HIKE THIRTY-EIGHT

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.

Bird watching

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.
redbird
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!

8 comments on “HIKE THIRTY-EIGHT
  1. Jim and Kay Griggs says:

    We also love the birds. Uncle Jim has feeders everywhere and has built quite a few of them himself. But they do attract the kridders. The bunnys are eating the spills every morning.

  2. Karen says:

    My parents fed the birds, and we have had many conversations about the differnt visitors to the feeders in their yard. I feed the birds, too, and get excited when they come to eat. They are so pretty, and so amazing that even tho they are tiny, they can fly and manage to stay warm enough to survive the winter. I hope one day my daughters feed the birds, too.

  3. Karen says:

    P.s. Thanks so much for sharing your stories, in print and on-line. Been collecting your books for 20+ years!

  4. Michele says:

    I love that wildlife center! I took my kids there many times. One of the cool things that happens there, is that they study the affect of urbanization (Mall of America/major airport) on wildlife. It’s a very peaceful place. I’ve done some sitting inside, watching the birds through the window.

    My husband and I went through a particularly difficult rough patch many years ago and we started to watch the birds. I really believe that it helped us to find our way back to each other.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. You are honest – sometimes brutally honest – about yourself. It can’t be easy. But I think it has to help others on their own journeys.

  5. Mary O'Brien says:

    My mother in law was a birder and had multiple feeders at her home. Tommy is now the birder in our family. It’s so nice to see that interest pass down through the family.

  6. Elizabeth Burke Moeller says:

    I never wanted to have a bird feeder because I knew that if I ever started feeding birds in the winter I would need to continue because they would expect it as a food source; I’ve never wanted that kind of pressure or commitment. Last fall, Gary got out a bird feeder we won at a fundraiser and filled it with the seeds he harvested from our sunflowers. I wasn’t excited about it. Pretty soon there were all sorts of colorful birds outside our kitchen window. The moment I decided I was in it for the long haul was when a cardinal came to feed. I remember reading somewhere that cardinal’s represent the spirits of your loved ones. After a minute of eating the seeds it flew over to a nearby tree branch and seemed to be looking in the window at me. Next thing I knew I heard myself saying, “Hi Dad.” He flew away a few seconds later. I’m hooked.

  7. Judy Geck says:

    Nancy,
    I worked with children’s books for about 20 years at the Hungry Mind in St. Paul and remember very well your early publishing successes and the great books you continued to create over the decades. I am now a Ranger at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and would love to look at birds with you sometime. Books and nature are the two strong forces in my life and I hope that your outdoor excursions give you some peace of mind during this difficult stretch with your husband’s illness. It’s great to see that you haven’t lost your creativity and you continue to be a dynamic personality!

    • Wow so fun to hear from you Judy! I would love to go on a bird hike with you this Spring at Minnesota Valley! How great to make this connection after all these years!
      Thanks for reaching out!!
      You tell me the best time and I will be there!
      Nancy

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