Avian Neighbors: American Kestrel

American Kestrel by @relward_photography via Instagram. Used with permission.

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about the birds in my neck of the woods in Southeastern Georgia.

In late August or early September during one of our evening walks, my husband and I saw a new bird. It was perched on top of a seven year-old longleaf pine tree in a forty acre stand. It was too far away for a good view with my binoculars and not vocalizing. It was clear that it was larger than the songbirds that occasionally exhibit this behavior. I was stumped. A few days later, we saw what we thought was the same bird in the top of a tall sweetgum tree overlooking the stand of pines. We were walking in its direction, and as we got closer it took off. Seeing it in flight did not help with identification. My husband thought it looked like a killdeer, but I was skeptical. I knew enough to be pretty confident it was not a killdeer—a bird with whom I had had a brief encounter in the parking lot of my place of employment many years ago. The noisy display of a killdeer protecting its young is not easily forgotten. 

Several days passed before we saw the bird again. This time we were walking down the dirt road adjacent to the stand of longleaf pines, and we heard a loud, distinctive vocalization just before a bird flew over us. It headed east and landed briefly in the top of an old oak before taking off again and heading west towards a stand of mature pines, all the while making a high-pitched, rapid “klee klee klee” sound. Despite several months experience, I still struggle managing both an iPhone for Sound ID and binoculars at the same time. Thankfully, on this day, I engaged Sound ID in time to identify an American kestrel, and I got a good enough look with the bins to determine it was likely a female. I was ecstatic! 

I didn’t know much about the American kestrel, but earlier in the summer, I saw a photo somewhere (probably Instagram), and this prompted me to look up the bird in my Birds of Georgia field guide. I was happy to see that they are common residents year-round in my state, so I purposed to see one. They are really cute birds. Since kestrels are raptors, specifically in the falcon family, I figured a likely place for a sighting would be on a power line—a common perch for hawks in our area. Therefore, I began to look more diligently when I noticed a bird on a power line. It never occurred to me that this interesting creature would turn up in my own backyard!

eBird indicates I had a total of six observations of the kestrel in September, and several of those were by sound alone. The distinctive call we heard is apparently one of alarm. This is interesting because we have never gotten very close to the bird, and all we are ever doing is walking or riding the golf cart—far from threatening behavior! Also, this seems to be unusual in that kestrels generally do not avoid areas with human activity, so her response to our being in the neighborhood is perplexing. She’s certainly not nesting this time of year. Thankfully, when I saw her yesterday she didn’t seem as alarmed by my presence. She did fuss a bit during my first pass of the pines, but on my return, she simply flew over and appeared to be trying to get a closer look. I didn’t hear a peep out of her.     

According to Birds of the World, the American Kestrel (​​falco sparverius), formerly known as the sparrow hawk, is the smallest, most numerous, and most widespread American falcon and the only kestrel species found in the Western Hemisphere. It is sexually dichromatic, which is what enabled me to identify ours as female. She has rufous wings with black bars. Whereas a male would have blue-gray wings. Also, females are generally larger than males, which is common in raptors, and kestrels found in the Southeast tend to be smaller overall than those found elsewhere in the United States. 

It is hard to tell where our bird, whom we have named Keeley, nests. It is clearly not in the seven year old pines where we observe her most often, as kestrels are secondary cavity nesters who use natural or woodpecker-evacuated cavities in large trees. Therefore, the stand of pines must be a favorite hunting area. This makes sense as the grasshoppers, butterflies, and cicadas that are common components of a kestrel’s diet have been abundant in that area as of late. We are likely interrupting Keely’s evening mealtime with our excursions.

There is a small clue to the location of her home, however. On two occasions Keely has flown towards the woods where there are plenty of mature pines and hardwoods occupied by a variety of woodpeckers, so there’s a good chance she lives in that vicinity. I’m making plans to erect a nest box as soon as possible since kestrels are not averse to such manmade structures. If she chooses to inhabit it, this will better enable me to observe her behavior and to hopefully witness reproduction next year. If only there were a surefire way to attract a male to our locale! 

But my habit of watching power lines has paid off. Yesterday evening, on my way to town I noticed what I thought was a kestrel on a power line. On the way back home I slowed down and looked closer, and, indeed, it was a male. I’m praying he heads our way.  

Book: Owls of the Eastern Ice

I’m a reader and have been since my first Nancy Drew mystery in the second grade. For the past several years, I’ve consumed more than 50 books a year. (This includes audiobooks.) Therefore, it is no small thing for me to say that Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Save the World’s Largest Owl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020) is one of the most interesting and unique books I have ever read. Clearly, I am not alone in my enthusiasm. The book was long-listed for the National Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2020, among other accolades. To sum it up, I cannot do better than the cover quote by Laurie Hertzel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “An absolute marvel… Part science narrative, part memoir, part adventure story, it is captivating, thrilling, and beautifully written.” 

Owls of the Eastern Ice is wildlife biologist Jonathan C. Slaught’s account of his years tracking, capturing, and studying Blackiston’s fish owls in the eastern Russian province of Primorye on the Sea of Japan. Here’s how he describes his initial encounter with the bird: 

“I SAW MY FIRST BLAKISTON’S FISH OWL in the Russian province of Primorye, a coastal talon of land hooking south into the belly of Northeast Asia. This is a remote corner of the world, not far from where Russia, China, and North Korea meet in a tangle of mountains and barbed wire. On a hike in the forest there in 2000, a companion and I unexpectedly flushed an enormous and panicked bird. Taking to the air with labored flaps, it hooted its displeasure, then landed for a moment in the bare canopy perhaps a dozen meters above our heads. This disheveled mass of wood-chip brown regarded us warily with electric-yellow eyes. We were uncertain at first which bird, actually, we’d come across. It was clearly an owl, but bigger than any I’d seen, about the size of an eagle but fluffier and more portly, with enormous ear tufts. Backlit by the hazy gray of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree. Having decided that we were a threat, the creature pivoted to escape, crashing through the trees as its two-meter wingspan clipped the lattice of branches. Flakes of displaced bark spiraled down as the bird flew out of sight.”

This encounter inspired Slaught to make his birding pastime his profession (as he put it), and it eventually led to his studying the fish owl for his Ph.D. The book is an engaging account of the years spent in the Russian wilderness doing the research needed for his dissertation. But don’t be turned off by that! The travel, danger, and colorful cast of characters expressed in excellent prose are not the makings of a dry, academic treatise. Slaught and his companions found themselves in life-threatening situations on several occasions, and the most gifted of Southern fiction writers could not have come up with a more colorful cast of supporting characters. For example, in chapter 18, he introduces the reader to Anatoliy, a hermit-like man whose accommodations provide a much needed respite from camping in the winter woods. Slaught writes, “It is difficult to say what effect the weight of solitude had had on Anatoliy’s psyche, at least in relation to how much emotional baggage he brought to the forest with him to begin with, but the man certainly had quirks. For example, on my first morning there he asked if gnomes had tickled my feet in the night as they sometimes did his. I replied that they had not.” And Slaught’s recounting of the blinchiki incident had me laughing out loud. 

My greatest takeaway from Owls of the Eastern Ice was an appreciation for field biology and the lengths researchers will go to to study a species in hopes of making a real difference in its preservation. Slaught and his companions endured danger from adverse weather conditions and wildlife, survived with meager provisions and less than ideal accommodations, and experienced countless professional setbacks in their efforts to study the owls. In spite of all of this, they persevered for years, and their findings have made a difference. It took nearly a year for Slaught to process and analyze the data he had collected over four seasons in the field in Russia. He published the results in his dissertation, but that was not the end of his efforts. He returned to Russia to work for the Wildlife Conservation Society as a grant manager, and in his spare time he continued to study and promote the welfare of fish owls. He has worked extensively with his Russian counterpart, ornithologist Sergey Sumach, to develop a conservation plan and was able to make significant inroads such as convincing a major Primorye logging company to modify its operations to preserve fish owl habitat.   

A second takeaway for me was a better appreciation for ecology. Not only does habitat matter, but many species require a particular habitat, and a loss in habitat often results in a loss of the species. Fish owls are only found in northeastern Asia’s riparian woods. As you might expect, they live primarily on fish as well as small amphibians. Therefore, they winter in areas where they have access to places where rivers do not ice over. Also, fish owls nest in very old, hollow hardwood trees, which can be hard to come by. One of Slaught’s findings is that the Russian fish owls nest exclusively in river valleys. Therefore, logging and other industrial and human development in Primorye pose an existential threat to fish owls.  

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the owls themselves. In addition to providing a thorough description of fish owl habitat, Slaught describes their generally monogamous mating behavior, their hunting and nesting habits, their physical characteristics, and their personalities. (Females are much feistier when captured!) Such education regarding and engagement with a species should leave every reader rooting for fish owls—most likely one of the author’s goals in writing this book.   

I started reading on Kindle, but after circumstances forced me to put it aside for a few weeks I resumed reading via audiobook. This was a good decision. Slaught narrates the book himself, and while not all authors should serve as narrators, I can’t imagine a professional narrator doing better. Slaught’s being fluent in Russian made his pronunciation effortless, and his affection for his Russian co-laborers is evident in his tone of voice. At nearly nine hours in length, Owls of the Eastern Ice would make an excellent listen for a long road trip. 

Autumn Welcome

Pumpkin chocolate chip bread is an autumn tradition in our home.

The past two mornings on the back porch have been glorious! Temperatures in the fifties and sixties! As refreshing as a cold Coca-Cola on a hot summer day for those of us who have slogged through summer in the South. I’ve sat happily in my favorite chair wearing my fuzzy red bath robe, drinking my tea and eating my toast, listening to the birds, and watching the long-leaf pine needles glisten in the sunlight. Yesterday, I was joined by four white-tailed deer leisurely grazing at the fringes of the yard. 

The arrival of Autumn in the South is often not much more than a date on the calendar. In many other parts of the world, conditions here would be described as summertime. However, that doesn’t damper our enthusiasm for fall decor. It may be 85 degrees, but Southerners are still purchasing pumpkins and putting out Autumn wreaths, scarecrows,  and hay bales. I was in Hobby Lobby recently, and the crowds were like Christmastime—COVID notwithstanding. 

My seasonal celebration aesthetic falls more in line with that of Myquillin Smith as opposed to Hobby Lobby. She advocates for not accumulating too much seasonally-specific stuff and for focusing on all five senses—not just sight. Therefore, I bought a few pumpkins and a new grapevine wreath last weekend, and on Wednesday, to celebrate the new season, I lit my favorite cool-weather candle and baked a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip bread. 

I’ve been churning out this recipe during the fall for many years. It’s my regular contribution for pot locks and pastor appreciation month. And even people who don’t normally do pumpkin love it. There’s no cinnamon in the recipe. The only spice is nutmeg, which pairs beautifully with the chocolate chips. When I bake a batch for our family, it is a struggle to limit myself to one slice a day with my afternoon tea.

So, since circumstances will not permit the time to write up my summer birding report this week, I thought I would share the recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip bread. I cannot claim credit for this wonderful concoction. The original is from the first edition of the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

1 cup vegetable oil (I use light olive oil.)
2 ⅔ cups sugar
4 large eggs
15 ounce can pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling.)
⅔ cup water
3 ⅓ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt 
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (I recommend using a stand mixer, if you have one.) Mix together oil and sugar. Beat in eggs, pumpkin, and water. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and vanilla, stirring to blend. Do not overmix. Then stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. 

Pour or spoon the batter into two lightly greased nine by five inch loaf pans. Bake for one hour or until done. (It takes at least an hour and ten minutes in my oven.) Let cool in pans for 15 minutes on a rack before removing from pans. Then, let cool completely on a rack, wrap well in plastic wrap, and store overnight before serving.

This last admonition is included in the original recipe, but I must admit, we often cannot wait a day before digging in, and the bread is just fine. Also, the final product makes an excellent dessert served on its own or with vanilla ice cream. It’s really more cake-like than bread-like. 

Finally, I have had good results reducing the sugar to two cups and using white whole wheat flour. IF you would like to tweak the recipe to make it slightly healthier. Enjoy!

Birding: Five Important Lessons So Far

Sunset during a recent evening birding outing. If you look closely, you can see a tiny great crested flycatcher on the power line.

During the past four months since I upped my birding game, I’ve learned some important lessons. Here they are.

Lesson One: Just get out there. And pay attention.

I have only been on two special birding-specific outings this year. First, during our family vacation at Amelia Island (Florida), we got up early one morning and went to Big Talbot Island State Park to look for birds. Second, while accompanying my husband to a banking conference at Sea Island (Georgia), my daughter and I went on a birding tour with one of the resident naturalists. Both outings were enjoyable and profitable. I was able to add several species to my life list. And I will continue to take advantage of birding outings as much as I am able. However, to me, they do not compare to the joy of regularly discovering birds in my own backyard–all 150+ acres of it.

Most of my birding takes place during my morning porch time and my evening walks or golf cart rides with my husband. I have learned that these routines, along with my paying attention, will result in finding birds that I otherwise would have missed. For instance, a week or so ago during an evening golf cart ride, we rode down the dirt road to the Beaver Pond (our official name). We try to approach as quietly as possible because the resident wood ducks, anhingas, and great egrets spook easily. That evening, as we pulled up to the dam, I heard birdsong that I did not recognize. Thankfully, I had my phone ready and Sound ID opened, and I was able to identify an Acadian flycatcher! It wasn’t far away, so I was able to visualize it clearly with my binoculars. Amazingly, the bird stayed put for several minutes before it moved on. I had never seen an Acadian flycatcher before, and I haven’t seen one since. Our regular routine of visiting the Beaver Pond in the evenings enabled me to observe this bird that had not been recently observed in our area. I was thrilled! 

Lesson Two: Being attentive to and learning bird vocalizations makes all the difference. 

As I wrote in one of my introductory pieces, the frustration of not recognizing birdsong during my spring morning porch time was one of the motivating factors in me taking birding to the next level. This resulted in my investigating resources for learning bird vocalizations, but without much success. I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I even prayed about it on several occasions! And before long my prayers were answered. One day during Laura Erickson’s podcast, she mentioned that Merlin Bird ID had JUST ADDED Sound ID. I went straight to the app, and sure enough, there it was! 

Sound ID is not perfect, of course. There have been several occasions where species have popped up that left me scratching my head. And in late summer in South Georgia, the cicadas are often so loud that only the Carolina wrens and the blue jays have a chance to be heard. But imperfections aside, Sound ID is a great tool that has changed my birding life. After several months of regular use, I can identify virtually all of the summer residents by sound. This brings me great joy! Also, I have discovered birds that I had never even heard of such as the Northern Parula. Last night, on our evening golf cart ride, I observed 20 species, but of those 20, I only SAW nine. I’ve made my case.

Lesson Three: Birding is generally more fun and more productive when you do it with other people. 

During my vacation birding outings with my daughter and my regular evening routine with my husband, I have learned that it is often helpful to have another person take a look through the binoculars and compare what they see with the field guide or to listen to a bird call and compare it with a recording of the likely species. When identification is in doubt, it greatly increases my confidence to have another set of eyes and ears at my disposal. Not only that, different people have different strengths. I have a good handle on vocalizations, but my husband is better at identifying many birds in flight, especially raptors. This is a result of a lifetime of country living and hunting–experience I do not have. 

Thankfully, I am able to enjoy the best of both kinds of experiences. I have my solitary morning porch time and occasional solo ventures like last week when my husband was out of town, but also am able to enjoy almost daily outings with my husband and other excursions with family members like my daughter and my mom. But I have definitely found more lifers in company rather than on my own.  

Lesson Four: Good binoculars are worth the investment, but you don’t have to break the bank.

In May, the binoculars I had at my disposal were a pair of Hutact 10 x 42s that I purchased from Amazon in 2017. I cannot remember how I arrived at that choice. Probably because they weren’t very expensive, and they had good reviews. And for backyard birding for the past several years, they were adequate. However, once I started birding seriously, I soon realized that I needed a better set of lenses. It was especially hard to see birds on the far side of the Beaver Pond in the evenings. But how to choose? I didn’t understand what the numbers meant, and much of what I read about selecting binocs made my eyes glaze over. 

Thankfully, I soon discovered the Birding Tools podcast, which included an episode on choosing binoculars. From that resource, I determined that I would begin with a pair of 8 x 42s. I knew I wanted binocs that I would be willing to take with me wherever I went, and as I have degenerative disk disease and have already had one neck surgery, I needed a choice that was as lightweight as possible while still being effective. The brand recommended via Birding Tools was more than I wanted to spend and didn’t seem to be currently available anywhere (due to COVID, I assume), so I settled on the Vortex brand after hearing about their lifetime guarantee during an ad on Talkin Birds. My Vortex 8 x 42 binoculars cost around $200 and are much superior to my old lenses. The primary advantage is that they let in significantly more light, which is especially helpful for evening birding. 

In recent weeks, I’ve had several occasions wherein I’ve needed slightly more magnification to make an ID with confidence, so a pair of 10 x 50s are likely to be acquired in the not too distant future. But for now, I can say with conviction that my birding joy has been enhanced by investing in a good basic set of lenses. 

Lesson Five: Patience is vital in both the short term and for the long haul.

I think one of the reasons why so many serious birders, including myself, are older is that biring requires patience, and patience comes with maturity. But patience is needed in two contexts. First, it is needed simply to find and to see birds. For example, when I went out on the golf cart by myself one evening last week while my husband was away, as I was heading home, I heard a commotion in the immature longleaf pines. There were at least half a dozen brown headed nuthatches desperately squeaking away. I regularly hear this species, but only a squeak here and there. Nothing like this! Added to the cacophony was the more urgent than usual call of a summer tanager close by. What in the world?! I moved closer and waited. Patiently.

All of a sudden, the nuthatches grew quiet, and then I saw a huge brown bird soundlessly sweep down towards the forest floor and then back up into the trees. One of our resident barred owls! We hear the owls somewhat regularly, but there have only been two other sightings. I pulled the golf cart forward a bit and waited. A few minutes later the owl made a similar movement flying down towards the ground and then back up into the trees. However, I couldn’t SEE the owl perching in the tree. So as quietly as possible, I moved the golf cart into the driveway and waited a little longer. The next time the owl made the swoop and perch action I was able to get a quick glimpse through my binocs ( I would NEVER have seen a thing with the 10 x 42s this late in the evening.) I continued to wait hoping for another glimpse, but to no avail. I didn’t look at my watch, but I’m pretty sure I spent 15-20 minutes trying to see that owl. I never would have done that 20 years ago.

Second, I have realized that one needs patience because it takes time to accumulate the knowledge needed to be a good birder. I have already described the efforts I’ve made to BEGIN identifying bird sounds, and thankfully, those efforts have borne fruit. But I am virtually incapable of identifying most birds flying through the air. Incapable I tell you!  It frustrates me exceedingly! I must regularly remind myself that education and experience are necessary to develop expertise, and education and experience require time and PATIENCE. I am reading and listening as much as I can as often as I can, but I know it will be years before I attain the level of competence I desire. Thankfully, I am old enough and patient enough now to wait for it. 

So those are five important lessons so far. As summer wraps up next week, I hope to provide a complete accounting of the species I have identified here at home in my summer birding report. 

Why Birding?

I have had the antique hummingbird prints for more than 25 years.

In late spring, when I settled into being a serious birder, this was not something that came out of the blue. I have loved birds for as long as I can remember, and everyone who knows me well is aware of it. My mom gave me my first bird book for Christmas when I was ten or eleven, and not long after I married, she gave me a set of antique hummingbird prints. In fact, there are prints of birds in nearly every room of my home. My grandmother always had a bird feeder in her back yard, and when my firstborn was a baby, I installed my first feeder on the kitchen window for our mutual delight. I have maintained at least one feeder ever since. I have even tracked birds from time to time. Several years ago when we traveled to Colorado and New Mexico, I kept a list of the birds sighted. I have had birding apps since I got my first smartphone. However, for all that, before the Spring of 2021, my devotion to birds was largely aesthetic and intermittent. What changed?

First of all, I believe it was simply a matter of having the time and the energy. When I was working full time, it was all I could do to maintain my home to meet my minimum standards, and the only hobby or interest I made time for was reading. This was in spite of having developed several creative interests when I was a stay-at-home mom such as crochet, knitting, embroidery, drawing, and watercolor painting. I’m the kind of person who is going to do something right or not do it at all, so I eventually gave up making things when I went back to work when my youngest began school.

Now, I can spend more time on the porch in the mornings watching and listening to birds. I have more energy for getting outdoors in the evenings with my husband. I can take the time to enter my observations in eBird. And I have time to pursue the knowledge necessary to make me a competent birder. In addition, with age and maturity tends to come a reduced interest in consumption and accumulation. Birding is something I can do that is meaningful and fulfilling that does not require an excessive amount of stuff, and it allows for pursuing experiences rather than things. 

I’ve had most of these books for years. The quail print is by artist Holly Ward Bimba.

Secondly, after several months of consistent birding, I can confirm that this pursuit is something that is a good fit for my personality and mental health needs. I am an Enneagram 1, Type A, ISTJ, HSP, perfectionist, who struggles with anxiety, and while I generally enjoyed my past creative endeavors, they often caused me more frustration than pleasure. I was a product, not process, knitter and crocheter, and I was rarely satisfied with my drawings and paintings. The lack of joy I experienced hindered my motivation to apply myself, which meant that I was unlikely to ever be pleased with my output. It was a vicious cycle.

In contrast, I find birding to be a consistently relaxing and joyful endeavor. In recent years, much has been written about the importance of being in nature for good mental health, and my experience bears this out. Also, the identifying and list making and knowledge that I am making important contributions to science via eBird make my Enneagram 1 heart sing. 

Finally, birding is based on facts and data and rarely lends itself to controversy. I am weary of controversy and opinion and taking sides and the demonization of the other. I want to focus on what is good and beautiful in the world and what can be agreed upon. There are more than ten thousand species of birds on Earth, and they are fascinating. Unfortunately, it is estimated that in the past 50 years, the bird population has decreased by nearly three billion in North America. We should all be able to agree that birds are worth our time, attention, and conservation efforts. It is my hope that through what I write here, I can inspire others in my part of the world to engage with birds and to care about their future.  

We should all be able to agree that birds are worth our time, attention, and conservation efforts. It is my hope that through what I write here, I can inspire others in my part of the world to engage with birds and to care about their future.

Sojourner at Cypress Creek

Finding My Focus

This is the long overdue third post in a series on the inspiration for and origin of Sojourner at Cypress Creek. You may read the first post, “Beginning My Sojourn at Cypress Creek,” here, and the second post, “Returning to Nature,” here.

On December 31, 2020, I ended my tenure as the executive director of a small local nonprofit. It was overall a great experience for me, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead the organization and to work with and for some wonderful people. But I was at a point in my life where something had to give, and giving up working was the only option—it was the one thing causing me stress and anxiety that I could control. I have struggled with a variety of health issues for many years that made working difficult, but the life circumstances that I have been dealing with recently had taken their toll, and I needed a long rest. 

My plan was to not take on any new projects for at least six months. However, very early on, I started a blog on Medium. I had an inkling what I wanted to do in that forum, but as the days went by and as I gave it more thought, I knew that was not what I really wanted. I finally allowed myself to truly rest—to not have any more expectations of myself on any given day than to make the bed, do the laundry, and cook dinner. 

In late March or early April I experienced a shift. It was as if a fog lifted. My frame of mind and energy level improved. The spring weather and time change allowed me to return to the porch in the mornings and for more frequent walks in the evenings. In addition, however, life got busier. There were track meets and tennis matches, college decisions, high school graduation, summer vacation, and more. I was forced to live very much in the present, and it was good for me. I didn’t have time to contemplate what I SHOULD be doing because I was too busy. 

But in the midst of all of the activity, a vision began to emerge. It may have originated when I brought out the hummingbird feeder for the first time in several years or as I sat on the porch in the mornings anxious to identify the bird sounds I was hearing. It was probably nurtured by the evening walks now enjoyed with an abundance mindset. The vision was carried along as I poked around online and discovered that there weren’t many people like me in South Georgia writing about birds and nature. It was solidified in June during travels that included activities that allowed for a renewed focus on the outdoors.  

So here I am. I have blogged several times before, but this time is different. My goal here is to learn, to teach, and to inspire, not to opine. And to do so where there is a need rather than where there is excess. I hope you will join me. 

My goal here is to learn, to teach, and to inspire, not to opine. And to do so where there is a need rather than where there is excess.

Sojourner at Cypress Creek

Returning to Nature

This is the second in a series of three posts on the inspiration for and origin of Sojourner at Cypress Creek. You may read the first post, “Beginning My Sojourn at Cypress Creek,” here, and the third post, “Finding My Focus,” here.

Zip lining near Whitefish, Montana in 2014.

When I came to terms with the fact that I was stuck out in the country, I tried to make the best of it. I avoided using the Internet at home. I purchased, rented, and borrowed movies and television shows on DVD. And eventually, podcasts and audiobooks made the commute a blessing rather than a curse. Friends and family learned not to call us on our cell phones in the evenings and on weekends.

My physical and emotional health were such that when I wasn’t working or home keeping there wasn’t energy for much else. My leisure hours at home were usually spent either reading or watching DVDs. My engagement with the outdoors was limited. My husband, Brent, spent Saturdays outdoors mowing, chainsawing, planting, and more while I was inside. 

It wasn’t that I disliked being outdoors, I actually loved the IDEA of it, but there was either too much to do inside or I didn’t have the energy to get out. However, there were three things that got me outside: the back porch, evening walks with my husband, and travel. 

Our back porch was initially open—a simple covered concrete slab, but eventually Brent screened it in and purchased cushioned wicker seating, and my outdoor refuge was established. I spent hours sitting out there while it rained and in the evenings. Later on, I developed the habit of eating breakfast and having my devotional time on the back porch. I have never been a morning person. I was always one to get up just in the knick of time to do what I needed to do to get where I needed to be punctually. But I came to understand the therapeutic effects of the porch and that beginning my day with nature had a positive impact on my frame of my mind. It was my version of forest bathing, and it was transforming.

Several years after we moved to the country, Brent and I began taking regular evening walks together. We live on a dirt road that is about two miles long, and we have more than 150 acres of family property at our disposal. There are three ponds and a number of trails. We have always enjoyed the flora and fauna, and I appreciated the gift of being able to be outdoors in such a setting, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2020 when the world was in lockdown that I truly came to terms with what we have here. There were people all over the world stuck in cities and unable to leave their homes, and we were out in the country able to go on long walks, to engage with nature, and to never see another human being. I could not believe that I had ever desired to leave this place.

Finally, I married a man who loves to travel, and he especially loves visiting state and national parks. In addition to sites near us here in the east, in recent years we have visited Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite National Parks. We have hiked, canoed, kayaked, ziplined, and otherwise actively engaged with nature all over the country, and I always enjoy it—even when it’s difficult due to my health issues.  

I was a nature-loving child. I spent hours outdoors. I got my first bird book at around ten or eleven. And my first real career aspiration was to be a marine biologist. Unfortunately, circumstances and time led me away from engagement with nature, and I understand now that I sufferred for it. It is time to make things right.

Beginning My Sojourn at Cypress Creek

This is the first in a series of three posts on the inspiration for and origin of Sojourner at Cypress Creek. You may read the second post, “Returning to Nature,” here, and the third post, “Finding My Focus,” here.

Sojourn 1. noun: a temporary stay, 2. verb: stay somewhere temporarily

Our home in 2013.

Ten years ago next month, we moved into the modest cottage we built near Cypress Creek in rural South Georgia. Our move was precipitated by a crisis that caused us to re-evaluate our priorities. My husband had been raised in the country, and we knew that family land was available to us whenever we wanted it, but it took my husband’s near-death experience for us to decide there was no reason to wait. Life really is too short for “someday.”

This would be our third home construction, so we had a good idea of what we wanted, but finding a plan would prove to be something of a challenge because we didn’t want a big house. Cleaning, decorating, and maintaining a larger home did not appeal to me, and I had no desire to be what my mom always called “house poor.” We wanted to be able to afford to travel rather than to put most of our income into a house payment, and we didn’t want our children to have to take out loans for college.

The clearing, framing, and building process was not without difficulties, but it was not a nightmare either. My husband and I are like-minded in taste and priorities, and he is knowledgeable about building. Our home was complete in fewer than six months. Our dream life in the country had begun. 

I am a task-oriented person who enjoys decorating and home keeping, so I was happy the first year or so in my new home, but after a while, after being settled, the inconvenience of being so distant from town and the drive to and from work began to wear on me, and I started to fantasize about moving back to the town where we worked and had lived for more than ten years. The distance wasn’t the only problem. Before we decided to build, as we were building, and during the first two years we lived here the cellular signal was fine. But one day, all of a sudden, we couldn’t take a call without walking into the front yard. In addition, satellite Internet access did not allow for streaming, so no YouTube or Netflix for us. 

My dream of living in the country was clearly based on an ideal grounded in books and fantasy that was in conflict with my personal values of convenience and access to technology.

Sojourner at Cypress Creek

My dream of living in the country was clearly based on an ideal grounded in books and fantasy that was in conflict with my personal values of convenience and access to technology. After dropping a number of hints over the course of several months I finally confronted my husband about moving back to town. He listened patiently, as he usually does, and then unequivocally put an end to the discussion. We couldn’t sell family land and leave his mother next door to contend alone with his father whose health was declining.

My sojourn at Cypress Creek had begun in earnest.