I won’t lie: last week challenged me in unexpected ways. I have been trying to move forward since my daughter started college six months ago. Since she’s merely fifteen minutes away, I feel like I take five steps forward only to retreat two steps back whenever she comes home. This weekend I took a leap of faith and planned an outing with a friend before I knew my daughter’s plans. I am determined to expand life one outing at a time.
The Skagit Valley Birding Invitation
Five of the things I love the most include movement, photography, wildlife, helping, and writing. Put them all together and bingo, a blog is born. I also love my family, and since my daughter comes home on weekends, I feel obligated to stick around whenever she visits. A friend invited me to bird with her in the Skagit Valley an hour north of Seattle. We’re gaining more birding practice for an upcoming trip with friends to Arizona in April. But when she mentioned wanting to bird all day, I gulped.
This would be the first all-day trip without my husband, daughter, or dog in more than three years. And on a weekend when my daughter was visiting. In November, my husband and I took eight days to bird in southeast Texas. So it’s not like I haven’t been away from her for an extended time. But something about this invitation challenged me in a new way. This was another step toward releasing the apron strings. Why is it so hard?
Expand Life: Enjoy a Skagit Sunrise
At 6:30 my friend promptly arrived and I sneaked out the front door, leaving my sleeping husband and daughter and a very unhappy dog. Ajax knows what it means when I put on my hiking togs, and he is always eager to join me. Not this time. I later learned that he complained loudly for quite a while after I left, waking up the household.
I felt quite emotional on the drive north. Shouldn’t I be the proper hostess for my daughter? Shouldn’t I be there to take her back to campus? Fortunately, I was able to talk through my difficulties with my friend. By the time we reached our first stop, I had a clear head and buoyed spirit. At the Fir Island Farm Estuary, the sunrise was spectacular. Snow geese, trumpeter swans, and waterfowl were plentiful, and people were few. I focused on my surroundings as Mother Nature helped me heal.
Contributing to Science on Ebird.org
One of several bright moments from the all-day birding trip was contributing to science. When I go with my friend or my husband, I let them record our bird sightings and report them on Ebird.org. This wonderful website is affiliated with Cornell University. Many thousands of bird enthusiasts can keep track of their observations online. Researchers and other birders can then track and learn where target birds are.
On this trip, we made a brief stop at a field where red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, and Brewer’s blackbirds were feeding. Through my 100-400 mm camera lens, I noticed a bird with a yellow head and chest. Definitely not one of the other three species. My friend immediately identified it as a yellow-headed blackbird, a bird I’d seen before, but a rarity for this time of year and location. We followed the YHBB (pictured left) to a nearby feeder where it joined house sparrows and red-winged blackbirds to enjoy breakfast. Score! I had proof of the rarity in the photos.
Expand Life: Watch Short-Eared Owls In Flight
Another memorable moment occurred in the early afternoon when we arrived at the Skagit destination called the “East 90.” The main road takes a sharp right turn, and it lies east of another sharp right known as “West 90.” Flying low over the field were at least half a dozen short-eared owls, one of my target birds for the day.
These little guys are open-country hunters, one of the few that can be spotted foraging during the late afternoon. My friend explained that she likes to plan birding outings with newer birders so that there’s a highlight toward the end. That way she’ll have company in the future. I smiled. That sounded like what coaches do in training sessions: we end on a high note.
On our return drive to Seattle, I asked my friend a question that I grew up hearing often: what was your best or favorite moment? My husband and daughter hate questions like that. This time, I used her answer as a teachable moment. I rephrased my question: were there any memorable or takeaway moments from the day that stood out to her?
The Takeaway Challenge
I proceeded to mention my three to her: the spectacular sunrise, spotting the yellow-headed blackbird rarity, and watching the short-eared owls forage.
Something my parents recently mentioned came to me. It’s called their “penny jar project.” It’s an opportunity to expand their world post-COVID. Every time they explore a new neighborhood or try something outside their comfort zone, they add a penny to the jar. (To account for inflation I might suggest a “dollar jar…”) Once you accumulate enough money, you can put it toward something you enjoy to celebrate your courage.
How might you gamify your own challenges to encourage your success? I took on a playful challenge in January to create the Active Ajax Adventures project. I created my blog to have something positive come out of COVID time. And the birding trip coming up in April is helping me expand my world by taking birding trips to practice and prepare.
While agreeing to go on this weekend trip was a challenge for me, I definitely made the right decision. I have a life apart from my daughter, and it’s okay — no, necessary — to explore outside one’s comfort zone. It helps her, as well, to know that we are all trying new things, taking on new challenges, and growing.
If you have a new challenge you’re facing in 2023 and would like life coaching assistance, feel free to reach out to me at www.bodyresults.com or comment below. I’d love to help!