The Art of Standing Still

As many of you know, we are birdwatchers. One of the reasons my husband was initially drawn to our new home was the aerial view online showed that it had a very wooded lot. To birdwatchers, the cover of trees often means bird life and that was exciting for us. Upon moving in, my husband took up the job of setting up feeders for the yard — one of his first jobs was at a store that specialized in wild bird feeders and food, so he’s our resident expert. Throughout the summer we had a lot of very cool visitors to the yard and the feeder situation evolved as different species would show up.

While we do fill feeders in summer we are on the go a lot and there is an abundance of food in nature, so I’m not always super on top of the job. I try to be a little more dependable in winter because food sources aren’t as secure. Our feeders change seasonally, too. We put away the Nyjer and set out more peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds in winter. img_9087I’ve started to leave a little trail of hulled sunflower seeds on the deck rail. The cardinals, juncos, chickadees, house finches and goldfinches, pine siskins, and mourning doves love it. At one point a couple days ago, I had something like 15 or 16 doves lined up in a little row out there.  I so enjoy seeing what shows up that I’ve been spending my morning work hours at the kitchen table where this is my view…

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I love keeping watch and observing the different bird behaviors as they visit and interact with each other. The ground feeder up on the deck is a new addition — we have one out at the edge of the yard under a tree that the blue jays and juncos and squirrels (not to mention the deer that clear it out at night) love for its cracked corn and “critter feed.” This one is just hulled sunflower seeds so it’ll cater more to the chickadees and finches and cardinals.

The other huge draw in the yard is this…

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I feel a little ridiculous saying we have a heated bird bath, but… we have a heated bird bath. It’s not like a bird jacuzzi or anything, it just keeps the water warm enough to not freeze. These days it almost always looks like it’s steaming, but it really doesn’t take a lot of heat for that when it’s 15 degrees outside. Anyways, liquid water is a hot commodity for wild birds in winter, so having a water source draws in a lot of bird life. I’ve wanted a heated birdbath for years, but the old house had no outdoor electric and we didn’t have a good spot for viewing it anyway, so I never went after getting it set-up. This fall we finally splurged and I’m so happy we did! I’ve seen every single species of bird we’ve had in the yard at the water at one time or another. It’s extra upkeep and a little extravagant, but it’s such a cool feature and I feel very lucky to have it.

So you get the point — I love this new yard and I love our yard birds. For those like-minded birdwatchers, here’s a list of what I see on a daily basis at our feeders:

  • Blue Jay (pair)
  • Down Woodpecker (pair)
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (very endearing first year)
  • Cardinals (at least 4 pairs)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (pair)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • House Finches
  • Gold Finches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Juncos
  • Chickadees
  • Mourning Doves (at least 16 individuals)

Nothing really out of the ordinary for where we live — I’m still hoping we will see some Purple Finches and Redpolls in the yard this winter as we’ve seen them out and about nearby, but we will see. You just never know and that is the beauty of birdwatching!

So I fill my feeders daily and I keep my eyes and ears open. And every time I go out to our feeders, I put a little seed in my hand and I stand very still for a few minutes. Usually there are anywhere from 1-4 chickadees hopping about, so I stand very quietly, occasionally chittering at them a little to let them know I’m standing there. I’ve had no takers yet and when I hear the blue jays coming in for the freshly filled peanuts I head for the hills, but one of these days these little guys are going to decide I’m ok and do this…

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I learned last year that chickadees are brave and sweet little souls and I’m convinced I can make friends with the ones here in our yard. Sure, my neighbors probably wonder what on Earth I’m doing standing out there like a statue in the 5 degree morning air, but it’s all good. Because as much as I do want the chickadees to learn they can eat from my hand, there’s something truly special about capturing those few moments in the crisp morning light. It’s a study in the art of standing still. To listen, to breath deep the ice cold air, to just be in the outdoors, to just be in that one moment, not thinking about the next task.

And really, that’s at the heart of much more than teaching a chickadee to eat out of your hand. It’s the heart of birdwatching. It’s at the core of knitting and spinning. Is it really any different than knitting on my hubby’s sock while I got the oil changed this morning?

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It’s the fine art of slowing down, of not thinking about the next task, of being the moment. Whether you talk to chickadees, watch the Downy woodpecker pair chase each other, spend 45minutes at the auto shop knitting — whatever the case, there is little more restorative than the fine art of standing still. So however you practice it, I encourage you to make time for it today even if your day is overscheduled. You won’t be sorry you did!

Reclaiming Space

As is always the case, the summer is busy and flying by. I’ve become increasingly aware that I’ve been writing little of the more personal stories here as it’s been all I could muster just to find the time and space in my mind to get the knitting & spinning news shared. As I was working on the gardens project the last couple weeks, I finally had some time to really reflect. A lot of my writing happens in my head while I’m on the trail or out for a walk with the kids and the dog or while I’m spinning or when my hubby is taking the lead with the kids, but those times have been more… cluttered the last few weeks than in the more structured moments of the school year. I’ve been struggling to find those peaceful moments where I can find some clarity.

As I dug (and dug and dug) in the gardens, I thought about the act itself and I watched as the gardens were transformed from weedy, cluttered, neglected messes to tidy little beautiful spots.

img_3798I thought about reclaiming that space and it occurred to me that the last few weeks in the garden and before that the decluttering in our house, it’s all been about reclaiming space in one way or another.  And now, in this post, I thought I would share some of those more personal moments from my last few weeks to finally organize and reclaim that space in my mind.

A few weeks back we stopped at this small park in a neighboring city…

img_3631It was a warm morning, but the mist was cool and the whole hike was just lush with greenery.

img_3628While the kids ran ahead, I lingered over wildflowers…

img_3629A little forest of echinacea…

img_3630And the rich black-eyed susans.

We moved onto a damp forest trail and there were more wonders to be seen…

img_3635And little details that it would be easy to walk right past…

img_3639I’m glad to have had the luxury of time to pause here and there.

One day, we also took a trip to the very popular Devil’s Lake.

img_3669It was beautiful as usual and the trails were wonderful, but crowded as they always are, especially in summer. We turned back a bit before reaching the top of the bluff — when it comes to being out and about hiking, hoards of people all talking and shouting back and forth tend to send us packing and this day was no different. I’m so glad people are out being active and using the park, but this kind of outdoor experience is just not for us. We’ll save a return trip for quieter seasons.

We did find a miraculous little secluded spot on the lake so that the kids could swim…

img_3686-1I could knit a few stitches, the mister could read a bit…

img_3687And Moose could bask. He much prefers swimming to rocky trails.

Somewhere in these last few weeks my daughter finished her first ever 4oz of handspun singles.

img_3548-1She was anxious to start another project, so I offered to ply them for her.

delia skeinThe resulting skein is so much fun, I think.

delia detIt’s full of texture and the essence of sheer determination that comes from an 8-year-old learning to spin. We’re going to knit it into a cowl we can share, I think.

Reflecting over these images and experiences as I weeded and dug through my final overgrown garden the other day, I couldn’t help but think about how big of a deal I had made of and how long I’d put off undertaking this garden project. I thought about all the excuses I had and all the obstacles I saw and in retrospect I really just needed a leaping off point and some direction. If it were knitting, it was like I had the yarn but couldn’t figure out what pattern to use and didn’t know where to start looking.

As I thought about all the stages of the project, what I kept coming back to was the image of my gardening genius friend, the architect of the gardening exploits rolling up in her little compact car. Each time she came over to help & direct me, all she brought with her was a trunk full of plants, a shovel, and the enthusiasm to get the job done & make it great. Every technique she taught me, every aspect of the process was so simple and basic and inexpensive. I was reminded that reclaiming space is really just about making the time and taking the time to make it happen. No elaborate tools or plans or loads of money were necessary. Time and effort, that’s the true secret to reclaiming space — in your house, in your garden, in your mind, in your life.