Guest post by Curt DeVoe, Board President
A longer version of this story first appeared in the June issue of Urban Times.
On March 10, 2020, a day at work in my office was capped by a CILTI Board of Directors meeting a few doors down. The next day, as a friend of mine likes to say, the world changed, and it turned out to be the last time I went to the Old Northside of Indy for a long time. Most of that change has not been good, but I have really enjoyed one aspect of my new life in sequestration. And that’s nature.
My wife and I have a tradition of identifying a “nature moment” every day if we can – usually something we notice on the way to the mailbox to get the paper, or on a walk with our dogs, or, if we’re lucky, on a walk in one of CILTI’s fabulous nature preserves. These nature moments can be something really striking – like seeing a fox sunning on our neighbors’ roof, or sandhill cranes circling overhead as they gain altitude to take the next leg of their migration journey, or the hundreds of chimney swifts that erupted one afternoon from the chimney of a building as I was eating lunch outside. Other nature moments can be more subtle, like the frost pattern on a fall leaf, or a sunrise, or the sound of thunder from an approaching storm.
One of my literary heroes, Henry David Thoreau, often wrote about how focusing on nature, particularly paying close attention to little things that might otherwise be taken for granted, can lead to a deeper appreciation of those nonhuman things. That deeper appreciation provides some relief from the trials and tribulations of daily life. That has been my experience, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
While I have caught a few nature moments over the years from the windows of my office in the Old Northside, generally my gaze was directed to my computer screen. Over the months while I was stuck at home, however, I spent considerably more time looking out my windows, eating lunch outside, taking more frequent and longer walks – and I think I have been craving, consciously or subconsciously, some sign that the universe is OK, life as I know it is not coming to an end, normalcy will return.
I am not a “birder,” per se, but I do tend to notice birds. I have noticed more varieties of birds over the past months than ever before. While COVID-19 was wreaking its havoc in early spring, warblers were busy migrating – and the woods behind my house apparently are a major stop in their migrations. I have seen countless Yellow-rumped Warblers (aka “Butter-Butts”) and several species I have never or rarely seen before: Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Golden-crowned Kinglets (tiny little birds that never stop moving as they hop and flit from branch to branch eating insects), Yellow Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Warbling Vireos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.
These magnificent birds will be still be flitting, eating, migrating—and stopping in my woods—long after social distancing and face masks are a distant memory.
And in case I ever doubted it, one day I got the sign I was looking for. It happened when I was in our laundry room, decontaminating the groceries and laundering my mask and gloves from a harrowing early foray to the grocery store. In the midst of this anxious task, I happened to look out the window straight into the eyes of a Black-Throated Green Warbler.
That little guy, with his improbable yellow face outlined in an Andrew Luck beard, let loose a warble that only a warbler with all those crazy colors and patterns can pull off. The message was clear: stop worrying, pay attention to what matters, and take a nature moment to notice a tiny little bird with a funny face and a magnificent song to share.
There’s a lot we don’t know about what’s ahead, but one thing’s for certain: I’m not going to stop looking out my windows for nature moments, and I’m not going to take any of those moments for granted.