Dragonflies in the Wetlands

I confess.  I am a birder and I am proud of it.  I’ve been birding now for 10 years and I like it more every year.  But, currently, we are in the summer doldrums.  The nesting season is over so there are few if any birds singing or defending their territory.  Migration is still more than a month away and the ducks won’t be back until November.  So I was looking for something to keep me interested for the rest of the summer.

About two years ago, a gentleman named Dennis Paulson gave us a talk on dragonflies.  I thought it was pretty interesting.  I bought his field guide for dragonflies of the Northwest and after looking it over, placed it on the shelf.  Not too long ago, I had a birthday and my daughters asked me for a list of things that I might want.  I listed Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West by Dennis Paulson.  This was a big book.  It stayed on the shelf for a while until this afternoon when my wife announced that she was going to clean the kitchen floor.  It was at that moment that I remembered the dragonflies, grabbed my camera, and set out for the wetlands behind our house.  I didn’t want to walk on the wet floor!

The experience that followed was almost like starting birding again for the first time.  Here are a few photos.  Click to expand!


Eight-spotted Skimmer

Eight-spotted Skimmer


Cardinal Meadowhawk

Cardinal Meadowhawk

Northern Spreadwing

Northern Spreadwing

Pacific Forktail Female

Pacific Forktail Female

Pacific Forktail Male

Pacific Forktail Male





Something Happened

Something happened Sunday.  It was special.  It happened during the dedication of our new church in Woodinville, Washington.  That something was a liturgy that lasted three hours.  It took that long to transform the new building into a sacred space.  During the liturgy the altar was anointed, incensed, lit on fire, set with white linen and then used as a place to offer sacrifice.  The entire church and assembly was sprinkled with holy water. Relics of the saints were sealed under the altar with a welder’s torch.  The walls of the church were anointed with holy oil.  The choir chanted the sacred words in an endless sequence of verses.  And when it was all done, we celebrated and applauded those who worked hard to make it possible.

Some people cried.  Others were just choked up.  I was in the latter group.  But few of us had ever seen a dedication before.  So why was the experience so moving?  One reason is that “they painted the walls.”  When the archbishop and our pastor made the sign of the cross with holy oil on the wooden beams along the walls of the church I felt like I had experienced this before.  Somehow this simple action brought back memories that were older than my life was long.  It made me feel rooted in the family of my ancestors.

Our Choir: photo Hal Luhn

Humans have been painting the walls of caves for tens of thousands of years.  Today, our cave is a church building.  We decorate and consecrate the building just as our ancestors did in pre-historic times.  I wonder if this desire to paint the walls and consecrate the altar is present within our DNA?  If so, then the celebration of this liturgy might be important to the survival of our species.  I don’t know, but I do know that this experience made me feel “at home” again.

Our New Church: photo Mike Rice

Can’t Get Anything Right

Do you ever feel like you just can’t get anything right?  How would you like to have a job where you always got it wrong?

When I was a lot younger, I had a job as the Wing Weather Officer for a Wing Commander in the Air Force.  My primary job was to forecast fog since that was about the only weather that we worried about at March AFB, CA.  It seemed like when I forecasted fog there would be no fog and when I forecasted no fog there would be fog.  It was more disturbing for me more than for the Wing Commander.  He knew we couldn’t forecast fog accurately.

Fast forward to last Saturday.  The official forecast the night before was for rain not until late afternoon or evening.   As I checked the forecast in the morning I noticed that the official word had not changed.  So I told my brother that his birthday party at 11:00 AM would not be disturbed by snow.  All family members would have no trouble driving to and from the restaurant in Redmond.  We arrived at the restaurant shortly before 11:00 AM.  At 11:00 AM my daughter called me and told me that it was a Winter Wonderland at her house in Lynnwood.  She said that they were in route and that it was still snowing in Mill Creek.  I immediately told my brother that it would snow before we left the restaurant.  It started to snow in about 10 minutes — hard.  Our niece, who lives in Shoreline, just north of Seattle, also reported snow.  So the weather man got it wrong, and so did I.  Just like the old days.

Our lives are full of examples where someone just can’t get it right.  Consider the medical profession. This summer I had to see three doctors before one of them correctly diagnosed me with a ruptured appendix.   And politicians get it wrong, too.  Even our spiritual directors get it wrong on occasion.  Sometimes I feel like I just can’t get it right.  But eventually, the feeling just goes away and I settle into a reality where most people just do the best they can.   On the other hand, nature seems to get it right more often than not. See below.

The Maple Leaf

There are metaphors everywhere in nature.  This afternoon, Lyn and I were walking in the neighborhood.  There were thousands of maple leaves gathered in areas under large and small trees.  “Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”  Very true for the maple leaf, but isn’t that quote for us?

In the spring, the maple leaf grows into a spectacular geometric pattern.  Our eyes see a brilliant green that covers the tree from top to bottom.  But as autumn approaches, the leaf turns shades of red, yellow and then brown.  Finally, the leaf falls off the tree possibly to be stepped on by walkers as it is slowly gathered back up into the soil.

We were watching an old episode of Star Trek the Next Generation titled “Sarek.”  In it, Sarek, the first Vulcan ambassador to earth is stricken with a disease of old age where he can no longer control his emotions.  Captain Picard explains to Data the Android, “It’s ironic, isn’t it? All this magnificent technology, and we still find ourselves susceptible to the ravages of old age… loss of dignity… the slow betrayal of our bodies by forces we cannot master. Do you still want to be one of us, Data?”  Sarek was over 200.  We humans may live to be half that, but that’s what we get if we are lucky.  How we spend our time as we travel, and sometimes wander through our lives is up to us.  If we are lucky enough to reach old age, will we accept the inevitable indignities, will we deny them, or will we have enough dignity left to overcome them?

Like the maple leaf, all we can do is live one day at a time.

The Elephant in the Room

It was the last day of winter.  It had rained during the night so the ground was wet.  But the sun was out and the birds were in the mood to sing.

I started my walk at McDuck Lake where I saw about a dozen Buffleheads basking in the warmth of the morning.  Several Mallards were quacking and I could hear at least two Pied-billed Grebes calling in the distance.  Newly arrived Violet-green Swallows were flying inches above the water to pick up low-flying insects.  As I walked up the path toward the Pipeline I heard several Spotted Towhees singing and calling.  Dark-eyed Juncos were singing, too.  Lyn calls them telephone birds.  A tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet was searching for spiders and insects on the bare maples. Then I saw it.  I snag with lots of moss growing on its trunk had fallen across the path.  Apparently, the ground had become just too saturated to hold it. I wonder how many years it had stood in that spot.   As I approached the Pipeline I walked under a Song Sparrow that was singing his song over and over.  He was ready for a mate.

On the Pipeline I ran into a Northern Flicker that was pounding on the gutter attached to Gail’s house.  Presently, he flew up to a bare maple and began to call like a baby Pileated Woodpecker.  I appreciated the chance to see and hear him at the same time.

Crows were constantly calling.  As I made the turn back to my house I heard and saw a Steller’s Jay calling away.  It seemed like everybody had something to say.  That is, except Bill, our neighborhood Great Blue Heron.  He stood at the edge of the pond as still as a statue waiting for a frog to move.

Spring reminds me of new birth and new growth.  But the fallen snag scares me a little.  It reminds me that one day I will fall, too.  I was talking to a lady two doors up the street.  She had been taking care of our neighbor who was a friend of her family, but she had to leave for Nevada because her father was ill. “I’m right behind them,” she said.  Who will take care of her when she gets old?  And the elephant in the room?


A Mystic, an Osprey and a Little Problem of Snow

“The only job where you are always wrong and get paid for it.”

It’s tough to forecast the weather here in Western Washington, especially when something out of the ordinary is happening.  The trouble is, the Puget Sound, the terrain, the mountains and the ocean mix things up.  This image is a good metaphor for life, at least my life.  I have plans, but “stuff” mixes things up.

I was looking forward to dance practice this morning, but the snow got in the way.  Our meditation group was meeting this afternoon.  The possibility of icy roads got in the way.  I planned to shovel the drive way, but it is about to snow again.  Or is it?

Adults are supposed to solve problems.  As children, if we are lucky to come from a happy family, our parents took care of all the major problems.  But now, it is up to us.  Some of us learn to depend on others.  Some of us would prefer to do it ourselves.  “Life is complicated.”  That is, unless nature keeps us indoors for a day or two.

My cousin told me the story of these people who got up early in the morning and got out on the lake to go fishing.  After an hour or two they still had not caught any fish.  Just then an Osprey swooped down,   picked up a good-sized fish with its talons and flew off.  The Osprey knew how to solve the problem.

To a great extent, our lives and relationships are defined by the problems that we solve.  I like to solve technical problems.  Others are handy around the house and like to solve problems related to plumbing, garage doors, and gardens.  Others like to play games, play sports, or solve puzzles.  Some like to solve people problems.  Some like to figure out what character will be dumped first from a novel, TV series, or movie.  Sometimes we are driven to solve our problems.  But occasionally, when we can’t solve them, we would just like our problems to go away.

The mystics, on the other hand, are able to drop out of the never ending swirl of problem solving for a little while.  They understand that communication with the “greater power” or “grace giver” is more important than simply solving life’s problems.  Mystics have been doing this for millennia.  I believe that I can become a mystic with practice and hard work.  But that, in itself, is a problem.  Do I really want to solve it?

[cincopa AsBAKdaAhjsg]

Ducks and Stories

McDuck Lake

Ducks feeding at McDuck Lake

Yesterday, there were hundreds of ducks in McDuck Lake just behind our house.  I led a group of about 20 Trilogy Birders into the wetlands to view this incredible site.  We saw hundreds of Mallards, American Wigeons, and Northern Pintails.  We also saw a few Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks and Buffleheads.  Why were there so many ducks?  Last week the farmlands of the Snoqualmie Valley were flooded.  Thousands of ducks came to feed and generally hang out.  As the flood waters receded, the ducks needed new real estate before their Spring migration northward.  Many of them decided to come to McDuck Lake.  And as always, ducks, I mean birds of a feather flock together.

In the evening, the feature presentation for the Trilogy Birders meeting was a book reading by Connie Sidles.  I had never been to a book reading before.  I thought they were designed for old ladies that were enthralled by romantic fiction.  But I really enjoyed Connie’s presentation.  Connie is a small unassuming woman that knows the birds of the Montlake Fill as if they are part of her family.  Her stories are not just about birds, but rather about how bird stories relate to and differ from our own stories.  Before she began reading, she told us it was OK to slouch.  Those instructions were all that I needed to transport out of the march of time and into a timeless place where children wander and only the story matters.  I felt like a child listening to a parent or teacher read from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

I was enthralled by her stories.  I bought her book In My Nature and had her sign the front cover.

To be a Mystic the Day Before Christmas

Here it is, the day before Christmas.  There is singing with the choir this morning and then dinner and opening presents with the family this evening.  Tomorrow there will be more dinner and more presents with the family.  I am very grateful for my family and grateful for the friends that we have made these last few years,  But there is little time to stop and reflect.  Or maybe, what I need to do is to stop reflecting and leave the world of thought for just a little while.  The mystics were great at not thinking for long periods of time.  Most of us are addicted to thinking.  We can’t let a moment go by without thinking about something.  Ronald Reagan used to say that it was torture to be in a room alone and without a book.  I guess he never learned to meditate.

Making Sense

It’s Sunday morning.  This WordPress program is starting to make a little sense now.  Actually, it is too easy, and too complicated at the same time.  Like the rest of life, this program is a paradox for the user.  I would like to learn the ins and outs of this program so that I can share it with my family and friends.  This male hummingbird is not concerned about this program.  Is he having more fun?

So who am I?

I’m not sure. There are times when I want to be a Geek. It is great fun to play with websites and discover new ways of using editors, HTML, CSS and javascript. But there are times when I feel like I should just leave the Geek world and study to become a mystic. However, there are other avenues that also seem interesting. Perhaps I could be an artist? Perhaps not. Or perhaps I could be a dance instructor. That would be great fun. I never learned to dance until I was 54. Actually, I’m still learning.