Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chickadee Winter

Winter morning, about 12 degrees F. As usual one of the first things I do in the morning is to refill feeders and put them back on the poles. I take the feeders off one of the pole at night because, until I got a new baffle, the deer would stand on the old one and knock at the longer feeder to get the seed to fall. (In the process, the deer knocked out several large holes, prompting the replacement.)

Black-capped chickadee (Margo D. Beller)
Now, refilled, I am outside hanging them on the pole. A black-capped chickadee is in the nearby dogwood tree and it flies to the top of the feeder pole over my head. We look at each other and it takes off for the tree again until I finish attaching the feeders and walk away. Then it comes to feed.

Had I been wearing a bowl of seed on my head it would've flown to it and taken one.

Another morning I put one of the feeders down on the lawn to go inside and get something. I came out and found a chickadee had flown down to grab a seed, taking advantage of my absence.

I have lots of chickadee stories.

My three favorite birds are the cardinal, the Carolina wren and the black-capped "dee." They are my favorites for different reasons. The cardinals are big, red and travel in pairs. When the male feeds the female a seed during mating season they look like they are kissing. You could call them the marriage birds.

Carolina wrens sing all year long and are not common visitors to my yard, making their appearance this year at the seed and suet feeders a sign of just how cold it is. I used to think the wrens sang only to defend territory but they also sing warning. They are a reliable alarm for the other birds.

Carolina wren (Margo D. Beller)
The dee, however, is a favorite because it is not put off by people. They have learned that when I come out on my enclosed porch and rap on the glass to disperse the horde of house sparrows and house finches from the house-shaped feeder, they can zip in and get seed before the horde returns. (The dee's cousin, the tufted titmouse, also does this).

They will eat from your hand if you stand there with arm outstretched long enough. They can be made tame that way, as I have seen at several parks where people put a seed in their hands and the birds readily come and feed. In fact, if you don't do that they will literally fly in your face and call, as if to say, "See me, feed me." This has happened to me many times.

They make all sorts of cute sounds from the gurgling and "dee-dee-dee" calls that give them their name to the song that starts at a very high note and then falls, sounding like "hey, sweetie." I was on a hawk watch once, my first one. It was a hard climb and, to my horror, there was no place to sit, not even a boulder. Hawks were specks in the sky and as counters called out "sharpy" or "broadwing," I couldn't keep up. However, at eye level, close to me, was that gurgling and a flock of about 15 chickadees were feeding right up on the mountain.

I have seen dees exploring an outdoor telephone booth back in the pre-cellphone days. They are the most reliable visitors to my brother-in-law's feeders in New Hampshire, where it is far colder than where I live. Like other birds dees find shelter wherever they can get out of the cold and wind and puff up to trap air under their downy feathers.

(Margo D. Beller)
I like them because they take a seed and fly off to crack it open, holding the seed in their feed and pecking at it. They don't sit there and block the feeders as those sparrows and finches do. A dee I saw this morning had a seed, flew to the pear tree in front of me (standing on the other side of the glass) and pecked at it. When the wind blew it turned its back. At one point it continued pecking hanging nearly upside down like an acrobat before righting itself and finishing its meal. Then it flew back for another seed.

I've seen them take mouthfuls of snow for moisture, too. Unfortunately, I've also seen them picked off by hungry sharp-shinned hawks, an unpleasant side effect of putting out feeders.

There are many different types of chickadees. The ones I've seen from southern New Jersey on south are Carolina chickadees. They look virtually the same except they are a little more pale, a tiny bit smaller and their calls are faster. Another one I would love to see is the boreal chickadee, which I could find if I go up into the higher elevations of northern New York State or New England.

According to Cornell University's Ornithology Lab, which runs the annual Great Backyard Birdcount every February in conjunction with the national Audubon Society, last year the black-capped chickadee was reported on 16 checklists in my home county of Morris, the 23rd most seen bird behind the robin, starling and Canada goose, among others.

There were years when I was lucky to see one dee in my backyard. This year I've discovered a family of them roosting in my yew hedge, which I don't trim at the top because the deer eat at it from the bottom. That thick part at the top hides a lot of birds.

I'm happy to have them there. And when this year's bird count takes place Feb. 13-16, I look forward to counting them.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Adapting to Winter

The female redbellied woodpecker flies to the house feeder, grabs a black-hulled sunflower seed, then flies the short distance to the pear tree. She climbs up the trunk with the seed in her long bill to the top of one section that has been sawed off flat. She puts the seed on it and pounds until she has broken off the hull and can then grab the seed with her long tongue.

She goes back and forth five or six times to do this as I watch from my enclosed back porch, not too close to the window or I'd scare her. Each time she flies to the feeder she dislodges a young, male cardinal who has been eying the feeder but hanging back while other birds, including two other male cardinals, fly over to get food. She has no interest in the suet feeder nearby. Today, she wants seed.

Finally, the redbelly flies off and the young cardinal flies over and grabs a seed, only to be chased off by a posse of house sparrows.

Female redbellied woodpecker (Margo D. Beller)
At this point I take on my position of omnipotent ruler and tap on the window, scaring the sparrows off and allowing the black-capped chickadees to fly in, grab seeds and fly off. A couple of them go into the upper branches of this same pear tree to grab the seed with their feet and then peck to break the hull and eat.

I've been witnessing this behavior in my backyard for the past 20 or so years every winter. Same routine, different generations of titmice, house finches, jays and white-throated sparrows.

We had a heavy snow last night, and this morning I added to the number of seed feeders because I know it is not going to be easy for the birds to find food. But if I didn't put out a feeder - and I seem to be the only one around in this part of the area hanging feeders - the birds would still find ways of surviving. They're used to it.

They do better than I do. When the snow falls, especially the heavy, wet type we had, my first reaction is to groan. I know I am going to find shrubs bent under the weight and I might find fence posts down because the snow has weighed upon the deer netting. I don't have to worry about feeding myself but I do have to worry about getting groceries in ahead of time or getting the snow plow guy over to clear the driveway before the temperatures fall again in the evening.

Cardinal pair (Margo D. Beller)
I walk around repairing the damage as the birds check for microscopic insects in the branches of the black locust trees over my head.  I hear the sparrows calling from the hedge and the local Canada geese flying overhead. I hear the cardinal pairs calling to one another. A few weeks ago when we had a smaller snow storm but colder temperatures there were six male cardinals in my backyard at once. Today there were three and at least two females. The pecking order - which one eats first, second, etc. - was very much in evidence because only one of the three seed feeders will allow a cardinal to comfortably sit and eat a seed.

As I get older I find myself liking everything about snow less and less. I don't like the shoveling -- it tires me and makes my back sore. I don't like knocking snow off tall hedges and getting it all over me. I don't like depending on the plow guy when there is more than 5 inches of white on the driveway. I do not like the cold at all, and that dislikes gets worse with every falling degree.

It is easy for me to complain because I am bundled in a warm coat and will be going inside a warm house momentarily and can eat when I choose to eat. The birds have to depend on the kindness of strangers - me. I can provide them seed and suet, hedges for roosting at night and, every so often, aid and protection by chasing off cats or raptors. But that's it. They are on their own in the cold and have to depend on puffing themselves up and creating a layer of warm air under their feathers. They will "sleep" in their way to conserve energy to fly and feed the next day in order to survive.

There will still be winter fatalities, just as there are always stories of humans who lose a finger clearing out a snowblower or have heart attacks lifting heavy loads of snow with their shovels.

Today, I'm not one of them. You could say I've learned to adapt, too.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Winter Thoughts

This has been a good week for me, and that fact is unusual enough for me to put my feet up, put on some music and note it here.

We've had a week of below-average temperatures and about an inch of snow that has been slowly melting each time the sun is out for more than 10 minutes. This cold has made it uncomfortable for being out on errands or looking for birds. But in my sunny office right now, life is good.

Compared with last January, the sixth-snowiest January on record, according to the "year in weather" chart the New York Times publishes the first Sunday of the year, I'll take it. We're not even at February yet. Last February was the second snowiest thanks to eight inches of the white stuff. I don't want that again.

Today I looked at all the birds at the four feeders I have out and realized I saw six male cardinals at once. That is a record for the backyard. Two were on the ground with the squirrels, grabbing the seed dropped by the house finches and house sparrows. Two were in the bushes, their red feathers easily seen on the bare branches. One was atop one feeder pole, the last at the house feeder on the other pole.

My yard is the only one within eyeshot offering seed this year, and in this cold the birds are taking full advantage of it.

Also today, I went to the monthly winter farmers market at the Fosterfields county park and bought an assortment of root vegetables (turnip, potatoes), greens (spinach and collard), onions, garlic and artisanal baked goods. It's not cheap to buy at the farmers market - you can get many more things and cheaper at the local grocery store. But they have been shipped in from the other side of the world, the side now in summer.
Male cardinal, winter 2014

What I buy tastes better and lasts longer because they come from farms in New Jersey, which I'd like to think I'm helping to survive when I make my purchases. From the looks of the crowd that got there five minutes after the market officially opened (I got there early for a reason), there are a lot of local residents who want to do the same.

I am lucky to not only have the money to buy these goods but to have parks such as Fosterfields - a working, teaching farm - a close drive from my house. These non-bakery purchases will allow me some variety from the usual frozen peas and dry pasta side dishes. Knowing this gives me the energy to consider what to make this week for supper.

It is such silly thoughts that keep me going in a life where it seems the harder you work the further behind you fall. I am enjoying this transient feeling of calm and semi-prosperity as the sun warms me and music plays as I write.

These are purely human concerns, of course.

I don't know if I'd want to be a bird fighting others to eat my sunflower seed or, if a woodpecker, the suet hanging upside down in the feeder. Then again, birds don't worry about things like paying bills, making the dinner menu more interesting or remaining employed for the paycheck as I do. Their needs are more basic at this time of year: finding food and avoiding predators such as the red-tailed hawk my husband saw in one of our trees this morning.
Backyard red-tail, 2013 (R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Since the birds don't wear name tags, I don't know how many of the ones now at the feeders are the same as the ones there a week ago. I do know today we've had a pair of goldfinches for the first time in a long time, plus a female hairy woodpecker. But those six male cardinals tell me that it's getting harder for these birds to find food.

I am very glad I do not have to depend only on the farmers market to keep me alive. As for the birds, I have a new, 40-pound bag of seed and four more suet cakes for when the current ones are done.

Because it's going to be a long winter.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

First Snow, 2015

As I write, the first snow is falling in this new year of 2015. It started as a few flakes as I went out for a walk and then quickly intensified as I made my way home using a shortcut I've seen people use, which brought me to my street.
Snow from another year (Margo D. Beller)

In a mere 20 minutes an inch has fallen, whitening everything. But this snow will not hang around long. The temperatures will be rising and it will become rain, heavy at times, removing the pretty white.

This is in marked contrast to the beginning of 2014 when we'd already been hit with several snowstorms. It would be a winter of a lot of snow, a lot of rain and a lot of ice on top of the snow, which made the deer, squirrels and birds desperate for food. The year ended with one snowstorm at Thanksgiving. That's been  it until now.

I get restless at this time of year and the cold and threat of snow don't help. It seems to take more effort to walk when it is biting cold - I need to wear warmer shoes and a long, bulky coat, a headscarf and a hat. I have to be especially careful in my early-morning walks on days when even the sun doesn't seem to help. I am not 20 anymore, and when I inhale too much cold air through my mouth the lungs burn and my heart seems to pound so hard I fear I'm about to expire.

Halfway through the 2014 snow season (Margo D. Beller)
(I do not understand those I see who wear shorts in winter or walk around without a hat or gloves. Do they drink anti-freeze? Do they keep their homes at 80 degrees, making a walk in 20-degree chill seem refreshing? Or am I just old and painfully creaky?)

Today it is not that cold, although it is raw. Despite the discomfort, I was driven by the need to get outside and look around before the snow so I could justify staying inside the rest of the day.

I remind myself that getting caught in a snowstorm isn't fun. I've been caught at the Great Swamp when a snow squall hit and only my familiarity with the roads kept me from panicking when I started driving unable to see far out my window. I don't want to worry MH, who has been obsessively watching every weather channel and radar.

Thanks to him I knew this storm was expected around noon. He wanted to stay home. So I kept today's walk short.

I do not like birding in rain and I find very little when birding in snow because most birds are smart enough to hunker down in bad weather, like MH. In my walk today I saw one flying turkey vulture and eight pairs of mallards swimming in the one part of the local pond that hadn't frozen after several days of below-normal temperatures. (That makes it hard to reconcile with the forecast of temperatures climbing to 60 degrees tomorrow and then dropping to the 20s a few days later, another sign of the wacky weather caused by global warming.)

(R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Winter cold, the end of the outdoor growing season and the longer nights make me gloomy and filled with depressing thoughts. So while I am outside I walk briskly to keep them at bay, listening for any bird calls or the sound of human activity in the "Deer Quality Management" area I skirt. (I now wear an orange hat. It is too easy to blend in with the woods otherwise.)

I pass the community garden and see frozen tomatoes on the shrunken vine and several stalks of brussel sprouts someone didn't bother to harvest. Why grow food when you're not going to use it or give it away? A garbage pail overflows. The pond is nearly frozen. The sky is gray and dreary. The snow is now coming down thick and I am not wearing boots. But I know where to go and if my neighbors don't assault me for cutting through the edges of their properties I can get safely home. This time.

I've been relatively lucky in my life but I know a time is coming when I might not be able to take these winter walks, or take care of my house or take care of MH and myself. I am hoping these brisk, restless walks keep that time at bay for as long as possible.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Winter Birds, Part 2 - Personalities

Recently I wrote about the birds at my feeders during this 2014 winter season. Today I want to focus on their personalities.

It is never a good thing to put human characteristics to wild birds, just as it is never a good thing to consider the birds at your feeders to be "your" birds. I don't consider the visiting cardinals mine, for instance, although I've learned to tell the various males apart thanks to their frequent visits.
Cardinal pair (Margo D. Beller)

I gain great understanding of bird behavior watching the birds at my feeders, but I know if I had no feeders up they would not be in my yard - or at least where I can see them. That is why I put out feeders containing sunflower seed or suet, to feed them and draw them down where I can see them, particularly on days when I might not want to go out in the field.

It is impossible to include all the birds I've ever seen in the backyard. Many do not come to the feeders, but are drawn to the area by seeing all the other birds that do come. For instance, I've seen many robins in my backyard but they are on the ground, searching for worms and insects. Or they are in the bushes and trees, picking off the ripe fruits. But they do not come to seed feeders and I use plain suet rather than suet mixed with fruit, just to keep the squirrels away.

I am not an ornithologist. Nor am I a psychologist. That said, here is what I have observed at the three feeders usually up during the winter.

Titmice, chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches: These birds like to grab and go. Once in a while a titmouse, for instance, will stay on the feeder and use the perch for cracking open a seed. Usually, they grab a seed and fly off to the nearest tree or shrub to have its meal protected from predators such as sharp-shinned hawks.
Nuthatch (above) and titmouse (Margo D. Beller)
These birds don't mob the feeders or chase each other off, most of the time. There is a pecking order and the birds tend to take turns. For instance, one white-breasted nuthatch grabs a seed, takes off and then a second one shows up. These are the birds I prefer at the feeder, plus the cardinals.

House finches and house sparrows: I consider these and mourning doves to be real pests. The house finches and house sparrows will mob both feeders, chasing each other and other birds away. They sit in the feeders and just eat and eat, dropping bits of seed to the squirrels waiting below. If I didn't go outside every so often and chase them off, the other small birds would get nothing.

It is usually a smaller female mourning dove that will fly to the top of the house-shaped feeder and then, with great trepidation, figure out how to fly down to the perch, which it fills because of its bulk. It will then sit and pick through looking for broken seeds since its thin bill is not made for crunching seeds like the finches. Most of the seed she drops to other mourning doves and squirrels below. These, too, I chase off.
House finch and feeder, cardinal and junco wait. (Margo D. Beller)

Blue jays: When these big birds show up, everything else scatters. They dive-bomb the house feeder (they are too big to get through the cage of the second feeder and can't hang upside down to get to the suet), gulp a bunch of seeds and then fly off to either regurgitate them for caching or swallow them whole. Their movements are explosive but at least they don't hang around for too long.

Female purple finch (Margo D. Beller)
Cardinals: A large, sometimes skittish member of the finch family (see my post of Nov. 20, 2011). I find them starting at dawn and have seen them eating at dusk. (Only the robin tends to come out earlier and stay out later, based on the calls I've heard.) They hold their own against the smaller birds but larger birds will scare them off. If the feeder is mobbed by smaller finches the cardinal won't come to it, which is when I chase the pests off. Males will chase off females, even their own mates, during the winter when they come to eat, but in spring males will allow mates to feed with them, usually feeding her directly so that it looks like they are kissing.

Visitors: The smaller goldfinches (see my post of July 1, 2011) will come to the feeders at certain times of the year and are usually left alone by the more aggressive house finches but in winter a lone goldfinch must get to the seed early to beat the later-rising pests. The same is true for the rare purple finches. This year I had 3 females visit at one time. They were left alone. But when there was only 1 it was quickly chased off.
Male rose-breasted grosbeak (Margo D. Beller)

Bigger visitors tend to be left alone, such as the rose-breasted grosbeaks that usually show up in May during the spring migration northward. Like their smaller cousins the house finches, these, too, will sit and eat for long periods of time but they are so pretty and such rare visitors they are welcome to all the seed they can handle.

Carolina wren is another winter visitor, although these wrens are around all year long. Carolina wrens are small but they have a big song and are very aggressive. They are such rare visitors they are usually left alone but they will aggressively defend their right to eat against the pests. These wrens are also looking for broken pieces and don't seem to mind hanging upside down to eat suet. I am always pleased when a Carolina wren visits and then sings in my yard.
Carolina wren (Margo D. Beller)

Woodpeckers: The smallest type, the downy, is skittish when bigger birds, including other woodpeckers, fly in. Otherwise, they will hang upside down and eat suet no matter what kind of tumult is going on at the house feeder above it. The same is true of the largest of the 3 woodpecker types to visit, the red-bellied woodpecker. This one will whack at the suet or come to the house feeder. I've also seen it grab the cage, put its head through and use its long tongue to grab a seed.

Rarely, a hairy woodpecker visits. This one looks like a downy woodpecker on steroids but is not as big as the red-bellied. Most of the time it eats just suet but last year one female liked getting on the house feeder's perch and take seeds.
Downy woodpecker (Margo D. Beller)

Invasion: There are those times in late fall into winter into early spring when thousands of grackles with some red-winged blackbirds, starlings and cowbirds will show up in my yard. Most will be on the ground searching for food but many flock to the feeders, which is why at the first sight or sound of them I bring the house feeder inside. (The reason I bought the upside-down feeder was to keep the starlings and grackles off the suet.) These birds will eat until the feeder is empty and then fly down the road and repeat the process.

Sharp-shinned hawk feeding. (Margo D. Beller)
Finally, there are the raptors. These do not come to the feeder except to pick off the birds feeding. I've seen a juvenile Cooper's hawk slam into the caged feeder as an American tree sparrow fled the other way. MH once saw a broadwing hawk pick off a red-bellied woodpecker and I've seen redtails and even a northern goshawk in my trees. They are drawn to the feeders for the same reason as the smaller birds - the need to feed.

However, I try to make sure the raptors feed elsewhere, if possible.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Where Are the Vultures?

Gloomy days bring gloomy thoughts, especially around the time of the year-end holidays. Where did the months go?

In recent weeks many of my friends have lost loved ones. As I write the first day of winter officially begins around 6 pm ET. It's dark and cold at 5 pm. For a variety of reasons we can't visit our families for the holidays, although we will be dining with a good friend nearby. It has been weeks since we've had a day that started sunny and stayed that way. A huge mid-week storm is expected, which will test our new roof and deer fencing.

Holiday card montage by Margo D. Beller
Last year around this time I wrote a post for another blog about how many of my friends contact me, and I them, once a year through holiday cards. This year I notice we didn't get cards from some of those friends, and I wonder if all this time they've been sending us cards only because we sent them cards first. We only had 20 cards on hand to send out this year. One friend sent us an ecard and three sent us cards before we sent out ours. The vast majority have not bothered but we have sent the cards to them.

Why is that? Do they dislike us now? Are they too used to putting all their news on Facebook? Have they reached that age where they want to simplify, simplify? Or are they just waiting to hear from us to see if we are worth the effort to go out, buy a card, write a note, sign it, address an envelope, seal it and put on a stamp?

One gloomy thought among many.

Here's another: Where are the roosting vultures?

From 2012 into 2013, on my early morning walks, I would see them in a small, sunny meadow on the old Greystone property trying to warm up before flying off to seek a meal. Then came last winter's heavy and almost continual snows. It was hard and sometimes dangerous to walk from my house to this part of the property (thank goodness sidewalks have been put in along the main road within the last year) and so I avoided this area all winter.

Turkey vulture (R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Now I wonder if the vultures did, too.

When the grass grows long the vultures don't hang out in the field. They want to see what's coming. (Canada geese do that, too, which may be why the grass is not mowed.) I would find a few turkey or black vultures in trees along the road, soaking up the sun on a dewy, cool morning. I was expecting the vultures to come back to the field once the grass was mowed but that hasn't happened.

Why? I have my theories, all of which involve  distruction of habitat.

1. There are fewer dead deer to feed them.

2. The state of New Jersey (which holds this parcel while my home county holds most of the now-parkland around it) waited too long to mow.

3. Last year's snow forced the vultures to other areas they like better.

4. The many people using what was once a mental institution and is now a county park made it too noisy (there is a playground, ball fields and cross-country track) and uncomfortable for the raptors to hang around.

5. Nearby residents who didn't want vultures warming themselves on their roofs on cold mornings took measures - either on their own or with state help - to force them off.

Black vulture (R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Vultures are far from endangered and even at Greystone they aren't completely gone. Every so often a couple of black vultures or a turkey vulture will suddenly rise from the Greystone property beyond my neighbors' houses. It's possible they are just roosting in other sunny areas, rising from the still-green hemlocks where they sleep to get a little protection from the elements. Or I'm not looking around at the right times.

But I miss seeing all those vultures running around the field in the sun like chickens, or sitting in trees in groups, their wings spread to dry and warm in the rising sun. Vultures are ugly up close and their need for dead animals to eat and survive disgusts many.

But aloft these big birds soar majestically and I enjoy watching them. Their absence adds to my winter gloom.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Call Me Restless

(Margo D. Beller)

(Editor's note: This post was published several years ago, one of many posts where I stupidly removed the link allowing you, Dear Reader, to access it after publication. So I have republished it.) 

When the dark comes early; when the cold wind blows; when the furnace heat dries out everything, including me; when the lines on my face seem deeper; when I feel fat from indulging in too many office snacks; when the house closes in and my husband barricades himself behind a book; when December is in my soul as well as on the calendar, that is when I take myself, if not to sea like the unnamed narrator of Moby-Dick, then to the woods for a long walk.

I have been losing my connection to nature and it makes me feel unnatural. I used to walk all the time at my last job including going to and from the train. I’d hear birds in the morning and look at the stars at night. Not now.

Driving to work has made me slow and fat, my legs rubbery. Winter makes me feel achy and twice my age. I wanted to push myself, to walk and not eat and pretend I had no financial, property or spousal responsibilities.

I went to the Swamp.

The Great Swamp is in the heart of suburbia. Part is a Morris County park. Part is a Somerset County park. The huge part in between is federal territory split between a “wilderness” area and a “management” area.

In spring I take a particular trail into the wilderness area at dawn and find all sorts of migrant songbirds. I also find deep mud, slippery rocks and wild bushes that are cut back once in a very long while. I have to really want to go birding to come here, but it is usually worth it.

This December day I wanted a long, flat, easy road so I hiked in the management area along Pleasant Plains Road, between the Helen Fenske visitor center (named for the woman whose efforts 50+ years ago scuttled a planned airport) and the unpaved area several miles away where the old visitor center once stood.

Many interesting birds have been found along this road, but I wasn’t expecting a lot. Winter is generally a quiet season for birding at the Swamp.

I was there to walk. Yet, almost by accident I found a bluebird in a tree and then a harrier flew low over a mowed, flooded field. Had I been driving I’d likely have missed them.

Several hours later, when I finally turned around and headed back to my car the way I’d come, the walk went from pleasure to an endurance test.

Suddenly the cold wind was in my face. My stomach was rumbling. My leg muscles were twinging and the gravel was making my feet hurt. The thought of my car parked so many miles away made me momentarily panic.

There are times I want to walk and go without food for so long I feel cleansed.

Then there are times I selfishly consider pushing myself so hard I collapse and die on the road.

I felt a little of both on this walk.
(Margo D. Beller)

Luckily, the way back always seems to go faster than the way out. Despite the aches and the wind I was back at the Fenske center a few hours later and then headed home in my warm car.

I was tailgated as I tried to enjoy the ride on the winding Harding Township back roads. On one hill I was forced to pull over several times because behemoths - luxury and otherwise - would come barreling downhill taking a lane and a half, leaving not much room for me.

It was only a more scenic, lower-speed version of my workday commute on Route 80.

I would like to say this winter trip provided an epiphany about the beauty of staying alive, of being glad for what you have, of taking life one day at a time.

That would be a lie. It was more like, you can walk to the ends of the Earth and your problems will still be with you.

Deal with it.

At least I was cheered by MH’s warm smile and the picture he took of a Carolina wren at our suet feeder while I was gone.

For the moment, I am trying not to be Restless.