Thursday, June 20, 2019

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge Review

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Wetlands at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Just recently, I have come to experience the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge in an entirely new way.  Instead of sampling the sanctuary like a temporary visitor, I have found my own rhythm of belonging.  In becoming a part of this vital place, I have been able to take in a much deeper level of sustenance.  Perhaps this is the real beauty of refuges.  More than just protecting and conserving natural resources for the benefit of wildlife, they can greatly nourish anyone who truly enters into them.  This is not so much a review of a tourist attraction, or place, as it is a review of learning how to let a place enter into you in a way that feeds your spirit.

As I turn off of busy Highway 160 in South Central Colorado this morning, I slow my vehicle's speed way down.  The two-mile approach to Alamosa NWR's Visitor Center is where I begin to align my pace with that of the natural world.  Opening all of my windows, I breathe deeply and feel the gentle breeze and soft rays of the early morning sunlight on my face.  Reaching into my camera backpack, a palpable sense of anticipation rises up to meet me.

I start counting telephone poles.  There he is, as always, on pole number seven.  My greeter.  Here's where I admit that I don't know what kind of hawk he is.  At some point, I will pull out a book and ID him, but I'm not obsessed with that right now—which is unusual for me.  In the past, I would have immediately wanted to know his name.  The new me has a different agenda for coming to know him.

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge sign
Sign Marking Entrance to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Off to my left, I pass ANWR's entrance sign.  My morning's soundtrack changes dramatically.  Gravel pops and pings as it ricochets off the bottom of my red Sport Trac.  In my left ear, a meadowlark's lilting aria floats in thin air.  Simultaneously, my right ear picks up the raucous rap of a Marsh wren.  Ahh... the concert has begun, and like a children's preschool program, the singers won't necessarily be bringing their voices in on time or in perfect harmony.  These voices, like their creatures, will do their own thing, and it will be chaotic at times, but gloriously so.

killdear bird
Star Actress in Today's Theater Production of "Fake Broken Wing" - Mama Killdear
Slowly, slowly I creep along the entrance road hoping for an iconic doing-the-splits photo of one of those boisterous wrens.  Suddenly, without warning, a theater production of Fake Broken Wing opens up in front of my vehicle.  The chorus erupts into: kill dear, kill dear, kill dear.  Whoa!

Good thing I am driving about half a mile an hour (my typical wildlife-photographer-on-the-hunt speed).  A pair of killdear parents have young chicks attempting to cross the road without first looking both ways.  I've never seen baby killdears until this very moment and they are perfect in every way.  Oh, the wonder!

baby killdear
Baby Killdear - Cuteness Overload
The teacher in me wants to play crossing guard and get those precious babies across the road.  Children... it's not safe.  Hurry!  My heart pounds when I think of how easily these young ones could be run over by a car.  Relief floods me when I silently count the chicks now on the opposite shoulder of the road.  Five.  Phew!  They all made it.

Now, as I'm attempting to photograph the family from my vehicle, they launch themselves, in true killdear form, into what the former athlete in me recognizes as Fartlek (I do not make this stuff up) training.  Imagine seven photographic subjects, all going in different directions, speed walking for several steps, and then briefly pausing before sprinting away in the opposite direction.  I try to anticipate when and where those slower intervals will take place and press the shutter button in an act of faith.  This is living in the moment.  Talk about exhilaration!

It's time to roll on down the road.  I never want to stress the wildlife by overstaying my welcome.  You learn to take the gift they give you, and with good grace, give them the breathing room they need.  If I drove out of the refuge right now, my day would be complete.

mule deer buck
Young Mule Deer Buck With Antlers in the Velvet
What I am learning about this refuge is that there are layers you must peel back to get at the true essence.  You can't be in a hurry, and to get the most out of a sanctuary experience, you want to use all of your senses.  Long before you see something spectacular, you are most likely going to hear it, or feel its presence—that is, if you nurture your inherent sense of awe and wonder.  Anticipation and stillness.  That is the intersection where the marvelous can, and will, happen in this place.

The other thing is this: Don't just look for the big magnificence.  Often, the most delightful splendor comes in the tiniest of packages.  While there will be crowds at area refuges during the seasonal Sandhill crane migrations, or when elk herds are moving through, it is in the smaller, and yet equally mesmerizing annual voyages of say, butterflies, that one may become immersed in transcendent moments.

nature trail sign
Walking is the More Intimate Way to Experience the Refuge
Right now, with the wildflowers in full bloom, so much teeming life is taking place in the ditches and meadows of the sanctuary.  This is the time to walk the two-mile nature trail (although I found it temporarily closed today due to the Rio Grande's flooding and the presence of the endangered Willow flycatcher).  There is so much beauty right underfoot.

yellow-headed blackbird
Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Any time I enter the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, I know that an initial assessment of what's going on will vastly underestimate the real activity that is taking place.  I watch first-time visitors quickly drive the three-mile auto tour loop and leave.  I imagine them saying, "Nothing but blackbirds."  Sadly, they have missed out on everything.  I was once that visitor.

In my ongoing evolution from refuge visitor to a sort of artist-in-residence, I can easily spend all day immersed in nature's artistry.  There is an art to being both a witness to, and a player among, the many moving parts of a wildlife refuge.  I believe the natural world reveals most of its brilliance to those who honor the gift-giver.  And I think the honor is in how we pause and pay deep attention, with reverent awe, and a true sense of gratitude.  There is honor in not taking for granted any creature, no matter if there are thousands of them, and no matter if they are present year-round.

yellow warbler
A Glow-in-the-Dark Male Yellow Warbler With a Mouth Full of Insects
american coot babies
Dr. Seuss Chicks - American Coot Babies - Wow, Just Wow!
Today, some of the generous gift-givers have been, in addition to the wondrous greeters I have already mentioned, the lovely Yellow-headed blackbird, the brightest colored warbler I have ever seen, three curious Mule deer, various larks, an amazing porcupine, the Dr. Seuss chicks of an American Coot, a sweet-voiced flycatcher, two American bitterns (listed as uncommon for the refuge), a garter snake (true confession: earlier in my life I would not have put snakes on the gift list), teal ducks, Mallard ducks, a Pied-billed grebe, numerous swallows, and way too many others to note in this limited space.  They know who they are and they know that I revel in their presence.

To miss a day at the refuge, is to miss out on the unfolding of thousands of tiny miracles.  I've found there is no slow season when it comes to the miracle of life.  Any time I find myself drinking in sustenance at the oasis we call the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, is the time of my life.

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Water is the Lifeblood of the San Luis Valley's National Wildlife Refuges
I encourage you to find your own little oasis where you can soak up the refreshment to be found in spaces that rehydrate the spirit and soul.  Where we find our sustenance, we find everything we need to thrive and grow into the fullness of our own being.  When that happens, we become the refuge that attracts others into our nourishing space.  Being the place, or space, others want to inhabit—isn't that the high calling?

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  1. Oh, Diana, this is soul-filling, indeed, even though I'm experiencing it second-hand through your eyes and your words! As I came to each successive photo I thought, "No, THIS one is my favorite!" - only to have it displaced by the next exquisite freeze-frame of nature's inspiring loveliness. Thank you so much, my friend!

    1. Soul-filling... thank you for affirming and feeling what it is I was trying to convey. You always know the right thing to say to perfectly make my day.

  2. Beautiful, Diana! Not just the photos, you always captures gorgeous pictures, but your words. You remind me of how much this earth offers us if we will simply slow down and breathe. It is always a true gift when we cross paths with one of God's glorious creatures. The baby killdeer is precious, as is the young mule deer. The birds are always like miniature paintings sent to delight us, each lovingly painted by our Father.

    1. Yes... slowing down and breathing... recognizing the gifts we have been given... all of this is essential. I didn't do as much of that as I should have earlier in my life. I'm so thankful I have this now to catch up on all that I was missing before. Thank you for lifting me up with your thoughtful reflection on what I shared. Always appreciated... you!

  3. Diana you are my kindred spirit. What beauty you have uncovered for us. I am walking with you taking in all the sights and sounds. Like you I think that my being a little older has made me stop and "smell the roses" so to speak. What glorious beauty there is for all of us, if we just stop for a moment and drink it all in. Thank you for this lovely tour of a great space to enjoy.

    1. It is wonderful to be a kindred spirit with such a lovely individual... you. Thank you for walking alongside me to take in the glory. It seems many of us need to mature into the kind of pace that allows for soaking in the day's splendors.

  4. Diana, What an amazing inspiring read. As I read this I felt like I was right along side of you taking it all in. You have a real talent for bringing nature to life with your writing and photos. Thanks for giving me inspiration for the day.

    1. I love that you felt right there in the moment. That is what I was hoping for. Thank you for your kind and generous words. Always appreciated!

  5. Wonderful review...I love your narrative and your fantastic photos! Well done. Looks like an awe inspiring place!

    1. That means a lot coming from you. I know you understand the pull of a place like this for a photographer. It's a bit tricky to get good photos because you can't really get out of your car, swim across the canal, and set up for a photo shoot. You take what you are given. Often, the light is behind the subjects and you cannot position yourself where you need to be. Still, I am happy to be in those moments, and to photograph whatever moves me just to have a reminder of what I felt.

  6. Diana, by so beautifully sharing the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge with us through your outstanding photographs and delightful word descriptions, you have provided me with a 'Sanctuary of the Soul'. My own inner beat showed down as I began your descriptions in words & photos and left me with a quiet peace by the end.

    1. Sanctuary of the Soul... beautiful! Love that. Love that you felt that quiet peace. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

  7. I loved your approach to this post. I felt a kinship with you as you slowed down and prepared your heart and mind for being part of this refuge. I think I would love to walk that nature trail. I delight at seeing any creature when I'm out walking (well maybe not a poisonous snake), even something as common as a lizard. Like you I want to know every creature's name, but I often don't -- especially if it has feathers. I'm always into the bird field guides when I get home. Thank you for a delightful experience.

  8. Thank you for appreciating my different approach on what it means to truly be a part of a place. I think you would enjoy that walk along the Rio Grande, although you would need a snorkel mask and fins right now. The river is really high--higher than it has been in a very long time. Normally, we average only seven inches of precipitation annually (this is the high desert). Due to a good winter, with an exceptional snowpack, we are currently being inundated with an abundance of snowmelt. That is a good thing. I find the hawks tricky to identify most of the time. The best I can do is to try and get a decent photograph so I can look them up in my guide. Some are easier to ID than others (in the field). Thanks for sharing in the delight.

  9. Stunning photography and beautiful words too. I've been there many times and agree it's magical there.

    1. How cool is that? I love that you have spent time here. Thanks for letting me know you think it is magical, too.

  10. Diana, this is a wonderful, wonderful post. Both the writing and the photography. I LOVE how you intentionally slow down and observe. From the large beautiful things to the smallest. That is very much how I am at The Shack - and becoming even better at slowing down and being a part of "it". I've planned to describe the experience but it's hard to find the words. I love your description. Yes. I agree about the importance of finding an oasis. And I'm glad that you found yours.

    1. Your words will find you there at The Shack. Sometimes they just have to percolate for a while. When I first planned this post, I didn't have these words yet. I just knew I wanted to draw others into the beauty and wonder. Thank you for sharing the resonance. I have no doubt your oasis will continue to transform you in powerful ways.


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