Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge
After my trip to California, I got busy preparing for classes I teach at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and working on a new book for Gillette Children’s Hospital. Nevertheless, I continue to fit in at least one hike a weekend. I need to hike.
The first Saturday after my return, I decided to go The Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge. I have driven by it hundreds of times on the way to the airport. I have even biked by it as I headed to the trails around Fort Snelling. Because of excessive rain in June, most of the trails were under water. A few short trails were open, but mostly I walked along a bike trail.
I wasn’t ready to go back to my apartment at the end of the hike, so I checked out the park headquarters building. The place is really cool. There was a beautiful photography exhibit and displays about the land and nature in the refuge. I wandered around, learning new stuff until I discovered a bunch of bird feeders set up outside a huge window. I sat down to watch and think!
Birds play a small part in this journey I am on with Barry. Bird watching has always been in my life because my parents loved to watch them at the feeders set up outside their window. When Barry and I bought our first cabin, we also set up feeders and liked watching the birds. If we weren’t familiar with a particular bird on the feeder, we looked it up in our bird book. We got pretty excited when an Indigo Bunting or Scarlet Tanager stopped by. One year, Barry bought me nice pair of binoculars so we could get some close views of the eagles that nested on our lake in northern Wisconsin.
Birds have made their way into my artwork over the past five years, as well. I’ve drawn crows circling around waiting for something to happen. I also do a lot of fun bird doodles about flying south. Oh how I envy those birds some days!
Obsessed with feeding a dog and birds
Before I had any idea that Barry was suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), he became obsessed with feeding our 18-year-old dog named Lily. He spent hours at the pet shop looking for something she would like to eat. He then discovered that she loved meatloaf from a very expensive grocery store near our place. The kids would come home from college or work and be excited for dinner because of the aroma of the wonderful meatloaf baking — only to watch their dad feed it to Lily. Looking back it seems really odd, but at the time, we all loved Lily so it made sense that she could have something she liked to eat.
Barry also got obsessed with feeding the birds. The feeder was always full. He bought bags of birdseed every day; and they began to pile up. Now the odd thing was, he no longer watched the birds — he just fed them all day. This was really irritating me. We were broke and had countless open bags of birdseed in the garage. I yelled at Barry all the time about the birdseed. Once he opened a bag, he had the urge to go buy another. Mice in our neighborhood loved this.
One day, an old friend of Barry’s picked him up for a lunch date. As they pulled away, Barry jumped out of the moving car and ran into the backyard. Fred drove back into the driveway and asked Barry what he was doing. Barry said, “I have to feed the birds.” Fred later told me that incident was when he knew something was wrong with Barry. Something really wrong! Months later we found out it was FTD.
So here I was watching birds on a Saturday afternoon. I knew most of the birds that came to the feeder, except for one large reddish bird. I asked the guy behind the information desk about it, but he just pointed me to the bird books. I stayed until the park closed trying to find that bird in the books, but I never did.
I hadn’t fed birds myself since Barry went into the Care Center. I had had it with birdseed. But bird watching was such fun at the park that I decided to swing by the store for a bag of birdseed on the way home. It’s time to start watching the birds again — one bag at a time. Besides, maybe that red bird will stop by!