Natural reflections

Another year bites the dust. Today it is a memory. In 10 years it will be a fuzzy memory. In 20 years it will be history and the music from this year will be cool “retro” music on the radio and all of this year’s fashions, which will be embarrassing ten years from now, will look cool again. Many things come in and out of style, but some things remain a steady constant in life.

This constant is different for everyone, but for me it is simple: I love (and need) to be outside. The end of the year is a good time to reflect on the past year. It is a time to look back on things learned as well as adventures and opportunities missed.

2017 was a year of amazing things. A Bald Eagle nested near my house and I passed the nest twice a day. The eagles flew over my car carrying nesting material and sat watching my family and me as we biked up to visit the nest. You would think that I would take advantage of that and stop often, but no. I drove by, preoccupied about work and family things, and only stopped to gawk at the eagle nest a couple of times.

In truth, more of my time was spent watching a cardinal nest on my trellis than was spent watching the eagle nest. The cardinal nested on the side of the porch, hidden in the confused mass of honeysuckle vines tangled up the trellis. It could be seen from behind my porch swing if I stood on tiptoe and moved a few vines. The baby birds would stick their heads up and cheep every time I stared at them, hoping I was a parent bringing them food to eat.

This was a banner year in my yard for bird nests. I stood on a ladder in the backyard to watch a family of Blue Jays raise their young, always a little nervous that the parents would swoop in try to knock me away from the nest. A Mourning Dove re-used one of the robin nests in the Red Maple tree we planted in the backyard when my son was born. Overall, there were at least nine nests that we found in the yard, and I am sure there were others that nested unseen and unnoticed.

Other things that interested me were more obscure. Sometimes I don’t know if there are things that are more common in some years than others or if once I notice something I suddenly see it everywhere. It’s like getting a new car. Once you drive a certain make or model, you see that car everywhere even if you didn’t pay much attention to it before.

That was how I felt about the Tiger Bee Fly. It was flying around one of the overlooks day after day, so I finally looked it up to identify it. Once I knew what it was, it showed up everywhere. They flew in my backyard and several other places that we hike.

I have a special affection for insects. Perhaps it is because they are often neglected as mere pests. Maybe it is because they have so many interesting stories to tell. The Tiger Bee Fly, which has probably been flying quietly under the radar in my yard since I moved in, has a fascinating story. They only lay eggs at the entrance to Carpenter Bee holes. The larva creep in and eat the young of the Carpenter Bees.

There were also opportunities I have missed this year. More time could have been spent geocaching with the GPS I got last year. For the second year, backpacking with my kids fell through and I didn’t hike them out into the woods to camp overnight. My dream of visiting caves in the fall fell victim to a lack of planning.

The end of the year is a time when I reflect on opportunities that I missed and experiences of which I did not take advantage. It is a time to assess why things happened or did not. Was it busyness, a lack of planning or simply something not valued enough to pursue?

These are things I think of as I plan the next year and what I will try to make happen. I want a better, less weedy garden, to hike at least a mile a day, and to show my children the joys of backpacking. Will those things happen? Only time will tell. There will only be one 2018 in my life in which to make them happen.

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