Watch for signs. That's what mystics and people who believe there's another layer of knowing say when they talk to others about finding a way forward. Be still and watch for signs they say.
Hurricane Lee passed through yesterday and in the days leading up to its arrival, we noticed a lot of bird activity. Dozens of small birds swarmed the side yard—a herd of wrens?
And fishing boats all along the East Coast reported small birds—hundreds of them—flitting about their boats. Like nothing they'd ever seen, they said.
Maybe was the storm pushing them northward, maybe they're migrating.
For the past few weeks I've been looking for something to make. A hands-on project. Something that doesn't require a lot of new tools and isn't too difficult to learn or master. Something I can pick up when I need a distraction and easily set aside when I'm busy.
And above all, something that won't add inches to my waistline.
I'd been considering paper mache and got excited about cardboard sculpture, but couldn't (wouldn't) commit.
Until this week, when I decided to go with paper mache.
For two reasons.
1. We've been walking early in the morning and have stopped to talk with the man delivering newspapers. We've seen him delivering papers ... for years. Even had the paper delivered for a while. Last week when we stopped to talk, he gave us a copy of the Sunday paper. The following Tuesday he dropped a newspaper on our porch. I'm sure it's a soft-sell sales push to encourage us to sign up for delivery, but nonetheless, I was thinking about paper mache and had no newsprint (a crucial ingredient). Now I do.
2. And, then, once I had the newsprint, the birds appeared. They're everywhere.
Are these signs?
Who knows, but when I decided to jump in with a small project, I decided to make a bird.
Entirely freestyle. I'm not even sure what kind of bird it is, but I'm leaning toward a crow. It's taken days to get this far: build the shape, add strips of newsprint soaked in paste, let it dry overnight. Add another layer. Wait. Repeat.
It's a slow process, but it's rewarding to see the bird come together.
Once he's got his feet on the ground, I may commit to more ... unless, of course, there's a sign pointing me in a different direction.
What do you think? A coincidence or a sign? I'm not sure, but it's definitely more compelling to think of it as a sign.
If you're interested in paper mache, this is a good starting point. I'm using the glue/water mix. Seems easier and less fussy that the flour mixture ... and it doesn't spoil.
To see the paper mache process, paper artist Diana Parkhouse posts videos and offers advice. Her small-scale animals are a delight.
The CRoW in tHe
let iT aLL
hIGH and LOw.
I dON't KNow.
Me jUSt say ...
whAt a ShOw.
Oftentimes, there are events you want to capture, but as a stand-alone story, there's just not enough material to write more than a few sentences.
When that happens, try a narrative poem.
It's a storytelling form of poetry you can use as a tool to share snippets of your life. Moments in time that bring joy, clarity, or greater understanding.
I've never seen a playful crow ... they keep their distance, often conjure (undeserved) negative vibes, and perch and fly with purpose. Off-guard displays of preening and play are not common ... at least not in my experience.
I wanted to remember the crow and how such a seemingly upright, formidable bird let it all go.
It's a reminder to seek, observe, and remain open to discovery, surprise, and wonder.
And when there's not much to say, but saying it is important, write a poem.
I've never been a picky eater. Not really.
This is Jell-O Week and it reminds me of one of my favorite holiday treats when I was a girl ... my grandmother's jello, served with the meal, not after. She mixed fruit in with the jello, layered it with whipped cream, and served it in a parfait dish that was undeniably festive ... layer upon layer of jello and whipped cream visible through the clear glass sides of the parfait bowl.
Having a dessert-like dish served with the meal seemed so decadent ... even on a holiday.
My first experience with anything other than fruit as jello mix-in was with a gelatin meat mold that was served at a dinner where I was a guest. Pieces of carrots and sliced beef floating in the congealed gelatin. I'd never seen such a thing, and wasn't sure I liked what I was seeing.
But we were visiting and when it was passed around the table, to be polite, I placed a small spoonful on my plate.
One bite and I was done. Nope, not going there.
A more recent, and pleasantly surprising, gelatin dish I've discovered is coffee "jelly." Simple and refreshing.
Friday is National Cabbage Day and a friend has tried again and again to convince me that lime jello with cabbage is good. I'll take her word for it.
Would you or wouldn't you ... or have you tried lime and cabbage jello, whipped up a batch of coffee jelly, or served a savory gelatin dish? Share your story in a letter, an essay, or a conversation and see what gels.
It's Daylight Saving Time today ... and I'm reminded of my night in the house of clocks ...
When the cuckoo chimes
I once spent the night in a house that had a cuckoo clock and a grandfather clock ... and I didn't sleep a wink.
The cuckoo clock chirped every hour on the hour, and again every half hour.
The grandfather clock was set to strike four times an hour:
- every hour on the hour
- at a quarter past the hour
- at the half hour
- and once again at a quarter to the hour
I tossed and turned all night.
My mind reeling not so much from the different chimes, but from my inability to fix a pattern to the sounds of the cuckoo clock and the grandfather clock ... I didn’t know a grandfather clock sounds four(!) times an hour.
On one of our more recent walks, we scuffed through a walkway littered with pine cones. The kind of pine cones that hang from a cuckoo clock and make it tick.
My grandparents had a cuckoo clock with pine cone weights, and that cuckoo clock where I spent the night had them, too.
I’d always seen the weights and the clocks as one.
But when I saw so many pine cones scattered across the walkway, I saw them as the cuckoo-clock maker must have seen them, inspiration for the weights and keeping time.
I'd been down that path before. It's a short trail through the woods that loops out to a field and back again.
Just weeks ago, the trail was upgraded and I found myself looking at the ground as we walked:
- at the downed tree branches repurposed as edging
- the new wooden bridge that carried us over that always-muddy section of the trail
- at the (so many) mushrooms that blossomed after the rain
- and the changing foliage ... reminding me autumn is a cool couple of weeks away
It was entirely captivating until the trail took a turn.
A hard left in the middle of nowhere
When we rounded the corner, I glanced back over my shoulder. I'd been down this path before, but I didn't remember such an abrupt turn.
But it was there, clear as could be when I looked back.
And then I saw the sun ... casting light high upon the tree trunks. And farther on, the mist ... hovering over the field.
Was I missing the forest ... for the mushrooms?
While I was focused on the trail I discovered the mushrooms, signs of autumn in the leaves, and a squirrel sprinting across the path.
But when I looked up, I saw which direction the trail was headed, the light streaming through the trees, and the early morning mist.
And all of a sudden, I wasn't sure where to look, afraid I might miss something.
And it made me think the next edition of Tinplate: Birds & Birding.
The day before I was doubting everything about it. Wondering if I should toss it out and start over. Or forget the whole thing. I was deep in detail ... ruminating over homing pigeons, plumage, and migration. All the while, losing direction ... and all sense of why I started it to begin with.
Until the walk in the woods.
I realized I'd been looking down ... for too long. That it was time to look up, to review the project as a whole, check my bearings, and see where I was.
I started Waystation Whistle because I believe in the power of hobbies, passions, and distractions to help you (and me) tell a different story about your day.
I'm no birding expert, but by watching the birds I see in my neighborhood and doing a bit of research I'm learning more and more, and I'm hoping to encourage you to make a few discoveries of your own.
There's plenty of work to be done, but for now, maybe that's the answer for all of us: focus on the details to make whatever it is the best it can be, but remember to look up, too. To check in to see where we are and where we're going ... so we can spot the turn up ahead ... and the light streaming through the trees.
And maybe a bird or two.
It's been a week of bird sightings and activity.
I found a nest in the yard the other day. It was after a few days of strong winds ... winds that must have released it from its perch.
This morning we walked through the park and saw a group of people (a gaggle, or maybe it was a congregation) grouped together, all facing the same direction, looking up at a pine tree.
They were mesmerized by the great horned owl perched high above, with her two owlets(!) all fuzzy and huddled close together. In other words, a parliament of owls. Amazing.
And then there was the paddling of ducks down at the pond.
What's gathering in your neck of the woods?
- a convocation of eagles?
- a stand of flamingos?
- an ostentation of peacocks?
- a wake of buzzards?
- a peep of chickens?
- a muster of storks?
- a host of sparrows?
- an exaltation of larks?
- a colony of penguins?
- a wedge of swans?
- a party of jays?
I made this collage from old maps and a cancelled stamp. It occurred to me that when we look at a map, it's like looking at the world with a bird's eye view. I think we'll always need paper maps ... after all, what if there's no wifi?
Backyard birding - it's easy, free, and just outside your door. If you're looking for something to do that doesn't take too much time (an hour or less), take a walk, look, and listen.
Birds are everywhere ... in trees, on fences, power lines, and porches. Track what kind of birds you see—and how many. In my neighborhood, we’ve got blue jays, seagulls, pigeons, robins, cardinals, chick-a-dee, dee, dees, and sometimes, woodpeckers.
If you find you enjoy it, get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count. It happens every year—and you can take part.
Of course there’s no equipment needed for watching birds ... but if you have them, grab a notebook and the binoculars.
I'm starting in on my next book: Birds & Birding.
As I decide what to cover in the book, it occurred to me a mind map would be a good idea.
I'd love to know what you'd like to see in a book about birds and birding. Send an email, or post a comment and let me know.
And what about you? Do you create bird art, go birding, or have some other bird related activity you might share? I'd love to hear about it.
We heard the woodpeckers, but couldn’t see them, so I had to do a bit of research to capture them in this collage.
It was late April when we took our woods walk, when the trees were still bare. The woodpeckers were on my mind because we recorded the sound of them drumming ... today I figured out how to extract the sound from the video.
We're not sure if we heard a male and female, but I wanted to represent both in my collage because their coloring is different; the male has a red dot on the head, the female is pure black and white.
The Downy Woodpecker is a small woodpecker:
Length: 5.5” - 6.7” | Wingspan: 9.8” - 11.8”
The Cornell Lab has a great site, AllAboutBirds.com for identifying all sorts of birds.
Are the woodpeckers drumming in your neck of the woods?
I HeARd the CaRDiNal siNGing before I saw it
PerCHeD in the BiRcH tree
a CAt LOOkiNG At mE, LOOkiNG at iT
And, ONe MoRe SaP BUCket
tHat MaKes ThrEE
This is a throwback: a collage and poem I created a few years ago. It's still one of my favorites. You can see I was starting to use sheet music in my work.
It's also got a bit of shorthand mixed in: that line with the dot below it.
Do you know what it means? Morning. That simple line with a dot = a word.
Shorthand is a symbolic writing system used by office clerks and secretaries before voice recorders were available. I'm not fluent in shorthand. It comes from a shorthand instruction book I found at a secondhand shop. The book has an index, so it's easy to pull a single word.
It's like code writing because so few people still know shorthand. Don't you think it would be great for a secret diary or message? One big drawback, though, you'd have to learn shorthand to make it work.
And the poem?
I don't consider myself a poet, but sometimes I like to combine words with images to tell short stories. I don't remember now why I used upper and lower case letters for the poem, but it does make it interesting.
If you'd like to write more, short poems could be a starting point.
Not my hobby.
Even if you don't stick with it, a new hobby might lead to something else. I haven't done much more with poetry, but the collage was the beginning of a lot more collage work. I now work entirely with sheet music and really like collage.
Do you have a hobby that started while you were doing something else?
It was a bald eagle that started a conversation about feathers and that led to a discussion about finding and keeping feathers.
Do you know it's illegal to possess most feathers? It's true.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918) was passed to protect birds from being killed for their feathers.
If you come across a feather on a walk or hike, you can take photos, but it's best to leave it where you find it. There are hefty fines for possession.
If you do find a feather and you're curious about what bird the feather comes from, try identifying it. The Feather Atlas at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife is a good place to start.
Feathers and art
Feathers are symbolic of freedom and the presence of spirits. They are used in art and poetry.
Here's Emily Dickinson's well-known poem, "Hope" ...
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
The feathers at the top of the post are cut paper feathers I made from some of my painted sheet music. If you're looking for an activity, click on the image below to download and color or paint your own feathers. You can also use it as a template to draw your own, or cut paper feathers.
And if you do, I'd love to see it ... and maybe share it in an upcoming email or post. Together, we can inspire others.
Helping you write stories worth sharing.
Story prompts, every week.