Finding Satisfaction from Birds

Northern Flicker outside my office window.
The Flicker strikes a pose, helpfully in front of a light background.

From my little bird, who has flown the coop, to all the birds around me day to day, in them I can be delighted or disappointed.

I have had rotten photography luck in the past weeks. When I first upgraded from a 18-55mm lens to an 18-400mm lens, I was mesmerized by the world that zoom brought to me. Ten years later, I am drooling when I spot other peoples’ lenses, and thinking to myself how much more amazing birds could be if I had THAT lens. I forgot to be delighted with the amazing piece of technology already in my hands, the lens that captured the bird shots you see here. The birds and my incredible life that allows me to see them have not changed, only my perception.

I am pretty sure this is a raven. It caught my eye because of its size. It was gathering moss from the trees. Do they use moss in a nest? Is January nest-building time?
Yup, it’s a raven. A clear shot eludes me at a great distance and through my office window.

Every single shot in this post is with my big lens zoomed as far as it will go. These shots – taken during the month of January – are either unsatisfactory, or brilliant, depending on which lens you are used to using: the one in your head, the one that came with the camera, or the upgrade you splurged on.

I like these shots of the Anna’s Hummingbird. Anytime I can get one of these quick little beauties captured in a photo seems like a triumph.
Tricking them into holding still while eating is the ticket.
I like the way the wing frames its face.
So tiny and pretty.

My other little bird just updated me yesterday afternoon on future employment plans for themself and their partner. The new employment plan has nothing to do with their degree. It almost seems like they don’t care about using their degree after the six years and so many thousands of dollars it took to get it. This news came right after I sent an email to a friend whining about how my kid needs to earn more money to get fully independent of me – including paying for their own phone and car insurance. I had been assuming Tara wasn’t aware of that need. The news came two weeks after I had a visitor who proclaimed (from a place of love) that Tara needs to stop fooling around and get a job using their geology degree sooner rather than later, and that I am somehow a factor in making this happen. At first I bowed my head and said, “I know, I know.” But thankfully before the person left I defended my kid the way I should have from the start.

It reminded me of a conversation long, long ago when a college classmate asked how Tara was doing in school (It was Mads, you recently met him). Embarrassed that my kid was getting poor grades and not turning in homework, I said the only positive things I could think of. I told him about how Tara is consistently kind to other students, and volunteers to help kids who don’t understand classwork, and how Tara raises their hand to answer questions, and looks for opportunities to help the teacher. Mads never forgot this. He told me later, once he became a parent himself, that he told his wife that their goal should be to raise a child like Tara, not one who gets good grades, but a child who is a good person. He dumped my whole perception of the story on its head. I had been ashamed of a child who didn’t meet my expectations, when I should have been proud to describe the actual child, who was an inspiration to a future parent.

You see, children, like birds, will delight you or frustrate you and that is entirely dependent upon YOU, not them.

My pretty girls, L to R: Jamie, Maya, Two. Last year, due to coyotes, neighborhood dogs, and raccoons, I went from eight hens to three. This spring you can join me while I raise a bunch of babies!
These goofballs, feigning suspiciousness. They are staring me down like some kind of predator.

There is a lesson I need to learn with Tara over and over and over. The lesson is: if I stop telling them what to do, and support them emotionally, they end up being exactly what I was hoping for – often better. Tara does not do things like me, and when I try to impose MY methods/expectations, it only causes them distress and pain and a lack of progress, which typically ends in guilt and a weakened sense of self-worth. Tara is great at knowing themself and knowing the best approach, and they are great at finding a path through obstacles, and great at learning new skills in a pinch if this is what’s needed. Tara – more than all else – wants to do things the most ethically, the most sensitively, the way that harms the least and does the most good for people and the planet, while never causing harm to themself.

Left to their own devices, Tara will find a path much more slowly than I would, but it will be the best possible path, often one I would never have thought of, often one that achieves more than the simple short-term goal I was thinking of.

Every time Tara frustrates me because they are not doing things my way and I lose my patience and try to “teach” them and push them into doing things to make me happy, it backfires. And every time I trust Tara’s instincts and let things happen, it works out great. This has been true since Tara was small, and it’s getting hard to deny the effectiveness of letting my offspring do life their own way.

Trumpeter swans at the old Trojan nuclear plant outside of Rainier, Oregon.
I’ve been dying to photograph these birds for years, and I finally pulled over and tried. But they are SO far away, my max zoom barely is enough for me to identify them.
Looking the other direction, the swans are a little closer, but in front of the sun.
This is max zoom plus enlargement. It’s enough to identify a new duck that I’ve never seen. They are Buffleheads! Isn’t that a wonderful name?
Ooops. My presence makes them nervous.
Here are some Mallards nice and close– oops. Nope. Off they go.

So when I got the text message news yesterday of their next career plan, naturally, my knee-jerk, predictably Crystal-Mom response was to get angry and frustrated. But I truly am learning and getting better at this parenting thing (after 24 years), and my response was, “Wow! That IS news.” and a little later I added, “Thank you for keeping me involved in your plans. It means a lot.” Payback for this was that I received text messages from my kid for the next two hours, rambling about all the serious and silly things on their mind. This certainly would not have happened if I had let Tara know that my personal opinion about their employment is that they are wasting their education.

What have I lost and what have I gained? I lost a mini me, but who really needs another one of me?! I think I’ve got it covered. I lost about $100,000 in tuition and living expenses, some of which Tara insists on paying back and the value of which is yet untested. However, I gained insight into this unique person, I gained a tighter relationship with my adult child, I gained an enforced appreciation of what decisions look like when they are slowly created within an abundance of empathy and self care. Learning is hard, and takes so much time, and requires constant practice. I can verify that with 24 years of practice, a person can learn a new skill.

11 thoughts on “Finding Satisfaction from Birds

  1. Love the bird photos, Crystal. But if I had to pick a favorite, it’s got to be the hens because of sentimental reasons. My father used to have a lot of chickens so I grew up feeding them and watching their behaviors. Your story of your relationship with Tara reminds me of my own experience with my parents. There was a time when our days were often filled with endless arguments. But over time both sides learned how to resist the urge to ‘win’. However, as I grew older, I began to understand why they said what they said. Eventually I came to a conclusion that parenting is not easy at all and parents, just like their kids, are constantly learning.

    1. Oh Bama!! The hens are my favourite too! I adore my girls and I personally think chickens are beautiful. They hung around with me in the yard all day long yesterday, while I worked outside, and they looked for bugs and ate grass. If you are ever here, we can hang out with the chickens together, haha! Thank you for a perspective from the other side of this relationship. I’m glad things smoothed out in your family. I think learning for a lifetime is a good goal to have. šŸ™‚

    1. Thank you Derrick. It was an accident. Originally, I had only planned to post my birds, but as I wrote and edited the photos, my thoughts were drifting to my feelings about the news Tara had shared with me. I thought to myself, “This is a lot like my frustration with the bird photos,” and voila!

  2. Oh, Crystal, what an important recognition and decision you’ve made. Not easy for a parent, I’d say. I wish you both all well. And the view from your office is amazing! Good to know what to expect if I ever upgrade my zoom. šŸ™‚ For now I’m at 200…

    1. Ha ha!! I used the lens that came with the camera – the one you now own – for about a year before I could afford a new one. I think I bought one that was like, 70-200 or something (they’re so expensive!), and had to switch back and forth between the lenses and it was so annoying. A boyfriend, tired of my complaints, bought me the 18-400 for Christmas and I stopped using the other two lenses. Anyway, that was nine years ago, and for the first time I’m finding that I’m dissatisfied with my zoom. So…maybe you can use that timeframe as a gauge, ha ha!

      Thank you for your good wishes. I know Tara will be fine. They know what they’re doing and I trust it most of the time. It’s just frustrating because my method – barging ahead with action and specific goals and aggression and determination and risk-taking – has worked really well for me, so I want to share that knowledge with my child. But that method just doesn’t work for T.

  3. The Nikon P950 “bridge camera” I use is fabulous. 2000mm zoom and light enough to carry on hikes. But that said, your eye for photos is way more important than the lens. As for all of the rest of this great post … cheers to making space for others finding their own way. I love that you trust her.

    1. Bonnie I read recently your travails with getting the camera repaired. What a frustrating ordeal that was and I hope you have your camera back now, or will any day now. It sounds incredible: 2000 mm zoom. I’m salivating. But I also enjoy the challenge of putting myself in a good place to capture them with my 400 mm. I have to spend more time outside, and more time holding still and waiting. I think it’s good for me. Thank you for complimenting my post. This one was kind of for me. I like to document the moments when a lightbulb comes on, and the thoughts just flowed out of me about Tara, when I thought I was here to write about birds. I’m glad when I can channel my inner spirit like this, and have a conversation with myself, and then write it down so I don’t forget.

  4. As far as my old eyes can see, the pictures are perfect. I would never see a bird any other way. Thank you for taking such great shots. I love the hens too. I’ve never seen a flicker. Perspective is everything.
    As for Tara, you have learned a very hard lesson. Takes most of us longer to get that our kids are so very different than we are. My two are as different in their approach to the world as night and day and while they each have some similarities to either parent, both do things different than either parent. I don’t get it but I had to learn to let them fall and get back up. It’s so hard to do which is why I need some distance from them so it’s easier to keep big mouth shut. I learned a lot when I studies personal colors. H is slow and mellow until her autumn peaks, E is faster moving but also a bit gentle. Their colors were somewhat similar but very different values. Their personalities shows in their colors and coloring. They will persevere.

    1. Thank you Marlene. Your perspective is correct, and I can choose to see all these photos as perfect, also. I think the Northern Flickers are just wonderful. I saw them first in my yard in Portland, so I know they were around you in Oregon City. Wish one of them would have shown itself to you while you were there. Yes, it was a hard lesson to learn and the annoying thing is that I’ll surely need to learn it again sometime. I’m just so convinced that my way is such a good way. ha ha! I don’t think I know anything about personal colours and I’m glad it’s a tool that helped you learn to understand your kids. They are both great and both different from each other and from you.

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