Even as a boy and newly-supplied with my first black-and-white camera I loved photographing birds. They provide the city with nature and music to an otherwise quiet forest, sometimes with a cacophony. As wildlife goes, birds are relatively benign, unlike moose, bears or snakes, and there are such a variety that endless communities of birdwatchers never tire of pondering them.
I remember the first time I saw an eagle in the wild, a massive golden eagle in the Mojave desert that stood about as tall as my 12-year-old body at the time. It was about a quarter mile away and we stopped and watched as it was joined by another gargantuan specimen with an unfortunate victim clutched in a claw. Obviously a mating pair, they wrestled for a few minutes on the ground before majestically taking to the cloudless blue sky. I had been hiking with other Boy Scouts and didn't have my camera, but I knew there would be a lifetime of opportunities in my life. I was right.
I often think about mammals having thinking brains, unlike most other types of life on the planet, but the more you watch wild birds the more you realize that they must also be thinking. They watch their surroundings, contemplate their options, then decide whether to flee, fight or try something new. I've seen jay birds figure out, after several attempts, how to open a squirrel feeder, and robins team up to fight off some annoying grackles. They amaze me.
Many times I have seen a bird of an uncommon species, like a yellow-headed blackbird or painted bunting, only to have it fly away as I scramble for my camera, even if it was close by. It may have been the only time in my life to see one live and close up and I have to be satisfied with the single viewing.
I received several great responses on this topic and here are some of them (I've edited or paraphrased some):
BLSMSS- I love birds in flight -- watching them catch the wind, just gliding -- looking so graceful at times, and the amazement of how they can see the smallest object and dive to get it. The wing span on some of the larger birds like the eagles are amazing. The best is the gorgeous palate of colors that many of them have.
Habadabeer- I like the feeling of superiority I get when I’m able to identify a bird, especially by song! For me, the biggest thrill is when I see them when they don’t know I’m there. The private personalities and range of behaviors of birds who aren’t spooked by a potential predator is amazing to see! Once you’ve observed any bird in action that intimately, you’ll have no doubt they are direct descendants of dinosaurs! I’ve seen little finches snag a moth and devour it with a ferocity that would put a lion to shame, then sing a quiet little song of joy to itself before reverting back to deadly hunter. At my sticks-and-bricks home I have hummingbirds that hover in front of my window looking inside to get my attention when they return every spring, just to let me know it’s time for me to hang my feeder there again. My grandmother used to hand-feed chickadees outside her kitchen every winter, and my Dad built bluebird houses and tracked their comings and goings every year when I was growing up, so there’s a strong family tradition of appreciating that I can relate too.
TheClearyClan- Some birds have a sick sense of humor. About 25 years ago there was a mockingbird that would watch us waiting for the bus to work in the early morning. The bus route passed through an "L" intersection a block-and-a-half from where we were waiting, so we did not have a long line of sight and necessitated the bus coming to almost a full stop. The mockingbird learned how to mimic the sound of the bus brakes. It would sit on the wire over our heads, make the squeaking sound of the breaks and watch us pick up our bags and take out our fare money. After a minute and we saw no bus with put the money back in our pockets and put our bags back down. Then the bird would start it all over again... About 35 years ago, while sitting in a park eating lunch I saw a bumble bee zoom by at about 30 MPH. I never knew they could fly that fast. Well, the bee had some motivation -- a swallow was about a foot behind the bee with its mouth open trying to make that bee lunch.
Becca R.- I love to see baby birds hatching from their eggs in the Spring with doting Mother/Father birds tending to their nutritional needs
Myo (The EASY One)- I love to see the predatory birds but I’m even happy to see the more common birds like those you can see in a McDonald's parking lot. Unfortunately, I’m seeing fewer and fewer birds. Have you noticed a decline or is it just me?
Mike and Donna W.- Bluebirds are my favorite wild bird. It took nearly 40 years to entice a pair to stay on our ranch in Oakdale, Calif. I think of them as the “bluebirds of happiness”. They finally showed up shortly after my husband was diagnosed with cancer - I considered it a sign that all would be OK - and it was. The bluebirds are still there and my husband is free of cancer.
Tom & Trish- Sight plus sound. Freedom of flight equates to freedom that results from RVing and the open road.
2 Frazzled (John & Holly)- We are volunteering at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge - a serious birding spot! Seeing all these people coming to enjoy the birds is awesome. We've had people fly in from other countries! A birdsong always brings a smile to my face (even if they are yelling for me to hurry up with the food). The way they interact with me during feeding is fun, too. When I put out the food in the morning at the Visitor Center, the Chachalacas wander around my legs, staring up with cute little black eyes making a purring/cooing sound. I know they only love me for the food but it's still fun. A clay-colored thrush started stealing suet mix out of my bowl and just froze with a big blob in its beak when I turned toward it. So cute, so still, so watchful... then, when I didn't threaten it, it gulped down that bite, snagged another and flew to the bushes to watch and wait until I left the feeding area. Soooo many awesome birds!
Nadyne H.- We always like having birds around. I enjoy the sounds of their singing in the morning and all day. There are even birds that sing at night in some of our camping spots! I'm especially happy when we see cardinals and blue birds of any kind as these seem to be rare anymore. I miss having bird feeders outside so that we have lots of birds, on the road we haven't been feeding birds like we used to when we were stationary. To our delight, we also have three grand-birds! Two parakeets, Clover and Sprout, and one cockatiel, Bubo. They live with Jackie and Leah and are such fun to visit with! They fly around the rooms and land on us and actually talk! We love birds of all kinds!
Jim & Doty G.- Two sightings of a yellow cardinal have been made in our area. One near Theodore and one a little further South closer to our home. I guess from the article a yellow cardinal is a very rare bird. We have a few eagles come to our little pond and fish, but the Blue Heron and the Egrets are here all the time.
Marsha and David- I have been watching a bald eagle circle above our house and fish in the river. Always thrilling.
I'll close these musings with a quote from British journalist David Attenborough: "Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?"
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
Addendum: I have posted a grouping photo gallery, Wild Birds, with about 350 pics from around the country. Check it out! I have it set up with a random start point for the slideshow, so you can come back several times and see new sets of slides.
A gadget, AKA gizmo, is defined by Dictionary.com as a "mechanical contrivance or device; any ingenious article." Ingenious seems to be the key word for making us happy.
A quick search on-line found just about as many articles about how technology and gadgets can make someone unhappy as there were for the happiness camp. I submit that if you view a gadget just as a tool to get something done, happiness might not even be considered in the equation. But, if a device is ingenious, the wonder and awe of it and its inventor can be euphoric. That's why so many tool sheds and kitchens are filled with gizmos and weird tools that they may never be used. Before I became a full-time RV'er, I was a member of that club. There's just no room in my 5th wheel for gadgets I won't ever use.
For myself, I keep a plastic miter box in my truck's tool cabinet because I never know when I might need to cut a piece of trim. I have actually used it three times in the two years we've been on the road. My other gadget pleasure is a tube of bungee straps of every size and shape. Interestingly, there are specialty straps made for specific tie-down solutions, such as for use with grommets in tarps and screens, with tent pegs and for multi-girth items. I love using them.
I received a few nice responses on this topic and here are some of them (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Paul H.- My favorite is my Contour Gauge Duplicator (This device easily copies any shape or duplicate a profile exactly for woodworking or tile flooring/linoleum installation where you want to replicate the shape of moldings or match cut outs around door casings and pipes)... This tool it's not one that I use all the time, but when I need it, nothing else can replace what it does.
Kathy B.- I love my electric corkscrew! Net only does it make wine bottles easier to open, it never breaks the cork.
Cindy V.- Dave really enjoys splitting wood with his cast iron splitter. It has a wedge in the bottom of it and when you place a 6-inch-thick log in it and hit it with a rubber mallet, it splits the log in two. Not only does it make campfires easier and quicker to fire up, but it's a much more enjoyable experience than using a hatchet or axe.
Nadyne H.- My Cuisinart ice cream freezer! Living with a tiny, RV freezer, we could only buy quart containers of ice cream. Add to that we only like high quality ice cream and the cost is about $5 to $7 a quart! That, and we have to drive to a grocery store. It's so convenient to have real ingredients on hand, throw them together in my Cuisinart freezer and voila! Homemade ice cream! This is one of our special treats living on the road.
Rich and DizzyLizie- The Air Conditioner silencing device has been great! The company guy was very smart and made the invention.
Canadian Hellie- Maybe my wine opener is my favorite gadget. I've had plenty of wine openers and some were hard to work; others broke; but this one I really like. It's all stainless and it's just a regular screw type opener that I bought, probably at a grocery store or maybe even at Walmart. I've had one similar; but it wasn't stainless - this one is much heavier than that other one. I bought a completely wooden wine opener with two turning nuts at a Portuguese Store in the Iron Bound section of Newark, NJ, about 15 years ago. You place it on top of the cork and turn the to upper wing nut until the screw pulls itself into the cork. Continue turning the lower nut in the same direction and it will just lift the cork off the bottle without any pulling.
Jacki H.- I bought a vegetable sheeter attachment for our KitchenAid mixer. I've used it twice, because it needs a lot of space and it's a little hard to get the hang of it, but it made far better thin pieces of vegetables than any other gadget I own! We made zucchini noodles for a pasta replacement with the sheets ( I cut them into thin strips, was way better and thinner than the zoodle makers). I also used it to make sweet potato sheets for a sweet potato lasagna with bechamel, which was awesome!
Artster- I think that technology, in general, is my favorite gadget. Without any of the high tech gadgets I would be more stressed and less happy. Not that I can’t temporarily do without any and all of them for a bit - but an extended period would be devastating. From the microwave to my cell phones/iPad and laptop to tv’s and remotes to smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and in-cab cameras to all the photography gear and many more items. Happiness is measured, for me, by how stressed I feel. The less stressed the more happy - whether a gadget or just living life in general.
As usual, I'll end this piece with a quote, this time from American writer Roger Zelazny: "I have a fondness for technology. It's great to spend hours puttering around with mechanical things gotten from junkyards and visualizing what their use might be. Especially if you come across a gadget or tool and you don't know what it is and you try to figure it out. I'm fascinated by processes, whatever they might be."
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
From the time I first starting reading I was looking through astronomy textbooks. I remember seeing a photograph of Mars and its maze of straight lines, thought to be canals. We now know, of course, that it was a false image. But it fascinated me. When I was a pre-teen I made my own telescope out of a cardboard tube, tape and a couple of lenses I saved my allowance to buy. Once in high school, I visited the planetarium at Griffith Park in Los Angeles as often as I could.
After I became a family man and moved to Washington State, I bought my own telescope, expensive at the time, and was amazed at the actual sight of Jupiter with four of its moons and Saturn and its rings, though they were in a flat plane at the time. My problem was that without an expensive actuator to move the device along with the sky's movement, objects only stayed in my field of view for a few moments. A few years later, living in Colorado, I always enjoyed visiting our friends in rural Wyoming, where on clear summer nights far removed from any city light, the Milky Way was so brilliant that we couldn't make out the constellations.
This past year in Colorado, we were camped in a remote RV resort about 75 miles from the nearest city lights and the Milky Way again was visible. There was an amateur astronomer camping in the park and one night he set up his equipment for any of us to view. We saw Jupiter, this time with five moons visible, Uranus' striped globe, Saturn's awesome rings tilted down at 45 degrees, and some nebulae and spiral galaxies. It was an amazing night that nearly brought me to tears.
"Celestial sky" can be defined as the sky between dusk and dawn during the time stars and other celestial objects can be seen. Sunshine, obviously, makes it impossible to see stars and planets, but you'd be surprised to see how much difference being away from the city can make, and even having a new moon or no moon. There are several exciting phone apps you can now use to decipher the stars and planets above you, even those in the sky during the day, when they are invisible. I use StarTracker, but there are others.
In my life I have seen the the Aurora Boealis, several lunar eclipses and a blood moon, two comets, and a meteorite that lit up the night sky like daylight, and have taken my kids to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower, all with awe. The bottom line is that when I contemplate what I am seeing when I see Jupiter, or the Milky Way, or even the moon, I feel a sometimes overwhelming emotional tug of pleasure and am awestruck. The sheer distance and age, the wonder, the possibility of other life out there that humans will probably never know about, the beginning and the end of the universe -- I see it all and think, wow!
There's a Rally going on right now, which we're attending, so fewer RVillage friends participated this week, understandably. But we received a few very good responses and here are some of them that I received (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Ed of AZ- The basic human condition is the finite human being confronted by the infinite cosmos. The night sky is where we peer most deeply into that mystery, which is why virtually all religions place God in the sky. The fact that the sky is so ever-present and so beautiful to behold is a source of both comfort and inspiration.
LarandSus- It reminds me of my childhood when we'd put on our snowsuits and lay on our backs in the snow looking up at the sky to find constellations and when it was so much easier to see a dark night sky when camping.
rvericksons- We were lucky enough to view the 2017 total solar eclipse, in central Oregon.
Bruce & Linda (Omnibus)- As a pre-teen, I was very interested in both astronomy and Greek mythology (as it related to the stars). I had a small telescope, and during the summer months (no school) I used to “camp out” in the back yard in a reclining lawn chair and try to wrap my head around the idea of the infinite. At the end of my 7th decade, I still gaze at a starlit, dark night sky with wonder and try to comprehend the infinity of space.
SouthParkSteve- There is nothing like watching a meteor shower at high altitude away from city lights in an area with no humidity. It's nature's fireworks! During the winter, I love being outside on a clear night with a full moon in a snow covered valley. The moon shines so bright, it casts shadows. It can be as bright as daylight. During the summer, the best nights are the ones with NO moon. The stars seem so close, it is almost like a twinkling ceiling. If you lie back and just stare, you can often see satellites flying overhead.....
John And Debbie M.- The best sky view is on a boat away from all land and polluting lights . We were coming home from Columbia to Florida on sailboat the southern star followed us for days. Beautiful. Our universe is so massive there must be more out there.
Nadyne H.- I don't often stare up at the night sky, but when I do it is from our bed, out my bedside window. If I have a view of the moon, I can't stop looking....
I'll close with a quote from British scientist Martin Rees: "Indeed, the night sky is the part of our environment that's been common to all cultures throughout human history. All have gazed up at the 'vault of heaven' and interpreted it in their own way."
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
The topic of kindness might be particularly timely given the current political climate. We, myself included, need to remember that we are human beings first, then all else. All humans depend upon other humans for their survival and quality of life. I know it can be difficult, but that's part of the purpose of this blog.
I have always tried to do the little things to show kindness, like opening doors for people (man or woman), donate time to charities or a worthy organization, returning found money, giving rides, and many others. I once took a temp job for half my normal pay because it was for a non-profit business helping the blind. Throughout my career I have volunteered for a variety of projects and tasks that were helping people who were homeless or lower income. I never think of paying for the food order of the car in line behind me, but it might be something I would do. And, I believe in the concept of paying it forward.
We have also received kindness. A few years ago, after we bought our fifth wheel but before we went full time, we hosted an outing for our camping club in Eagle's Nest, New Mexico. We were among the last to depart at the end of the long weekend, and just has we hit Trinidad, Colorado, over five hours from home, the radiator burst on my pickup. We scrambled to find somewhere to repair it, but since it was Sunday, this took time. We finally found a repair shop who would look at it the next day, but we had to be at work that Monday and had to find a way to get home. We texted friend after friend to see if they were nearby, but all our camping buddies had passed Trinidad a while earlier. One couple, the Cryers, told us to stay put and wait. They were 85 miles north of us, but unhooked their rig and drove the hour-and-a-half to pick us up. We stopped back at their 5th wheel to re-hook-up and drive the last three hours home. To top off this incredibly selfless act, they loaned us their car for as long as it would take to retrieve the truck. The Cryers are perfect examples of the few who regularly perform acts of kindness. Their actions continuously motivate others to do the same.
Several of my friends and followers have offered their stories for this topic. Here are some of the great comments I received (I've edited or paraphrased some):
BLSMSS- The only act of kindness I could think of was helping a friend by being right by her side while she pushed the button to cremate her significant other after he passed. She didn’t have anyone else. She couldn’t be alone having to do that. I know it’s a bit gruesome, but that’s what friends do. An act of kindness should be a daily thing. We recently paid a toll for the person behind me. Even when I open a door for someone and they don’t thank me, I’ll say, "you're welcome," to get them to think about why I said it. I love being around kind people. Thank you to all my new kind friends
Canadian Hellie- I try to be kind whenever I can with smiles, with items, holding doors, saying hello, etc. I donated a bunch of items to our local food bank a couple of years ago and I'm always donating to our local Legion so that they can raise some money. On FB this December, they had a blog about anyone needing winter items to post what they needed. I delivered some winter boots, sweaters, etc., to a lady that left an abusive relationship in a hurry. Her teen daughter had already left and was living on the streets. She found her and last I heard, she was with her mom, but sounds like she needs counselling. Smiles are also very simple things; but can mean more than a million dollars to someone at certain times in their lives. Almost 2 years ago, I was in hospital with pneumonia and a nurse walked by and I smiled. She wasn't my nurse, but came into my room (I was in quarantine) and thanked me for that smile. She said she had just started her day and the first two patients she had seen, made her so upset, she was going to quit; but when she saw my smile, she almost cried with joy. Another time a lady and I went shopping while we camped with a couple last summer and she found a snowman that she bought. She thought she would change up her winter theme to snowmen. I bought and gave her a snowman wreath (two snowmen sitting on the wreath) and two other snowmen. She still talks about how great the wreath is. When I returned home from hospital two years ago, my next door neighbor brought over a casserole dish for our dinner, which was awesome as I was still very weak and not much interested in cooking.
Warren and Terry of NE PA- In 2010 I was laid of from my job and, even though companies can't age discriminate, there are ways around it. Well for two years I was on unemployment until it ran out. In the summer of 2011 floods hit our area and because I wasn't working I was able to help our local flood victims. Throughout the years we've helped with food pantries, delivering food baskets from our church to people that had no way of picking up goods at the church and helped with different things at the Senior Center we belonged to back home. On the receiving end, when we got to this campground with a new trailer we weren't 100% familiar with in the dark a neighbor here showed us an empty site and helped us back in. We greatly appreciated that help because it was 9:30 at night.
Habadabeer- I had a very similar experience when I was between jobs. Very easy to get down when your lifetime of experience isn’t valued. Some of the best experiences I had were meeting with a local group of unemployed/underemployed folks over 40. We kept each other going, shared leads and connections, and persevered. I get a very similar vibe from RVillage. I’ve been able to share some of the beauty I’ve experienced, and had others share expertise about issues that have plagued me. Both have been just what I need to keep going. At the site we just left, I did the following: 1) picked up the dog poop left behind when the couple next to us departed after what looked like two weeks! 2) made a wind chime out of alligator bones I found nearby and left it hanging in the tree, and 3) collected a bushel of giant snail shells and made a spiral formation surrounding the fire pit. My intent was to delight the next occupant with a whimsical display, but in hindsight it probably looks more like somebody performed a voodoo ceremony! LOL
John and Debbie M.- Didn’t happen to us but.... our friend just got a kidney from a live donor his niece!!!! Both are in hospital and doing well.
Nancy A.- About five years ago I had breakfast by myself at a Cracker Barrel. If I remember correctly it was a pretty big breakfast. When I asked for my bill the server said it had been paid by a couple who’d already left! Never saw them before or after! I’m still thankful for their generosity.
Seabreeze- I try to treat people the way I want to be treated, with a happy face, a smile, a wave. Let cars in in traffic when I can. It doesn't cost anything to be nice. Sometimes they take you for granted but it is reassuring when you get a Thank You! Pass it on!
LarandSus- We were at Starbucks on New Year’s Eve when a thin, elderly man came in. He went up to the baristas and asked them something which I didn’t hear. I heard them respond that they weren’t allowed to make phone calls. He looked around and then approached me, then said that the buses weren’t running, or not on the normal schedule (Starbucks is next to a major bus stop), and asked if I would call a taxi for him. I asked if he had money for the taxi, thinking I'd pay if he couldn't, but he said he did. So, I used my cell phone to call the cab and was able to track its approach and arrival on my phone. It was such a simple thing but hopefully allowed him to arrive home safely.
Greg W.- We have bought meals numerous times for homeless people.
TheClearyClan- About four years ago one of our kids and her four kids were evicted from their apartment. We took them in and they slept in our living room for three years. About a year ago she bought a mobile home and all has been going well since. By the way, the apartment she was evicted from is still unoccupied, four years and counting.
OBB Travels- Recently, on my commute home on my bicycle, I came across a guy (probably down on his luck) whose plastic grocery bags had busted. I stopped to help and gave him a nice heavy duty/reusable bag I had. He was surprised and I was happy I could help.
Jacki H.- Every day when I'm driving, I try to remember that everyone else needs to get in a lane that I'm in too, especially if it's a semi or a bus, and it doesn't hurt to let people over. I know I appreciate it when others let me in front of them. That extra 30 seconds isn't going to make or break my commute.
Kathy S.- I really enjoy paying for a stranger's meal, especially a veteran. Or paying for part of a drive thru order behind me. It's fun to be anonymous, and know you're doing good for your fellow man/woman/person
Nadyne H.- I don't remember too many acts of kindness that I've done, a little sobering to think I am not kind enough... Last year I ran across a gopher filled field in a California RV resort to get to a dog in distress. I didn't know what kind of dog or what the problem was, I was assuming there was a coyote involved though. Turns out it was a large, male pit bull suffering from severe separation anxiety who was trying to jump out of a 5th wheel cap window. He was stuck and his side was being cut up, so he was screaming for help. I got there just as he fell out of the window to the ground. I was talking to him so he Rand up to me for hugs, kisses and comfort! I think he may have out weighed me! Here was this huge pit bull running at me screaming! The park ranger was pulling up in a golf cart and she was terrified he was going to attack me. But I knew he just wanted some momma loving! I got him calmed down, gave him my bottle of water and the ranger went to find his people. Poor guy....
As a closing thought, I'll quote Ellen DeGeneres: "Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values."
Thanks, everyone, for your contributions! Another topic will be posted shortly.
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.