I ridiculously talk to animals when I’m trying to take their picture. “A little to the right.” “Don’t move.” “You’re so cute!” “Stay.”
I don’t have the best camera, so I like to get as close as possible to get a good shot. Of course, the closer I get, the more the animal moves away. Too often, it skedaddles completely.
Sadly, wildlife photography is difficult because animals are afraid of us. They’re constantly on alert for predators. They can never fully relax. I hate this. Not only would I love to get close enough for great photos (and cuddles), I would love for these precious creatures to live without fear.
In the Bible, Isaiah 11:6-9 describes the future, after God creates a new earth:
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy.
This description is so far out from our reality, it’s hard to imagine. But, this is exactly what God intended in the first place. This is how everything began.
Sin affected all of creation, not just people. But there is good news. When God destroys sin and evil for good, all creatures great and small will enjoy peace, joy, and freedom from fear. Forever and ever. And ever.
Today I walked through the woods along Otter Creek, and I saw something I’ve never seen before: a white squirrel. I’ve seen billions of squirrels, but I’ve never spotted one that looked like this. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first. I moved in for a closer look and a photo. Having recently seen a rare white bison, I figured I must have stumbled through the wardrobe and entered Narnia.
I posted the photo on my Facebook page, along with a note about the uncommonness of these cuties. My friend Lori commented that white squirrels aren’t all that rare, as she has seen them frequently. I shared the link to the research initiative, which includes a map that indicates where white squirrels have been observed. Lori replied that she spends most of her time in three of the areas highlighted on the map. Apparently, Lori lives in a “white squirrel world”!
It’s a great reminder that we each come to the table with a perspective based on our own experience and knowledge. We should strive to be aware of our paradigms and stay open to alternative points of view. And we should take more walks in the woods.
Have you seen a white squirrel or other uncommon creature? Leave a reply below!
Recently I shared my photo of the rear ends of three bison. While it was an interesting perspective, it violated a rule of animal photography (well, probably two rules). I understand that it’s important to make sure the animal’s eyes (or at least one eye) can be seen.
Bird photos can be particularly tricky because of all those dang branches. I took this photo of a red-bellied woodpecker last weekend, and I definitely enjoy being able to look the bird in the eye. It seems that we make a connection that way, and I like that.
It reminds me of the Bible verse that says “not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” (Matthew 10:29), which inspired these lyrics by Civilla D. Martin:
His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.
God keeps His eye on His creation with loving care. That includes the bison and the birds. That includes you and me. When we turn our eyes toward Him, we complete that connection. I’m grateful that He makes it possible for us to connect with Him, with other people, and with animals.
For most of the last 25 years, the first snowfall of the season was also the last. I lived in the Pacific Northwest (on the rainy side of the Cascades) and, before that, in the Washington, D.C., area. I missed enjoying four distinct seasons, and I especially missed the snow.
When I was a little kid, I lived in central Wisconsin. I built snowmen and made snow angels. I caught snowflakes on frozen black construction paper to see their delicate designs. I jumped off the roof into snowdrifts (don’t try this at home). On the walk to and from school (uphill both ways), my brother and I played King of the Mountain on the snow piled up on the side of the road. We iceskated on Grace’s Pond and tobogganed down Indian Hill.
Then I moved away from the Midwest. I ended up in places too far south or too close to the Pacific Ocean. All winter, I would check the forecast to see whether snow was the way. If it was, childlike anticipation would build up in me. I prayed for enough snow to render us all snowbound (fortunately, that didn’t take much in these snow-deprived locales). When the snow came, I was enchanted, and I made the most of it. Then the snow melted, and I wouldn’t see it again for another year. As quickly as it had come, it was gone.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m here, back in Wisconsin. I moved here on November 4. On November 13, we got about three inches of snow. Beautiful, enchanting snow. I took this picture of the river and hill behind my place.
I have the same childlike wonder and joy as I always have. But, this time, I know that the first snowfall of the season will not be the last.
This is a rare photo of bison bums. Animals are not pretentious. They are not self-conscious. They go about their business and care not what we think of them.
Lunch occupied these impressive beasts as I watched them at Irvine Park & Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, over the weekend.
You’ll notice that one is a white bison. The National Bison Association estimated that white bison occur in about one out of every 10 million births. I didn’t know this statistic when I saw the bison. If I had known at the time how rare it was, I would have paid more attention.
Too often, we don’t recognize how rare or special something (or someone) is. So, we miss out. There’s seeing something, and then there’s fully appreciating it. Nature is replete with opportunities to appreciate special and awe-inspiring experiences. Let’s not miss out.
Eight days after arriving in Wisconsin, I took this picture in the Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area.
I just moved from the Pacific Northwest. One of the primary motivations was to live somewhere with four distinct seasons—after living for many years with two distinct seasons. I call them summer and fallwinterspring. Fallwinterspring is about nine months of overcast and rain—and about one snowfall. I’m a snow lover, and that’s nowhere near enough.
I’m excited to live in a place that has four beautiful seasons. I was a bit disappointed to catch only the last of autumn’s colors, but I know they will come back around. I also know that winter is on the way.
Each season has a beauty of its own, and I don’t want to miss one moment.
I took this picture on one of my nature outings. Nearly every day I take pictures in the woods and wetlands behind my house in the Pacific Northwest. I’m certainly no John James Audubon or Bindi the Jungle Girl, but I am slowly learning to identify flora and fauna that I see on a regular basis.
Of great help to me are a couple of apps: Merlin Bird ID and PictureThis. Google Lens also can be helpful, except for that time when it identified a blurry raccoon as a New Guinean long-nosed bandicoot.
When I saw this bird, I didn’t know what it was. It looked a bit like the juvenile European starlings I’d seen. In other words, brown. That’s pretty much all I could tell. When I got home, I uploaded the picture to the Merlin Bird ID app, and the result came back: American robin.
Say what? Robins are orange! That was my initial reaction, and that’s why I missed the identification on my own. I’ve seen a million robins, but I was off track in thinking that robins are orange. More accurately, robins’ breasts are orange and their heads and backs are brown. All I could see of this bird was its head and back. All I could see was brown. As soon as the app identified the bird as a robin, I noticed the tiny bit of orange breast that can be seen in the photo. I also noticed (yet again) that my critical thinking skills have room to grow.
I love it when this sort of thing happens. It reminds me that my thinking can be distorted by perspective and a bias for familiarity. I missed the ID because of my perspective; I could see only brown. I missed the ID because it looked a bit like another bird in my miniscule bird repertoire.
Too bad this distorted thinking isn’t limited to wildlife identification (although even then it can be lamentable if we mistake a grizzly for a Great Dane). We do it more often than we realize. The good news is that we can train our brains to think more effectively, to sharpen our critical thinking skills. Being aware of our perspectives and biases moves us in the right direction. Listening to the perspectives of others takes us even further.
Let’s train ourselves to think more effectively. Let’s remember that the robin isn’t just orange.
Tiny frog unseen until leaping from the bright leaf
I love the challenge of haiku. Reading it and writing it. Haiku in English, that is. I’m not quite up for the challenge of real Japanese haiku! Still, English haiku has its demands that make it a beautiful process and product.
SYLLABLES • That sensational syllabic structure that made haiku famous! Three lines of up to 17 syllables (typically 10 to 14). If this is the only demand you make on your haiku, you’re missing out.
SEASON • The kigo takes the poem to another level. A kigo is a season word. It’s meant to refer — subtly — to a season of the year. The majority of kigo are drawn from the natural world.
CUT • Ready for the next level of challenge and beauty? The third element of haiku is a cut (kire) — indicated by a real or a verbal punctuation mark — to compare two images or ideas implicitly. The essence of haiku is ‘cutting’ (kiru). Sometimes this is done by juxtaposing two images or ideas with a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.
Young rabbit Sanctuary The edge of the wood
A handful of syllables. A subtle reference to season. A juxtaposition of images or ideas.
One of the many aspects of haiku that I love is that it’s simple. It doesn’t try to do and be everything. It typically captures a fleeting moment in time. Haiku shuns excess.
“The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.” (Matsuo Bashō)
I love haiku for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t tell; it shows. It doesn’t explain; it suggests. It doesn’t expose; it hints.
Yesterday morning I saw what I believed was a bald eagle in my pajamas. (I know what you’re thinking: What was a bald eagle doing in my pajamas?)
After calculating the laziness factor of birdwatching from bed, I sprung into action, grabbed my camera, and got a few shots. Then I strapped on my snowshoes and headed toward the tree where I saw the bird. (I know what you’re thinking: What was I doing in a tree?)
When I got close, I was excited to see that the bird was still there. It was a bit like what Francis Scott Key must have felt when he saw that the flag was still there. (Okay, it wasn’t anywhere near that exciting much less meaningful, but you get my drift.)
I took more photos. The bird appeared to be dark all over, so I dismissed the bald eagle hypothesis (always something I’m loathe to do).
I trudged back home and took a look at the pictures I had taken. This is a photo I took from my bedroom window:
Keep in mind that the bird was a looooong way off, my camera has its limitations, and my window could use a wash. Still, it looks like a bald eagle, right? Huge. White head and tail. Bright yellow beak. “America the Beautiful” playing in the background. Why did I see an all-dark bird when I got closer to the tree?
Then I got to the second set of bird photos (separated by a few shots of snow and then more snow).
Excusez-moi? Who are you, and what did you do with my bald eagle? Apparently I missed the changing of the guard.
I entered the photos into my Merlin Bird ID app to get some insight into what was going on. I was especially looking for confirmation of the bald eagle ID! I uploaded that photo to the app. Drum roll, please …
American crow. Or black-backed woodpecker. Or great horned owl.
Huh? I uploaded it a second time.
Brown-headed cowbird. Or dark-eyed junco.
I know it’s a crummy photo, but please try harder.
American crow. Or green heron.
I give up. Let’s try the photo of the second bird.
Red-tailed hawk. Or red-shouldered hawk.
That’s more like it. I’ll buy that.
So, what am I to think about the first bird? According to the app, it’s a woodpecker or an owl or a heron or a walrus or a sheep or one of the Backstreet Boys. What should we do when we are trying to determine the truth and our go-to authority seems off?
First of all, we keep in mind that it’s possible that our go-to authority is off. Blind trust is risky. Humans and their inventions are fallible. Secondly, we look at the evidence.
Building evidence-based beliefs means that we consider all of the evidence and figure out the best explanation for that evidence. What is the evidence about this bird’s identification?
My app is fairly reliable, but it has been wrong before, especially when the photo is poor quality.
The bird is huge and appears to have a dark body, white head, white tail, and yellow beak. This description fits a bald eagle and no other bird that I’m aware of, at least in this area. Caveats: I am not familiar with all types of birds, and the image quality is so poor, I might not have an accurate description of it.
I shared the photo on Facebook and asked people what they thought it was. Six out of six people identified it as an eagle.
The Merlin Bird ID app includes bald eagles on the list of likely birds in Vancouver, Washington, today.
At least two bald eagles have been spotted in this immediate area in recent days.
I really want it to be a bald eagle.
Okay, okay. That last one isn’t evidence. We often allow our desires to influence our beliefs, but we’ve really got to stop that. So, let’s throw that one out. What are we left with? When we can’t be certain, we settle for possibilities and probabilities. Based on the evidence, I am comfortable at this point with believing that it is probably a bald eagle.
Notice that, above, I didn’t ask for the evidence that this is a bald eagle; I asked for evidence aboutthebird’s identification. On Facebook, I didn’t ask others whether they thought it was a bald eagle; I asked them what they thought it was. Starting out with a presumption or bias can steer us in the wrong direction.
I want to know the truth, whatever it is. So, I leave the door open for more evidence if it should ever come. In this case, I can invite more evidence by asking what y’all think. I’m interested to know what you think of the first photo, especially if you have experience with bird identification. Let me know in the comments below!
The woman ahead of me on the hiking trail mildly admonished her small son, who was lagging behind her. I thought the child must have picked up a worm, or doggie doo, or a bad habit. As I got closer, though, I saw that the boy was holding a huge leaf. He was valiantly defying her order. Brave little soldier.
The boy ambled about, reluctant to shed himself of this forest treasure — and perhaps loath to get within range of a parent with confiscation on her mind. I totally empathized with the child. When I was a kid, I asked my dad to stop the car on the side of the road so I could collect giant pinecones that I spied as we drove along winding mountain roads.
The mother repeated the instruction: “Drop the leaf, Louie.” (The name has been changed to protect the innocent.) I passed the boy and then the mother and continued along the trail. I don’t know how it all turned out, but I hope that giant leaf made it home with Louie.
Now, I admit that I don’t know the whole story. Maybe there was a good reason why the mother didn’t want the boy to continue carrying the leaf. I’m quite sure it wasn’t poison oak or cannabis. Perhaps the leaf distracted the boy so that he wasn’t keeping up with the mother’s desired pace.
Undoubtedly, the child was in awe. The enormous leaf monopolized his attention. At least for this moment, it was his. He could twist it around in his little hands and marvel at its immensity and beauty. Maybe he was dreaming up what he might do with the leaf or what he could fashion it into. Perhaps he wondered what kind of tree could produce such a leaf and how big the tree could grow.
Live like Louie
As children, our natural instincts include awe, curiosity, imagination, and connection to nature. Too often, those instincts eventually get beaten out of us to a large degree. Many of us spend too much of our lives indoors, busy, distracted, and moving at a fast pace.
I admire Louie. He reminded me to be childlike, embracing traits that are vital to thoughtful living: awe, curiosity, imagination, and connection to nature. Let’s join Louie by getting outside more, slowing our pace, and finding things that render us awestruck and make our imaginations run wild.