wildlife

It Might be Time for a Change

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A few months ago, on one of my little adventures in the bush, I had an experience that I just can’t forget. I had decided to go for a walk to explore the bush along the edge of a clearing. The clearing was roughly square-shaped, and I walked along one full edge, intent on checking out the corner, which had some vague interest for me. As I walked, I was pleased to find an abundance of wild strawberries growing in the clearing! I stopped to pick a few, savouring their intense flavour. Along the way, I came across a little pile of cut firewood; someone was obviously going to come back for that some day. The bush was pretty thick, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking into it much. I was distracted by the strawberries.

As I got close to the corner, I could see that there was a little opening in the trees where a couple of them that had fallen down in a wind. With one more step, a flurry of activity erupted from the bush. Grouse — local people call them “chickens” — flew every which way, as though with that one step into the bush I had tripped an invisible laser-alarm, and they could not sit still. I hadn’t seen any of them until they all moved — their camouflage is excellent — and after they flew away only one remained.

This one, lone bird did the strangest thing, this thing that I cannot shake the memory of. It was crouched on the ground, among the fallen leaves, again invisible against the background. It shuffled forward and I could see it again, and it made the strangest sound — exactly like a puppy whimpering. It did it again, a little shuffle and a distinctive whimper. I couldn’t believe how much it sounded like a puppy. It did it a third time, which allowed me to reassure myself that’s exactly what I was hearing.

How strange, I thought, and then realized that there must be a nest of young ones nearby, not yet able to fly away to safety. I was pretty sure I knew where it was — to my left, behind a log and near the point I had seen all the adults fly away from. I was very tempted to walk over and take a look, but the pitiful display of this lone grouse made me hesitate and ultimately change my mind. It had intentionally stayed behind when the others flew away to sacrifice itself to this strange, upright predator. It drew attention to itself with its cries and movement, making sure I could both see and hear it, the pathetic whimper as if to say “eat me, I’m weak and defenseless — an easy meal.” I just couldn’t satisfy my curiosity — to find the nest and see the little ones — after what this adult bird had done for its young.

But not just for its young; for all the young that were in nests nearby. I knew from the number of adults that there must be at least three nests, and this one stayed behind to save the young of them all. You know, all around the world we see incredible acts of sacrifice by people for their children, but not as often for others’ children. I, for one, had never seen such a display first hand, of an animal so willing to die that it would call out to the predator to ensure its strategy of misdirection and ultimately, its sacrifice, would be successful.

There is not much I can say. It was humbling. That grouse showed intelligence, compassion and courage. And it’s just a bird, with a brain no larger than half a walnut. I guess courage, compassion and intelligence don’t have anything to do with brain size, but it does make me wonder if I have been letting myself off easy, not demanding much of myself lately. My idea of an act of courage these days is to go into a crowded room where I don’t know anyone. Compassion consists of smiling respectfully at strangers, whatever state they are in (i.e. sober or not, poor or not), and my intelligence has been primarily engaged in knitting and dreaming up floor plans for tiny houses. I think it might be time for another challenge. I think it might be time for an extreme compassion adventure! It might even be time for a sacrifice, and damn it, I had better not complain, because I’m pretty sure I won’t be whimpering on the ground, hoping the predator will eat me instead of the children nearby. Wow.

I took this photo of a spruce grouse in winter as it crossed our front yard and driveway.
I took this photo of a spruce grouse in winter as it crossed our front yard and driveway.

More Adventures

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Since the York boat expedition ended, I’ve been having lots of adventures, although none as publicized as that one was! My honey and I went on a 4-day trip on the Hay River, which was awesome! Later, I went on a 2-day trip on the Chinchaga with a good friend of mine, and last week, I guided a 3-day trip on the Peace River. I taught my first introductory session for kayaks today too! So, I’ve been canoeing on overnight trips a total of 9 days, and sometimes, frankly, I just have to pinch myself. This is my job?!?! Man, I am the luckiest son-of-a- !

Today, we tried out our sailing canoe! Darren did all the rigging and took it out first, while I was kayaking, and figured out how to steer and turn and all that! When I was done, he took me across the lake, which was awesome! We actually had the boat tilting enough that I had to lean, which was exciting and a little scary, but in a good way. It was very cool. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of it, but I’ll leave you with a pic of the boat on land. Extra-special thanks to Uncle Keith for giving it to us! We love it!

And here’s a few from the Hay River and Chinchaga River trips!

A neat spot on the Hay River where a loop of the river has been closed off, creating an oxbow lake.
Lovely scenery along the Hay River
One of many Canada geese we saw.
Looking towards the Chinchaga River from our campsite
The bank is eroding out from under an old cabin along the Chinchaga River.

A Day for the Birds

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Today started out normally enough. Most of my morning routine passed uneventfully, and I was sitting on the love seat in the living room surfing for something or other when my whole day changed.

I heard a loud “thwack” on the living room window and looked up in time to see a bird-projectile and feathers flying. Oh no! I leaped up and looked and, sure enough, there was a small bird, huffing and puffing — it probably had the wind knocked out of it, poor thing. It was sitting on the ground in the snow-shadow of one of the cedar trees outside our house.

This isn’t the first time this happened. In summer, a gorgeous Evening Grosbeak crashed into the window and laid in a similar spot for a few hours. I didn’t know what to do. It was belly up, so I cautiously reached over and flipped it over. I wondered if I should try and put it in a box to help it recover, or just let it heal on its own? I checked on it several times and it seemed to be doing ok. Still breathing, not twitching terribly, but not exactly ready to fly away. I was working in my garden in the back yard that afternoon, and after 3-4 hours of me checking on it, Darren said “bad news, Teresa.”

“Oh, no! Did it die?”

“Worse. A cat got it.”

Oh no, oh noooooo! I felt horrible. There were grey, black and yellow feathers spread out on the front lawn like a crime scene. Oh, man, did I feel bad. I think I cried! Poor bird, recovering slowly, and a cat came along for an easy meal. *Note, it was definitely not my cat, as he doesn’t go out in the front yard.*

So today, when that little bird was sitting there, after 30 seconds or so of staring through the window and wondering what to do, I sprung into action. This little one, a female Pine Grosbeak (my bird book said), was not going to be eaten by any cats.

So, I figured I needed a box. A shoebox would be great, and Darren got new shoes recently, so new, empty boxes were easy to find. I quickly put a bit of toilet paper in the bottom as cushioning. Then it occurred to me — I can’t bring it inside! A bird in a box in a house with a cat?!? This was not a good plan. Put it in the car, perhaps? Keep the car running so it wouldn’t be -13°C? Not a good plan either. The outdoor storage room, with a trouble light on for a little heat? Not bad… but not enough warmth. A heat lamp? Ah, yes, but where is it? No time to look. Then I had the best idea yet – I quickly grabbed some cloth, put a pile of wheat in the middle — I have wheat to make therapeutic wheat bags with — wrapped it up and threw it into the microwave to warm it. I had to work fast! That bird was in shock and it was cold out!

I got it all ready, put it in the outdoor storage room, and walked quietly over to where the bird was. I reached between the hedge and the house, my arm fully stretched out, gently picked up the bird, cradled it in both hands while I walked over to put it in the box. It didn’t struggle at all. It could feel the warmth, I think, when I put it in the box.

I checked on it a minute later, and put the box lid almost all the way on, to keep the warmth in. At least it was out of the snow and wind.

I checked on it a little while later, and it had moved! It had pulled its wings in more — I wasn’t sure if they were broken or not — and it turned its head to look at me! Yay!

I checked on it a little while later, and it was dead. Tipped over on its side, dead. Oh, dear. I felt bad, but I had known that there was a good chance it would die; it probably had internal injuries. I felt okay, though. At least it hadn’t been eaten by a cat or frozen to death. Either one of those would be worse, I think.

I don’t like to interfere in nature too much, but on the other hand, when I can help, I just have to. I felt so much better after setting up my little incubator! I had done something — taken action to safe a life! The fact that that sweet little bird died anyway doesn’t bother me… I think I alleviated its suffering a little, and in a way, it didn’t die alone.

I wonder if its partner is looking for it? My bird book doesn’t say much about them, like if they mate for life. There are a flock of them in our neighbourhood, and the other day I walked right beside/under them in one of our trees and they weren’t afraid. They have a gentle, quiet song.

She's looking right at me! :)

This doesn’t end the “bird day” I had today though! About an hour after the bird died, I went to see Darren in his office and there was a large, round bird on the snow outside the window! It was so cool! It had fuzzy feet, and was standing on one foot at a time to keep the other warm. It walked a little around the trees and shrubs, and then went “snowshoeing” across the front yard towards the driveway. We got several great pictures of it and its friend-bird, which were walking around on our driveway and even down the sidewalk.

These two (my bird book tells me) female Spruce Grouse just absolutely made my day! They reminded me of the abundance of life. Death is nothing to fear. Come to think of it, Rev. Patrick talked a lot about death on the podcast I listened to this morning (before all this happened). Co-incidence? Perhaps not.

Celebrate life today — go out and find some birds!

Snowshoeing across the yard
Aren't they handsome? Check out those feet!
Isn't she beautiful?

Big, New Idea

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We are having the most amazing indian summer here right now, and I hate to be stuck at the computer – or at work, and of course I am working 10 days in a row! – because all I want to do is be outside! The leaves are starting to change colours, and it’s been so nice and warm (reaching 25 degrees C the last few days), Footner LakeI just feel like it’s the last chance of the year to enjoy summer! Darren and I went paddling on Sunday morning, which was awesome, but I would love to go every day.  :)

But no, I’m stuck at the keyboard, researching, writing, figuring, designing… And what have I been steadily working on for the last couple of weeks (hence not much blogging)? My paddling business! That’s right, I am starting my own business, which I’m naming Flow North Paddling Company. After deciding on the name, I designed the logo (see below) and I’m currently working on the webpage. My plan was to start this up next spring, but a couple of weeks ago I realized that it would be best to have a booth at the Trade Show to promote it now, even if everything’s not quite ready, just to let people know that I’ll be starting up in spring. But man, it’s been an accelerated path, trying to get everything done. Big sign ordered – check. Business cards being printed – check. Plan for the booth? Working on it…

So what made me want to start my own paddling company, you might be asking! I often hear people say that we have such nice rivers and great wilderness, but no one’s doing anything to promote it. Since I love paddling and think it would be awesome to be paid to do that, I decided to go for it. Through Flow North, you’ll be able to rent a canoe or kayak(s), go out on a river or lake for a day, or a week, and see the amazing scenery around here. Lots of wildlife, too, and not just bears! Everyone thinks of bears – usually in fear – but forgets the beavers, birds, geese, ducks, moose, deer, even elk and bison. I love paddling and just wanted to share that love and make it possible for people to get out there and enjoy the water. Local people can just rent the boat (and paddle, bailer, PFD if needed, and whistle) and put it on their own vehicle and go for the day, or I can meet tourists at a spot along a river with the boats and all the supplies they’ll need for a 2 week trip! I flow-north-logoget so excited thinking about it! I’m researching dried foods that taste yummy and are filling. I’m looking at maps and calculating distances on rivers. I’ve been contemplating marketing and practical things, like where I’ll store the boats. And I decided early on that I wouldn’t get into guided trips, because a) I don’t feel like an uber-qualified paddle master, and b) none of the water around here is particularly tricky, as long as you’ve been in a canoe or kayak before. If not, you can come a day early and get a quick course and away you go. I want to review safety things with people, but don’t feel I need to physically go with every group. Especially if I give each overnight group a SPOT GPS device! They are so cool! All you do is press the “I’m ok” button and it transmits to a satellite which relays the message to whoever you set up as your contacts, so your friends or family can track where you are. If you need help, you press “help” and if you need 9-1-1 rescue, there’s a button for that too. So, that makes me feel a LOT better about paddling in the middle of nowhere (just south of it, actually) and sending boat renters out onto these great wilderness rivers.

So I had it all pretty much figured out. Renting, outfitting, no guiding. And then, one day driving home from work, I had a real brainwave! Why not offer a buddy service to single women who want to paddle! I remember being single and wanting to do things… and sometimes trying to find someone to go along, and sometimes just going by myself because there was no one to go with. Usually, I would have preferred to have someone to go with, and for people who are nervous about being in the bush (in bear country), I can go along and offer support! I will make it clear I’m no fancy qualified guide, although I will take wilderness first aid and some other courses, but I’m willing and able to offer my experience paddling and camping, and company in general. Being in the bush by oneself is a little spooky, I know. So now I’m uber-excited about this business and the adventures that will follow! You know me, I’m all about the adventures!

To summarize, through my company, you’ll be able to:

  • rent a boat (for a day, or a few days, or a week or a few weeks)
  • get dropped off at the beginning and picked up at the end of your trip (important for river paddling!)
  • use a SPOT GPS to let others know where you are and, in the worst case scenario, if you need help
  • rent supplies like cooking stoves or tents if you need them
  • order meal supplies, packed and ready for your trip, with cooking instructions included! (And most of it will be homemade.)
  • take me along on a trip if you’re all alone and nervous about wilderness paddling! (Women only, sorry guys.)

Isn’t that great?!? I am so excited about it (perhaps you can tell!), and I know I’m really going to enjoy doing this! I have a few crazy ideas for marketing, and hope to connect with Europeans who want to explore Canada. More on that another time. But anyways, I’ll announce my webpage when it’s ready (should have something by Friday, in time for the Trade Show). Ack! I have a lot of work to do!

Please, even if you’ve never done so before, leave a comment and let me know what you think of my idea! I’m looking for input, ideas, feedback, whatever! Thanks!

The Mystery Bird

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Encounters with wildlife excite me. It especially amazes me when an animal approaches me, as if to be my friend, even though it is wild. I wonder why they do, or why they run away. A couple of weeks ago, we went camping at a recreational site about 40 minutes from home. We’d never been there, and the camp sites were nice, with lots of trees around them — in some places, the usual poplar, but in other places, magnificent tall, straight pines covered in “witches’ hair moss.” There aren’t any pine trees on the drive there, just at the rec site and parkland around. We drove the campsite loop and chose the site we liked best — not too shady and not too open. We wanted sun, because it wasn’t going to be too hot out, but also wanted some wind break.

Machesis LakeNot long after setting up camp, Darren noticed a bird hopping along the ground and then sitting on its nest. It was only about 20 feet from where we’d pitched our tent, but the bird seemed fairly undisturbed by us. It sat there for quite a while and we eventually went off to explore the lake.

We had a great campfire both nights we were there, and even made a fire in the mornings to make our egg, weiner, and cheese sandwiches baked in the invaluable pie-iron. :) We love the pie iron, whatever would we do without it! The first morning, as we ate our delicious egg-wiches, we saw the small bird hopping along, picking insects out of the air for its breakfast — we hoped it was eating mosquitos! — and then returning to its nest. It was a pretty small bird, with long legs, Bird's nestand later I got a picture of it and searched the bird book to identify it (click here to see if you can spot it). I think it was a Veery, way out of its range, but it may have also been a Hermit Thrush or Swainson’s Thrush. The second morning, the bird was off its nest and not around, so I cautiously approached and took a pic of it (seen at left). I was surprised how deep the nest was — probably about 10 cm (4″).

It was a little after breakfast on the second morning that a most amazing thing happened. Darren and I were standing beside the picnic table, wiping dishes I think, when a different bird landed on the picnic table and just looked at us. Then it hopped to change its direction, looked at us a little more, for about 20 seconds altogether as we stood motionless, and then it flew into a nearby tree. It sat there for another minute or so before flying away. It seemed so smart, and curious about us, and completely unafraid. What ever caused it to land so close to us? It was only about 3 feet from me, 4 from Darren.  Incredible. It was completely dark grey — no stripes, spots, or any other colours. It had dark eyes and a fairly large beak, and incredibly shiny feathers. It was amazing! We had lots of time to look at it as it checked us out… and I haven’t found it in my bird book. A friend suggested it might have been a young crow or raven, curious about us… but it was grey, not black. So, it’s a mystery, and I feel quite blessed to have been visited by it. There’s no explaining it… maybe it just knew we are peaceful, and wouldn’t hurt it, so it flew down to say hello.

Bear tracksWe went for a long walk on the first day, along an established skidoo/quad trail. It was like a quad highway, very wide, sandy, and with lots of tracks — some people, bikes, wolves/dogs/coyotes, and even bear tracks. We didn’t see any bears at all, which was good. For all we know, they were in the bush, watching us and keeping their distance.

Yoga in the Bush

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I’ve been suffering from a bit of cabin fever lately… so last week, I decided it was time for an outing. Besides, this blog has had a lot of mental adventures lately, and no physical ones.
So, I picked the day — I had good weather — and planned the outing. I was going to walk the skidoo trails near town, towards the west, and see how far I could go. I got underway a bit later than I had hoped, so I only hit the trail around noon. I told my honey not to look for me until 7 pm. He was surprised I would be gone so long, but I really needed to spend some time in the bush, away from “it all,” with lots of quiet and time to think.

skidoo-trail
It was pretty easy going, at first. The trail was pretty well-travelled (by machines, not people on foot). Besides skidoo tracks, there were many wildlife tracks, which I tried to identify, of course. There were a lot of startling large paw prints; if it was feline, it had to be a cougar! But I realized that it was probably canine — wolf tracks. I suppose it could have been dog tracks, if someone had brought their dog skidooing, but judging by how many tracks I saw — it went on for miles — if probably wasn’t. So that was fun! I was sharing the trail with a pack of wolves, some of which were huge. Awesome. I also saw smaller, presumably coyote tracks, rabbit, mice and some very strange tracks (see below).

owl-prints-in-snow

Neat, eh? Bird tracks, or more specifically, marks in the snow from wing downbeats, an owl perhaps! That was neat, and I saw it a couple of times. I also saw bird feet tracks, from birds walking. Not sure if they would be grouse or another ground bird (probably) or ravens. Ravens walk a bit, but I think they prefer to fly. I saw a few that day, and also heard and saw chickadees. Other than that, it was pretty quiet, especially once I got farther from the highway. Lots of quiet time to think and enjoy the fresh air.
It gave me time to think about my future, and my priorities. I’d been a bit grumpy lately, so I had a chance to get that out. I may have to find a new job, or start my own business, so I thought quite a bit about that. I stayed in the present moment pretty well, so my memories of that day are very clear. The sky was such a beautiful blue… and trees crisp and creaky. I know it sounds weird, but they were!

trees-and-blue-sky

I walked for 2 hours along the trail, then decided I was tired enough I should head back. My legs were starting to hurt a bit, but I thought I’d be fine. I had stopped a few times, had drinks and snacks, but had kept on pretty steadily. On the return trip, my legs (hip flexors) started to really hurt, and at one point, I felt both my hips dislocate ever so briefly! Yikes. So I took a few more breaks, did a little stretching (hence the title of this post) and took my time. I am not sure if the snow was getting softer (it was pretty warm out) or my legs getting tireder, but the walking was harder. By the time I got back to my car, I was in pretty bad shape! I couldn’t lift my legs more than a couple of inches and they hurt like heck! My lower back was also hurting quite a bit.
I ran a few errands around town, and then went home and took it easy that night. I saw my chiropractor and had a hot bath loaded with epsom salts, and the combination enabled me to feel fine the next day. My legs were a little tired and my hip flexors a little sore, but I could walk and do stairs (important for me to get to work)! In the past, my muscles have taken so long to recover from exercise that I was pleasantly surprised how well I felt the next day! I was completely back to normal the second day after.
I am so glad I did that hike (11 km altogether)… it was just what I needed. So let me encourage you — if you are feeling the need for some self-care, exercise, a change of scenery or a change of pace, do it! Listen to your body; if one part of you is trying to tell another part of you something, don’t ignore it! That would be just plain silly.

Happy hiking!

Population Cycles

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licking-his-chopsI recently saw a show about cats — a National Geographic program — which talked about their special adaptations for hunting and how they became domesticated. They actually chose to be domesticated by humans. They were attracted to where people live, catching mice in our barns and houses, eating dropped food (or getting handouts!), using our shelter, and overall, they realized that living with people is advantageous to them. The other cool thing is that they can also quickly go feral and live totally on their own again in the wild. So although they are domesticated, they can reverse the process at any time! This explains my usually mild-mannered kitty suddenly going berserk when he gets overstimulated, for example. But he’s nothing like the cat I had that went feral.

His name was Arnie, named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we used to let him go outside, and then had to track him down at night to get him back in. One night, he wouldn’t come back in and was nowhere to be found. For several days we looked all around the neighbourhood, but no sign of Arnie. Eventually, we stopped looking, but an ad in the paper about a month later described our cat found about 20 blocks away — sure enough, it was Arnie. But he wasn’t the same. He was totally wild, quite scruffy looking, had signs that he’d been in some fights, and really did not want to be indoors. He spoke through his body language, as cats always do, and scratched my husband on the eyelid. After that, we let him out and sort of stopped looking for him to come in at night, and he was gone for good.

But coming back to the idea of cats eating mice and other vermin… In the middle ages, vermin (love that word!), and therefore cats, thrived in cities, but also around that time, people started getting really superstitious. They started accusing each other of being witches, and many cats were killed too, believed to be the minions of darkness. You have to admit, they can be kind of spooky — silently appearing out of nowhere, slinking around, eyes glowing in the dark… In any case, superstitions got the best of them, and they killed off almost all the cats who would have killed the rats who carried the fleas who carried the Bubonic Plague. An estimated 75 million people died in that plague — 30-60% of the population of Europe at the time, and the plague spanned from China to Northern Africa and throughout Europe. It turns out cats are partially immune to the Bubonic Plague! Isn’t it ironic that cats could have saved humans if we hadn’t been so irrational and superstitious. (Hmm… I wonder if we have any superstitions or false beliefs now that are affecting our future…)

I’m currently reading a great used bookstore find, Nahanni, by Dick Turner. It’s about his adventures in the Northwest Territories and Yukon in the 30′s – 50′s. The explorers of the time truly lived off the land; they literally walked a hundred miles a year in the wilderness maintaining trap lines, hunting, and doing whatever they had to do to survive. Turner observed the land and the animals, and he noticed certain cycles — the typical predator-prey cycle where, as the moose population grew, so did the number of wolves. Then, as the wolves decimated the moose population, they starve or have to move to other areas. Predator and prey… it’s a natural cycle, and although we don’t seem to like it, that’s the way the natural world is. We especially don’t like being prey! Come to think of it, we aren’t fond of starving either! We want to be the top predator, but never starve. Anyways, Dick Turner noticed another cycle: periodically, the rabbit population would climb, until 3-4 years after peaking, a disease would come and rapidly wipe almost all of them out. Then, they would gradually start reproducing again, and even though they had many predators, they reproduced so fast, they would eventually reach that peak-disease-decline part of their cycle again. The cycle repeats about every 7-11 years.

So… could this ever happen to us? We aren’t exactly rabbits, but really, man has no major natural predators. Sure, grizzlies and wolves killed and ate some of the pioneers, and still get a few people a year, but it would seem that man’s main population control is in diseases. Unless you consider self-predation — war still kills far too many of us with far too few working on preventing it… in this way, we are our own predators. But it seems possible that diseases might be our population-control cycle, if we get too crowded. We are getting better and better at curing and preventing some of them, yet we still die of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more self-inflicted diseases. And we’re working on eliminating other things that kill us — accidental deaths and crime in the developed world, and hunger and various diseases in the developing world (malaria and AIDS come to mind). We are working so hard to maintain and extend our lives, and reproduce, on a planet that must eventually have a limit to the amount of life it can support. Unless we get a lot smarter about how we grow food, purify water, and consume natural resources, it’s possible that another Black Plague might come to reduce our population.

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A few minutes ago, as I was writing about death, my heart started pounding a little. It’s uncomfortable, yet it shouldn’t be. Death is a part of life. A flower, so beautiful and fragile, must die to produce the fruit it is meant to produce. Perhaps we are the same, but we are so attached to this life, and the superficial things in it, that we can’t see any good in death. And we get sidetracked, when we could be living fully in the moment… and so we miss the most beautiful parts of life and death. Perhaps we would do well to be like a flower, happily enduring the heat, the cold, the rain, the wind, and always turning to face the light. To just be. To stop stressing about the future, including diseases, and just be.

frozen-pansy