur (thanks, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). When we purchased hubs’ car, we went with the deep blue color, which immediately earned it the name “The TARDIS”, a la Dr Who. Yes, we are a family of total geeks, why do you ask?

When we purchased Emily, we put half down in cash, so I like to joke with hubs and tell him that my half is the paid off one, but in reality, we both knew he would be using her 90% of the time. Well, as it turns out, I usually do the mowing, but we argue over who gets to do so, and same with the snow removal. It’s fun to be out and about on the tractor, because it’s fresh air, and really, we’re city slickers, so: TRACTOR!

We have a list of implements we want to purchase, including a snow blower, and a tiller, but man, the tractor itself was dear enough, start adding on those implements, and the whole enchilada costs twice as much as my van is worth. We use the front end bucket to shove snow around, and it does the trick for now, but I feel the snow blower coming *sigh*. Using just the bucket, I was able to go dig out the mailboxes, and help my neighbors knock down some huge snow piles left by their plow man, which impeded their line of sight to get out to the road. They rewarded me with a pineapple. I put the pineapple in Emily’s cup holder for the ride home, and I cackled the whole way: a pineapple in the tractor in December in Maine. It was an amusing visual.

To wind this down, it is gorgeous here, and I adore my John Deere.

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