Juvenile Song Sparrow (watercolour 5 x 6 in.) Sold

8 August finds me picking up another bird and stopping everything to paint its eye and beak. The feathers can wait until tomorrow.

This one is a juvenile Song Sparrow. Most of the birds hit by cars are young ones, not yet adept at flying, and also perhaps not smart about the danger of vehicles. The young of this year that will survive in proximity to roads will by next year have learned more about the need to watch for cars and perhaps even the wisdom of flying high across strips of pavement. The ones that get hit obviously are partly influenced by a genetic pre-disposition that puts them in the path of danger.
We notice a marked decrease in the incidence of juvenile Barn Swallows dead on the road. Whether that is evolution of car wariness or decreased population we don't know. All the "noticing" and forming of hypotheses Fred and I can do will not bring us the data that would be needed for testing the hypothesis, by us or anyone else.

For me, these days, stopping to pick up a freshly road killed bird or snake is an exception rather than the norm, even though I'm newly equipped to make precise digital records with my Blackberry phone - time stamped, GPS locations with a few words of notation, e-mailed in a moment to Fred for inclusion in the database. But there's still something missing....  the willingness to slow down and pull off the road! I still don't seem to be able to take the time when everything else seems so urgent and my life has a momentum that increasingly alarms and saddens me. I know that the more records we gather, the more useful each record is to science. The urgency for knowledge and understanding is growing as wildlife populations are under increasing threat from automobiles as well as from loss of habitat and growing instability of their environment.

Aside from the urgent need for knowledge, there are personal issues. The quality, usefulness, and enjoyment of my life increases dramatically when I can take the time to investigate and record my discoveries. I know that! I feel more human when I slow down to take notes and do a sketch. When I can't slow down I feel sad and even guilty, because I have the tools and the knowledge to do better. It is as if I'm turning into a machine driven by clock and calendar. So many of the things I've started get left behind unfinished, buried under the clutter of new projects. Flowers bloom and go to seed unpainted, amazing cloudscapes drift away, turtles and snakes cross the road unrecorded, and I've driven past feathery-looking objects countless times without stopping to see what they are and if they're fresh enough to paint. My eyes blur past them because I'm afraid that I won't have time to paint or sketch,  photograph or even take a note!

I'm grateful to this juvenile Song Sparrow for stopping me, holding me still for a while to admire its softness and study its details - and especially for reminding me that I must stick to my goal of simplifying, downsizing, and slowing down. Of course, "slowing down" is just a euphemism for doing things that are more important in the larger picture and for the longer term.


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