Thursday, April 06, 2006

Crows, Hawks, and Other Totems

I had an interesting experience today; interesting, but not entirely unusual for me. I walked down Marine Avenue toward the Cliff Walk this afternoon, seeing a crow sitting on the fence they've put up to block access to the Walk while they do some major fixing-up and improvements. I had the camera out and got one shot off about 50 feet away from him. Then I started walking closer, but he flew off the fence. But not away from me. He flew toward me and perched on a branch just over my head and a little to my right, not much more than about 5 feet away. And from his perch he proceeded to laugh at me and called two other crows over to join in the fun. This lasted a good 15 minutes, and all four of us had a great time.

I'm serious about this. This kind of thing happens with me and crows a lot. I like crows and they seem to sense it and return the feeling. One time I was walking through a park and there were some crows hanging out on the grass. One of them grabbed a stick in his beak and came over and started hopping around me like a black Lab playing stick. So I decided to play along - I tried to grab the stick away from him. He'd hop around, and if my hand got too near the stick he'd hop up to a tree branch over my head, and the other crows in the group he was in would laugh at me. This went on for a good while until somebody who had been looking on finally came over, and the whole flock of crows took off. The guy was totally amazed, and asked me if he was seeing right and that crow was actually playing stick with me. Yup, he sure was. Because crows and I seem to have an affinity for each other, I adopted Crow as one of my totems. I have the Haida Raven tattooed on my left shoulder in honor of that.

Hawks also seem to tolerate my presence, and sometimes even sit calmly nearby while I photograph them and talk to them. The first time I noticed this was about three years ago when I surprised a male Northern Harrier taking a bath in a bog pool beside Brenton Rd. He got all flustered and hopped up on a tree branch at about my head level and about 10 feet away. He sat and eyed me, and then commenced into his post-bath preening. I didn't have a camera with me that time. Anyhow, he stayed on that branch until a car came, at which point he flew off. Since then I've had numerous similar encounters with hawks, most notably about a year ago when a young Redtail sat in a tree and actually posed for me, ignoring the crows who were mobbing him (crows hate hawks and usually manage to drive them out of their territory, but this hawk just ignored them), and literally posed for my camera. He's sit in one position while I snapped away, then he'd shift and strike another pose. After a while I quit taking pictures and just enjoyed being in the presence of this gorgeous bird, and at that point he figured the session was over and flew off.

So I have an affinity with hawks, too. And I've adopted Hawk as another totem, and have a stylized hawk's eye tattooed over my heart in honor of it.

I don't try to explain or rationalize stuff like this any more, I just accept it and try to do honor to it. I like being out in nature and I like hanging out with the critters there. Native Americans, Siberians, Australian Aborigines, and other peoples around the world adopt animals as totems who come to them in dreams or in waking life. They accept these animals as messengers in their lives and try to learn what such an animal has to teach them. My totems don't seem to appear in my dreams, but they do approach me when I'm out in their territory.

So what am I learning from my totems? Well, I like crows because I think they're natural comedians. They like to laugh, and they definitely like to play. I like to laugh and play, too, so I guess we were naturally fitted to each other. Hawks I'm not as sure about. I'm still studying them to see what it is they have to teach me. I know they're infinitely patient, sitting in a tree or floating so still in the air, looking for prey. I can be patient, but I know I have a lot of room for improvement. So maybe I hang out with hawks to learn patience.

In any case, I like hanging out with my feathered buddies. And lately I've been having more opportunities to observe Turkey Vultures. I don't think we've achieved totem status yet, but I'm watching and waiting to see where it might lead.

Sorry, no picture of the day. Blogger seems to be busy, and I have to get to bed. Later!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Spring is stirring!

Yes indeed, Spring is stirring. The crocuses and daffodils and other narcissi have been up for a while, but now other stuff is starting to appear. That on the left there is called Mountain Sandwort. They're tiny little flowers, probably not even 1/16th of an inch, just a little white dot to the naked eye. I took this with a 250D macro lens. Right now the "greenery" of the plant appears red, but as the plants mature they'll turn green. They grow in the dirt that accumulates in cracks and deep depressions in rock. This one is growing in the rock on the overlook in Ballard Park where I like to sit and meditate and keep an eye out for hawks and turkey vultures. The picture to the right is a different, wider crop from the same master picture that served as the source for the shot on the left. You can get a better idea of the red of the stems and leaves, and you can see an unopened bloom in the background.

This to the left is a single bloom on a Ground Ivy plant. This one was part of a big patch growing on the dike around the Big Pond (officially named Easton's Pond for those of you inclined to look at a map of Newport, RI). It's in the Mint family (but don't eat the leaves!), and it usually grows in grassy, lawn-like areas, usually in the woods somewhere. This one was right out in the open, and though I'm told it does happen, it surprised me because I'm used to finding them among the grass next to streams way back in the trees. The first time I recall stumbling across Ground Ivy was in the grass around and in a small, walled, and very hidden graveyard down in Maryland; it was along the hiking trail that travels down the west side of Loch Raven Reservoir, about a mile and a half north of where the trail crosses Dulaney Valley Rd. It was a hot day and it felt great to be under the trees, and of course my fascination with graveyards also drew me. But I remember those little purple flowers growing in the grass. By the way, that shot on the right is from the next plant over from the first one; I wanted to get that shot of two blooms. Don't they look like two Barracudas poking their heads out of a reef?

No picture of the day this time - you got four of 'em!