I Climbed a Mountain… and Found Some Birds

Okay, not really. But I did get in a good challenging hike straight up the side of a mountain. The almost-last section of trail was a couple hundred feet across what I think was once a glacial moraine. It’s basically a long (wide) line of large rocks and small boulders running across and sort-of-down the mountain.

I’ve gone up that trail before but always stopped at the edge of the rocks. Yesterday I said ‘fuck it’ and just kept going. Shortly after the edge of the rocks the trail I was on ended at the Appalachian Trail.

Gotta admit, I looked at the A.T. and was tempted to just keep going. Didn’t matter which way, I just wanted more trail and more time on the trail.

But I told Michael I’d be hiking in the local nature center. It’s basic trail safety: you tell someone where you are going to be, because accidents happen and cell phones don’t always work on the trails. So I turned my back on A.T. and headed back down the mountain.

Maybe next time.

Birds!

First Encounters

Along the driveway to the nature center, I saw a bunch of blue-and-white (with the blue shading to black in places) birds sitting on a fence. And a couple of yellow birds with black wings flying away. So before I hit the trail I stopped in at the center (open for once — I usually go late in the day after it’s closed) to see if anyone know what birds those were.

I mentioned to the volunteer that I had been thinking of picking up bird watching again. I walked out with the names of three new birds (while she was showing me some tree swallows to confirm that’s what I saw on the drive up, a red-winged blackbird flew by) a check list of birds that folks had reported seeing at the nature center and surrounding trails, and a guide to which birds are likely to be found where.

Bird Watching On the Trail

Walking through the scrub of the lower-trail to the trail I wanted was frustrating. I heard birds everywhere squawking their heads off. But I couldn’t see them. Or if I could it was just a quick flash. Once I got on my trail and into the forest-proper, I mostly forgot about the birds and focused on the hike.

I paused a few times to look for particularly loud or near-sounding birds, which also let me pace myself a bit. (Which I needed. While I felt fine pretty much the entire hike, when I was almost back to the scrub I noticed my blood pressure was spiking. I don’t have high blood pressure, so this was unusual and a concern. On the up side, I clearly got my cardio for the day.) Most of the time I didn’t see anything, and I never saw any of the noisemakers I was looking for.

But one time when I looked up at just the right moment, I saw a scarlet tanager (male) fly by.

(It’s possible the yellow-and-black bird I saw driving up was another scarlet tanager (female), but given that the area was scrub and wetlands I’m betting on American Goldfinch.)

There was a bench I knew of on the short loop trail through the scrub, so I got off my trail again I looked for it and sat down. Resting gave my blood pressure a chance to come down as my heart got a break, and gave me a chance to look through the guide in more detail than the quick glance I gave it before hitting the trail.

Awesome Ending

My last, and best, surprise came at the very end of the scrub trail. A tiny bird, small enough to fit in Kidling’s hand, was ‘hiding’ in a small evergreen shrub. ‘Hiding’ because I could easily see right through the shrub at any point it’s limbs were so loose.

The bird hopped from branch to branch, dipping it’s tail every now and again. I slowed, taking a step every couple of seconds and tried to stay quiet as I did so.

I’m pretty sure it knew I was there, but it must have felt safe in the shrub because it stayed there, letting me get a good long look at it. It was brown on the back and wings, yellow on the stomach. It had what looked like white lines around it’s eyes, but in the shadow of the shrub might have been yellow. On it’s head, a red cap. It was the red cap that kept me looking so long. I wasn’t quite sure I was seeing it. But eventually it tilted it’s head in just the right way that I saw the cap clearly.

As I passed the shrub it was hiding it, still at a slow pace, it flew away.

Mixed up Identity

The volunteer at the nature center told me it was an ovenbird and was really excited about it. I forgot how much fun it was connect with other people who are excited about nature and talking about birds and trees, and that weird-melted looking bit on the one rock, what could have caused that anyway?

I got home and immediately started looking up the birds I saw, confirming my identification.

It wasn’t an ovenbird. It was a palm warbler. Apparently they are pretty rare in the area. Ovenbirds are the usual warblers with a redcap around here, which explains the volunteers mistake. But ovenbirds have a white belly and no eye flash. This one must have been migrating a bit late (apparently they usually migrate in early spring, which is the only time we usually see them here.)

I’m not sure I’m right in my identification. But everything I’m seeing is that red cap, yellow belly, eye flash, tail bob in scrub means palm warbler. And the ONLY other warbler with a red cap is the ovenbird.

So that was a pretty cool end to the hike.

Personal Win

I woke this morning without any of the stiffness or soreness I half expected after climbing over all those rocks. I’ve always known it’s my legs that are in the best shape for my body, but that still surprised me a bit. Might make that trail a weekly run for the cardio, and see what other birds I can find while I’m at it.

Remembering Myself

One important thing I realized from this hike, is that in becoming the Old ‘Woman’ I’m not just trying to do new things or strengthen the things I already do. I’m reclaiming things I had lost. I grew up bird watching through my grandmother’s windows, with her huge, old, falling apart Guide to North American birds usually open the page on chickadees and sparrows. I spent most of my teen years tromping through woods whether doing a proper hike or just rambling through a local patch of forest.

These are things that were always part of me, and I lost track of with the stress, time-loss, and struggles of adulting-while-poor.

I’m going to enjoy reclaiming them.

Battling Imposter Syndrome

This week is the first time I’ve actually had to come up with a blog topic, instead of writing about whatever comes to mind as relevant. So I decided to take a look at which of my goals I haven’t written about in a while. And immediately realized that I haven’t addressed the farm at all. And that I am terrified to write about it.

Battling Imposter Syndrome

The thing is, all my other goals are, in some way a natural extension of who I am now. Oh, getting the generational home will take a hell of a lot more money than any of has and I’m a long way from being able to look in the mirror and see the old ‘woman’. But they are still closely related to who I am now. I can see the seed of them in myself, even if it hasn’t come to flower yet.

The farm

Okay. Here’s the hard truth: I’ve had a black thumb since I moved out of my parents’ house.

Growing up, I was always in the garden. I was the one who picked the flowers we’d plant each spring out of the catalogs Dad ordered for me. (LOTS of tulips and later hyacinths. Mom hated the smell of the hyacinths but to me, they smell of spring.) I was the one who pushed to have a vegetable garden and had to be talked about of getting fruit trees because ‘they take years to produce anything!’ (I still don’t see why this is a reason not to try. We had the room for more trees and we could have enjoyed apple or cherry blossoms just as much as we enjoyed the blossoms of the dogwood trees I WAS allowed to get. The fruit would come eventually.) I planted, I watered and weeded. I picked the cucumbers when they were ripe and found the tiny strawberries peaking between their leaves. (Store bought strawberries haven’t tasted right since.)

But after I moved out, I couldn’t even keep a houseplant alive.

So am I actually able to keep a garden, much less a farm, going? Or was it just that I had Dad to tell me what to do, when to do it, and to handle the stuff I didn’t know I didn’t know that made the garden I had growing up possible?

What the hell am I thinking trying to get a farm going when I manage to kill cacti, of all things?!

Looking Past Fear

The only way I’ve found to get past imposter syndrome is to bring logic into it.

First, of course, I needed Dad’s help as a kid — I was a kid. That doesn’t mean the experience doesn’t count or I didn’t learn anything from it.

Second, all my experience growing up was with outside plants. That doesn’t translate well to understanding where to put *indoor* plants for maximum light. Or how often/how much to water something in a pot, never mind stuff like fertilizer, repotting, etc.

Third, half the times I tried to grow anything in the past 15 years, I was in a crisis or survival situation. I could barely able to handle the basics of life and self-care, never mind plant care. Yes, I forgot to water or didn’t make sure the plant was in an area with good air circulation (lack of air circulation combined with too much water is what killed the cacti — mold found a nice home and moved in) in those situations. That does not mean I won’t be able to manage plant care in a healthy situation.

Fourth, in the past few years I’ve learned that I am autistic, have been battling a major B12 deficiency for most of the past decade, have bipolar disorder, and that my PTSD was way worse and more pervasive than I had thought. Untreated medical and mental conditions and no support do not make for good project management of any sort. Especially project management involving living things.

So I can’t take the past as a predictor of the future. I need to start from today. Battling imposter syndrome isn’t easy, but it’s doable. And the main thing it takes is just being stubborn.

I’m good at stubborn.

Starting From Today

Today I have a handful of plants, most of them fairly new. There’s a pansy that I picked up because I wanted to have something that I could enjoy without worrying about how to keep it alive. No matter what I do it’s going to die off in a few months. A hyacinth sort of ‘ditto’. We don’t have anywhere to plant the bulb when the season is over, but I’m hoping to find someone to give it to so it will bloom again next year. I’m nowhere near ready to try coaxing a bulb to grow and bloom out of a pot.

I have a fern that I picked up last week. No clue yet how it will do long term. But I have a spot right next to my desk where it gets the bright (but not direct) light it needs and where I can easily check if it needs water.

Finally, I have my last surviving cactus. It’s actually a cutting from one the cacti I managed to kill over the winter. But it seems to be doing okay, it’s putting down roots and has one new branch.

Recently I realized that pot it’s in is way too big for it. So I’ll be repotting it in the near future. We’ll see how that goes.

I have tentative plans to try to grow some micro-greens this summer. It isn’t exactly hard to get seeds to sprout, and it’ll be a small success I can enjoy (metaphorically and digestively).

Okay, TODAY…

(The annoying thing about writing posts ahead of time and having a buffer is that sometimes things CHANGE before the post goes live…)

The re-potting seems to have gone well. This cactus starting as a cutting from one of the cacti I killed. It is putting down roots and a small branch. No sign of mold or other problems (yet). So fingers crossed!

One thing I forgot to mention is that I kept all the cacti alive for a bit over a year before the mold hit. I moved them to a new location where they both got less light (so water evaporated more slowly) and less air circulation, and, well, yeah.

Re-potting the cactus into a small pot that fit it better left me with a lot of soil from the over-sized pot that had been used only a month or so. I didn’t want to just through it out, seemed like a waste. So instead I checked it pretty obsessively for any kind of mold and went ahead and planted the spinach seeds I had tucked away from the last time I tried to grow spinach (which didn’t go all that well). No, I didn’t plant them in the big pot. I have a tin foil cake pan that got to squashed to make cake with. Spread the soil out in there about a half inch deep, sprinkle with seeds, put it in a spot with good light.

See what happens. Hopefully, if I did (and keep doing) everything right, in a couple weeks I’ll have a nice microgreens salad.

After that, it’ll be small steps. I’m at least a couple of years away from having a yard where I can have an outdoor garden. No need to rush. Just take it a day at a time and enjoy the plants I have.

And keep telling imposter syndrome to STFU.