Gettin’ Back Into the Saddle

When Gene Autry sang his famous tune, “Back in the Saddle Again,” he was already comfortably atop his trusty steed. Me, well, I decided it was time to get my foot into the stirrup and start hoisting my ass back to where I need to be.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” wrote John Muir. Unfortunately, mountains are in short supply here on the New England coastline. But there IS wilderness to be found hereabouts. And one such wilderness spot is a place has been special to me since I was a kid.

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge occupies three-quarters of my home turf of Plum Island, Massachusetts. It’s a haven for waterfowl and other critters, and this animal craves the same peace and solitude that makes those animals love the refuge.

I used to wander around the refuge when I was kid: walking the trails, exploring the tidepools at low tide, picking beach plums right off the bush. I even got to know one of the employees when I was 8 or 9 and he took me to band ducks with him a couple of times (I later found the guy working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service up in Alaska…small freakin’ world).

A lot of the stuff we used to do is no longer allowed, but the refuge still offers up tranquility and bonafide wild nature — even among the hordes of birdwatchers for whom Parker River is a major destination. And it was in search of that tranquility and nature that I made the short drive onto the refuge this afternoon.

I sought that wildness because it occurred to me that I needed to get back to ME. In my life, I’ve been able to do that best when I’ve been able to focus — and that focus has always been sharpest when I’ve been out on adventure or driven by a (usually job-created) goal.

I like to believe I had that focus in spades last summer aboard Polar Bear; the evidence for that is contained in this blog. And I had that focus back when I was part of the team building Citysearch way back in the 1990s, and again when we were trying to improve the content side of Active a few years ago.

But it’s been two years since I punched the clock in San Diego, and just about eight months since Polar Bear returned to Newcastle. And I’ve been missing having that focus in my life. The fault is mine, I realize, but my point is just that when order is imposed on you externally, focus is easier to find. I’ve been working on some fiction lately, and that’s helped create focus in my life, but I’ve longed for some of that adventure- and job-created focus over the past two years.

So today I went for a small taste of the adventure-driven focus. I haven’t shot many photos since the Polar Bear journey ended so I thought that going for a photo safari would be a good kick in the ass. Rather than take several lens and go for a bunch of targets — scenics, wildlife, emotional scenes — I opted for one simple and likely goal: critters. So I grabbed my camera and my 300-millimeter lens and hit a couple of the refuge’s trails.

What resulted won’t win any awards but it did jump-start my psyche. Not surprisingly, I saw a ton of birds: herons, robins, jays, ducks, geese, crows…and a lot of red-winged blackbirds — including this one belting out a tune.

No mega-fauna, but then this is the East Coast; there isn’t much in the way of mega-fauna around here anymore. On the refuge, there are some deer, some red fox…and this muskrat, who stayed well hidden behind the reeds he and his mate were using to build a lodge in the marsh. But I got a critter eyeball in the shot so I’m puttin’ it here in this post.

It was mid-afternoon so I didn’t expect much, but just being out in the refuge was enough. To wander over trails and through ecosystems that go back to my earliest memories, well, that was adventure enough for this first day. Muir sought mountains for good tidings. I went for a barrier-beach island and it delivered good tidings…and a good dose of focus.

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