Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Walking With an Eye to a New Year

Sadie the Superdawg must have known New Year's Eve is a special day for a walk. Although she limped on the way out the house, she soon hit a smooth stride and insisted -- insisted! -- that we go off the neighborhood sidewalks and into an extended exploration of the wooded footpaths.

That is a little scary these day, what with reports of coyotes becoming more aggressive as well as a few copperhead bites. I really am going to have to start thinking about supplementing my walking stick with a little extra protection. I could stock the nice backpack I received for Christmas with some sort of legal weapon, plus a snakebite kit, some water, and a rain slicker. At least I did remember to carry my camera this time, but alas did not encounter any photogenic wildlife. We must have covered a couple of miles winding through the woods.

Back on the home front, the good news is that the birds finally decided, on this final day of 2013, to chow down at my new fire-engine-red, lantern-shaped feeder. Most of them boycotted for a week, but today a handsome male Cardinal was back, along with a Downey Woodpecker, numerous Mourning Doves, Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and House Sparrows. Oh, and some Robins were out and about, too. This return to good graces for we feeders of feathered friends sets up well for our participation in the 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count in February.

Looking back on this, my first year of senior-fitness blogging, I find that the blog is fast approaching 14,000 "views." I have posted each month of the year, with significant slowdowns only for my total knee replacement in April and my favorite team, the St Louis Cardinals, winning the National League championship and then making a good World Series of it against the Boston Red Sox.

All told, I have written 182 blogposts during this first year, and I am excited about the prospect of continuing for as long as I am able. I would blog each and every day, but I still do some free-lance writing for pay, and there are only 24 hours in a day.

By going into Google's blogger breakdowns, I was able to discover that my single most-read post of the year was "Of Peripatetic Hummers and Pesky Wasps" on September 4. Somewhat surprisingly to me, it had three times the views of the second most-widely read post, "Most of My Words Are Cheers When Cards Make Postseason (October 11)." Maybe some fellow Redbirds' fanatics ran across that one in a Google search. (I probably shouldn't have been surprised by the popularity of an analysis of hummingbird behavior given that these are among God's most fascinating creatures. Also I wrote about an angle I've never seen explored anywhere else -- the hummers' interaction with wasps seeking the same nectar.)

Tied for third place were "On Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Good Walk" (a January 11 look at how much Thomas Jefferson valued walking -- as well as Harry Truman in more recent presidential history), and "Enjoy the Ocean But Beware Those Rip Currents,"a July 8 piece I carefully researched in an effort to educate tourists about how not to get trapped by one of these powerful Atlantic outflows -- and how to escape if you do. I received some feedback indicating that the blogpost helped get the word around.

Some recurring topics through 2013 were life with a companionable dog, bird-watching and -counting, types of sturdy walking and hiking sticks, walking in all kinds of weather, walking for exercise and for weight loss, and of course making the decision to have the total knee replacement and then rehabbing hard to make it work. It has.

It has been a very good dawgwalking and blogging year. I look forward to 2014 being a even better one.

                                                     © Robert G. Holland  2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Up On the Rooftop: Not Saint Nick

After returning from some routine lab work for an appointment with my new doctor early in the New Year, I prepared to take Superdawg on an afternoon walk yesterday. Remembering the nice Christmas pictures we had taken, I thought about sticking the digital camera in my pocket. But then I thought, "Naw, this is going to be a quick walk on a dull day. The camera will just be a nuisance."

I almost always regret it when I think like that.

On the return leg of our walk, I looked on the roof of a neighbor's three-story house and spotted what I at first took to be some sort of stylish weather vane. It resembled a long-legged bird with an extremely long neck and an extremely long bill. Wait a minute -- it shifted its head left to survey us. It was a huge, gangly bird -- almost like something out of the prehistoric era. You don't see birds like this everyday perched on suburban rooftops.

Dumb me. If I had had my camera, I might have gotten a good shot and been able to make a more positive identification. However, after consulting my Sibley Guide and other bird books, I am about 90 percent certain that it was a Tricolored Heron. It had the colorful underparts, and it certainly was "extremely long-necked and long billed" while also showing signs of being "very active" (Sibley). With some squawking, it took flight from the rooftop to a pond just over some shrubs on the opposite side of the road. (We have ponds galore here in coastal Carolina.) This baby was a spectacular sight airborne, with its elongated neck seemingly stretching to Canada and its legs to Florida.

From now on, on days when my brain is functioning, I will bring my camera on our walks. The photos used here are courtesy of Google Images. They resemble the magnificent bird that Superdawg and I encountered yesterday. Today, we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk on another rooftop -- impressive, but not as spectacular as the heron, which was perhaps checking out waterfront lunching spots from its high perch.

                                 © Robert G. Holland   2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Where Have All the Birdies Gone?

Amid some hectic times a few weeks ago, I neglected to restock my bird feeder for a few days. Truth to tell, I also was skittish about striving to clean the glass-encased feeder, which had become rather nasty. We were having a cold snap and turning the hose on to wash it wouldn't have been very effective. And it definitely could not be brought into the house for warm-water cleaning.

So a few days before Christmas, I bought a brand-new feeder -- fire-engine-red and shaped like a lantern; pretty as a postcard picture from the tropics. I stocked it with black-oil sunflower seed, and topped it with some other fine seed.

The new lantern/feeder: Birds Hate Red?
And for days no birdies showed up. Had they all become so irked at my lapse that they had relocated? Even my prized Northern Cardinals are nowhere to be seen.

Yesterday, I spotted just one solitary chickadee perched on the magic lantern. Today, there were a few more -- sparrows and (I believe) a grosbeak. Still, activity is way down from the norm. The perching area around around the lantern is narrower than the old glassy feeder; could it be that the birds have checked it out and deemed it unsuitable for medium to plus-sized feathered friends? Or maybe they hate the bright red?

To be honest, I wouldn't mind if the Mourning Doves stayed off the feeders, and contented themselves with gathering the seed that has fallen to the ground. They are as big as battleships, comparatively speaking, and there are a lot of them. They crowd out some of the smaller birds.

I suppose gradually the feeding will increase again. I sure hope it will recover before the start of the Great Backyard Bird Count on Saint Valentine's Day.

Solitary Chickadee

Meanwhile, the Day After Christmas was a good one for getting back into the exercise groove. Superdawg and I took a brisk walk on a wooded path she insisted on taking. (I wielded my walking stick menacingly in hopes of deterring any coyotes that might be lurking.) Later, I did a vigorous 5-mile  spin on the exercise bike at the newly renovated workout room. The bionic knee felt great. Hopefully, many good miles walking, pedaling, and swimming lie ahead in 2014.

Along with many birds to watch, viewed hopefully.

                                           © Robert G. Holland  2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day: Slowing for Celebration

Preparing for Christmas is like running a month-long ultra-marathon. But on Christmas Eve and then through Christmas Day, the pace slows considerably, and you have time not only to enjoy home and family but to  ponder the meaning of the Child of Bethlehem and His eternal significance for our lives.

With all the rich foods available, it has been a challenge to stay on track with Weight Watchers, which I joined in mid-December. Candy, cookies, cakes, and pies are everywhere in our household this time of year. So far, I have managed to savor a controlled slice here and there, and to refrain from devouring whole leftover pies or anything so drastic as that. I actually have done pretty well so far. It definitely helps to have the discipline of food points to track.

Superdawg Lets Grandson Grayson Inspect Her Christmas Chew

Usually, I like to take a nice long walk on Christmas Day. But my walking partner, Sadie the Superdawg, had such a grand time with the toys Santa brought here that she went down for a long winter's nap. She had absolutely no interest in walking, failing even to respond to the magic word "walk."It actually feels weird to walk the neighborhood without her, so I got my exercise instead by mopping our kitchen floors in preparation for our Christmas Night family get-together. My daughter-in-law made her famous "Redneck Caviar," which is always a hit when we have a munchies meal. My wife made meatballs in a special sauce. We had fun.

Tomorrow I definitely will take a good walk, and I hope to hit the workout room also. Watching the joy of our grandchildren and our dogs on Christmas morning has been delightful, and there has been time to reflect on the profound reason behind all the celebrating. However, after watching a rousing Willie Nelson concert the other night, I am ready to get "On the Road Again"!

                                        © Robert G. Holland   2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Resolution: To Remain Resolved

What comes to my mind with regard to New Year's resolutions are gyms and fitness clubs that are jam-packed the first few weeks of January and then half-empty by February and sparsely populated in March. Losing weight and getting fit are among the resolutions most commonly made and quickly broken.

Over the years, I have come to believe that it is best to try to exert resolve each and every day to strive for improved fitness. Often we fall short and eat more and exercise less than would be best for us. However, it is more productive to pick yourself up and start over the next day, or as soon as possible, than it is to wait until it's time to make New Year's resolutions yet again.

Over the past few months, I became more careless about my eating (especially the late-night snacking, which is my biggest weakness). It didn't help that my community workout room, which I depended on for vigorous exercise to supplement my dawgwalking, was down for renovations, Sadly, I gained back the seven pounds I had worked so hard to lose during the spring and summer months.

Rather than waiting for the New Year to work on a correction, I joined Weight Watchers last week. Maybe that seems like the course of martyrdom during the season of cookies and eggnog, but I need a disciplined approach. It doesn't mean you have to forego all holiday goodies, just that you need to keep a close count. You can squirrel away your WW points, and spend some on splurges. I am using the online program for men, as opposed to going to weekly meetings. I respond well to computer-based  motivation and have too many meetings already.

I will let you know how it goes. I think I made the right decision starting in mid-Decemebr instead of waiting until New Year's Day.

                                                         © Robert G. Holland  2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Walking During the Christmas Rush

Christmas has been headed at us like a runaway locomotive this year, what with Thanksgiving falling so late in November. Superdawg and I have managed to squeeze our walks in between parties, and shopping, and decorating. That is not really the optimal way to walk, but at least we've kept it going. This morning was a little rough because when we set out at 11 a.m., the temperature was rising into the 70s, some 20 to 30 degrees higher than it has been on most of our late fall hikes. I should have brought some water for Sadie; she struggled a bit, but stayed the course.

Can it have been a week since I last posted here? That doesn't seem possible, but time has just been flying. The only bird we have seen of note in the past few days is an old friend on the pond: the Double-Crested Cormorant. This guy is an Olympic-class diver and a fisher who could compete with the Bass Masters. After the Cormorant has done extensive diving, it is fascinating to watch it perch on a post out in the middle of the pond and spread its wings for several minutes to dry its feathers. It is not the prettiest of birds, but it may be one of the hardest workers -- a blue-collar type.

Of course, Christmas is the festive occasion we eagerly anticipate. But looking forward to walking and outdoor events early in the New Year, we have February 14-17 circled on the calendar. Beginning on Friday, February 14 (St. Valentine's Day) and running through Monday, February 17 will be the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. This event is for bird-watchers of all ages throughout the entire world. Their reports of numbers of birds per species they observe either at their feeders or on their walks will help scientists distill valuable information about where bird populations are currently. You can watch just 15 minutes a day, or you can count as much of the day as you wish. We did it last year and had a blast. The project is led by some high-quality organizations, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, along with Bird Studies Canada.

To prepare for the count, I today purchased a new, tall and sleek feeder from Lowe's along with a good supply of black oil sunflower seed. The old glass feeder was becoming hard to clean. I can still use it as a backup. The new one is fire-engine red with a slick plastic surface that I think will be a lot easier to keep clean. The regular birdies at the feeder got miffed when I missed a few days of restocking (alas, even my Cardinals are AWOL), but I hope this will draw them and lots more birds of many varieties. And with our eyes raised to the treetops, we hope to spot, hear, and identify a lot of our feathered friends on our winter walks, too.

                                      © Robert G. Holland  2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Exercise Mind, Exercise Body -- or Both?

Confession: I have an insatiable appetite for books, magazines, and articles about physical fitness. Reading material about exercise and diet fills up my study, and also my bedroom, closets, and even garage. Am I therefore a sterling exemplar of fitness? No way, but I do try.

See the picture below? That's me doing chin-ups at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Just kidding, but I did go through basic training at Fort Gordon, and we had to swing through a monkey bar every morning at 5 a.m. before we could have breakfast. I couldn't do it for the longest time, so the sergeant on duty would eventually have mercy and let me have about five minutes to chow down. Who knew that one day Gov. Charles Robb would name me to the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for Virginia?

Recently I have come to realize that Science Daily, a rich source of research news, can feed me all the new fodder on exercise I could possibly digest. Consider just a small sampling of SD's recent and archived headlines (and guys, try not to be distracted by the next photo):

More Physically Active Adults Have Improved Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Total Amount of Exercise Important, Not Frequency

Exercise-Induced Improvements in Glycemic Control and Type 2 Diabetes

Exercise May Affect Food Motivation

Some Exercise Is Better Than None

Intensity and Exercise Duration LInked to Improved Outcomes for Heart Failure Patients

Moderate Exercise Could Be Good for Your Tendons

Exercise Provides Some Benefits for Depression

Exercise Linked With Reduced Prostate Cancer Risk in Caucasians But Not African-Americans

Aerobic Exercise Benefits Memory in Persons With MS

Why Women Have Greater Shortness of Breath Than Men When Exercising

Exercise Beneficial for Dementia

Aerobic Exercise Boost Brain Power, Review Finds

Long, Low Intensity Exercise May Have More Health Benefits Relative to Short, Intense Workout

And on and on and on go the studies, some of them comparatively contradictory, but virtually all telling you in one way or another that exercise is good for you.

If you want to read any of these stories, you can find them in Science Daily on my bloglist over to the right of this page.

I dearly love to read the latest (or the oldest) about exercise and fitness. The more time I do that, the less time I have to do actual exercises. (Just kidding -- sorta.)

I believe this kind of knowledge empowers us. However, we have to take responsibility for our own fitness quest. The motto in the photo below has it about right. A statist nanny cannot do it for us in a free society.

                                                           © Robert G. Holland  2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ducking Out After a Good Blood Draw

For our mid-day walk, I had a little more bounce in my step. I had just gotten some very good news from a doctor's visit.

To summarize: For two years, I have been regularly seeing a hematologist  at a prominent cancer center because of my doctor's concern about my hemoglobin level being in a steady decline. It had gone into anemia range and kept falling. It could be just an old age thing -- but what if it kept falling and falling?

Every six months, the specialist's nurses would draw my blood and the hemoglobin would be down a bit more -- not a lot, but down each time. It was a trend, and not a good one. If this kept up, the doctors said I probably would have to have a bone marrow test -- no fun.

Well, today, in yet another visit to the cancer center during the middle of Christmas season, I was apprehensive. The scales were not kind -- too much holiday eating. The nurse's blood draw was super-efficient. It could not have taken more than 30 seconds. So then I waited in the exam room to hear the news.

And was the news ever good! For the first time since they had started monitoring me, the hemoglobin number was up. And not just by a little -- a lot. A whole gram. That was about the happiest I've ever been in a doctor's office. They still want to see me again in six months, but it looks like the trend has been reversed. There is no certain reason. It could be a med we stopped at my suggestion. Or my thyroid level improving with the help of a thyroxine med. Or any number of things. Maybe I finally found a nutritional supplement that actually does some good, who knows?

So that's why I was extra-enthusiastic when slipping on Superdawg's leash for a good walk.

The crisp air and the sunny sky would have been enough, but as a bonus I saw a small bird on the pond that kept going under water and then resurfacing eight or 10 feet farther away.

It wasn't the Double-Crested Cormorant, the fishing bird about which I've written before. This bird was much smaller, and actually it looked like a duck. Could that be? Well, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck….dives like a duck?  Upon returning home, I quickly scanned my bird books and found that, yes, there are such birdies as diving ducks -- several different kinds of them, actually. They are usually called pochards or scaups, and they dine by diving under water. There are a huge assortment of them: marbled, pink-headed, Southern Pochard, rosy-billed, canvasbacks, tufted, and even the hardhead.

I don't pretend to know which kind of diving duck I spotted, but it was fascinating to watch. Maybe I will dub the guy the Southern Pochard until I take its photo and do more research. There is always some reward to be found in Nature if you keep your eyes peeled. And it helps to be in a good frame of mind, too.

                                                        © Robert G. Holland  2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Bit of Holiday Cheer at the Hospital

Hospital is not the place many people want to be for Christmas or New Year's. But a little holiday greenery and some smiling faces can make it a cheerier place than you might suspect.

Lately, it almost feels as though I've become a full-time resident. Monday night, our Mended Hearts chapter had its annual Christmas party there, and it was great to see 36 fellow heart-surgery survivors and caretakers laughing and having a grand old time.

Today, I did my Mended Hearts rounds visiting those now facing their own heart surgeries, or just recovering from them. You could sense a more festive mood than normal. The decorations, including even a full-fledged Christmas tree in the cafeteria, helped set that mood.

I have been doing these visits now for more than two years, so I am getting to know some of the hospital personnel as though they were my work associates, or even my brothers or sisters. I regularly chat with one of the physical therapists who first got me out of bed and moving after my total knee replacement last April. And I have a nurse friend who welcomes me each time I am on her floor in the Heart Center and helps explain to patients what Mended Hearts seeks to do for them as a support group.

All the trappings of the season brought back memories of a Christmas at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond 17 years ago when my dear wife Allyne was bravely facing a surgery scarier to me than heart surgery -- the capping of a brain aneurysm that had triggered a stroke a few months earlier. I remember being in a very quiet but brightly decorated waiting area, where I opened a devotional book at random and found a reassuring thought to help me frame a prayer for my loved one. The surgery turned out to be a success, thank the Lord, and today my spouse has the best functioning memory in the whole family.

So to me, hospital is a place that is about hope and that often brings cheer, especially when the miracles are occurring close to Christmas Day.

                                                     © Robert G. Holland  2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ring! Ring! Hello? Your Ear Speaking

Sometimes it may seem that my blog is mainly a catalogue of medical complaints. Well, this spot is all about traveling through the senior years, after all. Along the way, you usually pick up some "hitchhikers" in the form of unwanted medical issues. The secret of happy aging may lie in dealing with them calmly and efficiently, and dispatching them when possible.

My latest, which became more pronounced about a month ago, is a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears, the medical term for which is tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus). Let me say upfront that my authority for any information I present tonight is the Mayo Clinic, a source I greatly respect. I used to put WebMD in that category; however, recently they have taken a big government grant to promote implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. That promotional role makes them suspect in my book.

Anyway, tinnitus can be so difficult to deal with that some people seek counseling or support groups. By all means, do so if it is bothering you to an extreme degree. There is help out there. For my own part, I am perhaps fortunate in that I have dealt with inner-ear problems off and on for much of my adult life, so I am not freaked out by the symptoms.

At one time, perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, my inner-ear balance problems were so great that I had dizzy spells and had to sit at the outside seat on a back row in case I needed to stagger unnoticed out of church or a meeting quickly. A few months before my heart surgery, I had such a dizzy spell at home that I could't stand up and my family actually had an ambulance take me to the ER. There, my heart and other vitals checked out fine, and the ER doctor figured it was my inner-ear thing acting up again. To be honest, I think I had a panic attack that worsened the inner-ear symptoms. Now that I know what to expect, I can use relaxation techniques and cope.

A lot can be written about tinnitus, and I think I will save some of it for later. But let me mention some of the home remedies I have found. One is the use of masking sound that makes me forget all about it. Right now, for instance, I am writing this while listening to good bluegrass music on on iTunes. This remedy is available 24/7 and a most pleasurable recourse it is. In addition, for $20 I purchased a bedside sound machine from which I can choose among such sounds as the ocean waves crashing, a summer's night sounds, rain, thunder storms, and others. This little machine has been a Godsend. Whether my ears are ringing loudly or softly, I sleep much better with these soothing sounds. Even when my current episode subsides, I think I will use the sound machine as a sleeping aid.

Because stress can aggravate the problem, various relaxation techniques can help. Although I haven't had training in biofeedback, I believe it could help. Merely by coaxing myself into completely relaxing in my recliner (unclenching my teeth, taking deep breaths), I can feel the ringing subside somewhat. Another technique is to cover your ears with both hands, fingers pointed upwards, and thump your index fingers on your noggin 40 times. It usually makes the sound subside for a while.

My favorite remedy, though, is that bluegrass I've got going right now!

                                                         © Robert G. Holland  2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Walking Into the Teeth of Winter

It was 77 degrees (F) here yesterday afternoon. As pleasant as that weather was, it had the unfortunate effect of making us complacent as we started our morning walk today.

As Superdawg and I set out, conditions were overcast, but still balmy. However, as we reached the mid-point of our walk and started back home, a light mist turned to steady drizzle. And then we felt the cold front that had brought snow and ice to parts of the Midwest and Upper South starting to sweep into our neighborhood.

As we got wetter and colder, a lot colder, it occurred to me that this is the way you can get yourself in trouble when walking in the winter, even in South Carolina. Luckily we had less than a mile to walk in the cold, and wetness, and wind, but had we been farther away we (or at least I) might have risked hypothermia, a dangerous lowering of the body temperature.

My lesson learned: Even when starting in fairly warm weather, take at least a light jacket, perhaps in a backpack with a protein-rich snack and a bottle of water, when doing a wintertime hike.

I'm sure too much cold rain could adversely affect sweet old Sadie the Superdawg, too, but she again proved how hardy she is over the Thanksgiving weekend. After the big day of feasting, she became seriously lethargic -- drinking no water, eating no food, and standing up only occasionally and with great difficulty. My first thought was that she had eaten too many Thanksgiving table treats; however, she showed no signs of stomach distress. When we finally got her outside, she staggered off to the woods and just curled up in the bushes, as though she had gone there for a final resting place. That scared me, given that she has reached the average lifespan, about 12 years, for a dog of her breed.

The next day, my son discovered something I should have noticed. A tick had burrowed into the top of her head and has extracted considerable blood. I hadn't even thought about ticks being a menace in December; however, I had put the routine flea and tick repellent on her just a few days earlier. My son extracted this vile creature, making sure to get its head out too, and soon thereafter Sadie began to perk up. I knew ticks could transmit diseases, but did not know one could have this kind of transitory effect on a dog. And of course maybe it wasn't the cause of her lethargy; maybe something else was bothering her. Anyway, it is great to have Sadie now back to being my daily walking companion.

My son and wife have both occasionally asked me, in so many words, "You know, one day Sadie will leave us, don't you?" I suppose I do, yet I hope she will go far beyond the normal life expectancy for a lab or retriever. And in a way, I think her spirit will never leave me. We are inseparable.

                           © Robert G. Holland  2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Mended Heart Proud of His "Angel"

A huge event occurs on TV tonight. At 8 p.m., Carrie Underwood will star in a live performance of "The Sound of Music" on NBC-TV. I can't imagine the size of the butterflies in the stomachs of all the cast members about now. Can you imagine participating in such a tremendous show as this Julie Andrews classic on live TV? I am saying prayers for them all.

This is a special night for me because Carrie is in many ways an extra granddaughter for me (though I already have two wonderful ones). Or I could say, with not too much exaggeration, that this Oklahoma country girl is my special angel. You see, when I returned home from my February 2005 open-heart surgery, I practically lived in my recliner for months (except for regular walks around the house and short distances in the neighborhood). As I watched Season Four of American Idol, I became more and more conscious of the angelic voice of Carrie Underwood. I rooted for her week to week, and when she won it all, I was thrilled.

The musical awards she has racked up since then, from the Country Music Association to the Grammys, have been stupendous. But of all her many country songs, I most enjoyed the old-timey one she sang for one of the awards' shows, "San Antonio Rose." Another phenomenal performance came when she teamed with Vince Gill on a most memorable version of "How Great Thou Art." Her range of ability is amazing. She even rocked it out one night with Steven Tyler. She could sing the Manhattan telephone directory and it would sound pretty.

So tonight I am sure my special angel will be brilliant in "The Sound of Music." Listening to her does my heart good.

                                             © Robert G. Holland  2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How "Big Blue" Can Make You Less Blue

Life becomes like a treadmill set to the highest speed this time of year, and not every experience is conducive to holiday calm and good cheer.

Yes, there are many blessings and heart-warming activities. But at times it is hard to avoid a bit of the blues.

Maybe you remember a Thanksgiving or Christmas past and feel that the current experiences fall short. Perhaps you have lost a beloved member of the family or a close friend. Or someone special is sick. It is hard to avoid at least a touch of the blues in a season with everything is supposed to be perfect.

One of the great things about a daily walk is that it can snap you out of a funk in an instant. Today it happened when Superdawg and I spotted just one solitary bird perched on a stump in the middle of a pond. Oh but it wasn't just any bird; it was a Great Blue Heron.

This magnificent bird no doubt was engaged in what my "South Carolina Birds" book calls its stealthy hunting strategy. Typically, they spot a juicy fish or frog in the water, snare it with their bill, and then toss it in the air and gulp it down. Quite a sight! They are found all over the Palmetto State, but are less common inland during the winter. Here, near the coast, they are year-round residents. We are blessed! They are fascinating to watch as they hunt, and spectacular in flight.

I will never forget the first time I encountered a Great Blue up close and personal. It was when we were living in Richmond, Virginia, where I regularly ran with my collie/shepherd Bandit a mile to a heavily wooded park, then a mile around the park's trails, and finally the mile back home. When we rounded a bend in the backwoods, we nearly ran into this large bird that apparently was scoping out the stream just below the trail. All excited, I wrote an op-ed article for my newspaper about possibly sighting a rare Sandhill Crane in suburbia. A much more Nature-savvy friend gently let me know that it was much, much more likely that I had met a Great Blue Heron, a bird that is fairly common along the James River basin.

Anyway, being able to observe today's Great Blue in a much less hectic setting provided a big boost to the spirits. Sadie the Superdawg fell ill during the Thanksgiving weekend before bouncing back nicely, so it was a a joy to be walking her again, and experiencing wonders of Nature together. The holidays will be happy if we can keep on the move every day, alert to our surroundings.

                                                  © Robert G. Holland  2013

Birthday Thoughts on Armistice Day;  Marching on From Armistice Day... (Updating Veterans Day, Armistice Day, birthday recoll...