Species Parade, Week Five

Babies have left the nest. You can hear and watch them still begging their parents for food, beaks open, wings shivering. They can be clumsy flyers, sometimes struggling to land right on branches. The ravens, in my observation, are the loudest and klutziest of newbies. Raven siblings hang out together all summer and beyond.

Thirty-nine species this week, highlighted be a Lazuli Bunting and by flushing and getting a good luck at a nighthawk.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.49.56 AMFollow our weekly updates to appreciate the outstanding opportunities for wildlife spotting ‘round these parts! Sign up for our newsletter.

Mammals:

Black Tailed Jackrabbit

Cottontail Rabbit

Mule Deer

Coyote

Rock Squirrel

Brush Mouse

Birds:

House finch

Tufted Titmouse

NIghthawk

NIghthawk

Black Capped Chickadee

Bushtit

Common Raven

Scrub Jay

Magpie

Turkey

Dark-Eyed Junco

Nighthawk in flight

Nighthawk in flight

Ringed Turtle Dove

Rock Dove

Western Kingbird

Lesser Goldfinch

Mountain Bluebird

Meadowlark

Rufous-sided Towhee

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Chipping sparrow

Black Headed Grosbeak

Lazuli Bunting

House wren

American Kestrel

Turkey Vulture

Great Horned Owl

Ferruginous Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Killdeer

Starling

American Robin

Cooper’s Hawk

Common Poor Will

Common Nighthawk

 

The Case against Mindfulness

Like a once-favorite song, this trend of mindfulness is starting to vex me. Its popularity is what social media and connectivity felt like five or 10 years ago. But already, I just wish folks would get over it.ins outside

  • Please delete Headspace, the meditation app, from your phone.
  • Please stop saying “mindful” at every opportunity.
  • Please don’t give me that look that says you’re non-judgmental and always cycle thoughts through your mindful filter before speaking.

Nowadays, this preoccupation with mindfulness eats up all the spare time of cultured folks. For this informed and plugged-in populace, mindfulness is what intellectualism used to be.

  • 12903699615_a6ca8e092b_oIt is the virtual selfie, taken daily, even hourly.
  • It’s a brain scan developed by its owner.
  • It’s the therapist you don’t have to pay.
  • It’s right up there with pop cultural literacy as the must-have conversation element. As in, “I just loved that TED talk by Andy Puddicombe!”

Meanwhile, reading books has become quaint and oddly unfashionable. Someone visited our house the other day, looked at our bookshelves, and asked innocently, “Who likes books?” As if books were a quirky, souvenir spoon collection.

bellMeanwhile, what happened to actually getting out and doing things? Since when did being inside our heads become more satisfying than engaging with the outdoors or playing sports? Oh, wait. We now call events like those “experiential” and they will be appropriately documented on aforementioned connectivity platforms. “Being present” while “getting out” has become a bit of an oxymoron.

I’ve observed a verifiable bell curve of consciousness, that’s making me wish I had more 7- or 70-year old friends. If you track age along one line, and consciousness/mindfulness on the other, you can see it clearly. Kids and old folks (especially those who are dementing, god bless ‘em) tend to be unconscious of their own mindfulness. In other words, they aren’t mindful of their ability to be present. They’re present, of course, but they won’t be messaging anyone about the moment or scribbling about it to themselves.

IMG_2229I admit to being guilty of this over-consciousness. I, too, have been sucked into the pitfalls of too much self-awareness. Like singing a hook of that once-favorite song, it can be a hard tic to shake. Sing it, then mutter to myself, “Stop!” Sing it again, shout, “Gawdalmighty.”

And don’t get me wrong. I’m all for slowing down. I’m all for slow food, slow uphill hikes, the slow development of connection between a person and the wild, or between a horse and rider. Slowing down, yes! Dead stop? Please, no!

I talked about this cultural trend with David Gessner last week. The author of “All the

David Gessner

David Gessner

Wild that Remains” spent a few years studying Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey.

“The word ‘mindfulness’ makes me want to kick back a little bit. And not kick back, as in ‘relax.’ …Cows are probably pretty good at being in the moment. Human beings, not so much,” he said.

Gessner reminded me of a famous and related line from Abbey: “Enough with saving the world. Let’s go down the river.”

So, I’m keeping Abbey close while crafting my resolve:

Get out and get outside your head.

Or, as my son, Beau likes to say: #Getoffyourbuttandfeelthings.IMG_1673

Real live streaming

Never has getting outside been a more conscious, deliberate activity. But when you get out, where goes your brain?

ins outsideAssuming you’re alone, do you focus on emptying your mind and being ‘present?’ Or, do you let your mind flit restlessly from topic to topic, like a bushtit from branch to branch? Or, are you a student of the wilderness, treating a hike like a laboratory learning session?

Mindfulness and meditation are all the rage.  The smart phone app, Headspace, has more than a million subscribers and offers them scads of guided meditation sessions. Of course, you can take it with you into the back country. What’s more, research seems to quantify the benefits of calming and emptying the mind.

But I’m also a fan of Zen’s psychological foils: train of thought and stream of consciousness.IMG_1912

Whilst sitting at a desk, the writer’ mind is laboriously pedaling forward, hell bent to the task. On a hike, that same mind gets to coast, pedal backwards, and play with the footholds. The best article leads, epiphanies, leaps of connection, and rewrites come to me during a hike, not while sitting purposefully at the desk. I have confidence that this dwell time will yield results, if I come to it without purpose and just let the mind do its thing.

Which brings us back to research.

I heard this week that video games may soon be prescribed for kids with Attention Deficit, since research is supporting the notion that the screen time can gain their focus and calm the kids’ harried brains. Gawd. Why can’t doctors write prescriptions for hiking boots and binoculars? I’m betting kids couldn’t help but benefit from their own, more organic form of dwell time. And if they get dirty, tired, and sore in the process? All the better.

Your thoughts are always welcome.

Species Parade, Week Four

In my twenties, I worked for two summers as a field researcher in Michigan and North Carolina. My job was studying Indigo Buntings, finding their nests, catching and banding the adults, as well as the young.

aaBuntings like to nest in secondary growth – tall grass, brambles, prickly shrubs. Their nests are hard to find if you’re just using your eyes.

But if you use your ears and knowledge of bird behavior, the job becomes much easier. Birds get upset when you’re near their nests. Depending on the species, they made chirp wildly, flit about, or get downright aggressive (Gulls will dive bomb and poop on you).

Paying attention to bird behavior is how I stumbled upon this fantastic Cooper’s hawk and her nest full of babies. I noticed her because of the cacophony of smaller birds, upset by her presence. She was perched above the trail, examining me, and did not take flight as raptors usually do. That was the tip off.

I looked around. Deep in the scrub oak, twenty feet off the ground, sat her nest. A nestling looked back at me, then another.

I was reminded again that the key to winning the wilderness lottery (seeing stuff, having cool moments) means following the ‘Can’t win if you don’t play’ mantra. It’s directly proportional to the amount of time you spend out there and the attention you bring to it.

aaaForty species this week.

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Mammals:

Black Tailed Jackrabbit

Cottontail Rabbit

Mule Deer

Coyote

Rock Squirrel

Yellow bellied Marmot

Birds:

House finch

aTufted Titmouse

Black Capped Chickadee

Goldfinch

Bushtit

Red-Tailed Hawk

Common Raven

Scrub Jay

Magpie

Turkey

Dark-Eyed Junco

aaaaRinged Turtle Dove

Rock Dove

Catbird

Red winged Blackbird

Western Kingbird

Lesser Goldfinch

Mountain Bluebird

Meadowlark

Rufous-sided Towhee

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Chipping sparrow

California Quail

House wren

American Kestrel

Turkey Vulture

Common Poor Will

Common Nighthawk

Great Horned Owl

Killdeer

Starling

American Robin

Cooper’s Hawk

 

Mountain conversation oddly civil

While my Maine friends lobby to have Governor LePage impeached and the Pine Tree State stays mired in a certain degree of discontent, discord, and intransigence, folks in Utah seems downright ducky and team-spirited.

snowIt might have something to do with the pro-business environment and one of the strongest Republican majorities in the country. (Utah’s House and Senate are about 80 percent GOP. Governor Gary Herbert is Republican.)

Over the past year or more, the ski resort, Snowbird, has wanted to swap several hundred acres with the national forest land in order to expand its resort. I started to shake my head, imagining all the glad-handing and winks as the deal moved through the process. And, it’s true. By Maine standards, the process has been incredibly smooth and speedy.

Alas, it’s being challenged by concerned residents in Utah county and beyond! Hooray.

Here are some links to the situation as it stands currently:

Mountain Accord is a consortium dedicated to “ensuring the long term vitality” of the Wasatch Mountains.

Fox News covers the process.m

Herald newspaper reports on what’s at stake.

Thanks to my friend, Dave Jarvis, for reminding me of the topic and the current public discussion.

 

Species Parade, Week Three

IMG_0335

 

At night, outside my window, there’s an intermittent beepy-buzzing. It’s not one of the familiar goatsuckers (nighthawk or poor will). It’ll keep me guessing, I’m guessing.

That’s the fun of getting out and seeing (or not seeing) animals. They keep you guessing. They’re like the weather, with rhythms of predictability and unpredictablity.

Mr. Hare (black tailed jackrabbit) never showed at the water tub until this week. Now, he’s a regular.

The coyotes practically hiked with us months ago. That’s how often we encountered them. Now, we only hear them at night.

One day, you’ll see adult animals with young. The next day, there are no young. Did they take off? Did they die?

Thirty eight species this week. We could have topped forty, if we were better listeners and ID-ers.

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Mammals:

Black Tailed Jackrabbit

Cottontail Rabbit

Mule Deer

CoyoteIMG_1358

Rock Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Uinta Chipmunk

Birds:

House finch

Tufted Titmouse

Black Capped Chickadee

Goldfinch

Bushtit

Red-Tailed Hawk

Common Raven

Scrub Jay

Magpie

Turkey

Dark-Eyed Junco

IMG_1002Ringed Turtle Dove

Mountain Bluebird

Meadowlark

Rufous-sided Towhee

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Chipping sparrow

California Quail

Black headed grosbeak

House wren

IMG_8365American Kestrel

Turkey Vulture

Common Poor Will

Common Nighthawk

Great Horned Owl

Small Eared Owl

Killdeer

Steller’s Jay

Starling

American Robin

 

Backpacker as a museum piece

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

John Muir

 

Reality is scary and boring.

ins outsideWilderness is beautiful and tiresome.

Getting Out is serene and challenging.

Getting Out, however, might not rate when stacked against the clean, quick, and quantifiable routines offered by technology and domesticity, That’s especially true if those routines have become automatic. Everyone knows the power of habit.

Somewhere between frontiersmen times and now, getting out into the wilderness was a default recreation for many of us. It started with the woods behind the house and expanded from there. Getting out offered a chance to indulge our escapism, to affirm our belief in self-sufficiency, and to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We got out not because we had to, but because we wanted to enjoy what wilderness offered. We learned to crave it.

IMG_1277These were routines:

Hefting a backpack.

Summiting a peak.

Pitching a tent.

Breathing hard.

Getting grimy.

Testing sore muscles.

Following maps.

2Listening.

Hunting grouse.

Swatting mosquitoes.

Catching fish.

Building campfires.

Feeling.

 

Forget about the black footed ferret, now WE are endangered. Soon enough, the camping family may be in museums (That’s camping without television and toilets. RVing does not count.)

Next month, the big Outdoor Retailer expo at the Salt Palace is throwing a kickoff gala, a “Party with a Purpose.” The purpose? “To tackle the growing divide between young people and nature.”

John Gookin has been watching that divide. He’s the curriculum and research manager at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming. He was also my instructor for a NOLS trip, decades ago.

John Gookin

John Gookin

Like many of us, Gookin hung out in the woods a lot when he was a kid.

“Now, Moms don’t say, ‘Go outside and play.’ They say, ‘Go to your room and play,’” he said.

Fewer and fewer students come to NOLS with any previous backcountry experience, he told me. “They are in more of a raw state and they aren’t as fit.”

Indeed, wilderness education programs (WEPs) like NOLS are becoming increasingly crucial for introducing concepts and habits which many of us learned as kids of camping parents: Leave No Trace, simple living, environmental stewardship.

Research shows that WEPs can and do have a significant impact on how students view the wilderness and what they do with that information. But as researcher Besty Lindley of Utah Valley University found, most NOLS students already come with some wilderness-minded ideas and ideals. The course “enhanced a preexisting love,” said one interviewed student.

"To inspire a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts."

“To inspire a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts.”

In other words, NOLS and similar WEPs are like liberal arts colleges, mostly the domain of the privileged.

How do we reintroduce wilderness to the masses when the trend is one of urbanization? How do we help them learn to crave it?

  • Do we reach them through retail? (We report from the Outdoor Retailer.)
  • Outreach? (We talk with Estee Rivera Murdock of the National Park Service.)
  • Public education? (We check out the idea of “Forest Monday” in schools.)

And, contrarily, is all this effort worth it? What happens if we walk away?

To Note: Meet someone who’s bucking the trend. My son, Beau Gaughran, documents his travels and adventures through photo and film. Check out his Instagram account here.

Check out related content on our sister site, BestHorsePractices: The umbrella idea of Beasts of Being, making horses newly relevant and recognized in the 21st century.

 

 

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