Monday, May 4, 2015

The Erotics of Birds Part II

Last night we counted 300+ Black Skimmers in the colony. The beach was filled with couples walking, waiting for the full moon rise. Love was in the air. 

Many of the Black Skimmers are now in pairs, and a number of them were mating last evening. I've read that their courtship rituals involve the male offering the female a fish, and if she accepts, they mate. While mating, she holds the fish in her mouth, and afterwards, she eats the fish. This evening I saw no males fishing, no offerings of fish, just raw sexual behavior. Was it sparked by the full moon?  

Though I found reference to some animal species mating at full moon, the few references were related to horseshoe crabs and how the moon affects tides in relation to them laying their eggs on the beach and a vague reference to wolves being led to mate during full moon, but nothing about birds. There were a number of references to the myth of romance related to full moon, but I have to wonder, can myth drive all of the romance that I witnessed on the beach last night amongst the Black Skimmers and the humans? I'm inclined to believe not and to consider that there is still so much that we don't understand about this life. If the moon can influence the ocean tides, why then, would it not influence human behavior and bird behavior, as humans are made of up to 60% water and presumably birds a similarly high percentage? In an article titled "The Chemical Composition of the Adult Human Body and Its Bearing on the Biochemistry of Growth" published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 1945, Mitchell, Hamilton, Steggerda and Bean write that the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs are 83% water, muscles and kidneys are 79% water, the skin contains 64% water and the bones 31%.  

As the sun lowered, the birds looked magnificent in the golden light at the end of the day. 

I drove up the beach to try to catch the moonrise, and people were racing to docks on the intercostal waterway as the sun was setting. Couples were seated at the end of many of the docks. I parked the car and headed out to the beach where the moon would be visible. I caught my breath as I saw it rising, so full and brilliantly lit. 

This is what I live for--these glimpses of joy, bliss, ecstasy that come from bearing witness to moments of beauty in the natural world, these moments of coming alive. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Erotics of Birds

Black Skimmers continue to arrive at the colony and begin to form pairs. The male makes a mark in the sand as though to suggest, "What about this spot for our nest?" If the female approves, she lies in the sand, extends her neck and kicks sand behind her, forming a scrape in the sand that will become their nest. 

The instinct to mate drives these birds to return each year. I like to imagine that much like humans choose home based on a sense of place that so, too, do these magnificent birds. What is it that draws them, and me, to choose the South end of Wrightsville Beach each year?

Wings flapping, flashes of black wing tops with white underbellies, loud barking and yipping drown out the sounds of crashing waves. Everything else becomes insignificant for a moment, and the sounds and movements of Black Skimmers leave me captivated. Artemis, patron of the unknown seabird, daughter of Leto who fled heaven in the form of a bird. Both huntress and protector, holding the miracle of life, death and rebirth in the palm of her hand and quickness of her step.

The average age for reproducing female Skimmers is 3 years, and the average age for males is 4 years, while their average life span ranges from 5-15 years. That all of the migrating birds in the colony eventually pair up begs the question of where the juveniles spend summer, but the ones who are here are clearly driven by instinctual desire. Within days of arriving into the colony, the birds begin the process of mate selection.

Thus far, all obtained reading material on the Black Skimmer provides a highly scientific representation of breeding ecology and behavior. Yet it’s not the science that drives we humans every summer to spend hours watching and protecting them. It’s our own sense of longing and desire that compels us to return weekly, sometimes daily, to bear witness to a mirroring of our own experience in the behavior of these birds, a barely conscious motivation for most who become voyeurs of their courtship and mating rituals.

I stand on the shore while two birds swoop by, leaving the colony to engage in a nimble game of courtship chase. They fly low and straight over the water, then bank a sharp left turn, seemingly flying in perfect formation, their movements gracefully synced. These gangly birds that bark like dogs, lie flat on the sand on their bellies and mate over the offering of a single fish evoke an erotic sense of awe and wonder when they take flight.

As they fly by, it causes me to catch my breath a little, in a good way. I pause. Breathe. Notice the energy stirring in my chest, around my heart, then moving throughout my entire torso. Coming alive. This same catching of breath that comes at the thought of a lover, the brush of a lover’s lips against one’s neck, or a lover moving open-mouthed toward, like a hungry bird. This is why we become voyeurs of the birds, to awaken our own sense of aliveness and embrace our own erotic nature, our hunger for sensuousness that transports us from the ordinary to extraordinary and gives us hope in that brief flash that anything is possible.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Return to Home: Black Skimmers

The Black Skimmers have begun their return to the south end of Wrightsville Beach. Black Skimmers are found year round in South America and along the Gulf Coast, and they come to Wrightsville Beach each summer to breed. I counted 52 of them this morning flying over Masonboro Inlet and into the dunes. NC Audubon protects this area and trains volunteers to be Bird Stewards, educating beach goers about the birds and protecting the nesting area. At the end of March, we erected a posting around the nesting area to create a protected home for the birds, and during April, they have begun to arrive, along with Oystercatchers, Least Terns and Common Terns. 

The Skimmers are my favorite. Around dusk and dawn, they can be seen dragging their lower beak through the water to catch fish. 

This morning, I heard them coming. Their call is like a loud barking sound. Famed ornithologist R.C.  Murphy called them "unworldly...aerial beagles." I heard the barking and looked out over the inlet to see about 24 of them flying in at once and land in the dunes. Nothing gets me as excited lately as the sound and sight of these birds. There's something magical, something that evokes a childlike sense of awe and wonder in me when I see these birds coming back to the same place that they have come year after year to nest. Noah Strycker, in The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, writes that birds navigate and can find their way home to familiar places based on visual landmarks, the sun and stars, sense of smell, magnetic fields, polarized light, echolocation and infrasound. 

I encountered the colony one evening last spring while searching for answers about whether to try to make this area my home. Feeling frustrated with my ongoing ambivalence, I asked for a sign about whether I should stay. Within two minutes, I rounded a corner and saw the colony of nesting birds, and this spring, I'm here waiting for their return. 

What makes a place home? Is home for these birds the place where they summer, breed and raise their chicks? Or is home the place where they winter? And for people like me who have been searching for a sense of home for such a long time, what makes a sense of home? Is home a momentary internal state of body, heart and mind brought about by being fully present in the moment with the sight and sound of these birds? Or is home a place and the other people who inhabit it? Lately I'm finding that home is the sight and sound of Black Skimmers. Home is the feel of Eos' warm little body curled up in my arms. Home is connecting with Nature, being fully present in the moment. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Answer is Love

Early this morning, I had a dream. I wanted answers, but I'm not sure what the question was. I felt my own hand on my heart as I woke, whispering aloud to myself the answer, "Love."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Living in the Moment

Yesterday I drove by a row of trees with brilliant orange-yellow leaves at the corner of Market and 15th. I've driven by them a number of times during the past week, and each time, I think, "I should come back with my camera," and then I forget about the trees until the next time I pass by. When I drive by again, I lament that I haven't come back to photograph them. 

This weekend, as I drove by yet again, I recalled that for several years I drove by a dying pine tree by Beaver Lake in Asheville nearly morning in the fog and thought, "I should come back with my camera," and I never did. One day, I drove by after a violent storm and saw that the top 2/3 of the tree had broken off. I felt heart broken. Clearly, the opportunity to create the image that I had always intended to go back to had vanished.

Of course, I photographed the fallen tree, but instead of creating the peaceful images of the tree that that I had previously imagined, each image of the broken tree evoked feelings of sadness in response to  lost opportunities. As I continued photographing, I was able to transform the images into a reminder to live in the moment and follow my creative impulses and heartfelt desires, even when it meant being exquisitely vulnerable.

Interesting that this week's reminders for living in the moment and following my creative impulses and heartfelt desires also came in the form of trees. I tried, in vain, to recreate the glimpse of the trees that I had in passing in my car. I walked down the middle of the street, across the street, and up and down the street attempting to recapture what had originally drawn me into this scene, but I could not find it. 

I paused and noticed that I was attempting to reach for something in the past that was already gone. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and walked around the scene to see what drew me in from the perspective of that moment. When I changed my mind's perspective to that of beginner's mind and living in the moment, my eye was easily drawn to a new visual perspective related to the scene. One click of the shutter from this new perspective, and I had created the same emotional tone that had originally drawn me to the trees. Happiness!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Get Inspired in Nature

In North Carolina, more that 70% of species listed as endangered, threatened, or specific concern depend on wetlands for their survival.

Early morning or late evening walks near wetlands are a great way to get inspired to create. If you don't have wetlands in your area, where can you go to connect with the natural world? Perhaps a nearby park or garden. If you can't find one, try searching online for your city and "connect with nature."

How will you use your creative voice and vision in the interest of personal, social, and/or environmental healing?