Thursday, April 30, 2015

Feeding the Fire

The scariest thing in the world is trying to break free.  Especially when your 30th birthday is right around the corner.  A part of me has grown complacent and lazy with the ideas that have been drilled into me by society; go to college, get a degree, get a job, work 40 hours a week, get married, buy a house, have children, retire, keep up with the Joneses, don't be weird.  Well, I hate to break it to you, but I am weird.  I am a six-foot-tall, cat-loving, poetry-reading, fantasy-novel-writing, childlike naturalist who believes that the world is inherently good and beautiful.  I hope that there are those of you reading this who think, "that doesn't sound weird at all!", but just wait.

I don't think I want to have a corporate career.  I still dream about it sometimes, when I'm darting by on the highway past the Safelite building at dusk, when the lights are on and I can see through the glass to the cubicles that line the room.  What must that be like?  I try to imagine, but that just sounds incredibly boring.  What do they do all day?  Send emails?  Faxes?  Make phone calls?  Surf on Pinterest?  I have worked at my part time job at a rec center for two years and I still don't know what half the people I work with are doing in their offices all day.  I would go crazy in a cubicle, or even if I had an office of my own.  I would feel sterile and detached from life.  This is why I love my current job, even though it's part time; I get to go outside.  Anytime. I. Want.  I get to run around at a park, identify trees, birds, and wildflowers.  I get to play.  I get to cover myself in mud.  I get to freak out when I see an owl or a hooded merganser or a wood duck at the wetlands.  This is what I want to do to make money.

I have never, for a day in my life, felt "normal".  Perhaps this is part of growing up and being six feet tall as a thirteen year old, perhaps this is part of being a socially awkward, introverted, highly sensitive and empathic child (though I never knew I was any of those until college and beyond).  But I tried.  Oh, I tried so hard to force myself into that mold that everyone else seemed to slide into so gracefully.  But it hurt.  I couldn't figure out why no one liked me, why my classmates always made fun of me, why I couldn't relate to anyone in my grade.  It wasn't until much later in life that I realized my self-consciousness probably stemmed from my own insecurities, that other people generally seemed to like me and tolerate me (or ignore me for the most part).  I don't remember any specific hate directed my way in high school, aside from the typical catty bitchiness that comes with female social groups of that age.  It was merely a feeling that I was trying to hide deep down, to lock away in a metal box and bury deep down, under feet of gravel and dirt so that it could never come out.

But I'm digging it up now.

Because now I realize that my desire to be normal only stemmed from inadequacies that I felt during childhood and adolescence.  I won't blame anyone, as blaming people merely makes me the victim, and I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason.  These hardships that I suffered through were to cause expansion, to catalyze my growth, and I have been sleeping through them for the past 20 years.  The beast is finally waking.

So look out.  I am on the hunt for an amazing life, and I won't accept anything less than things that make me feel excited and prosperous and alive.  Who cares if it's the opposite of everything society dictates?  I refuse to let the pressure to conform get to me.  I am going to live my life in the way that causes the greatest amount of expansion and spiritual growth.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gettin Real

Originally, I thought this blog would be a gay romp through my life's many daisies and rainbows.  Turns out that when you ask for growth, you are given things that catalyze growth.  And those things are not always pleasant.

The latest thing in this trend has to be that a very, very good friend of mine got a call to interview for a full-time job that we both applied for.  I was not expecting the punch to the gut that came with that announcement, but it hurt.  All I wanted to do was rant and rave.  Things like, It's not fair! and, Well, she's way more qualified, instantly came into my mind.  But instead of relaxing into my feelings of victimhood, I decided to trace the feeling down.  Just why, exactly, was I so angry?*

Recently, a favorite YouTuber of mine posted this video.  In it, she details how to find core beliefs.  I've seen this kind of thing before but never tried it.  What the hell, I thought, I'll give it a go.

Needless to say, the results I got were not what I expected.  I expected to come to some conclusion that the Universe is just resisting me, not giving me what I want because it is testing me.  And while that is true, I never expected to find out why.

I see myself as worthless.

Even though I have been going through all this posturing these past few months about how much I love myself, about how I'm so awesome, I realized it all feels like I'm lying to myself because I have been merely slapping a bandaid on the gaping wound and hoping it will heal.  I cannot turn away from this problem.  If I truly want growth, this is the perfect opportunity to get it.

This root problem makes so much sense.  This is why I have never pursued anything other than part-time, food service work.  I don't think I deserve it.  This is why I cannot land an interview with any full-time job that I am now applying for.  Thoughts become actions, and if I am thinking that I don't deserve it, then maybe that is coming across in my resume and applications.

So now the question changes from, "Why is this happening to me?" to "How can I change my belief?"

That is not an easy process.  So please forgive me any dourness that may come across in the next few blogs.  I am walking through shadow in order to get to the light, and it is not an easy path.  I firmly believe that no matter how dark and long the night, dawn is coming.  I will get there.  I believe that I will find my way through all of this and come out on the other side believing myself worthy of all the wonderful things that the Universe has to offer for me.

My time will come.

*This has nothing to do with my friend; I was angry at the people who are doing the hiring.  I honestly wish her all the best and know that she will get it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

I know that I promised a continuation of my nature walk on Sunday, but it's Earth Day.  I'm a naturalist.  This is to my kind what Frappuccino Happy Hour is to teenagers.  (Basically, it's a big deal.)

I always had an affinity for the outdoors, but I really learned to love nature as a teenager.  I worked at a Cub Scout summer camp for five years (starting when I was fifteen!) and they were the best five summers of my life.  No exception.  I don't remember much of the high school drama, or the muscle pains from moving pallets or tents (though I do remember the smell of the canvas tents) but all of that seemed insignificant compared to the extraordinary experiences that I never would have had staying at home for the summer.  I was able to sleep outside at night.  I watched the stars meander overhead, saw many shooting stars and always made the same, teenagery wish on all of them.

I learned very quickly what poison ivy (itchy) and multiflora rose (ouchy) looked like, and took incredible joy at popping Touch-Me-Nots during the fall programming.  I found special quiet places to go when I was feeling miserable (the outdoor chapel and the cement protrusion at the lake).  I laughed so hard my sides ached and shared the camaraderie of some of the most intelligent, humorous, and fun people I'd ever met in my entire life.  I learned how to deal with my problems by getting lost in the paths, under the bright light of the full moon, in watching the duckweed separate and re-congeal at our pond, at hear the bullfrogs scream their availability into the night.

I honestly don't know where I would be without summer camps.  They gave me a chance to be myself, to be accepted by others, and to learn all about nature firsthand.  Because of this love, this early experience, I learned how to see the natural rhythms of the world around me.  I learned that cycles come and cycles go.  We are all just part of a larger cycle.  I learned to appreciate all the breathtaking beauty of every season (even winter)!  I learned to be grateful, to respect the earth.  Without her, we would be stuck on barren planets with naught but a flower to keep us company.

I guess that's why I do what I do.  In an age of ever-growing communication, I don't want humanity to forget its roots.  We have come from the earth, and to the earth we will return.  Why not make it a journey of being amazed at all the good that this world has to give?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

More Springtime Shenanigans

You might think, from looking at the trees outside, that there's nothing much going on out in nature.  Sure, some of the trees have leaves that are erupting from their winter buds.  Sure the grass is more green and there are more plants covering the floor.  But spring hasn't really sprung, right?
Doesn't look like we'll find much springworthy...

Oh, I thought that this morning too.  I drove to work, looked at the barren trees and thought, "Well, this is depressing," despite all the sunlight and cool breezes.  More sun should mean that trees should burst into leaves immediately.  By the time I got to work, I saw the daffodils and tulips were in full bloom outside.  "Now that's more like it," I thought.  But because it was so nice outside today, I decided to go on a nature walk at one of the parks just to see what I could find.

I didn't think much when I first arrived.  I don't generally like parks.  Pump the brakes, the naturalist doesn't like nature?!  No, I love nature.  I'm just not a fan of cultivated green space.  I'm not sure where my distaste comes from; probably from the fact that all the kids play on the playground and leave the woods alone.  Probably because poison ivy is out of control (due to the deer and birds who take refuge in the parks and eat poison ivy berries and then poop out poison ivy seeds).  Probably because parks just feel contrived to me, especially paved pathways.  But I would rather have a park than have a parking lot!

I wandered out of my car and toward the path that I know well.  Instantly, I saw flowers.  I'm pretty sure they were burning bush flowers.  Super awesome.  That proves that the trees and shrubs definitely know it's springtime!
Burning Bush flowers

Then I found some weird, drippy flowers.  I'm pretty sure these are some kind of hickory.  Actually, I take that back.  I'm now pretty sure they're ash tree flowers.  Wait, all the ash trees have been cut down due to the emerald ash borer.  Now I think they're hickory again.  Or wait, are they maple?  I'll be able to better tell once the leaves have fully come in.
"Weird Drippy Flowers" is definitely the technical term.

 While looking for flowers on trees, I stumbled across buckeye trees.  These look super cool.  Not only have the buds gotten huge, but they look as though they have "burst" open to reveal the leaves.  The flowers sit on top.  Actually, these are probably horse chestnuts.

Horse Chestnut flowers exploding from their buds.

I always thought they were synonymous, but after using the Google Machine, I have discovered that they are different.  Horse chestnut have larger flowers.  I am definitely coming back in a week to see if there has been any change!
Horse Chestnut flowers and leaves
Spring beauties are definitely out and about.  I remember seeing them when I went walking in my last blog post.  They're out around here too, and my camera was unable to capture the pink stripes on the flowers because of the sunlight.  I really need to learn how to use my camera properly.  I love these little guys.  They're some of the first wildflowers to pop up, and they're pretty hearty.
You can just barely see the pink stripes on the flowers.

Through the trees and across the river, a flowering dogwood stood in all its glory (actually, looking at it now, I think it's a magnolia?).  And behind that dogwood was a house!  I would love to have a house on a river, especially one with a flowering dogwood in the backyard.  You have to admit, it would be spectacular to live here.
Imagine living in an idyllic house like this one!

If you were to ask me what season is the best to go out in the woods on a hike, my answer would vary based upon the season.  I love the freshness of going out into nature during the summer, the threat of a thunderstorm just beyond the dense canopy of leaves.  I love the crispness of walking through multicolored canopy in the fall, basking in the earthy smell of decomposing leaves underfoot.  Plus, touch-me-not goes into seed and those are so much fun to watch burst!  But right now, I have to say spring is my favorite time to walk.  There's just enough nature out there to be interesting, but not so much that the ground is covered with seasonal plants.  This makes going off the path so much easier.

As a naturalist, I'm not supposed to encourage people to go off the paved paths (at least, where I work this is true).  There are a lot of people who might step on an endangered flower or might get poison ivy, or fall and break something.  I'm supposed to encourage a safe and engaging experience to others when outside.  But how engaging is it, especially for a kid, to stay on the path the whole time?  I wouldn't have wanted to.
Definitely not on the path anymore...

Besides, I put on a long skirt today, since the weather was so nice.  If you've never run around in the woods in a long skirt, I highly recommend it.  I definitely felt like a Disney princess.  I pretended I was being chased, and my skirt even caught on a few brambles.  Oh, imagination, you are the most inspired by natural landscape!
Long skirt plus walking in woods equals adventures!
If I had stayed on the paved road, I never would have found more toad trillium!  This stuff is the best.  I love it because it looks like something out of Labyrinth (I may have pretended that David Bowie was the one chasing me through the woods).  I also was looking for some violets, though I didn't see any in this clearing, I found something even better.

Toad Trillum

Wild ginger!  This is definitely not edible ginger.  Granted, the natives and settlers used to use it as a spice, but there are toxins inside of it, so please don't eat it!  The leaves look waxy and are heart-shaped.  The flower likes to hang out at ground level, but I don't think this one has grown yet.
Wild ginger!
Look at the difference between the wild ginger and this leaf.  Both are heart-shaped, but this leaf is more lobed, and looks more veiny and fuzzy.  Are they the same plant?  Psh, no.  This other leaf is garlic mustard.
Garlic Mustard
Garlic mustard is everywhere.  It's one of the invasive species that likes to take over parks.  Luckily, the plant is edible.  If you were to pick up the leaf and crush it in your hands, it would smell spicy and mustardy.  These guys came over from Europe, and they're super hearty.  They like to take over the clear areas on the ground, as you can see.  I really wanted to pick as many of these as I could to make a salad, but I am unsure of the pesticide usage at the parks around town, and I'd rather not risk getting myself sick.

So you see, if you really look, you can find signs of spring everywhere.  This isn't even half of what I found; more to come on Wednesday!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring Nature Walk

Today was such a delicious day.  Even though it's early spring and the trees are still bare, there are plenty of awesome things to find outside.  It's all about really looking to see what things there are.

Like violets!  They're some of the first spring flowers.  They have heart-shaped leaves and most violets are this really pretty shade of... you guessed it, violet!!

 These guys are some of the earliest bloomers in spring.  They're also edible.  I didn't eat any because I didn't want to accidentally ingest some kind of deer fecal strain.  Also, I wasn't sure if the field used any kinds of pesticides.  It's always a good idea to check out an area before you go so that you know if you can eat your finds or not!

As we walked along, we had a visitor.  A turkey vulture hopped across some tree branches and eyeballed us, but he must have thought that we weren't dead enough.

Hello, turkey vulture!
Part of me was scared that he'd get scared and puke on us, but that didn't happen.  They're a lot bigger in person than you think!

The whole field was covered in purple flowers.  It was as though nature laid out a carpet of welcome for us to squish across.  I did get muddy, but that's half the fun of going out.

Not a cloud in sight!
 Then there were hundreds of spring beauties in a clearing.  They didn't stand out well against the sunlight so I had to get up close with them in the shadows to avoid all the contrast.
Spring beauties
 There were also wild onion everywhere.  I like to pull them up and smell them.  I didn't eat any because I didn't want any accidental deer poop in my mouth.  (Side note.  Accidental Deer Poop would make an awesome band name.)
I always called these bad boys chives.
I'm sure that deer love these things and eat them every chance they get.

Sometimes, you can tell trees apart by their bark.  I'm usually terrible at this, but I'm pretty sure this is a dogwood tree.

I can tell by its bark.

Cherry bark... I think

Ha!  Kidding, I think it's a cherry tree.  I vaguely remember from my naturalist courses that some kind of tree has bark like charred wood, and I'm pretty sure it's cherry.  It could be persimmon too, but I am thinking that persimmon is more like fish scales.

 We heard lots of calls from downy woodpeckers.  I'm sure they love the area, probably because of all the old trees.  Perfect places for beetles to lay their eggs and for the woodpeckers to find them.  Look at this tree; it no longer has its bark, but you can see from the holes that some kind of animal loves this spot.  Sometimes looking for clues of animal presence is even more fun than seeing an animal.  Sometimes!
A bird buffet.
 Then we came across the magic.  May apples are popping up like a carpet of mini palm trees.  I love it!  I like to refer to may apples as fairy umbrellas.  I can just see some fairies dancing across these at night, sheltering under them when it's raining.  I love may apples.  They stretched down both sides of the hill as well, which was super cool.  It was like a carpet of tiny trees!
I want to shrink myself down and play in this tiny forest!
 There were some white flowers too.  I think this is some sort of vine.  The flowers were so tiny that I didn't immediately notice them.
I have no idea what the white flowers are.
 The purple flowers that carpet the fields as seen above; they're actually an invasive species from Eurasia.  So that means that someone thought they were pretty and planted them in a yard, and now the flowers are taking over, potentially blocking out the native plants.  I thought that they looked pretty awesome, though, and I like that they're purple!
Purple dead nettle.
 Again, signs that an animal came around.  These prints are perfect!  They're definitely not dog prints, as you can see dog's claws when the print is made.  I like to think that these are bobcat prints, but they could just as easily be a stray or feral cat.  I wonder what the kitty was thinking when he stopped here?  Perhaps he was chasing a bird, or listening to deer crash through the woods. 
Tracks are way cooler than poop!
 Here's another example of a violet.  I love it when they're not all purple.  Sometimes they grow in white as well.  I love the streaky purple of this flower!
 Here were some yellow flowers.  Again, I'm not sure what they are.  I'm pretty sure they belong to the daisy family.  There weren't many of them, and I really had to pay attention to what was around me!
 This plant makes me think of the movie Labyrinth.  It's actually red trillium, not quite open yet.  There were other leaves around, but they weren't flowering yet.  This plant feels magical to me.  Again, I could totally see fairies dancing around it and having fun.  Silly fairies!
 And finally.  No, it's not what you're thinking it is; this is cut leaf toothwort.  It's super awesome, and it took me forever to remember the name!  It's been ten years since I had any kind of field biology class, after all!  I love the white flowers, they look like bells.  It's another early bloomer.  Just in time for Easter.
Cut-leaf toothwort
So there you have it; lots of super cool things that I found while out walking today!  We didn't even walk very far, probably not more than a mile all told.  Most of that was across squishy ground though, which was a great workout.  If you ever get sick of running on an indoor track, try walking across marshy ground because that is a great workout for your butt!

Happy hiking!