Tag Archives: wildlife

Zen Moment 3 – Connecting With the Gifts That Nature Gives Us


** Raccoon wading through the wetlands, Yolo Wildlife Area, Davis, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

“When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.” – Lao Tzu

I am constantly surprised by nature’s little gifts. A few days ago I went on a walk at the Yolo Wildlife Area and chose to head up the gravel road I have walked dozens of times. There are wetlands that hug each side of this road and it provides a great view of a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

It was a typical Spring morning where I spotted and photographed Egrets, Blue Heron, American Coot, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers, Ibis, Stilts, and Avocets. I walked and stopped every now and then to capture another photo and marveled at the chorus of birdsong and the beauty of this oasis so close to the city where I live. I felt grounded and thankful that I was able to begin my day in such a wonderful way. 

While lost in the moment, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned towards a tall Thistle plant on the edge of the water and was amazed to see a Raccoon slip into the water and begin to wade towards a small island of reeds. In all my trips out there I have never come across a Raccoon, especially not in daylight since they are nocturnal creatures by nature. 

I stood there amazed at the scene as it unfolded before me. The Raccoon was equally amazed to see me standing there and for a moment we held a silent vigil as our eyes locked on to the other. I raised my camera slowly and took a few photographs and video of this amazing creature and tried to reassure it through my relaxed demeanor that I meant it no harm.

My original intent that morning was to get some exercise in with a nice brisk walk, alas, the Universe had a different plan for me. This unexpected gift found me standing there for a good hour just watching and waiting as the Raccoon waded from island to island and searched the reeds for Crawdads to eat. Every time it would finish its search it would peek out at me from between the reeds then enter the water and make its way towards the next island.

The entire time I stood there watching I felt a smile spread wide across my face. There was nothing else but me, the Raccoon, a Hallelujah chorus of birdsong, and my giant smile. Any stress I felt at the start of that morning was dissipated. It was exactly how nature intended it to be. The two of us, lost in the moment of our surprising communion as we danced our pas de deux to the music of this magical Universe.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **

Reflections – Finding Beauty in the Small Things

** Snowy Egret, Petaluma Wetlands, Petaluma, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

There are days when I find it difficult to concentrate. My mind feels pulled in a million directions and I become frustrated with my inability to accomplish the things I need to get accomplished. This is simply part of being human in this day and age of overstimulation. Too much information coming at us from too many sources. It becomes difficult to filter and discern what is important and what needs to be discarded.

When I feel overwhelmed I know it’s past time for me to get out into nature. One of my favorite places to go is a local wildlife area that sits on the Pacific Flyway. Migratory birds of every flavor take refuge there. Some of these birds fly thousands of miles to reach their Winter or Spring destinations. They amaze me. Flocks of Snow Geese, Swans, and Sandhill Cranes fly right over our house this time of year while headed north to their Spring breeding grounds. Some nights I hear groups of Swans in the distance and if I am not too tired I stand in the darkness of our backyard and wait for their glowing white v-shape to appear over the rooftops. They fly So low you can sometimes hear the whooshing sound of their long wings as they pass overhead.

The Cranes fly by during the day and on several occasions I have watched them catch a rest on a thermal. Their distinct sound becomes more animated as they coast on these circular winds. At times they use them to wait for a few straggling family members to catch up to the group. Their cries become louder as the stragglers catch up. It’s as if they are overjoyed to be together again.

What amazes me the most is I can stand in the middle of this city and be touched by nature as long as I am open and willing to find it. It makes me wonder how many times in my life I have failed to see its beauty or hear it call out to me when I am lost in some shallow reaction to the self imposed stressors of my life. I can choose to be present each day while I am on this earth and embrace all the wonders that bring my soul peace. Or I can remain locked in a fruitless battle with the things that bring me angst and frustration.

As I sit here and reflect in the quiet of the night I realize how lucky I am. My life has not been one of ease. Like many, I have weathered my fair share of trials and tribulations and learned more lessons than I care to share. Yet I am thankful I can stand in awe of nature’s wonders and still find beauty in the small things.

Nature’s Raw Honesty

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo:  Moss covered pines in Plumas National Forest, CA.

There is no hypocrisy in nature.  All that exists within it is raw and honest, primal and instinctual.  Everything there has a purpose, a reason for being.  It is the great circle where one lives and one gives for the other.  An intertwining balance of life and death.  Survival of the fittest, sacrifice by the weakest.  Uncomplicated.  It simply is what it is.  We as humans complicate nature when we interfere with and attempt to control and tame its wildness.  If we could refrain for a bit from our greedy rape of its resources and just sit and listen, we would surely find many valuable lessons in the silence.  Lessons that have to do with our survival as a species.  Lessons that teach us how fragile, precarious, dependent and intertwined we are with the natural environment that surrounds us.

The one positive thing that came out of my caustic childhood was the opportunity to grow up in a small town surrounded by the beautiful granite peaks of the Sierras, pristine glacial fed lakes and endless open space.  I believe strongly that nature is what kept me grounded and provided me the strength to endure the Hell I faced on a daily basis.  I still turn to it often to this day as a sanity check and pressure valve release from the noise and ugliness that I find in the City and at times in humankind.  It brings me back to the basics, the important intricacies and realities of our existence here on earth.  It balances my need for silence, fresh air and contemplation of soul.  Without the ability to be held on occasion within its embrace, I fear I may end up as one of those vacant old women who pushes a shopping cart stuffed full with my belongings down an alleyway with no particular destination in mind.  Another human lost to this polluted cesspool we call civilization.  Though necessary for one’s financial security, there are times I would much rather flee the insanity and live with my dog and my hand axe in a little cabin in the woods.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

We recently took a week-long camping trip into the Plumas National Forest.  The place we camp is considered a “rough camp” with just 5 sites, no water or electricity hook-ups or other man-made amenities with the exception of a small outhouse.  It is a beautiful, raw area where few people choose to journey.  We own a small tent trailer that provides us with a bit of comfort one step up from sleeping in a tent on the ground.  It has a small kitchen area that runs on propane and we use a small solar panel to recharge the 12 volt battery that provides us with light.  Days there are filled with visual magnificence.  Everywhere you turn are wildflowers, evergreens that reach towards the heavens and a brilliant blue sky full of clean, breathable air.

Sunset brings with it a tangible transition.  The air begins to chill, the birds and chipmunks hurry about to get in their last meal before dark and the shadows from the trees become long and mixed in with the last bit of filtered sunlight.  When the sun begins its descent all sounds become strangely amplified.  A branch broken by a grazing deer echoes through the forest in decibel of 10.  A slight breeze blowing through the treetops sounds often like a hurricane.  Small movements in the shadows loom larger than life.  The smell of a campfire wafts on the breeze from somewhere high up on the mountain.  In this place without noise pollution the senses are on alert and suddenly alive.  There are no noisy cars, loud music, clattering trains, screaming people, or wailing sirens to drown out that which is.  Suddenly displaced from the noise of the world that

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

masks even the beating of one’s own heart, we come face to face with our own raw truth.  We can actually begin to hear the thoughts inside our minds.

As the sky turns to black, the heavens above become dotted with millions of stars which reveal how small we truly are in comparison to the rest of our vast universe.  Darkness begins its chill and we turn into our tent trailer for the night.  Thin canvas walls and zero degree sleeping bags are the only things that separate us from the impending cold and creatures that will prowl the night.  Curled snugly into our bags we begin our descent into sleep.  And then it happens.  Nature’s chorus of reality penetrates the air.  The sound of that great circle of life breaks the dark silence; the distressed cries of one animal being sacrificed so that the other might live.  It’s pain-filled cry speaks at first of terror then gives way to a defeated whimper and secedes back into peaceful silence.

The first few nights those cries stir in us a strange sadness and place a bit of fear into our hearts.  By the third we begin to relax into acceptance and understanding and transition into a marginal space of peace.  Nature has revealed itself to us in a pure sense, without hypocrisy.  We have been given the gift of nature’s raw honesty.  The tables have been turned.  We do not control that which surrounds us.  We are merely guests in her presence, mere plebes at her mercy.  If she wanted to she could in an instant chew us up and spit us out into unrecognizable pieces of our former human shells.  For this we gain a deep respect.  She has once again leveled the playing field and reminded us that our city selves, lost in the noisy sea of self-centered humanity, are but a ploy.  Our true selves, the souls that stand in amazement at the natural wonders of our world, have the power to stand up and preserve her beauty for our children to enjoy.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

On our last day we leave her presence as if we leave a new-found lover.  We are renewed yet we long for more.  Saddened to point our car down the mountain towards the crowded streets of our reality we are left with one certainty.  We will soon return to her embrace, to breathe her clean air, bask in her silence, listen to the beating of our own hearts and stay alert as eager students for the lessons she has yet to teach us.

For the Love of Birds

Snowy Egret

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo: Snowy Egret, Petaluma Wetlands, CA.

There’s just something about birds.  It doesn’t matter where I am, when a bird flies overhead I have to stop in my tracks and observe it.  Living on the Pacific Flyway, I am especially drawn to the migratory birds that move steadily across the skies during both the Spring and Fall.  Just the thought of their arduous journey, some flying thousands of miles to their final destination, leaves me in awe.  I admire their stamina, their focus, their strength.  They do constant battle with the elements and yet they keep going.  Some would call it instinct, but I believe there is much more to it than some blind response to embedded DNA as they journey towards their final goal.  If you stop and listen for awhile, really listen, you can hear the excitement in their calls as they begin to head north towards their breeding grounds.  You can see the determination in their wings as they fight against strong headwinds and rally for position in their “V”.  I can only imagine what it would feel like to have the ability to fly.  To me it speaks of freedom.  To me it speaks of joy.  It is the ability to journey wherever you choose high above this cluttered earth.  The ability to ride the spiraling currents and observe life from a safe altitude; all the things that I desire for myself.  Perhaps that is why I photograph birds.  By capturing their essence in photos I can study them and begin to dream.  I can move beyond the confines of this human vessel and begin to soar.

To see more bird photographs visit: www.tracyjthomasphotography.com