by NRCM board member Susan MacKenzie, PhD
At 4:25 on an early April Sunday morning the temperature was a chilly 24o, stars littered the floor of the sky, and the air was still as stone granite. I know this because my husband and I were returning from four hours of owling in central Maine.
As part of the Maine Owl Monitoring Project, a citizen science initiative, we travel a 10-stop route in central Maine in early spring, listening for owls. The joy and challenge of this activity is that it begins at midnight, and ends by 4 AM. While it is an effort to stay up that late—and early, the chance to be out in nature for the better part of four hours when most others are asleep nudges me to climb into long underwear, snow pants, woolies, and winter jacket every April. And I am never disappointed.
Sometimes, in pitch black, the yodel of loons cuts the silence. When temperatures reach a balmy 33o, spring peepers call in the season. Once we were blessed with the distant sound of migrating birds. Unable to see them, we knew they were winging their way to a nesting place up north. Sometimes, but not always, we hear owls as we stand still in the woods. And this time out, we hit an owling jackpot—a chorus of three Barred Owls and one Great Horned Owl regaled us for five minutes as we stood like sentinels of stillness.
It’s especially at these times outdoors in Maine, that I feel a deep kinship with the earth. My soul swells with awe and gratitude to be part of an ecological system that is so elegant in its design and function. For me, time in nature has spiritual meaning. It’s a chance to experience the “thin places” as the Celts call it—to befriend the unknown and revel in the mystery of nature.
When my children were growing up in central Maine, I shared my thoughts about the opportunities and obligations, and rights and responsibilities we each have to people and the earth. I still believe these words. As residents of this incredible state, it is our privilege and responsibility to protect the integrity of natural resources in Maine. If you have any doubts, I encourage you to spend a couple of hours outside as a new day is borne in early April. I promise you will be blessed in unexpected ways by the wonders of nature in Maine.