chickadee memories

image credit: pixabay

Inside their skulls, the sophistication of the neural capacity of black-capped chickadees increases in autumn. The part of the brain that stores spatial information gets larger and more complex, allowing the birds to remember the locations of the seeds and insects that they cache under bark and in clusters of lichen. The superior memory of the birds that I hear in the tips of the fir tree is a neuronal preparation for the hungry days of late autumn and winter. The seat of spatial memory in the brains of chickadees that live in these northern forests is particularly voluminous and densely wired. Natural selection has worked winter into the birds’ heads, molding the brains so that chickadees can survive even when food is scarce.

Chickadee memories also live within societal relationships. The birds are keen observers of their flockmates. If one bird should happen on a novel way of finding or processing food, others will learn from what they see. Once acquired, the memory no longer depends on the life of any individual. The memory passes through the generations, living in the social network.

~ David George Haskell
(The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors)

Chickadees were probably the first birds I became aware of when I was a little girl. They frequented my mother’s birdfeeder which was right outside our dining room window. (Our tiny Cape Cod style house didn’t have a breakfast room or eat-in kitchen.) I still remember eating my breakfast at the table in the winter and the cold blast of air that made me shiver when Mom opened the window to spread more seeds out onto the protected platform.

I remember playing out in the snowy winter woods with the chickadee fee-bee song playing in the background. And the well known chickadee-dee-dee alarm call. My father taught me to recognize their warning call, which I often hear out of the blue on our walks in the woods these days. My guess is we might be entering someone’s territory so we respectfully move on quickly.

10.25.15 ~ woodpecker
photo by Tim

For many winters now we’ve been hanging a suet feeder on our condo balcony to attract the woodpeckers I also love. Chickadees hang around and glean the seeds that fall out of the suet while the woodpeckers are feeding. Unfortunately starlings have figured out how to hang onto the suet feeder and they wreak havoc with their large numbers. Why can’t they come one or two at a time like the woodpeckers and chickadees? We also welcome a fair number of titmice, nuthatches and juncos.

Every winter our neighbor complains that the birds poop on his balcony. For this winter I had planned to not put out the suet feeder in the interest of being neighborly but, unbeknownst to me, my thoughtful husband bought a few months worth of suet cakes he found on sale. A woodpecker already came by the other day and was hanging onto the sliding glass door screen, inquiring within about the missing feeder, no doubt. And the chickadees have also been checking out the balcony, it seems to be much earlier than usual this year. I used to put the feeder out mid-October, after Columbus Day. But the fall colors have arrived two weeks early; perhaps the birds are ahead of schedule, too.

Because our neighbor goes out on his balcony to smoke a cigar and the unpleasant fumes come into our unit even when the windows are shut, we’ve mostly ignored his complaints about our bird feeding. Tit for tat. I have a funny feeling my resolve to not feed the birds this winter is crumbling. Watching them brings me so much joy in the winter! Maybe just one more winter, since we are in quarantine? I’m going around in circles weighing the pros and cons… I have to decide now!!!

Wish the bird feeding quandary was the worst of my worries. Connecticut College now has 24 students in quarantine, a cluster of 4 positive cases and their friends. One of the students was in my sister’s class a week ago. All her classes are outdoors and all her students are wearing masks, still, I worry about her safety. It’s a grim feeling, the virus keeps coming closer and closer…

And now our reckless president has tested positive for COVID-19.

throwback thursday

1971-2 ~ Barbara, 9th grade

Adolescent angst captured in a sketch by my art teacher, whose name I have long forgotten… Still sorting through the boxes of stuff from my parents and grandparents…

Do you have any memories of the 1968 flu pandemic?

I have finished reading a book on the 1918 flu pandemic and was surprised to learn that there have been two flu pandemics since 1918 and both of them were in my lifetime. The 1918 flu was caused by the H1N1 virus. Another pandemic in 1957, the year I was born, was caused by the H2N2 virus. And in 1968, what we called the Hong Kong flu at the time, H3N2, happened when I was 11 years old.

The 1968 pandemic killed an estimated one to four million people worldwide. I had no idea! We haven’t got to one million deaths from COVID-19 yet, though it seems likely we will soon. Did my parents protect me from this news as it was happening? They weren’t shielding me from news about the Vietnam War…

It was the “Hong Kong” flu, though, because that’s what everyone was saying we had. For Christmas vacation in 1968 we (parents, sister and I) drove from Connecticut to Florida, picking up a couple of widowed aunts along the way, to spend the holidays with another aunt and uncle at their mobile home in Fort Myers, Florida. (I think some more relatives might have been staying in nearby motels. Not sure that all of us could have slept in a two bedroom mobile home.) But that is where and when we all came down with it.

All of us, except one, a 26-year-old cousin who kept harping on the “fact” that he wasn’t sick because he took lots of vitamin C. My sickbed was an air mattress in the living room so I wasn’t spared his endless crowing and the groaning, moaning, miserable grown-ups telling him over and over again to shut up. And that is my only memory of that Christmas and that pandemic.

I wonder how terrified I might have been had I known so many were dying.

Tomorrow we break out of our bubble to get our yearly flu shots. It seems worth the risk. Instead of wandering into CVS and waiting around, we had to make appointments and have been instructed to wait in the car until we are called in for our turns. Feeling jittery.

crickets

“The Boys on the Grass” by Ilya Repin

Further in Summer than the Birds —
Pathetic from the Grass —
A minor Nation celebrates
It’s unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen —
So gradual the Grace
A gentle Custom it becomes —
Enlarging Loneliness —

Antiquest felt at Noon —
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify —

Remit as yet no Grace —
No furrow on the Glow,
But a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #895)

New London County now has 1,499 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 3 people are in the hospital and 106 have lost their lives. That’s 66 new cases but 3 fewer in the hospital since August 9. College students are returning to their dorms and time will tell how well they do with social distancing.

timelessness and quiet ecstasy

7.14.20 ~ ring-billed gull cooling his feet at Eastern Point Beach

The humidity lowered just a tad on Tuesday morning so we snuck down to the beach for an early morning walk. The only gull out and about was on the rocks, a ring-billed one with his bright yellow legs. He wanted to be friends and walk along with us.

When we went down on the sand he decided to come, too, and lead the way.

follow me, please
pardon me while I cool off my feet again

Then Tim spotted a butterfly flitting about on the wrack line!

monarch butterfly

When it moved to the sand I tried to get a shot of it with its wings open.

shadow on the sand

Yet there are other windows through which we humans can look out into the world around us, windows through which the mystics and the holy men of the East, and the founders of the great world religions, have gazed as they searched for the meaning and purpose of our life on earth, not only in the wondrous beauty of the world, but also in its darkness and ugliness. And those Masters contemplated the truths that they saw, not with their minds only but with their hearts and souls too. From those revelations came the spiritual essence of the great scripitures, the holy books, and the most beautiful mystic poems and writings. That afternoon, it had been as though an unseen hand had drawn back a curtain and, for the briefest moment, I had seen through such a window. In a flash of “outsight” I had known timelessness and quiet ecstasy, sensed a truth of which mainstream science is merely a small fraction. And I knew that the revelation would be with me for the rest of my life, imperfectly remembered yet always within. A source of strength on which I could draw when life seemed harsh or cruel or desperate.
~ Jane Goodall
(Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey)

nature’s delightful composition
gull tracks
song sparrow having its breakfast

I’d sit on logs like pulpits
listen to the sermon
of sparrows
and find god in Simplicity,
there amongst the dandelion
and thorn

~ Jewel
(A Night Without Armor)

wild carrot (Queen Anne’s lace)

We now have 144 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,345 confirmed cases. Of those 4 are still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. I fret over the figures coming out of North Carolina and Georgia, where my children live. Stay safe and take care…

persuaded to live with trees

5.14.20 ~ The Merritt Family Forest, Groton, Connecticut
a colonial stone slab bridge crosses Eccleston Brook
This property was acquired by the Groton Open Space Association
in May of 2008
5.14.20 ~ robin in the Merritt Family Forest
I loved the way this tree was growing on a flat stone “stage”

The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. How easily we might walk onward into opening the landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

living with trees

The Merritt Family Forest is part of a large block of forested open space. The upper portion includes a steep, rocky, wooded upland with a mature hardwood forest. Descendants claim the forest remained uncut since the family acquired the property in 1848. The lower portion includes a meadow, and hosts a Tier 1 vernal pool and two Class A streams – Eccleston Brook and an intermittent tributary. Eccleston Brook flows into Palmer Cove, Fisher’s Island Sound and Long Island Sound.
~ Groton Open Space Association website

glacial erratic
moss
ferns
5.14.20 ~ Jack-in-the-pulpit, side view
5.14.20 ~ Jack-in-the-pulpit, front view

I had an especially good time enjoying the paths through the trees on that lovely, warm spring day. And I had an enjoyable afternoon creating this post today, a month later. A pleasant memory to savor. It’s been rough the past few weeks, battling the poison ivy. Tomorrow will be my last dose of prednisone and it will be nice to say goodbye to its side-effects, for me, anxiety and a headache. It’s no fun being up half the night with a panic attack! I’m ready to start living again. 🙂

enjoyable moments

5.21.20 ~ chipmunk
Fennerswood Preserve, Stonington, Connecticut

For the animal to be happy it is enough that this moment be enjoyable. But man is hardly satisfied with this at all. He is much more concerned to have enjoyable memories and expectations — especially the latter. With these assured, he can put up with an extremely miserable present. Without this assurance, he can be extremely miserable in the midst of immediate physical pleasure.
~ Alan Watts
(The Wisdom of Insecurity)

I enjoy all the hours of life. Few persons have such susceptibility to pleasure; as a countryman will say, “I was at sea a month and never missed a meal,” so I eat my dinner and sow my turnips, yet do I never, I think, fear death. It seems to me so often a relief, a rendering-up of responsibility, a quittance of so many vexatoius trifles.

It is greatest to believe and to hope well of the world, because the one who does so, quits the world of experience, and makes the world they live in.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Journal, May 1843)

throwback thursday

1973? ~ Tim and Dan (#2)
They look more alike now than they did back then!

Tim (#1) had five younger brothers. Recently brother Dan shared these photos from his collection with us. Sometimes being in quarantine starts a trip or two down memory lane. Sadly, Toby is no longer with us.

1973? ~ Tim and Toby (#4) (1960-2013)

So Connecticut started to reopen yesterday, apparently the last state to begin loosening restrictions. Time will tell what this will mean for us. But since the state had 314 new COVID-19 cases the day before we will remain in our bubble for the foreseeable future. The deadly virus is still out there.

Our mayor has decided to open the beach for the summer on June 20, with plenty of restrictions. No day passes. Only season passes with no guarantee that you can get in if the beach is full. No picnic tables and no concession stand. Restrooms will be monitored and only one person with a mask allowed in at a time. Masks to be worn at all times unless you’re sitting or lying on your blanket. People in high risk categories (like us) shouldn’t come. I actually agree with all of this. It seems like the best compromise. The mayor was in a tough spot, damned by someone or other no matter what he decided to do.

What I will miss the most is the chance to see my gull friend with the mangled leg. And to sit on a bench with my husband and eat our supper while watching the ferries and sailboats and gull antics. Enjoying the sea breeze. But it is a necessary sacrifice we’re willing to make.

We now have 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 880 confirmed cases. Of those 24 are still in the hospital and 66 have lost their lives.

revisiting a journey in memory

“Mountain Lakes, Olden, Norway” by Willard Metcalf

Another thing we can do in our own rooms is to return to travels we have already taken. This is not a fashionable idea. Most of the time, we are given powerful encouragement to engineer new kinds of travel experiences. The idea of making a big deal of revisiting a journey in memory sounds a little strange – or simply sad. This is an enormous pity. We are hugely careless curators of our own pasts. We push the important scenes that have happened to us at the back of the cupboard of our minds and don’t particularly expect to see them ever again.
~ The Book of Life ~ On Confinement

ten years blogging

“Getting Ready for Winter” by Šarūnas Burdulis
American red squirrel descaling and eating hemlock seeds

I found this picture some time ago on Wikimedia Commons and have been saving it for pairing with a poem or a quote but, so far, nothing has turned up to inspire. However, today is my ten year blogging anniversary and the timing seems right. The picture captures the best of my childhood memories in the woods. I used to pretend those tiny hemlock cones were bushes for the landscaping around the little houses I built in my sandbox…

After about a month of doing well on medication for the radiation proctitis I suffered a setback at the end of January, leaving me frustrated and discouraged and tied to the house again. We’re trying something new and hoping things will improve soon. In the meantime I’ve pushed myself to resume my yoga for seniors, which I hadn’t done since last fall when I got so sick. And much to my surprise, I’ve taken up doing jigsaw puzzles! It seems easier than reading these days. Using a different part of my weary brain, no doubt. Watching the birds at my feeder provides hours of entertainment.

Naturally a lot has changed in ten years since I started blogging! I used to spend more time sharing images, lyrics, poetry, and quotes, and I still love a good pairing of words and pictures now and then. Now, my main joys seem to be nature walks and photography and family history research. I do hope I will be able to get back to them in the near future.