I’ll bet there are a hundred good hiking sticks in that patch of woods.”
“Look along the fencerows there; it looks like the red-winged blackbirds are back.”
“Boy, those blue jays are really in a dogfight with that hawk.”
“That blazing red maple sure makes a pretty picture against that white barn, doesn’t it?”
- Male red-winged blackbird
My statements like this as driver of our car got me grounded by my wife. They convinced her that my AFD is getting worse. My “Attention Fixation Disorder” really doesn’t bother me, but Marge has come to the opinion that the disorder is not good and could even be terminal—for both of us. “I have an idea,” she said, “why don’t you let me drive so you can watch nature.”
Actually, I soon found that to be a very good idea, especially in the spring when the outdoors comes back to life here in West Michigan. Did you know that the male red-winged blackbirds come north up to three weeks before the females? They do that in order to find, claim, and fight for the best nesting areas—ones near water and preferably occupied by dense clumps of cattails.
- Female red-winged blackbird
So in late March, the red-wing fights begin. The striking males with their bright shoulder patch of red and yellow stake out their claims with loud songs and then fight anything that approaches their claim be it other males, crows, hawks, or humans. Since being a tease was handed down to me by my father, I sometimes like to bug these territorial males by making a move across their unmarked boundary lines just to see how aggressive they might become. And let me tell you, once the females arrive, you can be sure your approach will be duly noted, protested loudly, and attended with skydives that stop about six feet short of your head.
Cold northern winters keep my disorder somewhat in remission; but come March, twinges of it begin to turn my head away from the potholes in the street and hard-packed ice still laying skid traps on the road. Which are the very things Marge believes I should be giving my attention to. But AFD is a hard taskmaster, and when it wants to attend to something, it will. So about the time the red-winged blackbirds return, my AFD returns as well.
Marge and I have learned to cope with it pretty well, I think: when wild nature comes into view through the car windows and my attention begins to fixate on its many facets, I simply allow her to drive. Because she is a good driver, we can both relax. She watches the road, and my gaze can stay fixed on the wispy cirrus clouds overhead, the deer grazing at the edge of a bean field, or a red-tailed hawk dodging crows near the horizon. Comments from the seat beside me about a Hummer behind being too close to our rear or the woman ahead who apparently does not have plans for the day are usually not enough to keep me from fixating on those parts of the natural landscape that always fill me with a sense of wonder.
See you outdoors!