Cookies and Kindness

My dear partner left for Minnesota for five days and the first night alone in the house I went on a media binge. Up late cooking, with cool evening air coming through open windows, I set my laptop next to the mixing bowl and turned on the news feeds. While making summer soup and muffins for my writing group, and a batch of healthy cookies, I “caught up” with the craziness of the US political scene: daily briefings from the New York Times and Guardian, MSNBC, and late night comic-commentary. It relieves me that smart people are keeping tabs on the tweeting chaos and legislative “multiple vehicle accident blocking all lanes of traffic” that is our current government. Pile up! Only the victims of this wreck are not actually in it, but watching helplessly from the sidelines.

After awhile it dawns on me that while I am  so careful regarding ingredients I put in this food: no sugar, all organic, gluten free flour, etc. etc. what I am putting in my mind (even though I’m feeding off the upper end of information) is nevertheless fairly toxic.

How do I nourish myself in the societal situation we are living through?

As an American and a global citizen, I am committed to remaining aware, informed, and interactive with these larger crises. Yet I find this media immersion exhausting and overwhelming. It disturbs me at a neurological level. I have to manage anxiety, sleep disruption, and mood swings. I do manage. Well, I think I’m managing. I think most of us are managing.

And managing in this situation takes an incredible amount of energy. We are, as a people, worn down by the need to stay tuned and watchful. No matter where we sit on the political spectrum, it’s tense. We’re waiting for the next tweet-bomb, the next act of violence, the next media frenzy: and we don’t have to wait long. We are shell-shocked and not as thoughtful as we might usually be. There is no usually anymore.

So this summer, both in my community and in my travels, I have been asking myself: what can I do, right here, right now, to help ease one another’s way? I can smile and look into a stranger’s eyes. I can put an arm out, stabilizing an elder or a toddler as we walk on uneven ground. I can take time to really listen when I ask someone “how are you?” and they begin to really tell me. I can look for beauty and point it out. I can see a act of kindness and acknowledge it. I can text little notes of love and appreciation.

These tiny gestures take on added significance in times when civility seems to be drastically eroded. Every little gesture reassures me, and those around me, that we are still a kind people willing to look up and look out for each other.  These gestures require mutual engagement: with neighbors who vote or worship differently, with friends terrified of losing their health care, with immigrants trying to find a new sense of home, with strangers at the grocery store, with families straining to stay together.

This is the power of the people: to refuse to be separated, to keep finding ways to hang together, to practice the Golden Rule, to recognize commonalities, to notice that we are still largely respectful, curious; eager to share stories, to be heard and seen.  So I renew my pledge to turn away from the addictive lure of the big catastrophe and spend more time focused on us—the ordinary folks.

It is way past midnight when I take the last of the cookies out of the oven. I turn off the news feeds, quit my email program, disengage the wifi connection, and put the laptop on sleep. Tomorrow I begin anew: waking to nature, waking to the people around me, waking to write in ways that I pray help keep us sane. I have plates of cookies to share with people who don’t expect them. What fun that will be.


Community Sit Spots

My last blog was about the benefit of establishing a Sit Spot in nature. If there is personal benefit from having your own Sit Spot, what could be accomplished by Community Sit Spots?

Whidbey Island Audubon Society with support from the Island County Marine Resources Committee has sent 40-60 volunteers out to island beaches for one hour of Sit Spot activity every week from mid June to mid August for the past thirteen summers.

Nesting pigeon guillemots are the main focus of the volunteer’s Sit Spot observations. About a thousand of these dark brown, 13-inch sea birds with white wing patches and bright red feet nest on the high cliffs of Whidbey Island.


pigeon guillemots on rock, photo by Ted Keefe

These little birds are just plain fun to watch. Because their feet are set far back on their bodies, they can swim quickly underwater to catch prey. However, that makes them “out of balance” for water landings. They appear to crash into the water rather than land on it. Yet, with fish in their beaks, they somehow manage to fly into small cliff holes to feed their little chicks.

a “bazaar” of pigeon guillemots, photo by Ted Keefe

Their presence on Whidbey Island is a good indicator of healthy coastal waters—i.e. the availability of good forage fish like gunnels, cod, and sculpin. They are mysterious little birds. When the chicks are ready to leave their burrows (usually at night), they literally jump off their cliffs and walk into the sea ready to care for themselves.

A pair of adult pigeon guillemots on the ledge outside their burrow, photo by Ted Keefe

We don’t know much about where our local pigeon guillemots (PGs) disperse after their nesting season ends in late August. However, we do know that all PGs feed on benthic or bottom dwelling fish, so they can never live too far from the shallower waters close to land. We believe our PGs disperse throughout Puget Sound and Washington coastal waters.

What does it look like to be a PG observer? On a recent July day I joined two team members and headed down to our assigned beach. We had our camp chairs set up by 7:35 a.m. and sat perched with binoculars for one hour of watching PGs fly in and out of their cliff holes—writing down the exact minute each VB (visit to burrow) or FB (fish to burrow) occurs. This data is entered electronically and coordinated by several of our local Audubon members.

Ann watching cliff face on a cold July 4 morning, photo by Christina Baldwin

Malmo Bluff cliff face that Ann is watching, photo by Ann Linnea












While we are watching PGs, we also see eagles soar by and great blue herons fish on the shoreline. We hear osprey calling their prideful boasts of recently caught fish. On windless mornings the sweet murmurings of PGs gathering next to the shoreline fill the air. All the while, goldfinches are darting in and out of shoreline vegetation gathering seeds. Everywhere Nature is in full summer swing!

What a radical thing to do! Pause. Observe. Appreciate. Reflect on the wonder of Nature’s miraculous ways—contributing to the work of citizen science.