The Birds and the Trees

I started this serious nature phase a tree girl through and through. Give me your leafy, your tall, your rough brown bark, yearning to breathe CO2. It has come as something of a surprise, since as a child I was quite crazy for insects, amphibians, and mammals, and really anything with eyes that moved. Worms met only one of those criteria but man I dug them too (literally). The plants seemed like background to me, or like a playground in some backyards, but even after I read the claim of Ellie Satler, Jurassic Park’s infamous paleobotanist, that plants are lifeforms just as competitive and creative as any species in the animal kingdom, my primary plant questions were: can I eat it? and is that Poison Ivy?

I remember well the day I learned to ID Poison Ivy beyond the mysterious and worrisome “leaves of three.” That describes a lot of plants so you basically think it might be everywhere. It was relatively late in my outdoors game, when I went to work at an Outdoor Learning Center and was spending the day digging up stinging nettles from around the wobble woozy. For the record- I learned my lesson the easy way. No rash, just a quick leaf shape demo. There are three leaves. They are symmetrical, with a little foot on the outer edge of the distal leaves. The center leaf has little feet on both sides. Here is a helpful photo from the NY DOT

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While I was at the ‘ol GVOLC I also learned to pick out some edible weeds that I enjoyed snacking on while bored or flirting at meetings (held, naturally, in the grass). That may have planted the seed (stop me now) of my plant orientation. Later I had some epic tree experiences while in Oregon, and then came back and started my now well-documented Tree Love escapade which continues to this day.

That brings me to my reason for writing. I have had the pleasure of learning more about birds recently too. I finally have more or less achieved my goal of recognizing the bird calls that I hear around here most mornings. It is winter and there aren’t that many making noise, but it is a joy. I can even recognize a number whose names I barely knew a year ago. That is what is so confusing right now… I feel my sweet little heart is making a total eclipse and turning to the birds while placing their tree perches back in the background. Tree love is also free love and you love who you love, but I thought I was more committed than this. In my defense: there has basically been a foot of snow on the ground for months, keeping me from many hikes, and I know what the trees out my window are. I also recently acquired great binoculars, and that has really opened things up in the bird world. This morning I heard a cardinal singing away when I got out of the shower, and after checking out a few windows I spotted him, grabbed my binoculars, and watched him opening his beak to produce the noise I had heard. He sat up high in the Dawn Redwood, bright red against the blue sky, and it was lovely.

Birders have a reputation for taking a competitive bent out there. I am a competitive person, and I found tree loving to be a nice, peaceful respite from all of that silliness. It was meditative, examining and bending over and reaching up to different elements of a tree that could all help me decide what to call it. Birding is another beast. Birds are not likely to sit still while you calmly look them up and down. Birds will not sit in the same spot for someone to come and introduce you to their kind. An unusual bird may appear by the roadside on the way to work and leave you feeling like the cat that ate the canary. All of this is exciting in a way that feels distinctly different from my tree appreciation. It feels different from my love of nature. It is almost like watching Breaking Bad, an adrenaline rush that keeps me coming back for more. I hear someone calling now and I am going to give in and try and find him. But I certainly hope that before bud break I take a little time with my gentle and quiet winter tree friends.

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