It’s raining, a common theme for this blog as wet weather typically drives me indoors, yet precipitation for March started out slow and only now, late in the month, has it drizzled all day and given me time to struggle on writing this post. Thankfully, all the apple trees are planted. Which lead me to this flashing blue enigma alighting on a row post, a Mountain Bluebird. It was flitting around in the raspberry/apple orchard. Down from the mountains I guess, as its name and range map suggest. Perhaps the slightly colder temperatures and recent snow pushed him down to lower elevations. Local birders may attest to a different domain, but I was excited because it’s a new species for me!
Coincidentally, Aldo Leopold’s March entry from A Sand County Almanac mainly deals with the spring return of Canada Geese to his native Wisconsin. (For me in Snohomish County, Washington however, it is the departure of Snow Geese that signals Spring is here.) His observations on the comings and goings of Canadian Geese far surpass what I can say about this lone bluebird. Nevertheless, I am very appreciative at how this blog has opened my eyes to new wildlife out my back door.
For instance, last month I mentioned a few ducks that I spotted in my fields, yet I failed to catalog a lone duck with a redhead. At first, I just assumed it was just that–a Redhead, but it turns out Redheads are diving ducks and not likely found puddling in less than a foot of water. So, I pocketed that error and went about my life wondering, what was it?
Well, a couple of weeks later I was given a second chance as I happened upon that duck in another field a couple of miles from my farm. It was mingling with the usual company of Northern Shoveler and Pintail, Mallard, and American Widgeon. After a suspect U-turn in the road, I zoomed in with some binoculars and noted some key features like the redhead, but also a white band near the black rump and a slight, creme colored mohawk above its bill.
By now avid birders have their arms raised and waving, “I know! I know!” Yet most of us would not recognize it, let alone notice that there were ducks there in the first place. In the March post of A Sand County Leopold, Aldo too points out the ignorance of modern humans. His example has to do with a well educated lady who has never heard the geese proclaim the coming of Spring, nor their farewell exit in Fall. He begs the question,
“Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?”
I venture to answer that it is, yet there is a philosophical rabbit hole to this question, which stems mainly from one’s concept of education, awareness, and worth. Taking that aside, Mr. Leopold finished his thought with,
“The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers.”
In other words, a goose who flies north in the spring, oblivious to the signs of winter’s waning, is likely to die cold or eaten. Whereas humans are now on a completely new trajectory. Our awareness of weather, water, air, beasts, and birds is less and less. In fairness, we hardly need any more perception than what’s in front of our face. Most of our daily self is wholly consumed by our technology. We’ve traded consciousness for comfort.
Don’t get me wrong. I succumb to the easy-out: the radio, smartphone, TV, social media, etc. What bothers me is not the knowledge I gain through these devices, but the insight I lose when I’m so absorbed in them. On the flip side, what is the cost to Nature when one more admirer goes missing? I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax and I ask, Who speaks for the trees? Or rather, to rephrase Aldo’s intro quote,
Who teaches awareness so that we can find value in Nature?
Obviously, a rhetorical question, yet not one I asked with great intent–I understand that most readers do value Nature and actively learn and teach of its importance. What I’m getting at is the need for people to continue exploring their natural world. To know it, and value it, because if we are not aware that a Mountain Bluebird is in our backyard. Then, we won’t care when it’s gone.
You can’t lose what you ain’t never had. –Muddy Waters
A true blue lyric, full of sadness and defeated longing, yet I’m optimistic, which is why when I glimpsed the duck above I already had field glasses in my car and of course my phone. So, after carefully examining the bird’s features, I searched up “redhead duck” and found, not far from the top, Eurasian Widgeon. What a thrill! Another species added to my list. Another new life to value.
I’d like to conclude with a proactive, forward look to Aldo Leopold’s quote:
Practice and teach awareness so that we can discover, value, and preserve Nature.
Now, of course, close your device and get outside. Despite the rain, I’m going out to finish wrapping blackberry canes. Maybe I’ll see the bluebird again, or a flock of snow geese heading north.