In the last five years I have taken up photography. I have spent much of my day photographing birds. In doing that I have learned about their behavior, habits, and how they raise their young. It has been an incredible experience. I have met experts and spoken to them at length about different birds species. I now have friends that specialize in wildlife ecology, wildlife rehab, herpetology, and more. Most of all I have been mindful, watchful, and for hours every single day I immerse myself into nature.
Three years ago a mother owl brought her babies here. Two years ago one of the babies returned with her own babies. One of those babies had an injured leg. After consulting a rehab center for owls they told me to send them video daily. They did not have to intervene. The mother and the sibling and the father all stayed with the injured owl until she was healed and could fly which ended up being six months in our back yard. It was not the norm, but the family stayed together until they were all healthy and flew away. The entire owl family took part in ensuring that the injured owl thrived. Last year the baby with the previously injured leg came back with her two babies and one of HER babies had an eye injury. Again, I contacted the agency and they had me watch the owlet. He had some sort of brain injury as well. He would catch a bird or bug but not know what to do with it. So, he’d just hold it in his hand. They did not leave my yard for 3 months. The slept, hunted, and waited. Finally, they ventured out into the neighborhood and for 2 more months came back to sleep here at night. They are still near us. His sister is twice his size and his parents are massive compared to him. But he survived. His sister often fed him and stayed with him. Even after the parents tried to give him time alone to hunt, the sister stayed by his side watching over him and feeding him if he cried. He cried a lot! They were incredible to watch. I saw him a few weeks ago. He is still small but he is healthy and his eye and brain injury healed completely.
After the owls left we put up a nesting box and a pair of great crested flycatchers moved in. A male and female who laid eggs and made their nest in the box. Then another female came. She made a nest on top of their nesting box. We don’t know why. They are not studied very much so the university and many others were very interested in my documentation of their behavior. When the female’s nest fell off the top of the nesting box, the original birds’ babies hatched. The original male and female allowed the other female to feed their babies. I watched and videotaped them for almost 3 weeks as two females and one male all took turns feeding the babies and watching over the nest. It was a beautiful thing to be able to witness. They all flew away together and have just now come back to our yard, just two of them so far, and we hope they will nest in the nesting box again. It was highly unusual for a mated pair to allow another female to feed their babies. Imagine the strong impulse and instinct they each must have had to want their babies to be safe and cared for.
Last night we went to check on a killdeer that is a small bird who lays her eggs on rocks in the wide open. Two of her babies had hatched and were running around while the mother and father were taking turns sitting on the last egg and trying to take care of the two who hatched and came out running. We sat for 45 minutes keeping people away from the nest while the mother tried to come back to her hatching baby. I watched while the baby was hatching all alone in the rocks as the mother tried her hardest to get back to the egg but there were too many people encroaching on her space, us included. The killdeer does a broken wing fake that is supposed to lure people away from her nest. She was doing this and it was heart breaking because so any people were there she could not get back to her baby. I finally stepped in, with my mask on, in my wheelchair, and told people to get back and stood vigilantly until the ranger could get there. I watched as the baby was hatching all alone. The mother and father then realized other birds were coming near their first two hatched babies that were running so they were running around dive bombing other birds near their two babies while the mom was coming back and forth trying to get to her hatching egg. They could not do it all. One of the babies was killed by another bird and the father was left to protect the last living baby as the mother flew back and finally landed on her hatchling. The ranger was there and everyone agreed the mother and babies would be watched until safe from other humans, as humans seemed to be an equal threat as the other birds. It was heart wrenching to watch both parents trying to save their babies, protect them. Heart wrenching.
As for the owl that had previously been in my yard, it was decided that the owl had most likely been accidently poisoned by being fed an animal that had ingested something poisonous. Something human beings had put out maybe to deter rats or mice or kill them that ended up being fed to the baby, or insecticides put down got on a frog or lizard that was fed to the baby. The eye ended up not being injured but just a symptom of the neurological issues the baby owl was having. I find it disheartening the destruction humans can do in their own need for perfection, vanity, and egos.
Last week the state parks were closed. In fact I ended up being locked in one because I was dropped off there while he went running and I went to photograph great horned owls and THEIR babies who I’d been photographing for 3 weeks prior. I had also been photographing bald eagle babies. One of the great horned owls, unknown to me had been poked in the eye by a parent and they eye looked all bloody. I had missed that few days (but was informed of it) and I was there at the park photographing and the babies looked perfect. Then they closed the parks and I was locked in there for hours in the rain and ended up just keeping on photographing until the gate could be reopened. The wild life association messaged me and asked if I had been out and taken photographs and I said yes I had and sent photos to them so they were able to determine the babies were both fine and since the park was closed they no longer had to be monitored. So, it ended up a blessing I happened to be there. I did get to watch them that day all by myself for about 3 hours. The babies were there alone while the father watched over the nest in a tree next to them. The mother was out hunting and eventually brought back food. The babies were so fumbling and falling all over each other it was easy to see how an injury to one of the could happen to each other or by a parent because they were flopping all around. Thankfully they all ended up well. Both the father and the mother sat with the babies, watched over and protected the babies, and hunted and fed the babies. Each parent loved and groomed each baby constantly as well.
Prior to all of the bird experiences, I was volunteering at sweetwater wetlands park when I started photographing the wild horse herd that had come over from Payne’s prairie. I always have my camera with me, but when the horses came over, I would advise the people to keep their distance and not startle the horses. They would often try to touch them or get photos with them which would send the horses into a stampede endangering me and them and the horses. I did not mind being able to help protect them while also being able to photograph them. The horse herd was the most incredible. There were two mares and a colt and a filly and a stallion. Each mare would nurse each baby so I never knew which baby was with which mother because they shared all responsibility. The father would stand by. You’d think he would just be eating and not paying attention but then he would go and nuzzle the mothers and the babies. The babies would often play rough with him, and not do this with the mothers. They would bite him and they would run together. The father would play with them and allow it but finally stop them from getting too rough. They all worked together. The two babies and the two mothers and the father. Then another horse appeared. She was allowed to join the herd. The rangers said they thought she was released by a person who did not want her anymore on Payne’s prairie and just made her way to the herd because she was very tame. As soon as she joined the herd, she became the official guardian. She would roll around on the ground like a dog sometimes and then appear to be napping but I swear she’d always have one eye open. If a person came anywhere near the herd she jumped up and snorted and stomped her foot. That was HER herd and no one was going to come near them. The herd got used to me and although I kept my distance, I think they knew I was there to keep people away. I loved photographing them and watching them. I figured since I was in a wheelchair, somehow their instinct knew I was never a threat. I think all animals know this. They trust me. The new herd member had this huge mat in her mane. All of the other horses looked like thoroughbreds. Shiny and flowing manes like they were groomed daily, but they were wild and free. They each had their role and they never left each other’s sides. They were bonded, loving, playful, protective, and a close-knit family. One day I was out of my wheelchair sitting on the ground watching them way out in the water when the one-year old colt walked out of the water. He walked up close to me. There were others around. My husband was sitting behind me. The colt walked up to me and stood next to me. He then bent his nose down and I looked up at him. He put my entire face into his nose and breathed in and out. I breathed in and out with him. It was like he was breathing life back into me. Like he knew I was injured somehow and wanted to help me. My husband took a photo with his phone that I have framed of me on the ground with the colt over me his nose on my face. A wild horse had just touched his face to mine. The colt then raised up his head and stepped over me very so gingerly and went back into the water. The mare and stallion then came up and looked at me and stomped and then walked closer and both just looked at me, seem to give me the ok, then walked back to the herd in the water. That very colt injured his leg a few months later and the state came to intervene and try to save him. He could not put weight on it at all. I sat with him for hours with another volunteer, keeping people from coming up to him. The female that had joined the herd also had a very bad leg injury. She could barely walk and the swelling and pus around her leg was horrid. The state did not want to intervene because these horses were deemed wild and not to be interfered with but these horses were both in bad shape. I talked to the rangers at length. They were unsure if these two would have to be put down or not. The state rangers came and rounded up the colt and other mare and took them to get medical help. After an entire year both have healed but both are so tame, they cannot be re-released back to their family. It was heartbreaking to know they could never be free again with their family but they were saved from suffering and death and so it was for the best. The herd was then moved back to Payne’s prairie by the state rangers for their own safety. Both mares were pregnant at the time and I have heard from others that they both have had their healthy babies. The mothers (mares) nurse their babies for years so the mothers are nursing their newborns and their 2 year old children as well. I miss seeing them but I am glad that the herd I grew to love so much is safe out on the prairie and living free of humans and harm.
There has been a theme among all of the families of animals I have observed and photographed and been blessed to witness in these last few years. They are loyal and fiercely protective. They stay with each other no matter the injury or the loss. There are no set rules other than loyalty, love and protection. Yes, most are known to stay with their parents for a certain amount of time until fledged and off on their own and YET time and time again I have seen families stay together for months after they typically do if one is injured or not fully ready to be on their own. These families of animals are 100 percent devoted to each other. They do not leave. They even allow someone to help if need be to make sure that the babies are taken care of. The parents will fight for their young. They work together to protect their young and each other. I’ve watched and learned what wildlife is capable of and have been astounded, amazed, touched, enlightened to the instinct these animals have and the sheer amount of love they have for each other. I have been watching them for five years now since MY actual family, all of you, have been gone. I have photographed moments of male cardinals feeding female cardinals just because they love them. I have watched eastern blue bird siblings help the parents feed the newborns. I have watched and learned about what family is supposed to be. It has been a heartbreaking comparison to the family that I was born into. A family that could so easily walk away. A family that did not fight, did not protect and did not continue to love and stay by my side. It truly is a heartbreaking comparison to feel.
I have struggled with illness and as my own health has declined, my muscles have atrophied, my bones have broken, and seizures have injured my brain. I have advocated and loved and pushed myself beyond my limitations to be there for my daughter. That is what love is. Love does not leave or abandon or put limitations on love and conditions. Watching the animals and supporting my own daughter and loving my own husband while he loves me back has really opened my eyes to everything that has happened. Everything that each of you chose all along the way. Not just now but in the past. Many truths have been revealed to me. It has taken awhile to process them; the things others have shared as well as what I have accepted on my own. The harm that was done to me by molesters as a child will never compare to the devastation and loss of a family that should have stayed by my side and loved me. I understand now that it is not a reflection on me at all. It is a reflection of each of you and your inability do what animals do instinctually in nature. Each of you have broken a piece of my heart in ways that only each of you know. I am blessed to have a husband who has no limits on the love, support, kindness and protection he gives to our daughter and me. I am blessed to have a strong will and spirit to push past my pain and illness to take care of my family and my daughter. I am most thankful that I can still go out each day and find the beauty and the light and the good and the joy in this world. And share it! I photograph something each day no matter what and post it on istock or instagram or facebook and show everyone who knows me that I do not give up regardless of my circumstances. I can be throwing up with a kidney stone and still be out taking photos because each day is a gift and I am living with no regrets. I am bringing joy to others. That is what we are supposed to do. Give love, compassion, protection, unconditionally. I do it every day. And although my life is full of obstacles, and struggles, and painful excruciatingly painful truths, I have perseverance and lived in only the truth with the intention of doing good, finding good, and sharing the good. I leave you all with your own secrets as they are not mine to bear any longer. I want nothing to do with them. Those who have them know what they are and know that I know. It has disgusted me beyond words what those secrets and the protection of those secrets left me vulnerable to. As this letter is being written to many I will not specify as you know who you are and what you’ve done. Secrets or not, each of you decided to not have me in your life. Some I have reached out to, try to call or message with no reply. Others I know my life is better without the toxicity and inability of you to love me as I deserve.
I will leave you with this…last night I was photographing indigo buntings, and prairie warbler, both bright and vibrant and stunning. Then to the side I noticed a tiny swamp sparrow who was standing on one leg. I thought for a moment he had one leg raised like most birds do. Nope. He only had one leg. He was out there milling about, eating, joining other swamp sparrows. He hopped and flew and landed on that one leg. I took a photo of him standing after landing on that one leg. I cannot imagine what he went through to get there, the pain and suffering. But he was right there on that one leg amidst all of these other brilliantly colored birds. And I noticed him. I saw him. I appreciated him. I marveled at him. I smiled as I looked at the photo later knowing that with all of the cruelty in life, there is always something good. I have not changed. I’ve always noticed the little birds on one leg, I’ve always noticed the glass water on the lake and the way the birds soared over it. I’ve always been me. It is a shame that each of you did not notice, did not see…me. You’ve chosen. That little girl, the teen girl, the adult woman, the mother and wife, the sister, the daughter. It is not shocking now to realize you never saw me and therefore cannot see me now. Just know I am living each day to the fullest. I am loved and accepted by many, just the way that I am. They know my heart. I know my heart. I know that I am special in that I notice things most would just walk right by. I value each moment. It is shameful that you all, each one of you, were capable of discarding me. But that is not my shame to carry.
I will go out and find something beautiful today and photograph it and share it. Just like I used to take care of the elderly in the nursing home, just as I used to take care of wildlife when I did rehab, just like I did as a little child loving the animals and my family…I will love and help others and animals like I had hoped I would have received from my own family but did not. I have always and will always remain a good person. I don’t know any of you. I don’t know why you’ve done what you’ve done, what your intention is or was, and I no longer care. I will find beauty to offset the ugliness that I have endured. I will continue to live without regret, full of passion and compassion and love and truth. One day, perhaps, you will be capable of the same.
This is the letter that I sent to my brothers and my father and my aunt. But mother, I’d like to leave this specifically for you. I’d like to write directly to you. Since in the past I wrote to my father and you assumed it was about you I want to be perfectly clear that this is for you. No miscommunication. No heresay or gossip. I wrote to my father five years ago and you made a choice. That choice to judge, make it about you, and leave me, destroyed me. The mother I knew my whole life would have come to this house and told me lets talk this out. You should have embraced me. I had just revealed the secrets of my torturous past that you all wanted to know. But you never came. I waited. And I became so angry. I sent back every photo of all of our family. I burned up every memory I could of you. You broke me. And I was angry beyond measure. I stayed angry for years until I realized that I was allowing everyone else’s narrative about me define me and it simply was not true. Like I said…I’ve always been me. You should have stood by my side but you didn’t. Instead you spoke of me to others lovingly and adoringly as if I were not, in reality, just dead to you. That’s what I am. I am dead to you. I went from angry to being so devastatingly sad. I no longer have a mother. A mother who is living and breathing. It is utterly devastating. I’ve seen these animals and the first person I want to all to tell about the owls is you. I’ve called you many times over the years but you never answer. My heart has been so broken to know I have a mother who…I have no idea who you are or what you think. I’ve cried night after night for years. Until I guess I can’t mourn you anymore. And then I hate you because I still love you and want my mother more than anything. Then I hate myself for wanting someone who has made me feel worthless.
There will never be closure because you closed a book that was only half over. The ending had so manny possibilities. So much room for growth and healing.
I suppose I will mourn you forever. It may be a part of you that doesn’t even exist anymore. That part that sewed my dolls clothes. That part that took me to dinner when I couldn’t drive and took care of my daughter and me so we wouldn’t feel alone. That mother that kissed me goodnight as a child. Those good parts. I don’t know if you have those parts anymore or if you only have them for other People. Please stop talking about me with nostalgia and sentiment to other people and making them think that somehow if I were to just “fix” this then it would be resolved. You and I both know that I’ve never stopped a resolution. It’s odd to know you are dead to your mother. I’d odd to know what to do with that. I’ve tried to overcome the years of abuse and ptsd oh and the diseases I have. But really mom, if anything kills me in the end, it will have been you. Because you were everything to me. And in the last five years it has been made painfully obvious I am nothing to you. I won’t even comment on your poor granddaughter. It’s utterly disgraceful that you as a human being could just cut off that precious child that adored you with all her heart.
Since there will never be closure I just wanted to tell you that I hate you for what you’re done and I will never stop loving you because you are my mom. But God only knows the pain you’ve caused. I wish you’d have chosen differently. You didn’t. And you won’t. So there will be this black hole forever I suppose.
I would die for my daughter. How I have a mother that would not do the same I will never ever understand.
Aside from all of the years of lying and stories and false narratives and illusions I just need to formally say…goodbye. If I am dead to me, I suppose you will have to be dead to me too. Goodbye mother. It was good while it lasted.