Making Memories

     October’s golden glory is past us now. The beautiful colors of fall leaves and summer birds have flown with the wind, rushing past us in the final weeks of Autumn. The holidays are fast approaching, like the winter snows that promise to blanket the bluffs and valleys of our river towns any day now. November brings us closer to our core values of family, faith and community. We celebrate the harvest, good fortune, true friends and family ties. We honor those that came before us and made our lives richer by their hard work and vision. And we reflect on our faith. It is faith that gives us hope, and the strength to solve the problems we face today in a way that will enrich our children's lives tomorrow.
     As the holidays bring us together we search for meaningful bonds to strengthen our relationships. We choose to share and to give, to listen and receive in ways that will enhance the lives of the people we care for. For many people, nature can be that common bond. Enjoyed by young and old, rich and poor, in sickness and in health, nature has the power to inspire and to comfort almost everyone.
     I remember the trips to visit my grandparents as a child. Twice a year my parents would pack up the station wagon-luggage, gifts, four kids, a cat and a litter box, and head home to Minnesota. It was an long drive from our Sheboygan farm on the shores of Lake Michigan to our destination, Mankato and Lake Crystal. It was a drive my parents dreaded, we always got a late start. Eight hours of holiday traffic during the peak of the deer rut. Usually, at least one of us kids was sick with a cold or flu. Pyewackett, our siamese, bawled as long as the car was in motion. And then their were the diaper changes! Of course this was well before Game Boys, on board DVD players or cell phones. How my parents managed to endure the trip is still a mystery to me. These conditions sound like the start of a good insanity plea but I actually remember having fun!
     To keep us occupied we played the typical road trip games like finding things that started with the letters of the alphabet. We also engaged in the morbid pursuit of counting road kill, if it could be identified. Lists of the living birds and animals were also kept. Mom talked about the history of the towns we passed and the geology of the land. Dad answered our questions about why geese honk and whether bears ate bugs, and where weasels went in winter. We always learned something on those road trips and we were always curious to know more.
     The best part of those holiday trips was the time I spent with my grandparents one on one. It was a big deal to get that kind of attention from adults whom we loved and regarded with a sense of awe and respect. Both my Grandmothers let me help them in the kitchen when I wanted to. Baking bread, making sweet soup, and the smell of frying side pork are cherished memories. The time spent cooking with my grandmothers and my father has left me with a life long love of kitchen endeavors. My Grandfathers usually had a few yard projects that needed attention. Some piece of equipment always needed to be greased, tightened or otherwise tinkered with. There were bushels of black walnuts to pick in one yard and bags of acorns to pick up in the other. These Grandpas were smart. They kept us out of the house, safely occupied and had their yard work done for fifty cents a bag!
     My favorite part of yard work was filling the feeders. At that time not many folks fed birds, but both my grandparents did. We put out sunflower seed for Cardinals and Blue Jays. We hung tubes filled with thistle for the Goldfinch, and for the Pine Siskins and Red Polls that visited from the far north. There was always a trip to the butcher in Nicollet to purchase meats for the holiday meals. Beef suet was free back then so Grandmother brought some home for the woodpeckers and Chickadees to enjoy. They fed table scraps when there were any to be had. Pancakes and stale muffins went over the best!
     In the morning I would slip out of bed, the smell of strong coffee and bacon wrapped around me like a blanket. Quietly, I would join my Grandparents at the dining room table where they sipped coffee and watched the birds at the feeders outside the windows. Following their movements, marking their behaviors, noting all the comings and goings of these feathered friends, my Grandparents seemed most at ease. No stress. No worries. Relaxing like this they would plan the day, catch up on news and center themselves. I was eager to share their enthusiasm for the birds, but it was many years before I would comprehend the the quiet comfort and joy that the simple act of watching them could bring. That they shared this joy with me is a gift that I carry with me each day.
     Connecting with people younger or older is not always easy. The generation gap leaves us all groping for common ground. Even when one feels sure that their efforts will never trigger a positive connection, the effort should still be made. Years latter, those memories may have meaning. They may influence decisions or provide guidance, even long after you are gone. We make memories, every time we interact with someone. The holidays are the perfect time to work on your memory making skills!

     Here are a few great birding ideas to share with your loved ones over the holidays.
1.Watchable Wildlife: If you have visitors from out of town, take them to see some special wildlife in your area. If you live along the Upper Mississippi River Valley, November viewing opportunities include hundreds of Bald Eagle, Tundra Swan, and huge rafts of Common Merganser. Take a drive down the back roads looking for turkey and deer. Most people have never seen a Wild Turkey in the wild! Local birding maps can show you the best locations and times of year to see some amazing birds.
2.Baking for the Birds: A great project to do with young children. Start with trip to the library where the kids check out books about backyard birds. Then a trip to the wild bird store where they bag their own seed and learn about the birds they will be feeding. At home, whip up a batch of corn bread muffins, minus the salt and sugar. Add the bird seed and bake. Hang some high, put some low and keep a list of the different species come. Which birds came to hanging muffins? Which birds ate the muffins on the ground? Does anyone else like Birdy Muffins?
3.Building for the Birds: Construct a bird house together. Several good books of easy, practical designs are available. Consider the types of birds that might use the house and where it could be mounted. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Chickadees, and Wrens are all common in this area and tolerate monitoring (checking the nest). Include a trip to the library, hardware store, lumber yard and a wild bird store. After the house is built, ask for help in mounting the house next spring. Encourage future involvement by monitoring the house together whenever possible. Each fall the house will need to be cleaned out or maybe repaired. A cherished and well kept wren house might become a family heirloom.
4.Up Close and Personal: Young and old alike enjoy having the opportunity to view wildlife up close. Window feeders bring the birds to the viewer. For children, this close up experience can lead to greater interest and enthusiasm for nature. For the elderly, it may be the only way they can enjoy the birds. Failing eyesight makes it difficult to see small birds at feeders placed at a distance. Some individuals can no longer fill their feeders because of physical limitations. Window feeders can solve both these problems. Before a parent or Grandparent gives up bird feeding research all the options. For those elderly that live alone or in care facilities, watching the birds can be a great comfort in their day. Window feeders are easy to maintain and are available in many styles. When visiting older friends and family always offer to fill their feeders.
     Cherish the holidays, revel in nature, and make a great memory every day!

Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022