What better way to figure out how to get through writer’s block than to write about it, right? It has to get something flowing…
Turn on weird ethereal music (Radiohead’s 2016 release)
Watch birds at feeders outside windows for a bit.
Make some tea.
I spend quite a bit of time mentally preparing my writings, generally just thinking about a topic and how I want to narrow it down and connect it to other happenings in life or lore. Often, while doing something, I’ll note to myself that it would be a good topic to put into writing. I intended to write this blog post about winter birds and bird feeders (after making bird feeders with the girls), spending time close to nature, and solstice preparations (both physical and mental!). However, now that I’m sitting down to write, I can’t find the words. My mind is locked into holiday preparations.
We are a few days shy of the winter solstice here, with the sun rising at 10:14 a.m. AKST and setting at 3:33 p.m. That’s a whopping five hours and nineteen minutes of “daylight” with a bit of twilight on both ends. There are mountains in the way of both the rise and set, so the days are probably even a bit shorter! If it is clear the next few days I will have to note when the sun emerges from behind the nearby mountains. I have friends who don’t get any direct sunlight on their property from early December through mid-January! It’s amazing how adaptable people are.
After a decently snowy November, the last few weeks have proven to be slightly disappointing weather-wise. My birthday was a couple weeks ago, and the girls and I went puddle jumping! In December! This was hard for me to embrace as wholly fun, unfortunately. I’m improving in my ability to truly enjoy nature in adverse weather, but I still have a ways to go. So, while puddle jumping was very fun, it wasn’t exactly satisfying; it kind of seemed wrong.
To battle these brown, wet, winter blues, we’ve been attempting to bring a bit more nature into our indoor lives–collecting sticks and painting them, decorating with natural objects and putting up extra bird feeders. We have an ornamental spruce in our yard that produces much larger cones than the native white spruce. I think it’s a Norway Spruce? Anyway, we’ve been collecting them as they fall down, covering them in peanut butter, rolling them in bird seed and hanging from trees for our bird friends. There are some lilac bushes and an apple tree very close to our living room and dining room windows. It is so fun, relaxing and meditative to watch the birds at these feeders. It was especially fun to watch them learn how to get every last bit of goodness from the cones before we had to put up a new one. at first, they get whatever they can by clinging onto the branches of the tree, but after a few days, they’ve learned how to land on the actual cone to get the hard-to-reach spots. We even came to recognize a few individual birds because of special identifiers. We should probably name them something wildly creative–any ideas?
We see mostly black-capped chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches, but every once in a while a hairy woodpecker will stop by the suet feeder. Over the last few days a red squirrel has braved the sprint across the yard to scavenge some of the seeds blown out or spilled from our standard hanging bird feeder. It is the darkest red squirrel I’ve ever seen! Nearly black! We had a Steller’s jay that was around for a few days and some starlings as they passed through in the late fall. We even heard and saw a juvenile bald eagle in a nearby tree one day…I have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t trying to get at our birdseed! Others that I think I’ve spotted but didn’t positively identify: chipping sparrows, snow buntings, red cross bills, and dark eyed juncos. While avid birders might consider some of these as super common or even undesirable birds, we find them all lovely!
I have a confession: sometimes these dark days around solstice make me feel dark and unmotivated. It kind of drives me nuts! It’s like the emotional and logical sides of my brain are at war. I logically know what I need to do to get out of the funk (generally I just need to go outside!!), but I am emotionally stagnant and drained–especially after wrangling small children. Sometimes my motivation is completely absent. Having the opportunity to spend a few minutes in the mornings with a cup of tea or coffee and watching the birds stuff their little cold bodies with yummy food is a great reprieve and reminder to reframe and reset my personal expectations. It’s even better when the kids eagerly watch the birds come up to their feasts. Opal is especially happy to point out any birds that visit. It is a special kind of joy that comes in sharing and observing these moments with my kids.
The return of light will be starting on Thursday, but we will continue to support our feathered friends that brave the Alaskan winter. As the months go on, it will be really fun and educational to see who sticks around and what new birds will show up looking for a yummy snack! We will be celebrating solstice at a friend’s house with a big fire, lanterns, wassail, and lots of food and outdoor fun. It will be a lovely, grounding start to the following weeks of celebration!
I hope this holiday season is lovely and peaceful for you all. I’ve discovered as I move further into adulthood that it can be much more stressful than I had ever realized as a kid and young adult, so I also hope that you have some kind of outlet for those stressful times when they arise. As for us–some might consider a nature connection as something that’s for the birds…but it is essential in keeping our morale up and smiles shining!
Joyous Yule, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all!
Sending you peace and love from Alaska,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl
p.s. While I was writing this, I received an amazing Christmas gift from MaryJane! It is a cookbook dedicated to all things cooked/baked/sauteed/grilled in cast iron cookware. Be still my heart! I LOVE my cast iron and drooled over these preparations. My cast iron collection is smallish, but it’s pretty much all I cook with so I’m inspired to seek out some additional pieces. Aebleskiver pan, I’m looking at you! Thank you, MaryJane :). You never cease to amaze!