May 29 – Thankful for These Moments

Two of my goals this year are spending more time in nature and taking my camera along more to be intentional about observations as I work to improve my photography. Sunday at Hamburg State Park turned out to be a gorgeous day, and I wanted to take my camera back to the mill we’d toured the previous day to look around the dam outside and see what all was in the area of the bridge and the creek. We drove the short distance from our campsite to go exploring, but we decided to leave the dogs in their soft-sided kennel in the car with the windows cracked since the temperatures were cool. In areas like these, you never know what might be lurking under a log or near the water, so we left them in the truck to nap as we kept an eye on them from the bottom of the ramp near the water.

There are birdhouses all around Hamburg State Park, and as I checked information on my eBird account and Merlin app, I discovered that this was a birding hotspot. Just a few seconds of sound recording proved that there were many different species singing from the tops of the trees. Swallows, bluebirds, a variety of warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and cardinals topped the lists in a few spots, along with vireos and wrens. I saw an Eastern Kingbird, too.

But swooping down first on one side of the dam and then the other was a Great Egret with a wide wingspan, its legs looking as skinny as those wire marshmallow roasters we hold over the fire, trailing in flight behind him.

I dashed across the road to get a glimpse from the bridge, clicking away all the while, as he led me straight to his friend – – a Great Blue Heron. They waded in the water on their thin backward-scissoring legs, scanning for birds, their necks craning up, down, and sideways with an odd humor, much like a dog that cocks his head back and forth when he strains to understand. Watching these birds was a highlight of my entire weekend!

I heard my husband calling my name, trying to get my attention from afar and be quiet all at the same time. He was standing frozen still, telling me to have my camera ready. I headed in his direction as he urged me to come quickly but approach slowly.

There. Do you see on that tree stump?

He pointed at the base of the stump just across the water, a few feet away.

I was looking for a bird.

I wasn’t expecting a snake.

But there it was, a venomous Cottonmouth, as big around as a giant summer sausage with its Zorro mask and owl eye patterns down its sides, looking a lot like an ellipsis inside parentheses to an English teacher. It had been approaching the top of the tree stump and turned around to seek shelter in the hole at the base when it saw my husband. It stopped briefly to flick its forked tongue at us for interrupting its plans, took us in for just a moment eye to eye, then continued on its way to shelter beneath the ground.

I felt blessed to have seen this snake in the wild (happy, of course, that it was on the other side of the water), and even more glad we’d left the dogs in the car. I was also counting my blessings that I could positively identify the snake. You see, a year ago, I joined two Georgia snake groups that are monitored by expert herpetologists who identify any snake posted on the page with a quick turnaround time. I’ve learned how to tell commonly mistaken species apart and gained an appreciation for the extensive role of snakes in our ecosystem. The groups are What Kind of Snake is This? Georgia and Georgia Snake Identification and Education, both on Facebook. As soon as I posted the photo and location, the response from the expert confirmed what I had learned from repeated similar sightings posted by others.

Venomous Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus. Keep a safe distance to watch this one!

I’m grateful today for fascinating moments like these. I’m abundantly grateful for the men and women who fought bravely defending this nation and its places that I love and who ultimately gave their lives for the peace I enjoy today in these state parks full of quirky, underappreciated, and often misunderstood wildlife. I’m praying for the families whose hearts are heavy with remembering the joy their fallen loved ones brought, missing all the memories they sacrificed so that I could enjoy making these memories today. For us, this day is not about a day off from work grilling hot dogs in merriment, but one of taking time to realize that the rights and freedoms we have today have come only because those before us fought for them – and died for them.

And that is how we are keeping Memorial Day a sacred time of remembering and appreciating.

Hamburg Mill Dam
Barn Swallow
Day Lilies
Eastern Bluebird
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret
My husband, standing across the creek from the Cottonmouth
Venomous Cottonmouth
Venomous Cottonmouth showing its forked tongue
A lovely sunset

#VerseLove April 4 – Grammatically Ungrammatical with Jennifer Guyor Jowett

Our host today at for Day 4 of #VerseLove is Jennifer Guyor Jowett of Michigan, who invites us to write grammatically ungrammatical poems, using mixed up parts of speech in place of others and made up words without regard for rules. You can nounify verbs, verbify adjectives, or whatever you want to do to write this type of poem. Come meet Jennifer and read her poem and prompt here!

A daughter of mine on a desert hike with a peace sign
Birkenstock Peaced-Up Pipe Dreams

when we wander Birkenstocks
corkbed frolic nope to socks
camouflagely sherpa’d arch
hippiescuffle guitar’d march
bellishbottomed denimly jeans
knowexactly peaced-up means
leatherfringe’d-up gauchovest
showsly braless halter’d chest
macramae’d-up shoulderbag
carefree pet rock tail-she-wag
daisychainedup tousled locks
when we wander Birkenstocks

Slice of Life Challenge – March 8 – Mother Nature’s Healing Powers: The Benefits of Ecotherapy

Throughout February, I worked on a plan to involve others in my blogging experiences this month. Today, my sister-in-law, Dr. Bethany Johnson, is my guest blogger on the benefits of Ecotherapy.

Dr. Bethany Johnson

Dr. Bethany Johnson is a professor of Sociology and Cultural Anthropology. She is a writing contributor for several online magazines, including Prime Women and Honey Good. Last summer , when working with @beginningisnow with actress Brooke Shields, she was selected as one of the 40 Most Influential Women Over 40. Currently, she is in the beginning stages of writing a book about losing unnecessary social expectations and rediscovering oneself. Please welcome Bethany today!

Mother Nature’s Healing Ability – The Benefits of Ecotherapy

Have you ever been feeling down, stressed, or just overall not feeling good and then gone outside for a bit only to begin to feel better? It isn’t a coincidence that being outside made you feel better. The answer to many of our physical, emotional, and mental lows can be found right beyond your door.

Ecotherapy is known as the practice of therapy that focuses on being outdoors and in nature. It is also known as nature therapy or green therapy. The term ecotherapy arose in 1992 when Professor Theodor Roszark used it in his book The Voice of the Earth. Many doctors (mostly functional physicians) are now using the connection with nature as part of protocol for getting healthier. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of being in nature. Many may say there is not enough research to validate this theory, however, there are enough examples of it working to make a reasonable connection.

A Dose of Nature a Day:
 Helps lower blood pressure
 Helps control diabetes
 Lowers stress and anxiety
 Rises energy levels, fights fatigue, and increases the quality of sleep
 Reduces depression
 Reduces the levels of ADD and ADHD
 Increases mental focus

Since I began studying the practice of ecotherapy, my experiences outside are so different. Each trip outside brings something different – even when I am in the same place. I now am very purposeful in slowing down and connecting with what is around me. Today, for example, on my walk I saw the bright white dogwood trees, I felt the sun warm my skin, especially my toes (which must have been cold from being inside and I hadn’t noticed until my walk), and off in the distance I heard a woodpecker. While walking, I first smelled something burning … wood. However, the wind shifted and then I smelled fresh cut grass. This is one of my favorite smells in the world and immediately took me back to my childhood living on the farm in Illinois! My walk tomorrow will be a whole new experience, and I can’t wait!

Gaining the benefits from ecotherapy is not difficult. You simply need to make time to get outside! The important aspect of ecotherapy is simply being outdoors and connecting to the natural elements. No matter what you are doing outside, be conscious of the fresh air you are breathing in, the wind or breeze blowing across your skin, the sounds that surround you (this is better if it is sounds of nature and not of human life). Make certain to acknowledge the colors that surround you. Look at the greens of the trees and grass, the vibrant colors of the flowers, the different textures such as the roughness of tree bark but the smoothness of a flower petal. Make certain to engage all four senses: touch, taste, smell and hearing. So, get up and get out!! Enjoy nature and heal your tired body, mind, and soul. Love to all of you!

Special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for giving writers space and voice!