At a loss

I’m in an empty space right now.  I haven’t the wherewithal to write, to be creative, to do much of anything requiring more than the minimum of mental output.

Hell, I’m even finding it difficult to process images.

I can’t make progress on Dreamdarkers or End of the Warm Season.  I stare blankly at each manuscript.  I know what needs to be done, yet I can’t find the sharpness of intellect to do it.

Walks have been few and far between.  The weather helps with that: nice during the week when I must work to pay the bills, then rainy before and/or during the weekend to keep me from venturing too far from the patio.

I wanted to take several road trips recently.  Those didn’t work out.  Again, it was raining everywhere I wanted to go, cloudy and miserable in a way that kills the spirit of photography as much as the spirit of exploration.  What good is it to drive six hours only to be drenched by a deluge in payment for the effort?

I feel overwhelmed by needing to do anything.  And what I want to do?  That’s a nebulous, vacuous chasm that threatens to swallow me whole—so I avoid it all costs.

Writing this post took me two hours.  How’s that for pathetic?

Yes, I’m at a loss.  For words.  For inspiration.  For energy.  For everything.

Simply and utterly at a loss.

It’s just a sparrow

A lot of people hate sparrows, or at least many ignore them.  Small, insignificant birds, scourges related to the introduced and reviled Old World creature, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus).

A male House sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched on a bush (2009_02_21_010379)

And when most look at a sparrow, that’s all they see: something to be treated with nonchalance, something pedestrian and common.  Or worse, something repulsive because a group of fools let it loose upon North America in hope of bringing the birds of Shakespeare to the New World.

Not that house sparrows are evil, mind you, for they’re not; they’re simply doing what nature made them to do.  You can’t blame the species—or any other species for that matter—simply because humans unleashed them in non-native habitats.  If that’s you and you’re looking at someone to blame for what house sparrows do, you need only look in a mirror for the right target.

Yet all the disgust aimed at house sparrows too often blinds people to the native species that bring a great deal more to the table than a fit of misguided anger.

A white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) foraging beneath a canopy of cloud, trees and brush (2009_04_19_016196)

Who would notice a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) foraging beneath a canopy of cloud, trees and brush?  A little bird, sure.  Why bother with such a common creature?  After all, it looks like every other sparrow, so there’s no need to stop and appreciate its beauty.

A Lincoln's sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) perched at the edge of a forest (2009_03_07_012249)

Or what of the Lincoln’s sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) perched at the edge of a forest, crest raised and eyes watchful?  It’s nothing more than a shadowy figure always flitting about in thickets and woodlands, always nothing more than a fleeting glance of something wistful.  And since it looks like every other sparrow…

A field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) atop a withered reed at the lake's edge (20080202_01669)

A field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) atop a withered reed at the lake’s edge must be nothing more extraordinary than a female house sparrow.  The size and color of its beak means little to the common observer.  But for the rest of it, what minor differences exist represent variations on a theme instead of beauty.

A song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched on a reed (2009_02_03_006429)

My observations show a song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched on a reed is no more noteworthy than an ant climbing a distant hill.  To me, it’s as though these feathered wonders are invisible, cloaked by the bending of space that renders them unseen and unheard.  But what a song they sing!  And too bad for those who fail to notice.

A Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) perching in lakeside brush (2009_03_21_013285)

Just one of many Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) perching in lakeside brush commands little interest from those who pass by.  Tiny to the point of being inconspicuous, these varied and diverse fowl escape the notice of all but the interested.  And who would be interested in sparrows?  Few, I can tell you that.

Pains of life revisited

I wrote this in 2005 to help a friend find light in the darkness.  Now it is me who needs a candle to hold back the shadows…

There is a world that exists solely within me, in my mind, in my very being.  This must surely be true of everyone, of all beings of conscience and reason.  It is a place separate from all others, protected; belonging to no one but the dreamer, a place of safety, where we are comforted and tranquility embraces us.  We feel secure there, surrounded by beauty unspeakable, wrapped in serenity as if it were a warm blanket on a cold winter day.  It is all things glorious to the individual who exists there.

I have no concerns in my world.  They have no place there.  It is a land where my troubles lay quiet, subdued by the purity of the place.

When I dwell there, I am surrounded by those who matter most to me, each of them a light which casts its brightness onto me, washing over me in hues of brilliance.  I can feel their love, their trust.  It holds me tightly, gives me wings, and drifts with me over the sands of time — stepping lightly when our feet need touch the shore.  No one may intrude upon this place, no one may interrupt the essence within.

With me in a chorus of music are my intimates, those who journey by my side, emotional and psychological companions collaborating with me to ensure success at a game which comes with no instructions.  We survive this game, but the best players do more than merely endure.

Outside of this place, there is darkness.  Therein lies that which is contrary to my Eden.  Therein lies reality.

This place tastes different.  The colors are wrong.  Shapes distort here.  I feel it from head to toe.  This night which befalls me here has no dominion.  I escape easily, stepping into a place and time outside of what is obvious.

I cannot accurately translate this place into written word.  It cannot be thus described.  Nevertheless, it can be known.

It is like the finger of the universe being drawn slowly up your back, across your shoulders, and around your neck.  It is the light that both warms and reveals.  It dwells within us and around us, encircling us powerfully, masterfully.  In its truth, we receive that which we need most.

Its antonym presents with disheartening difference, calling us friend while sharpening the blade of betrayal.  We soar in light yet suffer the dark anguish of trust.  How can one reconcile the two?  How can one survive the battering waves of humanity which attempt to rob us of our essence, preying on that which defines us and is so personally anchored to heart and mind?  We hold our hearts forth, offering them like a gift in the hopes they are found worthy.  We attempt to harmonize our souls, one with the other, sometimes blinded by desire to the inherent disruption.  The melody clashes.  We are drawn into a hurtful symphony of lives.  The world is simply too large to prohibit this naturally.

The thousands of places we could be at this moment, the many people we could be with, we find ourselves here and now, plunging headlong into something with little evaluation or circumspection.  You have undoubtedly felt this way.  My intellect tells me this is living.  My heart assures me it must not stop.

Sometimes we must rend our own hearts to ensure we feel.  I may choose to do so with my own hands, taking some undeniable portion of my existence and distorting its memory until it cleaves my heart asunder, leaving me alone in despair and depression.  Likewise, I may choose to aggravate — manipulate — an already precarious relationship until it explodes upon me, assaulting my emotions like some horrific invasion of my personal Eden.  And that is precisely what it is.

For those who care too much, who cannot ignore the chance to connect regardless of how destructive it might be, we, people like you and I, reach out and grasp the world with our arms.  We hold it near us and wait for a reaction.

And so we tear ourselves open.  We scrape and we cut, using reality as our blade, using it to reassure ourselves with the pain that we still feel and care.  Our crime?  Only that we cared too much, needing to verify our humanity by way of another regardless of the outcome.  Perhaps we even look forward to the pain.  Is there self-confirmation there?  Is that some kind of proof that we are flesh and blood and feel pain like everyone else?

What is it that teaches us the most memorable lesson?  Is it the success we enjoy fleetingly and hungrily, or is it the failure which strikes at the very core of us, inflicting the pain needed for memorialization?  Ay, it is in fact the pain, the failure that teaches us life's lessons.  That pain we want to avoid so religiously is the touch we most need to feel.

I reach for the emotional scars of lives and loves lost, and I trace their patterns absently, my fingers bringing forth stark resolution on the lessons of life.  I may choose to dwell in Eden.  I may choose to avoid human contact.  I could equally choose to ignore the world around me and pretend I am the only being on a far off world.  Those scars, reminders of pain and agony, tell me to mind the past, that it is real, that it teaches us lessons in the way most memorable to our carnal existence.

While we fly upon wings, lay upon grassy fields, enjoy the dusk of a thousand tomorrows, and dwell in our world of eternal light, the lessons of living are not learned by the reticent.  We must live, you and I.  We must understand that strength of soul comes from living, and living brings pain, and our pain helps us learn and is part of who we are.

Let our friends, our intimates, lend us their strength.  Let us ride upon their will in our time of weakness.  Let us rely on their resolve when our own falters.  Let us learn that the scars are reminders.  Let us feel that we may know we live.


To finish what I started for dearest nathalie with an h, who claims vehemently—and overmuch—that she sees only ducks when visiting White Rock Lake, I thought it time to share some of the other waterfowl who live here but who are in fact not ducks.  To be more precise, these are herons[1].

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) perched in winter trees (2009_02_14_009307)

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) perched in the trees across the lagoon[3].

A green heron (Butorides virescens) standing in verdant spring foliage (20080629_08323_n)

A green heron (Butorides virescens) hiding amongst branches draped over a creek.

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) perched on fallen limbs (2009_02_03_006217)

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) trying to sleep on a sunny afternoon.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) perched on a log in Sunset Bay (20080701_08757)

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) perched on a log in Sunset Bay.

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing along the banks of a creek (2009_03_07_012299)

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing along the banks of Dixon Branch near the confluence.  (I think the mallard drake is there for decorative purposes.)

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing in the treetops (2008_12_28_003901)

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) perched high in the treetops[4].

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) resting in the middle of a pond thick with vegetation (2009_04_16_015547)

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) resting in the middle of a pond thick with vegetation.

A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) stalking the shallows of a plant-filled swamp (2009_04_16_015585)

A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) stalking the shallows of a plant-filled swamp[5].

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] While these are all herons by definition, some are called egrets.  ‘Egret’ is the name given to heron species that is normally all white[2] and that grows long, showy plumes in the breeding season.

[2] The term “all white” does not refer to color morphs, forms of albinism or those species that demonstrate white plumage only during adolescence.

[3] The cattle egret perched in trees some distance from me.  Given its small size yet high reflective properties when matched against barren winter trees, I assumed at the time that it was a great egret curled up sleeping near the water’s edge.  Only when I processed the images much later in the day did I see it clearly enough to recognize my error, after which I cursed myself for not taking more than one cursory photo.

[4] Undoubtedly the most difficult heron species to photograph, great blue herons are flighty creatures who avoid humans at all costs.  It’s more likely for me to see one take to the skies and disappear behind treetops than it is to see one standing still near enough and long enough for me to capture a good picture.

[5] Little blue herons are anything but little, yet they are smaller than great blue herons.  This has to be my favorite heron species given its color, something I failed to capture in this image as I was looking at a dark bird in the middle of verdant foliage covered with water, water reflecting sunlight right into my face and the camera lens.  Nevertheless, you can see this bird’s plumage is a vaporous menagerie of my favorite color: purple.

[6] As for the title, see the bottom of this post for an explanation.

Of monarchs and migrations

October 4, 2008: A warm day.  A morning heavy with dew.  A time of spectacular migration.

A male monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) resting on a plant leaf (20081004_13160)

East of the Rocky Mountains, nearly the entire population of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) travels south in autumn to overwintering sites in Mexico (a smaller population travels to Florida).  This migration brings a vast legion of fluttering wings through Texas, a state that serves as a funnel through which many of the insects move south from points north.

A female monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) perched on flowers (20081004_13189)

By late September and early October, White Rock Lake hosts a legion of monarchs every day as they stop to rest, to dine on autumnal nectar served from the season’s last flowers, and to drink dew squeezed from the air by cooler and cooler temperatures.

monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) perched on flowers (20081004_13192)

The lagoon that stretches inland behind the old paddle boat building seems to entice more butterflies to congregate than any other location around the lake.  It was there I stood beneath a bald cypress that hung heavy with monarchs, a cloak of orange wings fluttering.  The scene was nothing short of majestic and magical, an imaginary place leaping from the pages of fantasy.

A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) perched on flowers (20081004_13210)

The mystical feel of this phenomenon is made manifest in knowing it takes multiple generations for the monarchs to return north in spring.  Each butterfly only lives a few months, so the last generation born—having never migrated—will still know the way to the overwintering ground in Mexico, and that generation will make its way there and will live several times longer than all other generations by postponing their inherent need to procreate.

A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) perched on flowers (20081004_13213)

April 11, 2009: A warm day.  An afternoon of sunshine and breezes.  A calm before the storms of the evening.

In spring when the weather warms, the last generation from the year before will leave Mexico and make its way north.  Once they reach Texas (and perhaps Oklahoma), they will die, but along the way they will mate and lay the eggs of future generations.

A female monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) laying eggs on young milkweed (2009_04_11_014946)

It is those generations that will give rise to yet more generations, and months and lives far removed from the present will define the monarchs of summer.  Then in autum the migration will begin again with the last generation of the year, individuals who will be the hope for next year’s monarch population.

A female monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) laying eggs on milkweed (2009_04_11_014953)

They migrate to a place they have never visited, the same place year after year, and they survive far longer than any other generation of monarchs.  They postpone mating in order to live half a year or more, in order to travel great distances, in order to overwinter in warmth so they can give birth to those who will continue the cycle.

I have seen them coming and going.  This year as I watched the female above deposit her eggs on every new sprout of milkweed that she could find, I wondered if—or perhaps hoped that—she was an individual I saw last year on her way south.  Unlikely, but a beautiful thought nonetheless.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] A male monarch resting near the firth.

[2] A female monarch sipping nectar from flowers along the water’s edge.

[3] Monarchs perching on a flowering shrub along the edges of the firth.

[4] A monarch sipping nectar from flowers.

[5] A monarch perched on a flowering shrub.

[6] A female monarch laying eggs on a milkweed sprout.

[7] A female monarch laying eggs on a milkweed sprout.