Tag Archive 'wild birds'

Aug 09 2009

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Unexpected Encounters

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Earlier this week my granddaughter, Kaylee, and I found a couple crayfish in a sinkhole next to a stream.  While sitting on our porch, my wife and I spotted a yellow flicker in nearby trees – a bird I haven’t seen in years. I saw some kind of blue orchid in full bloom while hiking Jay Peak the other day.  A barred owl suddenly appeared a few yards off trail while I was hiking Aldis Hill a few weeks ago.  I saw a red fox and her two kits there once.  I want to say that such sightings are uncommon but that’s not the case.  They occur on a regular basis.  It’s just that they always catch me off guard.  Why is that?

Often I venture into the woods with binoculars or a field guide in hand, looking for the rare and beautiful.  I am usually disappointed.  Nearly every attempt I’ve made to track down large animals – bear, moose, or deer – has come to nothing.  Yet I bump into wildlife frequently enough.  I’ve never been able to see a mink on cue, but I see them every once in a while as I’m fishing.  Same goes for eagles, otters and pine martens.  I can spot a chipmunk or squirrel a few minutes after stepping into the woods, but running into a coyote is always a fluke.  It’s almost as if I see more of the wild when I’m not looking for it.

Why are these encounters so unexpected?  I’m not sure but I suspect it has something to do with the assumptions that we make.  We go about our business, immersed in a world of our own making, going in and out of buildings, negotiating a complex network of streets and roads, entertaining ourselves electronically, and it appears that existence is all about us.  Everything else is peripheral.  Everything else is, well, inconsequential – there only to meet our needs.  The whole universe revolves around us.  Isn’t it obvious?  In this context, it’s hard to imagine plants and animals having a life of their own.

We go to zoos to see animals, and gardens to see plants.  But we venture into the wild to be surprised.  Sometimes we are surprised by what we don’t find there.  Almost always something pops up that we haven’t anticipated.  Remarkably, we often miss the unexpected because our thoughts are elsewhere.  This is the curse of having so much gray matter between the ears.  Our lives are more abstract than we realize.

As a philosopher – a ponderer of things to the point of absurdity – I am more guilty than most of missing what’s right in front of me.  Consequently, when I’m in the woods I am more surprised.  The wild never ceases to amaze me.  Waterfalls, rainbows, red efts on the trail, and bizarre-looking mushrooms arising overnight – all this should be expected.  Yet I’m surprised.  Oddly enough, encounters such as these are what I live for. Go figure.

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