Monday, June 15, 2015

Inspiration from Nature

May is the main month of migration and June is a busy month when many species raise their young. I enjoy watching nature in action and have spent time recently admiring parents in the wild. Many biblical parallels come to mind in the grand cathedral of trees, grass and sky. 

Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions.

Deuteronomy 32:11

The two young eagles will be in the nest for another month or so if they fledge at the same time as last year's eaglet. I have seen an immature eagle soaring above here with the adults and wonder if it is last year's bird.

Song Sparrow
Look at the birds. 
They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, 
for your heavenly Father feeds them. 
And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are?

Matthew 6:26

Savannah Sparrow

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest
 and raises her young at a place near your altar...

Psalm 84:3

Eastern Bluebird

We were driving along the Trans Canada trail near St. Jacobs Ontario and had to turn back because the bridge was flooded due to heavy rains this month. In the field were ewes with lambs birthed just hours before. The young were wobbly on their feet and some were still resting in the grass.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young

Isaiah 40:11

I was fortunate to find nesting Grebes in this park. I sat comfortably on a bench and watched them care for their young for an hour. What a beautiful family.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Psalm 90:4

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bird Music

Bald Eagle, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Great Blue Heron

Months of bitter winter cold kept me hostage indoors earlier this year. Spring came late and then rushed by with wide temperature ranges and little rain. Forsythia and lilacs bloomed together in some areas instead of a month apart as usual. Spring birds returned in a trickle and then in a flood over the past two weeks. The forest canopy opened quickly making it hard to see some of our smallest songbirds. But the woods, marshes and meadows are alive with birdsong. I have the songs and calls of all the birds of Eastern North America on my iPod and I listen to them in the car, hoping to become familiar with more of them.

Brown Thrasher, Red-winged Blackbird (2), Norther Flicker

Songbirds learn their species' sounds in the first few days and weeks of life. Occasionally there are regional variations. Some birds have a repertoire of a couple of songs while others may have many more calls and melodies. A few birds like Mockingbirds and parrots are able to imitate sounds they hear from other birds, humans or machines. I visited a patient once who had a parrot who said hello every time the phone rang. Some birds can learn another species' song if they are adopted into that bird's nest shortly after birth. But on the whole, listening is a reliable way to identify many birds. I followed the sound of a Pine Warbler and after fifteen minutes of neck-stretching searching, found it on the top of the tallest pine tree. Birds, especially the males, are often more vocal in the spring as they establish nesting territories and go through mating rituals.

Savannah Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pine Warbler, Bobolink

Like birds, humans learn language and music beginning in infancy even though words and melody activate different areas of the brain. We know that children can learn other languages without an accent if they are exposed before adulthood. I came to Canada as a school child with a strong South African accent, but it was gone in a few months. Adults hold on to an accent for life. The music styles we are exposed to when we are young tend to become our preferences for life. I do not understand eastern music with its alternate scales and tones and it would be difficult for me to learn it now. Exposure to various music styles at an early age increases our understanding and enjoyment of more genres of music as we get older.

American Goldfinch. Female Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler

Music is often at the centre of generational separation and conflict. My generation of baby boomers embraced rock and roll in the 1960's to the consternation of our parents. Rap, heavy metal, ska, and electronica appealed to our children and we didn't care for it. There are so many sub-genres of music now that our ability to sing together as a multi-generational community is greatly reduced. (country, folk and bluegrass music may be exceptions to this). My daughter and son-in-law took us to see Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the National Arts Centre this year. We commented on the white-haired patrons who made up the majority of the audience, just like the demographic of many churches.

These young siblings played classical selections skillfully at our local market last week. They will always understand and enjoy this music style. Why not expose children to a large musical heritage as their brains form musical memory;- ancient, classical, cultural, spiritual, modern and post-modern? They will explore the new sounds of their generation on their own but maybe we will have some songs we can sing together around a campfire or a concert we can enjoy together.

I am challenged when I try to understand and appreciate music forms outside of my experience. If I can learn new bird songs, surely I can learn some new music too.

Music isn't just for the birds.

Song Sparrow

Thursday, April 30, 2015

End of April

Early spring wildflowers

Spring time in Canada is unpredictable as winter seems reluctant to release its grip on the land. April days can be warm and sunny, wet and windy, icy and snowy, all within the space of a week. I never considered spring to have arrived until the leaves on the trees opened during the first week of May. The first six weeks of the season were just too fickle.

I know better now that I recognize its early and sometimes subtle signs. 

Longer days, shorter nights.
Bird song in the morning.
Delicate flowers poking up through dead leaves.
Birds with bright, new mating feathers.

Wood Duck, Male Bluebird, Female Bluebird, Tree Swallows

I bicycle along a consistent route in the evenings.  Starting on neighbourhood streets, I enter a meadow where I check on the Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. The next stop is a pond, partially created by a beaver dam in a creek. In the reeds at the back are two pair of Wood Ducks and the males are absolutely magnificent in their spring plumage. So far this year I have counted 38 bird species on this small loop.

A couple of nights ago I was "sit-spotting" at the pond located in an industrial park right in city limits. A beaver was agitated at my presence and passed back and forth in front of me with frequent tail slaps. I noticed a small and crudely constructed beaver house near the drainage pipe at the roadway. I am certain she had young kits in that house and I was simply too close for comfort. 

Here is a two minute video of some wild life at this pond including the beaver mother. Birds have been returning here in the spring long before the roads were paved and industrial lots were constructed. It will be interesting to see what my bird count will be during the month of May. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 22, 2013 - Two years later

This is a week of anniversaries…

Today marks two years since Mom left us.

Forty years ago she helped me with last minute preparations for my wedding which was just four days away. 

April 26, 1975

Mom was an optimistic and visionary person. Grandma used to tell me that Mom performed in piano recitals but sometimes made mistakes and stumbled in her performance. The missed fingering didn’t stop her and she persevered with enthusiasm and confidence to the end. As a young child, she organized her things for school the night before without prodding and was always ready for the day ahead. She loved to be around people, was a leader and wasn’t the least bit shy. And so she was as an adult too.

I remember her singing joyfully as she did housework. She played the piano in the afternoon after she finished making dinner while waiting for Dad to come home. Our family ran on schedule whether we were in a house, on a ship, or on the road. She had 5 children, crossed the ocean 4 times, lived and worked in two different cultures, all by the age of 32. She must have been exhausted at times but I never heard her complain. She and Dad left Canada with my three younger brothers shortly after my wedding and started a new life and ministry in Mexico. 

Sometimes her eternal optimism and extroverted personality were at odds with my more timid and reserved nature and she pushed me beyond my comfort zone. I mostly appreciate the prodding now even though I didn’t at the time. 

Life was not always easy but Mom never lost her joy, optimism and hope for the future. In later years she sometimes mentioned things from the past she would do differently, but old mistakes did not keep her from moving ahead. She never really accepted that she was dying as her bucket list had several more items she wanted to cross off. The physical difficulties of her last few years and the emotional distress they caused are still foremost in my mind. Memories of earlier events, stored in the attic of my mind and shaded by the curtain of time, come to light randomly. 

She lives on in me, in my brothers, our children and their children. She modelled what it meant to be a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend and a servant of God. We learned from her successes and her missteps. The virtues and values she instilled in us need to be nurtured, especially her ability to move ahead in faith in the face of difficulty and uncertainty.

Philippians 4

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Brief Review of books by Dr. Atul Gawande

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world"

I read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and recommend the book to anyone who works in the medical profession as well as those who have older family members or are getting older themselves. That pretty much includes everyone. Dr. Gawande is an excellent writer and story teller. His books, while containing some technical information and scary stories if you are prone to hypochondria, connect on a human level and explore ideal doctor/patient relationships.

I downloaded all his books and just finished another one this weekend. In Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, he deals with three topics in relation to medical practice. 

Diligence- giving sufficient attention to detail 
Doing what is right (ethics) 
Ingenuity- thinking anew and reflecting on failure in an effort to find new solutions

In the afterword at end of the book he makes some recommendations which apply to people who want to improve performance in any area. He goes into more detail in each category but here is the summary in a nutshell. He calls his afterword: Suggestions for becoming a positive deviant.

Ask unscripted questions. When talking to strangers, learn something about them. Make a human connection. Listening is as important as talking (more so in my opinion).

Don’t complain. It is boring and doesn’t solve anything. Be prepared to discuss something interesting with your peers, friends and family.

Count something. If you count something you find interesting you will learn something interesting. Make observations and reflect on them.

Write something. Write about some small observation in your world. Writing lets you step back and think through a problem. Write a few paragraphs in a blog, write a journal or newsletter article, write a poem for a reading group. Offer your reflections to an audience.

Change. Don’t be a persistent skeptic who never stops resisting. Be an early adopter. Find something new to try, something to change. Count how often you succeed and how often you fail. Write about it. Ask people what they think. Keep the conversation going.

Progress comes from new ideas birthed from observation, reflection and discussion. We are inundated with a constant flow of information, much of it useless and distorted, in our fast-paced world. It is easy to be sucked into a vortex of negativity, hopelessness and resistance to change. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Secret Garden

I fall asleep quickly when travelling, whether by bus, airplane, as a car passenger, and unfortunately I fight drowsiness as a driver too. I download audiobooks for long trips and find they keep my mind engaged and alert. We really enjoyed audiobook versions of 101 Dalmations and Peter Pan on recent road trips to Ottawa. Mom used to read us a chapter or two from her old books after lunch and I remember our elementary school teachers reading to us at the end of the day. Listening to stories still gives me pleasure. Movie versions of classic books pale in comparison to written literature in my opinion. 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of my favourite books from childhood. I identify with the sullen and displaced Mary and love how she comes alive as she pokes around in the earth and watches things grow. She bullies and encourages Colin back to health and the two odd children start to engage with others in a normal way. Today I found a delightful secret garden as I spent another afternoon looking for spring.

I walked along the river which is running fast and high. Much of the trail was flooded and there were few birds in the strong, bitter wind. I heard a Northern Flicker and followed the sound up a hill by an old church. Next door to the church is the old home of the Canadian artist, Homer Watson, which is now a (reportedly haunted) art gallery. Apparently his sister didn’t leave the house after she died.

The large property has a few tiny cabins where aspiring artists came to stay and study between 1948-1966 at the Doon School of Fine Arts. The yard is sheltered from the wind and green things were growing. A Robin dug several grubs out of the soil and a pair of Northern Flickers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were on the trees. Another lady was walking by with a camera looking, as she said, for something with life. She hadn’t noticed the flowers yet. Barely visible in a bed of dead leaves were hundred of crocus flowers. Behind a shed were masses of snowdrops and a bee collected pollen from open scilia flowers on the sunny lawn.

Snow drops are my favourite spring flower because they often appear first and when the ground is still snow covered. From now on flowers will open in rapid succession…hyacinth, forsythia, daffodils, pulmonaria along with a host of spring ephemerals, all before the leaves open on the trees. Today I saw the spring flower show start in the secret garden. 

Now that you have read my little story, you can look at the pictures.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Early Spring Blues

I looked for a pair of Eastern Bluebirds while riding my bike through a nearby conservation area a couple of days ago. I found them in the area late last summer and sure enough, they returned this spring and were checking out at least three nesting boxes today. There were two pair of Bluebirds and one lone Tree Swallow in the meadow. The Tree Swallow made the mistake of sitting on one piece of real estate and the Bluebirds were very agitated and noisy until the swallow left. While I watched, a Great Blue Heron flew overhead so it was a day for

blue feathers and

blue skies.

We had a grey, snowy Easter Sunday yesterday so the sunshine today was most welcome. I walked the trails with my Nordic walking poles as slippery ice is still present in protected places. Shallow ponds remain frozen over but I found lots of

blue water.

Close to home I met a birder who was working with a scope and a notebook. He did not have a camera but had a good eye for water birds and pointed out several species for me. He records his data on eBird and was surprised that I have never done this. So I registered on eBird and listed the 48 bird species I have seen in the last 3 weeks between Ottawa in the east and Lake Erie in the south west.

Here is a short slide show of some of the birds I found this beautiful Easter Monday.

Bird List for today:
Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead,Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, American Crow, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Career Stories: Suicide Threat

The news this week brought discussions about employee mental health, medical confidentiality and fitness to work to the forefront. What prompted a young co-pilot to deliberately crash a plane full of innocent passengers and crew into a mountain? Could this tragedy have been averted?

The most difficult experience in my career involved a co-worker. At the time, I was the professional practice leader for a group of therapists at a private company. Each January I met staff individually for a performance review and goal setting exercise. One therapist was a gifted practitioner but was indifferent to the bureaucratic processes we had to follow. A free spirit, she struggled with personal and professional relationships and boundaries. She garnered the most thank you notes from patients and the most complaints from management.

During our interview she told me she was planning to end her life but also told me not to tell anyone. I did not know how to respond at the time to her comments which made me very uncomfortable. After she left I called a social worker as well as the owner of the business and they both advised me that I could do nothing without her consent. 

Two weeks passed and I kept in contact with her at work but still wondered what to do. I contemplated calling her family physician but in the back of my mind I hoped she would get over her melancholy and get on with life. 

We had a staff meeting one afternoon and she did not show up. I knew something was wrong and drove to her home in another town after asking the office staff to contact her next of kin. It was late January and her car was in the driveway. There were no footprints or tire tracks in the fresh snow and I walked around the house looking in all the windows. Her next door neighbour, who was a policeman, saw me and came over with a key to the house. I was very afraid when I entered the house with him but we did not find her. I opened her work appointment book and saw that she had scheduled no patient visits after the previous morning. 

I called the police. Her closest friend who lived two hours away arrived later in the day. 

The neighbour found her body. She bled to death, alone, in the snow in the wood lot behind the house. I sat in the back of a police cruiser that cold, dark night completing a written report while responding to questions from the detective. In disclosing my conversation with her earlier in the month, I was asked by the officer why I didn’t do anything. 

I was devastated and immobilized with guilt and grief for weeks. I sought counselling and was told again that there was likely nothing I could have done to prevent her well planned suicide.

I still cannot accept or believe that. 

Well over a decade has passed and I can now drive by that house without crying. I have learned much more about mental illness and suicide in my current work on a mental health unit. With the explosion of information on the internet since this event, it is easier to access helpful resources.

If I found myself in a similar situation now, I would not promise confidentiality and would pursue help far more aggressively. The advice I received did not feel right and I would trust my own instincts instead. More than one life could depend on it.

Here are some suicide prevention resources:

Canada Suicide Hotlines - (links to international hotlines too)