Upstate Muse: A Warm Day, A Birdsong, A Special Kind Of Sanctuary

View from the Blue Heron Deck on the Blue Trail at the Audubon Community Nature Center. Photo by Sandy Robison

It’s the first warm day in about six or seven long cold months. The silence of winter has changed to a cacophony of new life. Birdsong is everywhere, each with its own unique tune. We are sitting on the Blue Heron deck at the Audubon Community Nature Center, just south of Jamestown on Riverside Drive off Route 62 south.

Nearby, a hidden bird whispers “whoo whoo whoo.” The trees are not yet green, but the wetlands are full of wildlife. They remind me of Payne’s Prairie south of Gainesville, north of Ocala where I lived for nearly two decades, a long stretch of wetland prairie full of creatures we don’t usually see. I have walked too amidst Marjory Rawlings’ “enchanted land” of great lonely Florida hammocks where she was inspired to write “The Yearling,” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” and those stories and a sense of enchantment are called up here in the wetlands of Western New York on the border of Pennsylvania. Wetlands are varied in type and size. There are bogs, swamps, marshes, prairies, wet meadows, sedges–each a singular pairing of land and water. So many types of wildlife are dependent on them for all their needs.

But it’s not just that. There’s a magic to wetlands found nowhere else. Here we find muskrat and beaver, egrets and herons, every species of bird that comes north, all kinds of aquatic creatures, fish, amphibians, reptiles. Pussy willows pair with blooming crabapples, tall waving grasses, water lilies. Flowers whose names I do not know create their own wild gardens of lavender and purple and white. The sky is a perfect blue; the clouds are a Monet painting. Cool breezes blow from the south. It’s a warm day. I’m wearing a sleeveless dress, the first since last October. It’s May 1 the prettiest day of the year, my younger son’s birthday. The whole landscape seems to smile. We sit here with the sun reddening our cheeks and warming our cold bones, lost in the moment, far from the world at large in this sanctuary.

Here on the Blue Heron deck there are no problems and no sorrows, no hungers or pains. We are bathed in light. In the distance, a blue heron takes flight, his great wings paddling the air. We can almost hear the whoosh of them. He’s patient, climbing slowly, taking off like some great prehistoric bird. His long beak leads the way. He’s sure in flight. Somewhere his nest is calling.

A red wing blackbird cries out as it sweeps in and lads on a tall cattail. The song is one we hear only in spring, it seems, or it’s the song we first recognize as spring. I think, I sit here and the world’s weight washes off my shoulders. When we walk in Nature, when we sit amidst it, we seem to be cleansed of our sins and return afresh to the homely business of living.

In Walden, Thoreau said, in wildness lies the preservation of the world. He “went to the woods to live deliberately.” He reasoned, “We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” If that’s true, we must be stewards of the earth. We can’t just love a walk in the park, an hour at the Audubon. We must preserve the earth, make sure we do not damage her. I read this week that one million species on our earth are on the verge of extinction, most due to human contamination or destruction of habitat, overhunting, overfishing, tree removal, careless building. In contrast, I read as well of Wyoming’s construction of wildlife crossings of major highways, bridges and underpasses that have saved thousands of lives of bison and deer, smaller creatures, pronghorns, wild horses and burros. The accidents on major highways of cars with creatures has been all but eliminated where these safety crossings are in place. It’s just one of the things we humans can do to live side by side with Nature. Each step we take to protect wildlife from extinction protects us as well. We are interconnected.

And so this walk and this stop at the Audubon, this hour on the Blue Heron deck, renews us, sustains us. We recognize our kinship with other living things, with the natural world. We are attuned to the sounds and scents. When we stand up and walk away, we sigh farewell to this sanctuary of place. Our hearts are lightened, our minds quieted. May we return soon.

The Audubon is a sacred place it seems to me, a sanctuary of 600 acres. Read more about it about this special place at their website auduboncnc.org. Visit the shop, the aquariums, the bald eagle, the butterfly garden. Most of all, take a walk on one of the trails–from the long orange to the short blue–and refill that quiet space inside.