Spring Is Here

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I’m not referring to the meteorological Spring which the TV weather people say arrives Wednesday. No, none of that TV hype. I’m talking real Spring, signs of Nature.

My experience indicates the Cardinal is the first to announce its arrival and usually does so two weeks early. Back on February 14 Mr. Cardinal visited a large bush outside my living room window. He gave enough chirps that I started telling friends Spring was on the way.

On February 20 I parked my car in the garage and stepped out into the sunshine when I heard geese, high above me. I looked up. I saw four or five groups of geese circling above; each group at a different height, wheeling in slow, clockwise circles. More geese arrived from the South. All groups broke their circles and headed Northwest in ‘V’ formations. I knew from past study this is their migration path because they fly around Lake Michigan on their way to Canada. This was the second sign.

Finally, on February 25, I was out in Lockport for a visit. I heard a chirp I recognized but had not heard in a while. Yep! It was a robin. He was hopping on the lawn and flew up to the low branches of a nearby bush. He paused and looked at me. That’s when I confirmed its orange breast.

I enjoy getting this information firsthand from Nature instead of TV. Weather reporters throw too many numbers at us and report on the worst weather event they can find, even if it’s halfway around the world. Nature Is more fun than TV.

Happy Spring!

Communicating with Nature

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Yesterday I went for a walk around 11:00 AM. My outside thermometer indicated it was already 68 degrees. I took my usual route and headed toward Memorial Park. Just before I got to the park I heard geese flying above me. I looked and looked but couldn’t see them. I kept walking. Hearing them again I looked up to see a flock of maybe 20 geese in ‘v’ formation high above me. I watched as they moved northwest and realized they were migrating to Canada. Geese always fly northwest when migrating near Chicago. They are avoiding Lake Michigan.

When I got to the park I walked a short distance and heard a second flock overhead. They too were flying northwest, high in the sky above me. I found a bench overlooking the football field and sat down. For the next ten to fifteen minutes I watched as five more flocks flew overhead following the first two. The largest flock must have had 40 to 50 geese. I decided to read Animal Speak when I got home to see what they can mean as omens.

They can represent a call to a quest or travels to legendary places. Their ‘v’ formation is symbolic. In Hebrew ‘v’ is pronounced “vav” meaning nail. The ‘v’ formation can therefore represent a message about nailing or fixing ourselves to a new path. Geese have many symbolic meanings.

The one that caught my attention is that they have to do with communications, especially written communications since their quills were used for writing. This has a special meaning for me. This past Monday I gave final approval to publish my next book, My Journeys To The Spirit World. I’m hoping the geese represent success in finding the right audience for this spiritual autobiography. It will be published in March, exclusively through Amazon dot com, in print and eBook formats. I’ll let you know when it‘s available.

Communicating With Nature

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Once the sun shined through the parting clouds I went for my two mile walk. When I started I reminded myself to pay attention to the trees, flowers, birds and everything nature has to offer. Otherwise I get distracted. I think of schedules to keep, people to call, bills to pay. If I’m not careful my walk will be over and I will realize I was too preoccupied to enjoy it.

As I approached Memorial Park I heard dozens of kids playing and shouting. I soon found out that students from St. Benedict’s Catholic school were there for an outing, playing games, tossing balls around and having fun in the sun and fresh air. I circled the park and headed home when I spotted a young man in his early twenties walking ahead of me texting on his I-phone.

It reminded me how divorced we are from nature. I also thought of those school kids, how they were divorced from it too even though they were playing and having a good time. We view nature as a place to go to have fun. But in reality it’s like a visit to a friend where we spend the entire time in self centered conversation instead of asking how our friend is doing.

We need to spend more time watching and listening to nature; silently noting what is happening, what animals are there and what they are doing. Let’s feel the breeze touch our skin; smell the freshness of the grass; see the plants, trees and colorful flowers; touch the bark on that huge tree by the fence. And while we’re there we need to hear the call of the chickadee, the cardinal, the red winged blackbird perched on the marshy grasses by the railroad tracks, and sometimes, if we are fortunate, we will hear the screech of the red tailed hawk and look up to watch it circle high above our heads.

How will we understand Mother Nature’s language if we don’t take time to learn it?

Morning Walk

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The temperature was already 57 degrees when I went out this morning at 10:00 AM. I decided to go for my long walk, 2.3 miles, up and down Greenwood with a loop around Memorial Park. This past winter I hardly got out and really missed my regular connection with Mother Nature.

I was only three blocks into my journey when a hawk flew onto a tree forty feet overhead and called to me three times. I stopped to see what kind it was but it was a dark shadow against the bright morning clouds. I asked the hawk if he had a message, closed my eyes, and believed it was something like be alert or be watchful. Maybe it was simply ‘welcome to springtime.’ I also saw lots of robins (new growth, spring), a couple of cardinals (renewed vitality), lot of sparrows (triumph of common nobility), and heard a woodpecker (the power of rhythm).

I continued on my walk and turned toward the park. Two blocks further on I heard the same hawk call, right  above and behind me. There it was, in the tree top, watching me. This time I tried hard to see it but once again the contrast against the sky made it hard to see details other than its short tail and curved beak. I continued on my walk.

As you may remember, the red tailed hawk is one of my power animals, which means that all hawks fit into that category for me. The red tailed hark is associated with the east, the process of birth, spirituality and guardianship. It was one of the first power animals I met when I began journeying.

I continued around the park and found the same hawk up in the same tree when I started walking home. It didn’t make any sounds but I saw it watching me as I passed. I always feel protected when I encounter hawks, even if it’s when I’m driving and they’re soaring high above the traffic, looking for a meal. Over time these feelings only grow stronger and, the more they occur, the more I feel connected to nature.

Have a great day, get out for a walk if you can, and have a great week.

Inside Animal Brains: Dogs

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I caught another Nova presentation on WTTW Prime. And the reason I’m so interested in these programs is that they help me understand and appreciate nature more completely than I have in the past. I feel more connected to it the more I know about it. The most recent program was about dogs and their sense of smell.

The entire program was worth watching, but the part that absolutely blew my mind was the segment about sniffer dogs; dogs that are trained to use their sense of smell to locate specific items. These include drug sniffing dogs and dogs that can locate people buried in snow after an avalanche.

In the experiment for the sniffer dogs, a crew of people sank a container in a large lake. There was only meat in the container. They sank it twenty feet deep and noted the location using geological coordinates on a hand-held computer.  The dog and dog owner were not present when they did this.

Later, the crew gave the dog owner a general part of the lake to check out. The search section was approximately thirty acres in size. The owner got into a row boat with the dog seated in the prow and started searching the area by cruising back and forth across the surface. For some time, there was no reaction from the dog. Eventually it started to bark. The owner cruised back and forth over the area that caused the dog to bark and finally stopped over what the owner thought was the most likely spot, given the dog’s reaction.

When the first crew came out to the spot and checked their coordinates, they found the dog was off by about two feet. I think that’s absolutely amazing. I knew dogs had a great sense of smell, but not that great. A dog expert interviewed on the program said that the dog’s sense of smell is about 100 million times more sensitive than human smell. I am a believer.

Another question they investigated was how dog’s know when their owner is coming home; how they tell time. The experiment performed was not conclusive, but it seemed to indicate that the dog could tell how long the owner was gone based upon the amount of the person’s scent lingering in the home. I’m not sure about the conclusion. If I remember correctly, our dog Peaches could tell not only when my wife, Marilyn, would come home from work, but also when she would return from shopping. When Peaches knew Marilyn was coming home, she’d lay down by the front door with her nose parked against the crack in the door, waiting for her favorite member of our family.

If you have similar dog stories, feel free to share them here. Thanks.

Inside Animal Brains: Bird Genius

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The tem ‘bird brain’ is used to describe someone who has acted stupidly. But are birds really dumb? We assume, because of their size, that they have small brains and aren’t very smart. However this assumption is not correct. On Thursday, August 7th I watched WTTW/World at 7:00 PM (www.wttw.org/nova). What follows is taken from that program.

In one college course I took (1960’s) we were taught that what separated man from the other animals was our ability to use tools. This falsehood was put to rest by Jane Goodall when she observed chimps using sticks to ‘fish’ termites out of decaying logs. They dipped the stick into a hole, pulled it out with a termite attached, and ate it. Since then, other scientists have observed that other animals also use tools.

The main focus of the program was a raven. They tested it by arranging problems that required the successful completion of several steps in proper order to get food. In one test, a piece of meat was in a long narrow container. You could only get it out by using a long stick. The long stick was in a container that had openings on the top, but could not be pulled open. To get the stick you needed three rocks. The three rocks were in three cages. To get the rocks you needed to use a small stick tied to a string. The whole process was eight steps in length. The raven studied the problem; got the small stick off the string; used the small stick to push each rock out of its cage; dropped each rock into the container with the long stick, causing the bottom of the cage to open, allowing the long stick to drop out. Then the raven used the long stick to get the food.

As if this wasn’t enough, the next test consisted of four mechanically operated locks. The raven passed with flying colors. Then the scientists changed the locks so that the raven only needed to open the last two to get the food. The raven flew up, looked at the locks, opened only the last two, and flew away with the food.

Scientists have concluded that the important measurement is the mass of the brain in relation to the mass of the body. The raven’s brain is twice as big as its body mass. And they believe it has developed that way because the raven lives in an environment where understanding, flexibility and planning are rewarded; an environment where food is scarce. Survival of the smartest.

 

The Power of Nature

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At 6:30 PM on Monday, June 30th, a half an hour out of Chicago’s Midway airport, the pilot told us we had been given approval to land. The tower thought they could get us in just before the storms hit the area. Everyone, including flight attendants, buckled up and we rode through some turbulence before landing. Two minutes after landing it started to pour and thunder. We just made it.

I drove Maggie back to her place in Lockport before heading east on I-80 to go to Blue Island. The storm that had pummeled the Chicago met area was directly ahead of me moving eastward. I had a great view of spectacular lightning displays. Besides ‘heat lightning’, there were numerous ground strikes and lots of cloud-to-cloud lightning bolts. It was hard to pay attention to driving instead of watching.

While observing this display, I suddenly became aware of the fact that the storm system was not only filled with energy, but was also alive. It was a combination of forces, heat against cold, updrafts against downdrafts and the energy exchange that produced all that electricity. It was the first time I ever saw a storm system as a living, active force.

In her book, Awakening to the Spirit World,  Sandra Ingerman writes about this, “However this contact is made, when we sense it, we know with certainty that the soul of Nature is alive (page 75).” I agree. I also know that many people were affected by the storm. Some had property damage and I sympathize with them, having recently lost a beautiful tree in my back yard, not to storms but to the tree’s old age. I miss that tree and I’m sure that people affected on Monday night feel the same way about their loss. On page 78 Sandra writes, “It is vitally important for us to understand and accept that every change, great and small, entails a death of that which was before. These deaths are necessary and inevitable steps before the birth of what is coming into being becomes possible.”

Nature is not just the placid lake, the autumn colors on the leaves or the gently winding stream. It is also those powers which cause change. The monday night storm was one of those changes and anyone who had the opportunity to observe it saw, and perhaps experienced first hand, its mighty power. The storm was a living, moving agent of change, a powerful part of our natural world.

Nature: Stewardship or Conquest

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A common attitude is that mankind is destined to control or conquer nature. We need to climb the highest mountains. We must learn how to clone sheep; maybe humans in the future. It is as though we think we have the intelligence to figure it all out. However this is undermined when we hear the doctor who came up with the idea of avoiding gluten now tell us that it is not causing the problems he told us about in the past. Or when the doctor gives us a prescription for the drug to control a problem, along with two other prescriptions to off-set the negative impact of the first drug. Or when they tell you not to eat eggs … oops, now it’s OK. Listen to the ads for pharmaceuticals on TV and pay attention to all the warning statements at the end. We invent one drug to help a single condition and then warn users about the dire consequences of its use.

You call that conquering or controlling nature? I don’t. It’s not science. It’s hubris.

There’s a lot we could learn from our predecessors; our Native American friends. In his book Nature – Speak, Ted Andrews talks about Gifts of the Earth (page 16), “Native Americans recognize that they are a part of Nature, not a ruler of it. They acknowledge a stewardship role with the natural world. Plants and animals are companions, healers, teachers, spirit messengers and even younger siblings needing protection at times. As such, they are given the respect  that one gives to any member of the human family. To them everything in Nature is related. All life is sacred and thus everything that comes from the Earth is a gift …”

If western man hadn’t been so sure that he knew best, we could have learned much from Native Americans. If we would have learned what they knew, we might have been able to avoid the problems we are facing today from climate change. We are not in charge of Nature, we are a part of it; we are surrounded by it; we live in it; we need it to survive. It is indispensable. It is the basis of life itself.

Communicating With Nature

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Yesterday I spent two hours raking and bagging leaves, branches and dead grass from my front yard. Several times  I heard geese, but when I looked up I couldn’t see any. Still, I knew they were flying somewhere nearby journeying to Canada on a course that takes them over Chicago as they head northwest to their breeding grounds. This morning I did the back yard. It only took one hour. Right in the middle of my work I heard geese again. This time I saw them directly overhead. There were fifty or sixty of them flying slowly, waiting for individual geese to catch up and join them. It was a beautiful sight.

During lunch I thought about the geese again and how they rely on their instinct to lead them to their summer home up north. I realized, perhaps for the first time, that their migration was a great analogy  for my own situation in recent years. Some people are practically born knowing what they want to do in life. Not me. I always admired those people; perhaps I was a little jealous too. I loved my wife and children, but during most of my life I felt like a fish out of water at work. I enjoyed telecommunications and project management; especially I enjoyed meeting with customers and getting their systems installed. But at the end of the day I didn’t feel like I had contributed significantly to the human race. I was caught up in the artificial system we call business and its focus was on money. It was simply mundane. I can remember wishing I would find a vocation that was more oriented toward helping mankind.

As they say, be careful what you wish for; my problem was solved in 2001 when I got downsized. After that I was a free as a goose, and as well paid. I had to avoid a financial meltdown, figure out how to survive until I had more income, and then decide what I would do with the rest of my life. I turned inward, to my inner self. Like the geese, I found help from within. Once I began spirit walking I began finding a wonderful sense of direction.

Now, when I see groups of geese resting in a field or on a lake, I like to think at least one of them, perhaps all of them, are doing their own spirit walking. They are meeting with their spirit counterparts, receiving information about the next day’s flight, what to look for, where to turn, and where they will find shelter for the night. The obvious lessons here is (snickering), “As above, so below.”

The Cardinal’s Wife: An Invitation

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About 9:30 this morning a female cardinal perched on a tree branch right outside my front room window and started chirping. I smiled and wondered if she was bragging, saying I-told-you-so-I-told-you-so! But I concluded she was just plain happy with our sunny, thirty-five degree morning.

Ah, then I understood …  she was inviting me to come outside. I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t had even one walk outside since the end of November; too much frigid cold and snow. I put on my waterproof hiking boots, my gloves and winter jacket and a grey hood and went out the back door. I looked at my cell phone; it was 9:49 AM.

As I walked down Greenwood Avenue I could see that most of the sidewalks had been shoveled. Some had snow and ice but that was because Greenwood gets a lot of foot traffic. With so much snow and people walking on it, it’s impossible to keep all of it from icing over. I walked to Union Street and paused. This was my first time out in over three months. Should I go all the way to Vermont and do my two mile walk or should I turn west and head over to Memorial Park?

Just then another cardinal started chirping on Union Street, toward the park. I took that as my answer and headed west. Secretly I hoped I would see one of my hawk friends. I didn’t, but I did hear a house finch. House finches are about the size of a sparrow and similar in color except that they have reddish feathers by their head and on their breast. House finches sound something like robins, except they never seem to stop chirping. When I walked along the west end of the park I looked through the chain-link fence at the marshy reeds and cattails left over from last summer but I didn’t see any red-winged blackbirds. They are the real harbingers of spring because they return two weeks before the robins arrive.

I don’t know how the maintenance people at Memorial Park do it, but they always clean the walkways no matter how much snow we get. As I was completing my circuit around the park I thought I heard a hawk in the distance. I stopped and looked west but never saw any. I headed east on Union. I heard more sparrows, the cardinal and then, a chickadee. All of these birds spend the winter with us, but are mostly silent in the dead of winter. Today they were all chirping to welcome the warm weather.

As I arrived home I checked my phone again; 10:19 AM. Thirty minutes; not bad considering the amount of ice and snow I had to walk on. Usually it would take about twenty five minutes. I’m hoping I can get several more walks in next week. Maybe I’ll see a hawk.

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