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Launching the next generation

June 19, 2012
By RANDY LEWIS , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

If you are able to sit quietly and observe the handiwork of Mother Nature this time of year, you will be abundantly rewarded. I know many readers lead busy lives and cannot afford the luxury of "doing nothing," which is exactly what nature observations may look like to the outsider. But busy people need the peaceful wisdoms that come to you when you're quiet and outdoors, maybe more than they know.

Here's what I've observed outside in the past week or two: wildflowers blooming in abundance. Yellow buttercups, lemon lilies, purple irises, bright pink wild roses, white daisies, brilliant orange Indian paintbrush and more ... colorful blossoms bowing in the late spring breezes. Ferns have unfurled and hardwood trees are fully leaved; greenery is everywhere we look in the forest. Snapping turtles have laid their eggs in the roadside sand. Woodland mammals like squirrels, chipmunks, and foxes are giving birth to this year's families. And birds' nests have successfully done their jobs; eggs have hatched, and juveniles of every breed are filling the trees with new life.


What it looks like

When I spy tiny hummingbirds at my hummingbird feeders, I understand that somehow my adult hummers have begun showing their offspring where the juice is readily available. And baby hummingbirds are exquisite miniatures of our tiniest birds, fascinating to watch every spring. How lucky anyone would be to be given the chance to see these delicate creatures on an ordinary day.

Blue jays are being raised in my apple trees. So are purple finches, chickadees, and red breasted nuthatches. In all cases, we've been able to watch avian parenting almost from day one. By the time the parent-birds bring their large "babies" to the apple trees where my bird feeders are, those youngsters have hatched from eggs, learned to fly, and honed their begging skills. Begging (for birds) consists of chattering vocalizations, shrugging and stretching of wings, and opening their bright-red throats hoping for an adult to deposit food. The baby birds sitting in the trees hunt for parents in the beginning, hopping and chattering closer, begging to be fed. But then, in a miracle of learning, we watch them see and tackle their own first seeds, and learn that this is how it is done ... holding, pecking, swallowing, and seeking more.

Eventually the "babies" stop hunting for a parent to beg from, and begin hunting for their own food. This is that season, where the young animals are learning how to navigate the larger world on their own. And they are doing it right in front of my eyes.


We do it, too

The applicable human lessons are abundant. Some of us are looking ahead to college and high school graduations. From early May until the end of June, families everywhere are looking at their offspring as they complete the final tasks of getting a degree. They have learned how to navigate the halls of their schools, the teachers' demands, the requirements for this or that, and have completed what's been asked of them. Graduations are launching points for what comes next, and are moments for us to acknowledge this.

We hope these graduates have also learned what we've tried to instill in them, our family values, what makes us a Lewis or a Jones or a Smith. We hope they have taken on wisdoms of their own, from their own experiences, whether by rite or trial by fire. We hope they have added it to the mix of family and school wisdoms. We recognize it's their turn to fly, to see what life out of the nest looks like. And hopefully, like new birds in apple trees, they will have learned how to feed themselves, solve problems, and protect themselves from harm.

We humans are animals of the forest just like the squirrels and birds. One of our jobs is to raise our young the best we can, before the world opens its doors to them. We teach them. We help them with homework, go to their games, teach them to shovel snow, and help them with laundry and food. When they are older, we sign loans with them, and take them to colleges, sometimes far away. Or we watch them join the military, build houses, or ride across the country on a motorcycle. We launch them, and we watch them go. Sometimes they come back, and sometimes they don't. But the Adirondacks are so peaceful and beautiful, most who have grown up here or gone to school here find their way back sooner or later.



If you get to spend a little quiet time outside this summer solstice week, keep your ears tuned to the sounds of birds teaching their young their family songs. Watch the parenting activity in the trees and bushes around our homes. If you happen to know a young person graduating from high school or college, offer your congratulations and wish him or her well.

We mountain people are proud of the job we do raising our young. And our hearts are allowed to soar as we watch them fly away, carrying a little bit of us inside them when they go.


Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.



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