Big Picture Thinking: Our Stories

Great Gray Owl landing on a branch.

On my first extended trip with my Father, we saw and photographed this Great Gray Owl.

 

Hello everyone! I’m so grateful for another week, and another chance to write for you all! I’ve been mulling over memories all week, and reliving some of the best, formative experiences of my life with birds and wildlife. I thought it would be great to explore some of those thoughts, one of those experiences in detail, and encourage all of you to do the same. Enjoy!

 

A Pine Grosbeak rests on a branch between feeding sessions.

This gorgeous male Pine Grosbeak posed for us at a small feeding station in Sax Zim Bog, Minnesota.

 

I am a man torn between his future and his past. I often find myself looking and planning ahead, while frequently going back to relive important experiences from my past. I’ve found that taking this approach is quite rewarding, allowing me to be excited about my future, while also being intensely grateful for my past experiences. This past week, I was reliving one such moment, and thought about the importance of that one experience in my life. I thought about the chain of events that lead to it, and how amazing it really is to see how things connect in the past to bring us to the present. Our lives are often abound in random happenings that somehow string together in magnificent fashion!


I considered that string of randomness, and how it led my Father and I on the first of many trips together. When I fell in love with birds and photography just five years ago, I rekindled my Father’s love of birds as well. I bought him his first DSLR camera, and from that moment on we were often together, exploring every wild place that would could and recording the memories with our cameras. We’re now well known in the birding community as a Father/Son duo, and I could not be more proud of that fact. The trip that really started all of this for us, was to Sax Zim Bog, a winter wonderland full of owls and other amazing birds.

 

A Great Gray Owl searches for a new place to hunt.

A Great Gray Owl flies to a new perch to hunt.

 

In 2015, I watched “The Big Year” movie. Being fairly new to birding, or at least the thought of birding on a national scale versus the local parks and hotspots in the state, I was thrilled to see a mainstream movie that featured birding at it’s core. I found it hilarious and heartwarming, and it did a wonderful job at motivating me to dive even deeper into the birding world. I researched the characters, and learned of Sandy Komito and Greg Miller. I drank in their stories and became even more impassioned! I’m proud to say that Greg Miller is now not only a co-worker but a close friend, and he still motivates me to do more and dive deeper into our shared love of birds.


One particular part of the movie struck me more than any other. The scene went straight to my heart. Jack Black’s character’s Father asked him to take him out into the woods to see a Great Gray Owl. They went together into the wilderness, and his Father had to stop to catch his breath. Jack’s character forged forward, looking for the owl, but became increasingly worried about his Father. Rushing through the woods, calling for him, he finally found his father smiling and holding a finger to his pursed lips as he pointed above. There sat a majestic Great Gray. I’ve watched this movie 10’s of times, as it’s now a tradition to watch before every trip that my Father and I go on, and I still get emotional and tear up at this scene. After watching it, I told my Father we had to go find a Great Gray Owl of our own, and after talking with a good friend about it, we all made plans to venture north to the Sax Zim Bog.

 

A Great Gray Owl rests on a branch and greets us on our second trip to Sax Zim Bog.

A Great Gray Owl in early morning light, perches on a branch to greet us on our latest trip to the bog.

 

With little in the way of resources at the time, this was a bit of a mind boggling trip for my Father and I. He was dealing with some health issues, and I was not earning much, so we had to be tactical about this trip. Our friend Scott decided to go with us, and we all made the sixteen hour drive from central Ohio, to northern Minnesota. Nearly a thousand miles one way was further than my Father and I have ever traveled, and to say that I was ridiculously excited would have been an understatement. We stayed in a small motel, in an equally small town, and after a few hours of sleep we were off in search of our target. Two days passed with no sightings, but that didn’t dampen our spirits, as we had phenomenal views of Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Redpolls, Ravens, and more. We were having the time of our lives!


We left the motel early on the third morning, arriving to the bog as daylight broke. We slowly cruised down Admiral Road, gawking at the beauty of a crisp, cold winter landscape. There’s nothing like being at Sax Zim Bog on a cold winter day. Sound is dampened by the snow pack, and it remains one of the quietest places I have ever ventured. In one moment, the stillness captivates you, and the next, a group of Red-breasted Nuthatches fly into a tree next to you loudly declaring ownership of said tree! As we continued to cruise, I noticed a few cars stopped ahead in the distance, and my heart dropped. I knew we’d finally come across our quarry. Sure enough, as we reached the cars, we saw the Great Gray Owl!

 

A Great Gray Owl Stretches it's wings after it lands.

This amazing Great Gray Owl had just landed, and decided to stretch before resuming it’s hunt.

 

We all marveled at the bird, afraid to even breathe. Once you get your eye on a Great Gray, it’s nearly impossible to break the gaze! We spent three hours or more, sitting back and observing it as it hunted and went about its daily routine. It looked like a king as it aimed its head at the ground, and using those feathers to detect the slightest of sounds underneath the snow. I’ve rarely seen focus that intense! I made the photograph above (the header of this blog) just before we left that day. When we got back to our car, I experienced roughly forty five minutes of intense pain, as blood re-entered my fingers. I wasn’t upset. That moment remains to be one of the most important of my life.


We spent two more days exploring Sax Zim Bog, finding countless life birds and making amazing photographs. Everything about that place is magical, and if you can make it there, it’s a can’t miss. The landscape is gorgeous, the people are generous and kind, and the local restaurants (MASSIVE shout out to Wilbert Cafe! If you’re near the bog…GO!) and businesses are well worth visiting. Add in the birds…and wow. This should be a bucket list location for any birder or photographer! So why am I telling this story? Let’s wrap this up with some final thoughts.

 

A Great Gray Owl hunting in early morning sunlight.

A Great Gray Owl perches atop a dead tree in early morning light, near the shores of Lake Superior.

 

I’m writing this story for the same reason that I write many of the stories that I do along these lines. It’s a powerful story, with a powerful line of thought, and what I really love about writing these blogs, is getting people to think. Deeply and critically. I believe it’s in those deep thoughts and recollections that we grow, and where our passions strengthen. It creates gratefulness, and the want to create even more of those memories that decades from now, will stir the heart to keep diving. Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”, a quote I often refer to when examining how I’ve managed to get to where I am. I’m not sure it can be stated in a better way. Big picture thinking helps me immensely in my quest to keep jumping off cliffs, and the moments I walk into in my mind give me the wings to fly onward to the next adventure.


As I say every week folks…thank you! I am thankful for each and every one of you. There are some exciting things afoot here at Wildside Nature Tours, and I look forward to sharing them with you in the coming weeks. I want to get much more interactive and engaged with all of you. Below, I’ll be linking another blog that was written a few days ago, along with an “audiocast” as I’m dubbing it. My first foray into the world of audio and certainly not my last. I’d love for you to read, to listen, and to comment/share these blogs. If you’re not fond of commenting publicly, send me a direct message! I’d love to hear from all of you. What are some of your stories that this blog has brought to the front of your mind? I want to hear all of them. I wish everyone a fantastic week, and good birding!

Medium Blog – “It’s Time To Change The Narrative”

“Audiocast” – Follow-up to “It’s Time To Change The Narrative”

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