Outdoor therapy

natural remedies for a downhearted mood

One day recently, I was feeling quite grumpy, disgusted, annoyed, and getting down-hearted, so I decided to cheer myself up by thinking about ‘a few of my favorite things’ that happened in the past couple of weeks.

On Hearthside’s annual author’s cruise, a humpback whale put on a fabulous show. She swam along a shore, pec-slapping vigorously, and then turned around and did the same coming back—sometimes flailing both pectoral fins at once. Then we saw that she had a calf alongside, and the two of them breached repeatedly. They were attended by several sea lions, who jumped and cavorted in and out of the waves created by the breaching. The show had everyone on board in a state of happy fascination.

A trip up Gold Ridge above the tram was a good one, despite the heat that had me just creeping along. The marmots were, sensibly, dozing in their cool burrows (unlike Alice falling down a rabbit hole, I did not fit the burrow entrances—too many cookies, perhaps?). Bumblebees were busy, attending to the tiny blossoms of alpine blueberry growing close to the ground in a tight mat. The alpine zone was a sea of flowers (I counted over twenty kinds, including one that was a complete mystery to me). An American pipit perched on a hot rock, overseeing his nesting territory of alpine tundra and rocky outcrops. Two male rock ptarmigan showed off their brilliant white plumage in soaring flight displays from one rocky tower to another, cackling all the way—still looking for ready females. As the afternoon breezes picked up, ravens began to play in the air currents, sharing air space with hang gliders.

One day I sauntered around some muskegs with a friend, just seeing what we could see (a most enjoyable occupation!). Even though the ponds were mostly dried up, a few held some stubborn water striders, and the mud held evidence of the passage of jays, squirrels, mice, and other small beasts. We noticed a fly bearing an irregular yellow patch on its back, perhaps pollen from a floral visit. It found another fly, which obligingly spread its wings and allowed the first fly—now clearly a male—access to her rear end. They copulated for several minutes; through his beautiful, translucent blue abdomen, we could see his internal organs moving. Together they moved around in the low vegetation; eventually she brushed him off under a twig.

The beavers seem to have returned to Steep Creek, after an absence of several years. We had seen beavers visiting the lower ponds, but this time it looks more serious. The broken dams have been rebuilt and a friend watched a beaver collect a huge mouthful of grass and carry it toward the old lodge. This made me wonder if the grass might be bedding for a young family. There is hope, then, that the beavers may restore the upper dams as well, creating ponds that trap sediment, provide fine rearing habitat for juvenile coho and Dolly Varden, and good foraging habitat for birds. In the past, the sockeye and coho salmon that spawn in this stream proved themselves quite able to surmount the previous dams, and there were good populations of both species in the creek.

The rains came! Not, this time, a source of gloom but of gladness! May was a drought month in Juneau, with very high temperatures on several days. Muskeg ponds dried up, lichens and mosses got crispy, and streams turned into trickles. But the soft rains in early June brought lower temperatures and turned Juneau into its usual lush, verdant self; the creeks flowed again. (And now we are ready for some more sun!)

There, that’s a list of good things observed. Thinking about all that, I found that I was still grumpy, disgusted, and annoyed—oh yes—but it no longer got me down-hearted. Good stuff!—simple things for a simple mind, maybe, but equanimity was restored!

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