I’m a person that is usually on the go. However, I know first-hand the benefits of standing still.
I recently went to the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to do some birding. I have learned that the open spaces along and near parking lots are favored by certain bird species. Wildflowers and dense brush grow there beneath mature deciduous trees. That combination provides both cover and food for my avian friends.
It didn’t take me long to be rewarded. Though it was windy, the birds were active. Due to the wind, however, most kept low and in the thicket, making it harder to photograph them or even find them with binoculars.
On this overcast morning, the sun suddenly peeked through, and just as suddenly, this lone Cedar Waxwing landed on a pokeweed bush right in front of me. I slowly raised my camera and clicked away.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Cedar Waxings are some of my favorite birds due to their posture, coloration, and behavior make them regal birds. I snapped off four quick shots of this beauty as it checked its surroundings, and then just as quickly as it had arrived, the bird flew off.
Other than the slow raising of my camera and the ear-to-ear smile, I hadn’t moved. I was graciously rewarded for standing still. For the record, cropping and adding my watermark were the only “alterations” done to the photo.
“The benefits of standing still” is my Photo of the Week.
It’s been a long winter. That’s true whether you live in Minnesota, where winter seems eternal, or here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where consistent spring weather should have arrived long ago.
When it comes to weather here, there are no guarantees. Put another way, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a while. It will change.
I’ve heard people say that about the weather in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Florida to name a few locations. Regardless of the state of residence, they are all correct. Apparently “here” is a relative place. Weather in many areas is even more fickle than politicians or used car salesmen.
That seems especially apt now when winter seems determined to hold her icy grip on the good folks in many states. Just when we think spring has arrived with a lovely warm day, the next day brings cold and wind and too often more unwanted snow.
People mumble about the unseasonable cold, impatient to get outside in shorts and t-shirts and work or play in decent weather. Excavators, contractors, and landscapers make promises they can’t keep to customers, and then justifiably blame the lousy weather for the delays.
Temperatures far and wide are 20 degrees Fahrenheit or more below average for April. It isn’t the first time, however, that the weather has played havoc with people’s springtime schedules. Record lows are in the teens from bygone years long forgotten.
I can remember a frost on June 2. My wife recalls snow on her birthday, May 27. Our young son once endured a nine-mile ride home in a four-wheel drive fire truck from a friend’s house during an April snowstorm that dumped 20 heavy, wet inches on Holmes County.
Of course, two days later, the only remaining evidence of the storm was the snow piles from parking lots being plowed. The weather did warm up. It will warm up again, eventually.
After all, haven’t the daffodils bloomed? Aren’t the tulips ready to show their bright colors? Aren’t the tree buds swollen or even already unfurling? Has your lawn been mowed? Aren’t the robins calling out their territorial cacophonies? I bet the answers are mostly in the affirmative to that little springtime quiz.
Yes, it’s been a long, cold, wet winter, but nothing that we haven’t seen before and will likely see again. It’s just that we are so anxious for warming sunshine and frolic outside that we often lose our perspective. No matter what state of residence, we forget that all of this has happened before, not in the same order perhaps, but with the same frustrating results.
The other day I observed a brief, hopeful moment in my backyard that exactly proves my point of this year’s overlap of winter and spring. Side-by-side, a white-throated sparrow jumped and scratched for seed on the ground while a chipping sparrow pecked at the same offerings like a couple on a dinner date. The latter may stay, while I’ll soon miss the former’s magical song.
Seeing those two species together served a not so subtle reminder. Life goes on, just not at the pace or with the climatological conditions we humans desire. But eventually spring will indeed out-muscle winter, the weather will warm, and we’ll soon be complaining about having to mow the lawn twice a week.
Humans, you see, can be as capricious as the weather. In truth, the annual transition of hibernation to rebirth will find closure. Just be patient and keep a warm coat handy.
The first flowers of the year bloomed in our yard on April 1. No fooling.
My wife found them while picking up sticks after several additional days of steady, biting winds that brought down more tree debris. I had done the same chore a week previous.
Golds, lavenders and purples of spring, assisted by the blossoms’ compatriot green leafy shafts, poked through the tree trash. That’s the one nice thing about crocuses. They replenish themselves without any effort on our part, as long as furry varmints don’t devour them.
The royal purple, lovely lavender, and buttery yellow crocuses were welcomed splashes of joyous color amid the decaying aftermath of winter’s harshness. Even the honeybees thought so.
Dead limbs and burnished leaves littered the yard thanks to continuous cold winds. It was mostly the shingle oaks and red oaks that finally released last year’s growth.
It could be easy to be remorseful given the depth of winter’s persistent, piercing punches. To be blunt, the last two winters in Ohio have been brutal. The current condition of any highway, rural, suburban, urban or interstate, is proof enough of that.
The fact is that when you live in northern Ohio, awaiting spring requires patience. We shouldn’t allow either the sullenness of winter’s negative effect nor the cloudy, cool spring days to dull our senses to the numerous subtle changes that are occurring beyond the short-lived flowerings.
Those hints are our daily hope. We only need to watch and listen to realize spring’s emergence.
Here’s what I’ve witnessed so far. The glint of another promising sunrise flashed off the harness hardware of the draft horses pulling one bottom plows turning topsoil. Chilly mid-morning April showers sent them all to the barn.
A Chipping Sparrow trilled its repetitious song from the safety of the blue spruce at the corner of our home. It was nice to hear its monotonous melody again.
A Red-winged Blackbird sang its luxurious chorus from the top of the tallest pine on our property. It had been doing so for a month already. When our son was a youngster, he always noted when this common bird with its flashy red wing patches first sang its welcoming song atop that tree.
Cardinals and American Robins joined in the musical mayhem, staking out their territories, and trying to attract a mate. The robins regularly asserted themselves, especially against their diminutive but beautiful cousins, the Eastern Bluebirds.
Molting American Goldfinches squabbled at the bird feeder by the kitchen window as if their changing colors irritated their familial demeanor. An Eastern Phoebe popped onto the same limb it claimed last year and naturally bobbed its lobed tail.
An awakened fox squirrel was a sight to see as well. Pelting rains had disheveled its scrubby fur as it munched and munched on sunflower seeds.
Buds on trees like the flowering dogwood and shrubs like the lilac swell slowly, stealthily. Eventually, they will burst into full blossom, spreading both their beauty and fragrances for all to enjoy.
Long, hard winters followed by chilly, wet starts to spring can get us behaving badly if we’re not careful. We get antsy for the weather we so desire. Tending to both flower and vegetable gardens beats shoveling snow any day.
With the recent rains and warmer temperatures, it looks as though our steadfast but frayed patience has finally paid off. Let’s hope both fairer weather and pleasant attitudes prevail right on into summer.
Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime.
Some people, however, just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m not talking about the giddy children anxiously anticipating what might lie beneath the festooned tree on Christmas morning.
Holiday commercials, promotions, and displays showered themselves upon us well before Halloween. Decorations and pre-holiday sale items sprouted in retail stores before autumn leaves had reached their peak.
Every year, the onslaught of Black Friday opens the floodgate to the Christmas shopping season. Besides profit, I wondered what the rush was all about. If there is a war on Christmas, surely this is it. The commercialization of a blessed, annual holiday demeans the true meaning of the season.
For me, Christmas is about waiting, not rushing. Life passes by in a flash the way it is. Why accelerate it all the more, especially at such a celebrative occasion? Let’s treasure this special time of year.
Christmas is about expectation. My childhood memories are filled with fondness for the days leading up to Christmas. Whether real or imagined, a certain inexplicable stir was in the air filling us with excited glee.
At school, crayon-colored paper ornaments, stars, wreaths, and candy canes replaced the finger painted turkeys on the classroom windows. We drew names for the gift exchange, one-dollar limit.
Children began combing through Sears catalogs to assist them in making their Christmas lists. Santa got them in plenty of time.
Those days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to just linger. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, it was as if time ticked in slow motion.
The excitement and anticipation of the holidays built with each passing day. Christmas was the mountaintop, and we started climbing the slope one step at a time only after Thanksgiving.
Our father enjoyed the holiday season as much or more than his five offspring. On a frigid night, Dad loaded us up in the family sedan to welcome Santa’s arrival at the end of the annual Christmas parade in the downtown blue-collar Ohio city where we lived.
We visited city centers in Akron, Canton and Cleveland more to window shop than Christmas shop. Customer friendly department stores with familiar names like Higbee’s, Polsky’s, and Kobacker’s all decorated their display windows with exquisite Christmas scenes.
Those stores are no more. A lot has changed since then.
Amid all of today’s commercials, online ads, daily deluges of discounts on everything from candles to Cadillac’s, it’s easy to get caught up in the race to Christmas. Doesn’t all of that actually run counter to the Advent season itself?
Historically, Christmas was all about hope, waiting, and watching. When the actual event occurred, only a few people recognized what had happened. Even then, most didn’t seem to fully comprehend.
Shepherds and kings from afar were struck with glorious awe at the event we now call Christmas. Others never even noticed because of their preconceived notions. As that story has been retold year after year, generation after generation, the characters involved in that first Christmas became the icons of how we now celebrate the season, Santa not included of course.
Christmas is a couple of weeks away. Will we rush our way to it, or will we wait and watch, and anticipate all the precious joys the day and the season have to offer?
Maybe it’s just my age. But I’m going to do my best to savor this season one day at a time. How about you?
I don’t watch much television. But what little I do, I can’t help but notice how the torrent of holiday-oriented commercials focuses on the urgency of buying something really nice for that special someone in your life.
Celebrating Christmas in our advanced society seems distorted. A brand new car wrapped with a huge red ribbon and bow sitting in the driveway, a sparkling diamond ring and a gold necklace cannot supersede the original gifts of the Magi.
Eager for customers, the ads have managed to push their way to the forefront of the holiday season much too early. Growing up, the countdown to Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday. Today, it seems to start the day after Labor Day.
Even here in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we feel the hustle and bustle of the season. Without admitting it, we might even add to it. It’s always easier to see the fault of others than your own.
I don’t want to be negative about Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday of the year.
I just think that given all the commercialization of Christmas, we need a different approach. As I reflect on the historical account of the Advent season that I learned early in life, it seems more and more obvious to me that Christmas really is more about patience than it is presents.
I have many fond childhood memories of readying for Christmas, and the excited anticipation of Christmas morning. My brothers and sisters and I couldn’t wait to raid the pretty packages strewn beneath the tree on Christmas morning. That scene was not the model of patience.
Mom and Dad had stayed up late assembling and wrapping the gifts for us kids. We always pushed our luck at getting up before the crack of dawn to undo what it had taken Santa and our folks hours to prepare.
But what a happy morning it was, with the excitement of surprise with every unwrapping. Those days were simple compared to what passes as season’s greetings today. I find the entire holiday hubbub of shopping, buying and spending exhausting.
I long for the true peace and quiet of Christmas, with the family gathered, the fireplace blazing, the tree’s lights sparkling. Of course, we maintain the gift-giving tradition. We have just toned it down so that reason rules. We want the gifts to represent personal quality instead of absurd quantity.
The stockings hang by the chimney with care. They are filled on Christmas Eve, and emptied on Christmas morn. Just like when I was a child, an orange will be the last to tumble out of each.
The grandkids will watch The Polar Express over and over until the DVR wears out. We’ll play games, eat, and bask in the glow of the moment and the season.
Our modern society may rush the Advent season and judge it by its economic success. But as for me and my family, we will enjoy each others company, joyously share our humble appreciation and rejoice that it is Christmas once again.