Sleep, eat, read… blog

Yard December 30

When I didn’t put together a blog post in late October, I resolved to make up for it in November. After November passed without a post, I planned something for December. And when January loomed with the blog still silent, I finally admitted that I had been neglecting more than the blog. I wasn’t procrastinating. I was depressed. Again.

Yard December 30

My inertia started with procrastination, but, as the days grew shorter and shorter, depression took over. In retrospect, I knew this all along. I tried to ignore the symptoms, but in mid-October I had quit doing most of the things I enjoy. The blog was just my most public absence.

Flowers Nov 9

By November, the yard and I were weather-worn and brittle.

Flowers Nov 9

Flowers Nov 9

Off and on in November I picked up my camera, took a few photos, and thought vaguely of how I would describe them in a blog post. Each time I decided to pay bills or clean out the closet instead. (More often than not, I then decided to put off the bills and the closet, too.) So this photo of spider eggs never posted:

Eggs November 24

Nor this exquisite moth:

Moth Sept 17

I woke briefly in mid-November, when the Yellow-rumped Warblers arrived, but soon drifted back into my sleep-eat-read-sleep routine.

Warbler Nov 16

Squirrel Nov 9

Rabbit Nov 9

As December counted down, I told myself lies about how busy I was with holiday preparations.

Ornaments Dec 26 2015

I told others these lies, too, because they were easier than admitting to everyone that the holidays made me feel sad and lonely. That, despite my love for festive decorations, much of my nostalgia is tinged with grief.

Ornaments Dec 26 2015

During my lost months, I watched flocks of birds gather and move on, feeling each time as if I had missed an important message.

Flock Nov 20

Birds Nov 9

Crow Nov 9

Then, one bright and unseasonably warm afternoon, a pair of vultures paused over the yard, basking in the sun. These beautiful, under-appreciated birds sent me scrambling for my camera, something I had not done in weeks.

Vulture Dec 10

Vulture Dec 10

Vulture Dec 10

And on Christmas Eve, despite dreary clouds and a threat of storms, I enjoyed an afternoon in the yard with my camera.

Starling Dec 24

This time I felt closer to getting the message.

Birds Dec 24

In the after-Christmas lull, I slept and ate and read and slept, but there was a spark of something different in the routine. A current of ambition to do more than sleep and eat and read. As I put away our decorations, I noticed a pot of pansies that I had never planted. And all the empty bird feeders.

Muscovy Jan 3

On the first Sunday of 2016, I took a walk with my old camera. As I photographed ducks and geese and seagulls, my internal dialogue became a patter of possible captions for the photos. That evening I edited the images with extra care, eager to post them. But I couldn’t decide how to post them. The blog had been silent for so long. Now that I was ready to post again, how should I explain my absence? Should I simply resume posting? Gloss over two months fogged by recurring depression?

Merganser Jan 3

If I tried to explain, would I be able to describe depression without being depressing? (I don’t believe I’ve succeeded, but I decided to post this anyway. Too many people avoid talking about depression for too many reasons, which makes it that much lonelier.)

Heron Jan 3

I’ve lived with depression (and its frequent companion–anxiety) for a very long time. Longer than I’ll usually admit. Compared to past experience, this bout was mild and short-lived. Now I’m making changes that should help speed my recovery. Over the weekend I stocked the kitchen with healthier food, started exercising, and spent more time outside with my camera. These are, I’ve learned, my best defenses.

Seagull Jan 3

So as January progresses, along with a more mindful schedule of sleeping and eating and reading, I’ll be walking and writing and blogging. (And renewing my efforts to learn meditation. More on this later.)

Mallard Jan 3

And as the days get longer and longer, I’ll start looking forward to spring. Because spring will come. It always does.

Mallard Jan 3

Little Brown Skinks

Skink Jan 13

Earlier this week I took a long walk on the Osmanthus Trail at First Landing State Park. The day was eerily warm, and I was not the only one enjoying the bright sunshine. I saw dozens of Little Brown Skinks (which are also called Ground Skinks.)

Skink Jan 13

All along the trail glittering flashes of brown slipped into cover as I approached. If I stopped and stood very still, they emerged again.

Skink Jan 13

Sometimes they emerged in pairs and scuffles broke out. Or resumed.

Skink Jan 13

Skink Jan 13

Skink Jan 13

I wondered if these were mating displays or true battles for territory.

Skink Jan 13

The skinks were so entertaining that I kept my camera focused on the ground for much of my walk. Even so, I caught a single frame of a curious Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush January 13

And I never pass up an opportunity to photograph Hooded Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser Jan 13

I missed photos of woodpeckers and chickadees and an unfamiliar warbler, but I don’t regret the day’s lizard fixation. I’m delighted to add Little Brown Skinks to the archive, because there is always room for life. My archive will never be full, and I will never tire of trying to fill it.

Mergansers, Ducks, and More

Hooded Merganser Jan 5

A few days ago I noticed a group of Hooded Mergansers on a pond near our house. I didn’t have time to stop that day, but today’s mild weather convinced me to spend a few hours with my camera.

Hooded Merganser Jan 5

I counted eight mergansers on the pond today (four males and four females), as well as a pair of Mallards and a pair of Northern Shovelers.

Shoveler Jan 5

Shoveler Jan 5

On the banks, a Great Egret watched from one side and a Great Blue Heron from the other.

Egret January 5

Heron Jan 5

This was the day’s smallest pond, and it had the most birds. A much larger pond (more lake than pond) a few miles away was mostly deserted. Three seagulls rested in the middle, and two Pied-billed Grebes fished near the shore.

Pied Billed Grebe Jan 5

Pied Billed Grebe Jan 5

Finally, we drove through a growing neighborhood that was landscaped with several mid-sized ponds, each populated with sleepy mallards.

Mallards Jan 5

All afternoon clouds gathered and thickened in the sky, and by the time we returned home wind was beginning to blow the day’s warmth out to sea. Now rain is on the horizon, followed by icy cold. I’m sure many of the smaller ponds will freeze over, and again I find myself wondering about the birds. Do they know what is coming? Do they already know where they will go, when ice drives them out? I know where I’ll be–curled up with my blankets and books and cats, grateful as always for the luxuries of home.

Hooded Mergansers

I saw my first-ever hooded mergansers in January of this year:

Mergansers Jan 15

Since then, I’ve seen them everywhere. At the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, prior to boarding a whale watching boat:

Merganser Feb 3

At Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge:

Merganser Feb 6

And, most recently, at First Landing State Park:

Merganser Feb 22

(In the photo above, the male seemed to be keeping watch while his mate foraged. She is partly visible in the background, captured mid-dive.)

Reviewing these photos, it’s hard to explain how I missed these lovely birds in the past. Is it possible that they were rarer in previous years? Has some imperceptible fluctuation in our weather pattern drawn them here in larger numbers than usual? Or are they like an unfamiliar word, more likely to be noticed in the days and weeks following their first recognition?


View Feb 22

February’s annual malaise has set in. My mood reflects the sky’s gray clouds. My joints ache, brittle with frost. Each morning is more reluctant than the last, and each evening more welcome.

My instinct is to hide from February. To find a dry den, line it with blankets, and retreat into sleep’s warm sanctuary.

View Feb 22

But then, when I woke to the storm-scented gusts of spring, I would regret my weeks of sleep. I would wonder what I had missed, while hibernating…

Merganser Feb 22

Squirrel Feb 22

Unknown Bird Feb 22

Mallards Feb 22