Wingspans of Imagination

turkey vulture in the sky

Turkey vulture soaring on today’s walk.

Whenever I see turkey vultures soaring in the sky on my daily walks or when I’m out driving, they remind me of a time when I imagined them as dragons. That might sound odd, but hear me out. It was during a time of my life where I felt trapped in an unhappy situation and I just wanted out, but I didn’t know how to get out. I remember being in the car as a passenger and looking out the window to see turkey vultures soaring in the distance, their great wingspans impressive even so far away. They were soaring further out of view and as they did so, I was able to envision their shapes as not those of turkey vultures, but of dragons.

You see, I believe in magic and I’ve always believed in magic. And in that moment of rather deep despair, I really needed to believe that those turkey vultures were dragons because it meant that they were magic. In believing in magic, I find hope, strength, and power. Believing in magic helps me hold on to the idea that anything is possible if I just put my mind and spirit into it and send the right energy out into the world. Seeing those turkey vultures as dragons soaring out of sight helped me believe that I too would somehow soar out of my then unhappy situation and be free again.

Freeing myself of that unhappy situation didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. It took longer than I wanted it to, but it’s behind me now and I’m able to soar free in ways I couldn’t even fathom back then. The wingspans of imagination on those turkey vultures was much greater than their five to six foot physical wingspans. For me, the wingspan on those creatures extended beyond reality, as they transformed into dragons that helped carry me to new breadths of imagination, hope, and happiness.

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New feathered residents

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Waxwing (Silkitoppa)-3-E by Sindri Skúlason via Pinterest

For the several days I’ve been seeing cedar waxwings in the trees of my front yard. I love the colors of these birds and how dedicated they are to eating berries so I was quite happy to discover that they’re moving into my property.

I don’t have any ripe berries at the moment, but the black raspberries will be plentiful soon and I’m sure the waxwings and I will be competing to pick them. I’m not worried though, I’m sure there will be enough for all of us and I certainly don’t mind giving up some sweet berries in exchange for some new feathered residents. =)

Counting Hawks

red tailed hawk in flight

Ever since my father died in 2009, I’ve paid close attention to the sky. I think of him and miss him every time I see the moon because it was special to both of us. Sometimes when I see it in the sky I say, “Hey, Dad” and smile because I know he’s listening.

I also look to the sky for something else: hawks. For me, hawks are a sign that my father, my ancestors, and the universe are watching over me, guiding me, and helping me on my path. I often ask to see a hawk sitting or flying as an answer to a specific question or problem I’m having and quite often, I see the hawk in response. Sometimes I see hawks when I’m feeling especially down and just the sight of their powerful, regal, feathered form is enough to reassure me that the universe hasn’t abandoned me.

While I’ve paid closer attention to seeing hawks and purposely started looking for them over the past few years, it wasn’t until last spring that I decided to start counting how many I see a day. I tend to see more when I’m out driving, but there are days when they fly right over my front yard at the exact moment I look out the window and to me, that’s never coincidence. In the summer when I’m working at my desk, I have the window next to me open and I quite often hear a hawk cry in the sky and I then go dashing out onto my deck. When I look up, I quickly see the hawk (sometimes there’s more than one) and I thank them for making themselves known to me.

In my years of hawk spotting, I’ve learned to tell the difference between hawks, crows, and turkey vultures. They each have a unique shape, size and style of flying. While many people seem to mistake turkey vultures for eagles due to their size, I know by now that most clusters of broad-winged, soaring birds in this region are turkey vultures. It’s amazing what one can learn just by looking up into the sky every day.

I see the highest number of hawks when I’m driving out to New England on my road trips. I’m sure that has to do with it being an almost 7-hour drive over 420 miles, much of it through heavily treed and hilly terrain. Last summer, the most hawks I saw was around 20 during the drive out with my girls in August for our vacation on Plum Island. Seeing 20 hawks felt pretty impressive to me and I figured that was probably the highest number I’d ever see. My most recent trip to New England proved me wrong.

As I headed out last Wednesday morning to drop Jazzmin at the boarders before getting on the thruway, I didn’t see any hawks until I realized I’d forgotten my ticket to the MCNAA Anniversary Dinner and turned around to return home. Shortly after I turned onto my unexpected detour home, I saw a hawk sitting in a tree and I knew that for whatever reason, I was meant to go back home. Later on in that same return trip home I drove by an open field and saw three hawks circling together above it. I’m certain that my unexpected delay happened for a reason and that it was protecting me from something that would’ve happened if I’d remembered the ticket and not had to double back.

Once I had the ticket, I headed back out, dropped Jazzmin off, grabbed my usual Dunkin Donuts coffee and breakfast sandwich, and got onto the thruway heading east. Shortly after I merged into traffic, a great blue heron flew lazily above me and I took that as a good omen that I was heading out at just the right time. Within a half hour of driving, I saw my first hawk and the counting continued.

I drive past Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge on my trip and while I usually see geese, ducks, and perhaps a heron, I’ve never seen anything that I couldn’t see just by looking out my back window at home. As I neared the refuge, I saw a bird with a large wing span fly over the overpass, through the trees and into the refuge area and I thought at first that it was a heron. Driving closer, I realized it didn’t have the long neck of a heron and I could tell by the way that it was flying that it wasn’t a turkey vulture either. Much to my thrilled amazement, I realized by its wing span and shape that it was an eagle of some type, either a golden eagle or a juvenile bald eagle because they look very similar (bald eagles don’t get their full adult plumage including white heads until around 5 years old). It flew majestically over the thruway as I passed under it and I felt truly blessed to have seen it!

With my spirits newly lifted, I continued my hawk counting and by the time I reached my hotel in New Hampshire, the final number was astounding. I’d seen 61 hawks that drive! They’d been sitting on poles, in tree branches, and soaring through the sky throughout the drive, sometimes in groups of up to three hawks. It was a lovely, mostly sunny day so I’m sure it was great for hunting but in all my trips out there since I started counting, I’d never seen so many! I took that number as an extremely positive sign and seeing the eagle was an added bonus!

I continued to count daily hawks while visiting New England and there was only one day when I didn’t see any hawks. It was an especially dreary, snowy day so I don’t blame the hawks for seeking shelter out of sight. I counted hawks on my drive home and I’m sure I missed some while I was navigating Monday morning traffic, but I counted 15 by the time I was almost at the exit for Canandaigua.

When I neared the exit I said aloud “If I see one more hawk that will make it 16, the reverse of the 61 I saw on the way out.” As I entered the exit and began to loop around, I spotted a red-tailed hawk flying up from the ground and just as I neared, he flew up and landed atop one of the directional signs pointing around the bend. If I needed proof that the universe was always listening to me, I received it quite vividly in that moment! I was so grateful and pleased that I smiled, laughed, and thanked the universe for my unfailingly faithful feathered guides and guardians.

Whoa! I should have worn a sweatshirt!

This was one of the really windy spots on this afternoon's walk.

This was one of the really windy spots on this afternoon’s walk.

 

Sometimes things in my life don’t turn out as I hoped and I’m left feeling confused, disappointed, lost, and all sorts of less-than-positive emotions. The most effective way of dealing with such times in my life is to go for a nice, long walk! Honestly, any type of exercise can help create a more positive perspective because the endorphins start flowing and energy begins surging, but for me, walks work best!

As I took a rather short walk yesterday due to the cooler, more turbulent weather, I decided that today Jazzmin and I would take a nice loooong walk! Our long walk is a total of four miles and involves traveling all the way down to the local farmer’s huge storage barns, but I had a lot on my mind and I knew I had to work it all out with a properly exhausting walk. Sweet, lovable, loyal Jazzerboo would walk forever if I let her, but she’s limited to what her pack leader (me) can handle, so four miles is our longest walk (so far).

On this lovely autumn day, the sun was shining brightly, the sky was bright blue, and the wind was once again whipping across the hills. Even so, I thought I’d be warm enough in just shorts and a tank top. By the time we reached the end of my driveway I thought, “Hmm, I might want to put on a sweatshirt.” I then talked myself out of that by deciding the long walk would warm me up and I’d just end up tying the sweatshirt around my waste. I was wrong!

While I usually break a sweat on longer walks, it wasn’t even possible today because the wind cooled off my body before it could get hot. After we crested the tallest hill, I was tired but not hot, my arms and legs had goosebumps, and I was feeling rather numb.

Scolding myself for not wearing a sweatshirt, I continued on the walk and looked forward to the areas where trees bordered the road. Usually I like those spots because the tree shade cools me from the sun, but today I loved them because the trees blocked the wind! Wherever the road was open to farmer’s fields and treeless hills, the breeze blew so strong that I’d see tumbleweeds roll across in front of us. The wind was so strong that butterflies were struggling to stay on course, turkey vultures were having a ball kiting through the air, and leaves were flying off the trees!

One of the upsides of being so chilly was that I was walking rather briskly because I was eager to return home and swim in some hot coffee! While on the walk, I rescued five wooly bear caterpillars and a praying mantis from certain death beneath car wheels. I also saw a merlin, a hawk, and three monarch butterflies. The monarch sightings were a pleasant surprise because I thought it was too cold and windy for any of the lovely orange and black butterflies to be up north still.

When Jazzmin and I returned home over an hour after leaving, we were both quite pleased with ourselves. Jazzmin was pleased because she’d sniffed out every squirrel, deer, raccoon, and chipmunk that had ever crossed the road and I was happy because I’d worked off my negative feelings and replaced them with positivity and hope. There’s no denying the benefits of walking because I experience them first hand whenever I take Jazz out. Even on days when I just want to crawl back into bed and nap because I’m feeling down, I’ve discovered that going for a walk helps my attitude do a complete 180 spin into happier, more upbeat and perfectly positive feelings. I’m also positively feeling that I really need to wear a coat next time it’s as cool and windy as it was today!

New season, new outlook!


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Today was the first day of my favorite season: autumn. I don’t particularly like the season that follows autumn but as I’m working on enjoying the present and focusing on the here and now, I’m not going to worry about that particular aspect of the future.

The weather today was absolutely gorgeous with a cloudless blue sky, gentle breeze and enough sunlight to banish the cooler temperatures of yesterday. Once I’d finished my morning freelance work, I grabbed Jazzmin and we headed out on our daily walk. As I was curious to see how quickly the trees were changing along the farmer’s road, we headed that direction at a brisk pace.

My pup and I had just turned the first corner when I spotted something small and bright green in the center of the closest lane. I peered closer, realized it was a praying mantis and quickly but gently picked him up out of the road. He was the first non-squished praying mantis I’ve seen this year and I was happy to help him travel safely across the road.

The moment I picked the mantis up, he pointed in the direction he wanted to go and I carried him there as he held firmly to my hand.

That way please, Miss!

That way please, Miss!

Now place me gently down there. Thank you!

Now place me gently down there. Thank you!

Once safely on the opposite side of the road, I gently set him down in the grassy shoulder and he quickly blended in with his surroundings. Pleased with another successful creature rescue, I led Jazz onward to the farmer’s access road to continue our walk.

Even though there wasn’t as much color change among the trees as I’d hoped, it was still a lovely walk among dragonflies, butterflies and birds.

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Colorful vines climbing up the trees.

Colorful vines climbing up the trees.

A fallen oak branch filled with acorns.

A fallen oak branch filled with acorns.

This year has also been very good for grasshoppers and everywhere I walk, the ground springs to life as multiple grasshoppers jump swiftly out of my path. I tried to take a picture of the little bugs in action, but they were too fast!

I led Jazz to the end of the canopy of trees over the farmer’s road and up a bit further before turning off the gravel and onto a path of flattened grass created by the large tractors that mow those fields. We walked in the shade of the large trees along the path and paused by a rather large and obviously frequently-traveled deer path. I took a picture to capture the feel of the trees and shadows.

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After that, we stepped out of the shadows and cut across the grassy field toward the little pond we visited earlier in the week. As we approached, a handful of deer went bounding away from the water’s edge and quickly disappeared into the underbrush of the distant trees. A higher up motion caught my eye and I raised my gaze in time to see a hawk flying out from the trees beyond the pond. Wearing a huge smile, I watched as he soared along the tree line for a short way before swooping upward and out of sight over the treetops.

By the time we finished crossing the field, I think Jazz had smelled every animal that had ever traversed the grass. We walked along the far tree line as I searched the ground for red tail hawk feathers. I found a small turkey feather but alas, my hunt for red tail hawk feathers continues.

Turkey feather I found today.

Turkey feather I found today.

Jazzmin and I returned from our walk quite satisfied by the exercise and our adventures. She took a quick snooze while I showered and then it was off to pick up Jordan and continue the normal routine of the day.

This evening was just as beautiful as the day so my girls and I took a short walk up around the corner to the nearby stream. Jordan had a chance to practice her pack leader skills and I was pleased to see how well Jazzmin walked alongside my oldest daughter.

Jordan walking Jazzmin and Jaycie following behind.

Jordan walking Jazzmin and Jaycie following behind.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day, an ideal beginning to my favorite season, and an eye opening transition to a new perspective!

Autumn in Summer

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Today was a beautiful combination of summer weather and fall colors. A strong breeze made the warmer temperatures tolerable, golden sunlight streamed down, fluffy clouds floated swiftly along, and a bright blue sky created the perfect contrast to the sporadic flashes of autumn colors appearing in the trees. Jazzmin and I took full advantage of the perfect weather by taking a nice, long, semi-leisurely walk. I say semi-leisurely because Jazzmin doesn’t really have a “slow” speed so everything has to move at a decent power-walking pace. Even though I could slow her down if I wanted to, the pace is beneficial for both of us and we strut along side-by-side with her on my left as I keep my eyes peeled for oncoming cars.

The warmth of the sun today convinced me to seek a shady route for our walk. Since we were heading out at 2:30 p.m., the only viable option for shade from the sun’s angle was the farmer’s access road. The farmer’s road is one of my favorite walking routes because we never have to worry about other dogs and the only “traffic” is the occasional slow tractor that we can easily avoid. Along the road today, there were intriguing spots of bright red and warm orange among the tree leaves as well as numerous butterflies, dragonflies, and birds. I was happy to see and hear the bluebirds because I know it’s only a matter of time before they head south. I don’t blame them and I wish I could go with them but I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

When we reached the area where the farmer’s road opens up into multiple fields, I decided we’d walk up to the top of the nearest hill and then back down to investigate the little pond filled with cattails. The farmer very recently added fresh dirt to the road leading up the hill and it was well-packed but refreshingly comfortable under our feet. We walked until we reached the top of the hill and the end of the tree shade and then paused for a while so I could take in the view. Photos don’t really do the view justice but I took some anyway in an attempt to convey the vastness of the surrounding landscape.

 

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One of the fallen leaves. Note Jazz keeping watch nearby.

One of the fallen leaves. Note Jazz keeping watch nearby.

After we made it over to the little pond, I was pleasantly surprised to see a pair of redwing blackbirds flying among the cattails. I’d just been thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen any redwing blackbirds in a couple months and I’d wondered where they went. Apparently, they just become more particular about where they live once they’ve settled in for the season. Unfortunately, the cattails were too tall to see anything else through so we headed back toward the main road home.

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The little pond and the view beyond.

 

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One of the many monarchs we saw flying around the fields.

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Walking among the “tunnel of trees” on the farmer’s access road is one of my favorite experiences. It looks as though the path is endless even though I know there’s a paved road on one end and fields on the other. The canopy of branches and leaves gently falling down from them created a very serene feeling that I reveled in all the way back.

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Jazzmin and I had just turned the corner onto the road we live on when I heard a hawk cry from up in the sky. I looked up and saw not one, but two hawks circling above the trees to our right. I stopped in my tracks and watched them circle as they talked to each other amid lazy circles. Eventually they separated and I grabbed my camera again to see if I could capture one in flight. It’s no easy thing finding a distant hawk against a bright blue sky when looking into a camera viewfinder but I managed to spot him and snap a couple pictures. I then tucked my camera away and we continue down the road and into our driveway as I kept my eyes on his soaring form.

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The hawk flew south over my driveway and into the farmer’s field behind my house before disappearing beyond the treetops. I appreciated that he felt the need to make sure I got home safe and I imagine I’ll be seeing him again soon.

I do love autumn, it’s one of my favorite seasons, but I don’t mind when a bit of summer manages to sneak in before the end of its run. Every day with sunshine, warmth, changing leaves is a blessing and I’m going to revel in it as I try not to think about the less pleasant season that follows.

Keep looking up!

Hawk I saw soaring over the back field today.

Hawk I saw soaring over the back field today.

 

I knew it was going to be tricky balancing taking care of the girls, writing freelance and doing my college work but I wasn’t quite prepared for all that and the other unexpected challenges I’ve faced over the past week. Things that had been constants in my life became unpredictable and I dealt with the pain of loss in familiar, heart wrenching ways. The most important thing though is that I’m still here, still kicking, still fighting the good fight. I attribute that to my ability to keep looking up even when I’m on the ground.

Trying to read online text books and complete college assignments while I had the girls proved a mostly futile endeavor but I got everything done once they were back with their father. Then I was faced with the challenge of defining a thesis and writing an essay about it. I thought that would be relatively easy but I was wrong and I was left frustrated and doubting my abilities as a writer. I may never be great at thesis and essays but I know I’m a good writer. I was born to be a writer and I’m certain the challenge of college English will help me grow and strengthen my abilities.

I floundered a bit when contact with friends faltered and vanished but I knew they were facing their own challenges so I mustered my courage and marched onward. I know my mom and my girls are always there to cheer me on and support me but I still long for the social circle aspect of my life that has been missing since my divorce. I knew there would be a transition/adjustment period when my marriage ended but I didn’t expect to still be in it three years later.

I’ve definitely made progress in my different and better life but sometimes it’s tough to go it alone. Well, I’m not totally alone, my pup Jazzmin will be my shadow to the ends of the earth and beyond. I’m so lucky to have her in my life because she’ll never judge me or question my choices. She always sees the best in me and through her eyes I see what a kind-hearted human I am.

Jazzmin is great at making me smile and laugh!

Jazzmin is great at making me smile and laugh!

I’ve also started keeping a journal of all the positives things in my life and the positive omens and signs I see every day. Taking the time to write it all down every single day really put it all in perspective for me. I receive numerous positive messages every day and have more blessings than I can count. Focusing on the positive aspects of my life completely outshines any negativity I encounter and it gives me the strength to continue on my journey.

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As I said in the beginning of this, I keep looking up and I mean this literally. I’m always looking up toward the sky for signs and spirit guardians. Every day I see numerous little butterflies around my yard and at least a couple of monarchs. For several days in a row I’ve seen hawks soaring in the sky and they’ve gone out of their way to make sure I see them. The hawks have circled in front of my living room window, cast shadows in front trees so I’ll go outside and see them in the back field and flown directly over me during walks with Jazzmin.

A quick online search reveals various meanings behind seeing a hawk but I believe that they’re guardians and guides from the spirit world sent to remind me to see the world with a wider vision. I tend to become too focused on small issues without having patience and faith in the bigger picture. When I see a hawk, I’m filled with a sense of calm and of knowing that everything will be okay. Whether the hawk is soaring or sitting atop a tree or pole, I’m aware of their watchful eye and I’m filled with reassurance that I’ll always be on the right path as long I keep looking where I want to go: up!

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