Heading West … Ohio to Indiana!

Time to head home … it’s been a long trip and with many more miles to drive before I get home. It was nice being off major roads, noticing just how beautiful our countryside is with its rolling green hills, seeing Amish driving their carriage with a horse, stopping at their bakery, contemplating a cheese curd stop, and loving less traffic!

I stayed at a nice campground in Homerville, Ohio … lakefront campsite, quiet as it was just the start of their season, and with land to explore while I stretched my legs. 

My typical routine: cook and eat dinner, then take a longer walk before the sun sets. Two birds caught my attention: singing robin and house wren jumping, actually about to fly off!

The next morning was beautiful. I wished for another day here, but it was time to move on.

I stopped at Alum Creek Park Reservoir in Lewis Center, Ohio. I looked for waterbirds on the reservoir and then walked their Storybook Trail. Plenty of birds here! I could not miss this Baltimore oriole.

By days end I was in the Indianapolis area, cooking dinner, and finally taking a walk at 7:00pm. This is not the best time for photography, but did see a house wren singing and a red-bellied woodpecker.

Next day …driving to Missouri!

In CT? Have You Visited Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center?

Mystic Connecticut is known for its aquarium, seaport, and historic village, yet do not overlook a visit to a very informative nature center surrounded by various hiking trails at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. I walked the Forest Loop, a meditative trail, around a couple of ponds, Meadow  and Ledge trails to enjoy the outdoors and observe wildlife.

The nature center was founded in 1946, and in 2013 it acquired the 45 acre Coogan Farm to protect the colonial (earliest 1646) farms including the Denison Homestead and Avalonia Land Conservancy. It was enjoyable walking the trails through diverse habitats which also link with the nearby neighborhoods, the nature school, other businesses and nature center. There was much more for me to check out if I had time to do so, but not on this visit. 

This center is located on the North Atlantic Migratory Flyway so a wonderful place to observe birds throughout the year. I did observe 10 different bird species during my visit. Also, squirrels were scurrying around and turtles were sunning themselves … everyone enjoying the day!

Here are some photos from this visit:

Common grackle
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Canada goose

Time to Connect or Not … 

Solo travelers, such as myself, can choose how connected we wish to be with others while we visit a place or observe some activity. There are times I want/need a quiet, meditative experience; other times, I enjoy newly discovered connections, shared moments, with individuals or people around me. 

With travel, one does not know the individuals one may interact with and/or if a possible connection, shared moment, or not will be made. This is a huge part of why I find solo travel so enjoyable. Conversations with people I had never known may spark new ideas in my brain as I listen to their point of view. This allows me think through what is said and to speak my mind to someone who cannot assume they know what I will say. Shared observations open my eyes to see and learn about something new or can be a reminder of things I should have known. It is the perfect time to be non-judgmental, in the moment, and with no expectation. When meeting new people it is time to break away from possible old habits, thinking you know what the person will say and not really listening. No assumptions can be made and thus I find myself more engaged and enjoying the moment. The level of connection, shared moment, varies upon the place and/or activity … and of course the individuals you’re with … and can be most fun!

I was at Southard’s Pond Park in Babylon, NY when I had an amazing shared moment while walking the trail and looking for birds. I met one woman and almost immediately we were sharing birding and photography info, talking about life, and the wonderful park with its wildlife. This woman patiently pointed out where a red morph Eastern screech owl was sitting, a new bird for my life list. Finally seeing it through many branches blowing in the wind and about 50 feet off trail, we continued walking, talking and observing birds for each other. When we bumped into another woman it was obvious she wanted her own space, so little was said to her and that was okay. Next we were talking with a man with his very young daughters. He was such an animated guy one could not help but be excited as he talked about the observations the 3 of them made, but he also wanted to know where the owl was… so we gave him the bird’s location. 

At one point I continued on and the woman I was walking with headed back to the parking lot. When I decided to return too, I got talking with another birder who was looking for the owl. I tried to help since I had seen the owl earlier, but which tree was that bird in? Before I knew it, the father with his daughters and the woman who initially pointed out the owl to me was returning to the spot. She pointed the owl out to all of us! There was such joy with help in locating the owl and seeing the young girls and father excited too. It was a magical moment; the power of connection, a shared moment, was perfect as we all saw the owl!

As I walked back to the parking lot I thought how wonderful a world would be if we could have more positive connections in the world. I struggle in understanding why there is so much negativity, conflict and disconnect among humans in the world. Why is there no desire to have a healthy, supportive, fair world for us all to live in for the decades we are only here? I simply do not understand the strife we put before ourselves when with the same energy we could do for the betterment of all. It seems this is one of those things I will never understand and can only do my part to to remain positive.

Thanks to the woman pointing out the red morph Eastern screech owl to me or I would never had seen it! It was a challenge taking this photo, the wind blowing tree branches in front of the bird, but I wanted it since few times do I see an owl.

I did see 15 different bird species on this walk. Photos of a mute swan and osprey are below. This is a nice park to visit if you are in the area. I’ll return someday as I did not walk all the trails and would like to do so.

Mother’s Day … 

This day is a special day to acknowledge the important work mothers do each and every day and to recognize those efforts. The majority of countries around the world recognize this date as the second Monday in May. 

To my Mom: Thank you for bringing me into the world, loving me and remaining in my life to the healthy age you are. It is always an interesting visit when with you. May you continue to be healthy and happy!

To all mothers: Never forget how special you are. You have worked hard caring, loving, and fighting for what you think is best for your child(ren). It takes tremendous energy and maybe you have not heard thank you often enough, but know you are appreciated, loved and respected … and thank you!

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Memories and Madness… What a Day!

While visiting family in New York State, I drove to the northern tip of Long Island, specifically Orient Point County Park. It’s been more than decade since visiting here. Driving past what once were duck and potato farms and large agricultural lands, now were vineyards, farms growing fruit and raising goats, numerous small businesses and certainly none of the usual fast food joints! My youngest sister and I had tasted Long Island wine at some beautifully located tasting rooms in the past, but never out this far on an island that is 118 miles long. 

I had an elementary school friend whose family owned another property in Greenport, located on the north shore, where the rocky terminal moraine ended its movement eons ago. My family and I grew up in Suffolk County on the south shore created by the sand from that terminal moraine glacial melt eons ago. The geologic history of the island is fascinating especially regarding glacial movement.

The Long Island Expressway is more than half the length of the island, 71 miles, and always feels like a racetrack! The speeding and traffic is a horrible combination and increases on weekends, thus I plan my travel during the week. Once off the expressway there are smaller roads to the island’s tip where people can ride the Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.

On this day I hoped to see some unique, or new to me, birds along the stony north shore looking out to Orient Point Lighthouse. The day was cool and sunny, slight wind, with birds off in the distance. I was carrying my tripod with my largest zoom lens about a half mile and trying to capture photos of the birds in the distance, but even with my binoculars I could not be sure of their identification. I would have to wait till looking at the photos when I returned back to our family home. That’ll be okay.

And then …

I had a long drive to return to my Mom’s home so I headed back with plans to stop at a supermarket. I plugged my phone’s cord into the USB  slot and the radio indicated “no media connected”. Then my new van’s back-up camera started working as I drove forward!! I could not drive forward and see this camera showing the road behind me at the same time … distracting! Very weird! After a short distance I pulled off the road, turned off the van, started again and had nothing at the radio. Fortunately I had a service appointment for an oil change the next day at a RAM dealership so I headed to that location while simultaneously handling a spurting nosebleed! WHAT!?! Now I really was crazed… it’s been years since ever having a nose bleed … yet with nose pinched with fingers on one hand and other hand on the steering wheel I continued down the road.

I arrived at the dealership, pulled straight in to a parking space, and explained to a service advisor they would be looking at more than an oil change the next day. I walked out to the parking lot now realizing I pulled into a parking space and wondered how I would safely back up the van with no back-up camera. What happened? Everything is working!!

What a day! Sigh…..

Next day I brought the van in for the oil change and the back-up camera and radio were still working! Okay, so that is good, except they will not be able to diagnose the problem because at the moment there is no problem! My solution has been to not turn the radio off. I will do so when finally home and deal with whatever happens then … closer to a RAM dealership … yet hope I have no major issue as I still need to drive west to get to my home.

The good news: I observed 3 new birds while at Orient Point County Park: great black-backed gull, long-tailed duck, and white-winged scoter with hopes I can eventually get better photos of each than the ones I have since I will be along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast, other side of the Long Island Sound, in the next week. But here are some of the birds:

Long-tailed duck
Double-crested cormorant and Great black-backed gull
Common loon
Osprey

Wildlife Surprise … Not a Bird!

My eyes are scanning … up, down, across … bushes and trees, the water’s surface while also wondering if a water bird will pop up through the surface and dive again, observing the ground and thinking the birds may not be enjoying the light rain that is currently falling … I too would fluff up and tuck away if I could! 

I am at Ithaca’s Stewart Park, located at the southern end of New York State’s largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of human activity when the weather cooperates. Some 10 -12 brave souls are learning and practicing sailing techniques in their sailboats, a couple of hearty fishermen are hoping to catch something and I am sitting in my van with the window open, camera and binoculars ready, and all of a sudden I notice something!

What is that drowned rat-looking creature? I think to myself, that animal is too large to be a weasel or a rat, I am guessing a mink. Thanks to the app, iNaturalist, I include a photo and the necessary info about time, date and location of my observation for others to agree or disagree with my identification. Here the American mink is running by:

American mink sniffing around…
And then it was running off!

I was surprised to see the mink since they are usually nocturnal, but the gray rainy weather may be throwing us all off kilter. The mink’s thick brown coat appeared to be soaking wet, possibly from just being in the water. Mink are known to rely on aquatic prey so it may be the reason it was active during the daytime. I like seeing other wildlife. My outdoor time is not only about birds, but observing the web of life firsthand … yet I do worry about its future… in this moment though, time to enjoy this critter as it will be gone in a flash! And so it was!

Upstate NYS Friends & Birds

It was snowing as I drove across the southern tier of New York State and I truly was not surprised. I grew up in New York State and had come to expect snow till mid-May … so my van was experiencing snow once again since our Grand Canyon visit months ago. If I continued to be in snow country months at a time there would certainly be a need for snow tires, but not now.

It was wonderful meeting friends for lunch at Ithaca’s Purity Ice Cream shop, talking with some friends by phone, walking with others at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods and Botanic Garden, and talking with colleagues at the school I last worked. I loved living in the Finger Lakes area when I did because there was tennis, hiking, road bicycling, cross-country skiing, cultural activities and opportunities, and ease in traveling to the Adirondack Mountains where I had a small shack to escape for my quiet, meditative time for more than 25 years. Despite being tremendously busy with my school administrative position, I made time to enjoy outdoor activities…yet I do not miss the snow … and thus I now live in Arizona!

Spending time and talking with my friends, and now additionally school friends, was interesting and just like old times: noticing and discussing what has changed and what has stayed the same, learning about their new adventures, hobbies and activities, commiserating and celebrating about various happenings, counting down time till summer vacation and/or retirement, and encouraging all to take time to enjoy life. I am concerned about the future of public education in America and consider myself fortunate to have retired when I did, but do miss all my friends! I am glad I caught up with those individuals I could and certainly appreciated them taking time to visit with me.

Here are a few photos from my visits at Cornell’s Sapsucker Woods:

White-throated sparrow
Tufted titmouse
Yellow-bellied sapsucker at Sapsucker Woods!
Red-bellied woodpecker, yet no red belly…

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Part 1: Borderlands

The lands bordering this national monument to the east are Native American land, belonging to the Tohono O’Odham, and to the south the nation of Mexico. In 1937, this land in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert was established a national monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1976, the United Nations designated it an International Biosphere Reserve. Scientific research studies are done of human impact on it. During our last US president’s term a border wall between the USA and Mexico was built and quite obvious from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

I drove to Lukeville, Arizona, a port-of-entry between USA and Mexico. Only essential travel is supposedly happening. There were few vehicles, but many young people with backpacks and others arriving by shuttle from Phoenix or Tucson walking across the pedestrian bridge to Mexico. I understand going across the border takes little time; however, returning to the USA can take 3 hours! I stopped at one of 2 stores on this border to buy an additional gallon of water. Most people were hanging out at the store to use their wifi. Cellular service is limited here. Another day, Friday afternoon about 2:30pm, I was a mile from the international border and traffic was backed up to this point. Maybe many travelers were visiting Rocky Point, Puerto Peñasco, a resort city on the Gulf of California for the weekend. 

I then drove a 2 mile dirt road east of Lukeville, Arizona, arriving at the Gachado Line Camp; an old adobe building with some wooden fences and downed barb-wire fencing. Driving to this point, one sees the border wall and at the camp you can walk up to the wall. You can hear Mexicans speaking; their homes are just on the other side of the wall. It was an eerie feeling and sad to think a barrier existed between us. Few people were driving this road, but a young man from Florida stopped at the adobe building too and we got talking about borders, walls, and the future of humanity. 

I then drove west of Lukeville, another dirt, wash-board road that parallels the border wall. Here one sees a highly trafficked road with truck trailers on Mexican Highway 2 also running parallel to the wall but on the other side of the wall. Again at certain spots I could walk up to the wall and the same eerie feeling descended on me. 

The Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation is to the east of Organ Pipe National Monument and, my understanding is, a 62 mile border wall exists with gates for people to walk through. While people of this tribe tried to educate others about the importance of protecting their ancestral lands and the migratory paths of the people and animals between Mexico and the USA, Border Patrol has jurisdiction 100 miles inland from US borders, giving it access to most of the reservation. One could spend time just studying the dynamics of the vehicle barriers and surveillance cameras in this area, but I will leave that to those who know more than me.

I wonder how neighborly we really are with the people of Tohona O’Odham Indian Reservation and Mexico? Are we doing the right things: respecting Native American culture, Mexican culture and understanding the plight of those who are escaping their homeland to travel thousands of miles to enter the USA? I am not sure. 

About 20 miles north of the national monument is Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range. The bombing range is between the US-Mexican border and Interstate 8 straddling the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife area and the Tohono O’odham Nation. As I write this post, I hear planes in the distance. I have no idea if this is usual or increased air activity. I hope for no world war, especially as we all continue to be concerned about the current Ukrainian – Russian war. Let there be peace!

Want an AZ Escape, No Cell or Wifi Service Where You Stay?

Recently my partner and I discovered a place in the wilderness of Arizona, north of Tucson. Since travel was within 2 hours from our home, we decided to check out the area and stay at Aravaipa Farms, Orchard & Inn for 3 nights. Here is the website: https://www.aravaipafarms.com

We stayed in a casita, purchased all 3 meals per day, and brought our own wine since at the time of our visit they did not have a liquor license. They are the friendliest people with fantastic cooks creating meals to meet our gluten-free, vegetarian and dietary needs. Since Covid was still the reality in Arizona, meals were delivered to us at our casita to be eaten there or as we did take our lunches on the hiking trails!

They have a farm with a burro, goats, miniature horses and chickens. They have an orchard with 900 trees: oranges, peaches, apricots and more. I loved bird-watching in the orchard, plus they have many bird houses hanging around the property. There are casitas of various sizes. We walked around their orchard and on some of the trails rights from their property. To arrive to their place, it is necessary to drive some final 4 miles on a dirt road, down a steep dirt driveway and across a creek, that had about 6 inches of water in it when we arrived, but all doable with a Honda Element.

Our favorite adventurous hike was the Brandenberg Mountain Ridge Trail. A short distance down the road from Aravaipa Farms, Orchard & Inn was the start of this trail. We hiked 2.5 miles to a lunch spot overlooking, in the distance, the place we were staying and with the orchard being easiest to notice along with great views. The mountain towered behind us at lunch, but on our way up we walked through a wash, steep incline and then an old jeep road on the ridge with so many options to stop for lunch and also make it our turn-around point.

Zoomed in for this photo so you can see the orchard where we stayed.

Another trail we enjoyed when we decided to hike beyond the creek trail was to head up Exploration Trail. This was a fascinating combination of hiking in washes and then to the top of the hill by following rock cairns (rock piles) and making our own way to the ridge to look to the other side. This trail is being created as I write.

One of many short sections off of Exploration Trail to explore!

At night, it is silent or you may hear an owl hooting! One night the wind whipped through the area for the entire night! Earlier that night we had been out walking and star-gazing, although chairs are available in a couple of locations if you wished to sit back and gaze up! We slept well each night after each day of fresh air, fun hiking and delicious food. 

Be sure to visit Aravaipa Farms, Orchard and Inn at https://www.aravaipafarms.com if you enjoy solitude, silence and an opportunity to hike, bird watch, star gaze or simply relax! 

Please know: to hike in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness you need a permit since the number of visitors per day is restricted. Permits are required in advance from recreation.gov for the West Entrance. 

If you are in the area, or staying at the inn, there are other trails to hike with no permit needed! We will return to Aravaipa Farms, Orchard and Inn and to hike Aravaipa Canyon Wildness when we are also ready to have wet feet since there are so many creek crossings there.

I See You, What’s Up?

It’s becoming habit now, my talking to the birds, especially when I see that “what’s up look” … cocked head, eyes looking straight at me with no judgment. How can I not respond?

Let’s talk, I say. Tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday. Is that, what is up? 

Or my concerns about the past year? Covid variants rampant worldwide, climate catastrophes: towns wiped out by tornados, wildfire, floods … or maybe gun violence, racial inequality, homelessness, poverty, hunger, disrupted supply chain for basic goods … or all of it and more. I am saddened as government leaders are slow to solve issues. At local levels we support area food banks, agencies helping those in need, and remain patient when all is not happening as quick as we wish. Local or even statewide help cannot do it all. If we could, we would!

You know what’s up? I could see how an autocrat comes to power. Provide … and provide … even if not in the best interests of their people, and people simply accept because they are in need. Gains fog over basic democratic principles and we lose ourself to another power because it provides. Are we on a downward spiral? The current worldwide chaos makes me wonder and worry. It is not just about the climate, but also the political, religious, economic freedoms we have, in some countries, that are global concerns. Look at a variety of countries, see how different each is and ask yourself if you would rather live within those borders. 

While I patiently wait for our political leaders to make big decisions providing for our entire country, I think about our own country’s history. This is not the first time our country has had huge challenges. We as a united people often did work together … there were depressions, weather catastrophes, political, economic, and/or medical strife around the world and within our own boundaries. Where is the united front today as we continue to face Covid with home and work environments forcing people to choose differently than they would have done 2 years ago? For many, life has been difficult. I want and wish for a united country so we and the rest of the world can get on with life with generosity, kindness and productivity. We are a humankind and need to live as one!

This bird, a phainopepla, continues to look at me. Its quizzical look brings back a memory for me … a time when I wondered what I should do. I had a friend in college who was suicidal. One particular night I discovered this fact, was over-whelmed, and quickly got my friend medical help that night. Sometimes now I have the same over-whelmed feeling and don’t know where my help is needed most. Do others see or feel what I do about our current state of affairs? Is what I do enough? Fortunately, I am reminded of what my Dad often said to me when I was in college, and probably what he would say now, “Do what you can do.” And so I shall one step at a time; thanks for asking, you cute little bird!

What’s up?