In Motion: Bellingham, Poetry, San Juan Islands, Ted Talks


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bird Brain

Last summer when the Chickadees were returning to my grove, I was inspired to write this little article about birds. One of my favorites from 2010. Enjoy!

There is a celebrated free concert available to anyone who lives near trees. Songbirds create a relaxing atmosphere, a symphony of background noise that only nature itself could conduct. The soothing effects are almost immediate; a lower heart beat, a happier disposition, and a smile on your face.

In the winter my yard is quiet, almost too quiet. I’ll find that I tend to turn on music or hum more during those dark months. Perhaps I hum more because I miss the sound of constant summer songs that seem to emanate from the trees themselves? Humans sing to their children, with each other, and to themselves much like birds do. Is there a correlation between the bird’s brain and ours?

Studies of the mockingbird have shown that there could be. Ornithologists have found that mockingbird species living in unpredictable climates, such as a desert, tend have more elaborate songs than those living in more stable climates. Songs are used to attract mates; a mockingbird has the unique ability to create, copy and “make up” variations of songs. It’s believed the female may choose a male based on the differences in his song, interpreting it as a sign of strength and intelligence. This is highly relevant to human behavior because some believe there is a connection between the development of the bird’s brain and our own. Human displays of language, the arts and music might have evolved through a similar process.

As I was considering the social pressures that might have caused the mockingbird to over perform, somehow my “bird brain” made the connection with humans surviving in unpredictable climates, and the artistic outcomes of those experiences. My mind wondered through the planets “hot spots” marveling at Russian painters, Polish pottery, hand painted beads of Ghana, and the woven fabrics of Peru. Just like I would sing to myself more often in the winter, the cultures that live in harsh conditions tend to have a more colorful lifestyle. Different levels of expression, but expression none the less.

Living in the desert city of Tucson, Arizona for example, I loved the painted freeways. What an unexpected surprise! Instead of a drab cement grey the corridors are painted pleasant colors of purple, peach, yellow, red and green.

I also noticed a breath of life in the talavera pottery, jewelry, traditional clothing, and home décor. Could cultures that developed in unpredictable climates develop a richer more colorful environment? It seems that way. This summer I view the song birds with a new eye and ear. Is that a flock of Chickadees in the tree or a mariachi band? Either way it’s the sound of life!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011


“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than 
walking alone in the light."
-Helen Keller

Girlfriends are important. Might be old news to you, but it’s new to me. Acquaintances worked just fine for many years, or so I thought. My home and work life kept me distracted from having close friends. Woman, especially moms, do this to themselves, too often. Perhaps it’s because as modern woman we are encouraged to be independent, strong, and sometimes that’s interpreted to… BE ALONE.

 It’s no wonder how some of us wake up one morning with a big chip on our shoulder. Well, guess what girlfriend, you did that to yourself, because you always think you have to do everything BY yourself. Life is a burden and joy that should be shared. This is what I’m learning.

My Grandma Mimi shared one of her favorite “girlfriend stories” that happened during her 50 year career as a Registered Nurse. From 1966 to 1970 Grandma was looking for adventure. She applied to work at a remote family care facility outside of Anchorage, Alaska. The patients were mostly Native Eskimo, Yupik or Inuit woman and their children, plus various locals who worked in the nearby towns. Although located in the "wild frontier" the rules at the clinic were anything but wild, especially for the woman. All the nurses, candy strippers to RN’s, were housed in a dorm-like wing of the hospital. It felt more like a prison that home.

At the end of day, these young ladies wanted to get out and go have fun in town.  However, the stern Head Nurse forbid the nurses from drinking in public, dancing, and held them to an early curfew. Nurses back then had an image to uphold.  If nurses broke the rules they could be seriously reprimanded and even fired, their professional and personal reputation stained for life!

These 10-15 ladies in Mimi’s dorm, all strangers, brought together for work decided to make the most of their situation. Some quietly gathered up cigarettes, cards, liquor, one figured out the perfect volume level for the phonograph.

 At the end of a long day, after curfew, and once the Head Nurse had left the building, they’d all crawl out of bed; sit on the floor, room lit only by a few flashlights, played cards, smoked and listen to music!  They never got caught.  They were working girls, and friends.

Girlfriends are important to have in the best and worst of times. Having a card party on the floor may not of been the adventure Grandma was looking for when she went to Alaska, but the friendships she made during those years lasted long into her life.  The memories of those times, good times with good friends, I’m sure carried her through the many trails in the years to come.

Girlfriends rule!