by Merry Palmer
Early in April, Ted and I explored the south side of Recapture Reservoir with our cameras. We felt a sense of wonder as water poured in from Johnson Creek and Recapture.
The peninsula had once again become an island, and the old highway disappeared beneath muddy waves.
Wildflowers cloaked the area, and although we spotted a lot of wildlife, we mostly tried to photograph the ancient-looking pelicans, ibises, and herons.
The American white pelicans with their knobbed beaks, enormous throat pouches, and snowy feathers stood out against the murky water. The pelican not only looks ancient, it is prehistoric with fossils dating back 30 million years.
Helping it survive for those many years, its unusual physiology features the throat pouch and tiny, flexible tongue which together create a creel for catching fish.
It also has air sacs along its skeleton and under its skin which provide buoyancy, heat insulation, and efficient aerodynamics.
Although experts don’t know how a pelican inflates the air pockets, it keeps them expanded by closing its glottis, the space between its vocal chords.
The pelicans we saw were no doubt resting, feeding, and gaining strength before migrating northward.
Ibises, too, are ancient with fossils dating back 25 million years. Ted and I first spotted white-faced ibises some years ago on a small pond along Blue Mountain Road though they also feed on irrigated fields to the south and at Recapture Reservoir.
They are wading birds with long beaks that curve downward to probe mud and shallow water for insects, fish, and frogs.
Breeding season produces potent changes in their appearance: Their stilt-like legs turn reddish, white feathers border their red eyes, and their plumage glimmers with purples, reds, and greens.
Revered in ancient Egypt, they represented Thoth, a god referred to as the “Lord of Divine words,” so Thoth is sometimes depicted with a man’s body and an ibis head.
The Egyptians mummified ibises just like humans, and thousands of bird mummies have been found in necropolises. The ones we spotted on Recapture Reservoir were fortunate not to be so revered and busily searched for food before heading on to better nesting grounds.
Summer residents, three herons guarded their nests in tall cottonwoods near the water. Like the pelicans and ibises, they are of prehistoric origin and resemble pterodactyl fossils, some of which even sport “S”-shaped necks.
Heronies, the herons’ nesting areas, may contain as many as 500 nests, but the one in Recapture is modest in size and near rich feeding grounds.
We viewed it from afar since herons sometimes permanently abandon their nests, including their eggs and chicks, if they spot nearby predators.
As we continued to investigate the area, I was filled with gratitude. Gratitude, of course, has been taught by spiritual leaders for eons, but its benefits, which include better physical, mental, and emotional health, have now been scientifically documented.
I first read about radical gratitude many years ago in Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place.
Because her family used their home in Holland to shelter Jews, Nazi soldiers captured her and other family members, incarcerating them in various concentration camps.
She and her sister Betsie were able to stay together even when they were shipped to Ravensbruck, a women’s extermination camp.
Although the guards stripped, searched, and confiscated their belongings, Corrie miraculously smuggled a sweater, a vial of vitamin oil, and a Bible through the “processing lines.”
Then, the soldiers herded her and Betsie into a common cell with women from other European countries. The humiliation, meager rations, and forced labor were hard enough, but the straw in the cell was also infested with fleas.
Nevertheless, Betsie insisted they give thanks “in all circumstances,” including the fleas. Corrie rebelled, but because she adored her sister, she finally prayed her thanks for their tormentors, both insect and human.
They held regular Bible studies with the women in their cell despite tremendous danger, differing religions, and language barriers. Much to their surprise, they did so without interference. Later, they discovered the reason for the privacy – the guards did not want contact with the fleas.
Although Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were devout Christians, gratitude works in all cultures and situations as long as we acknowledge a source outside ourselves.
In fact, when people are consistently grateful, MRI scans show greater activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area associated with learning and decision making, a change some experts believe may be permanent.
While I was still teaching, my students and I wrote brief gratitude journal entries. I didn’t scientifically document the results, but I discerned a change in their attitudes, behaviors, and learning ability – and in mine as well.
Because of its profound impact on so many facets of our lives, the thought occurred to me: What would happen if an entire family, an entire school, an entire community, or an entire county were grateful?
Certainly, with the rising waters, the flourishing plants, and the remarkable wildlife, we all have reason to be thankful, and it could change our lives.
Deepak Chopra says, “Stop being stuck in conflict. To be in the light, you must open yourself to it which is different than constantly struggling against the darkness.
“On the path, gratitude is like a flashlight in the dark forest. It doesn’t matter if the night extends for miles in every direction. All that matters is the next step you see ahead of you.
“You can start on the path wherever you are.”