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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 9-22-23 – The Great Migration

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence - that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.” ― Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother's Memoir Hawk MT

The cycles of life have been with me a great deal in recent weeks. It is also a time of the year I tend to reflect on how life on earth moves around us, often in ways we miss unless we focus on it. And focus we should. We are part and parcel of our world and its cycles. Today is the last day of Summer, 2023. We are moving into Fall with the autumnal equinox occurring tomorrow or for those on the east coast like me, at precisely 2:50 AM EST. Tomorrow, when most wake up, we will officially be in a new season. The sun is shining directly on the equator, with each hemisphere receiving the same amount of light. Days get shorter, and the nights grow longer. I love this season for so many reasons.

Migration is also upon us. Vast seas of animals move about us in preparation for the coming winter. We do the same. Friends are canning their harvested garden bounty. I start thinking about winterizing the house or going out and enjoying the season in the woods. I hope the woods win often. Over the next few weeks, millions of birds will pass over our heads, often at night while we sleep as this is the most common time for bird migration and why cities with all of their lights and reflective light windows are confusing for birds. There is a real time migratory bird map called Birdcast managed by some of the leading ornithology institutions. When I wrote this, 425 million birds moved nocturnally.

As a person who bird watches, this is a key time for me to get out in the wild as migration moves into full gear. I do enjoy birdwatching. There are different types of birdwatchers. I am not the kind with an obsessive focus on a life list and the drive to cross every species off. I do it to reflect, relax and observe. To be grounded. It is a time of year where the chance of seeing something spectacular, like a huge Broadwing Hawk flight of thousands of birds or a species not often seen is much more likely than in any other time of year, at least where I live. But truth be told, if I get out in the woods and don’t see anything rare, it is still a special time for me.

The next few weeks will include more movement for me than usual as I bounce across PA and a number of other states. I may get the opportunity to see migration along the gulf coast, something long on my bucket list. I look forward to these travels, but also look forward to the slower times that tend to come during the looming winter months.

The Fall reminds me that I am part of that cycle of life flowing around me. It is my 58th fall solstice, what I see in the season had changed as I have over the years although it has always been my favorite season. One of the big shifts for me occurred during the Pandemic. Because of the accompanying isolation, in many ways my world got smaller. It forced me to look at more incremental change in nature. I found new spots to hang out and observe life flowing past and above me. In coming weeks, there is a spot along the Delaware where I know I can hear Northern Saw Whet Owls in the predawn hours. They have distinctive calls and are notoriously hard to spot even if you are quite close. It would be nice to spot one this year, but if I only hear them while watching the sun rise over the horizon as the river flows in front of me, I will still be in my element. Which perhaps is a sign of how I have mellowed over the passing seasons.

Indoor time draw nigh. Fires in the fireplace, stews and ideal book reading conditions. I am blessed with comfortable living. I know this winter I will have heat, food, shelter, and safety from the elements. There will be opportunities to celebrate holidays with friends and family. We have a short vacation planned, which is not something we have been able to pull off much in recent years. All of these things to look forward to this season.

The Fall brings a change in the light coming in through the leaded glass windows of our 110-year-old home, 25 of which it has been our dwelling. Unlike those recent pandemic years, we will likely have gatherings in our dining room, our favorite room in our residence. We are not moving in a migratory sense; we have long lived in one place. Yet there is a transitory nature to life. We will not always be in this space; with the people we love surrounded by the familiarity of the things we have collected on our travels. These truths serve to remind me to cherish this season and all it offers.

We are all on a great journey of hills and valleys. We have different starting and stopping places, and the opportunity to walk along with each other for parts of our lives. I am grateful for all who walk this path with me. May we find something special over the crest of the next hill. Even if we do not, do we understand how amazing it is to have the gift to move through time and space, together as nomads of life? To me, today this is a matter of deep gratitude.

What are you grateful for today?

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