Nature Connection: Humbled By Nature

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustration

It doesn’t take much to make me feel humbled by nature. Standing by a sea riled up by wind and current, listening to tall trees swaying and creaking or watching rivulets of rainwater spread and flow anywhere they want, when they want; all these things give me pause. Throw in a sunset or two, a starlit night or the flight of birds through the dunes and I’m convinced. This nature thing is way, way bigger and more powerful than we’ll ever hope to be.

The past week of rain and wind kept many of us indoors. We slogged our way through puddles and dark days to get to work. We listened to rain pelt our roofs and wind moan and beat at our windows all night long. We sat in traffic while our windshield wipers sang a rhythmic song without words. A good week for ducks, some said.

Ducks, however, were unimpressed. In reality, ducks don’t care for rain any more than we do. They can stand a certain amount of dampness due to some oil on their feathers, but that oil will only do so much. Imagine sitting outdoors all day long in a water repellent jacket. It will keep some rain off until it becomes saturated. Then you’ll get cold and damp. Ducks and geese are like that. No amount of preening and oiling will keep them dry in a weeklong rain event. They must seek shelter just like the rest of us. Their feathers aren’t waterproof, just water repellent.

This is true of most animals and birds. They can stand a fair amount of bad weather but eventually they must seek shelter. Hunger will force them out into the wind and rain and some predators even benefit from the discomfort their prey may be dealing with. Coyotes are known to hunt in stormy weather when deer and other animals are at a disadvantage. If you have bird feeders, you’ve probably seen birds dart in and out, trying not to get soaked. You may also have noted that hawks become very vigilant during inclement weather.

In the sea, waves can become violent and unpredictable, tossing about in ways that seem dangerous to the life underwater. Although some animals can no doubt be tossed about in dangerous ways, others seek deeper water beneath the waves until the storm passes by.

Seabirds suffer a lot during big storms. They can be blown on shore where they are helpless. Many pelagic birds, such as gannets and dovekies, cannot walk well enough on land to take off and fly. They become grounded, in a very real sense of the word. This can cause starvation if they don’t succumb to exposure first. Our wildlife rehabilitation places have been overwhelmed with stranded, injured and debilitated seabirds over the past week.

For animals seeking winter shelters, all this rain can have devastating effects. Burrows that would otherwise be safe from average weather events can become flooded and deadly. Snakes, chipmunks, groundhogs and mice can all be negatively affected by this.

Insects that have laid eggs can also be in harm’s way. While some, such as mosquitoes, are quite happy with wet days and nights, most can only tolerate just so much rain at a time. Winds move things around as well and eggs planted in one place may very well end up in another.

Seeds that depend on wind to be dispersed can end up in all sorts of unexpected places, many of which may not be hospitable. Don’t be surprised to find surprising new weed friends in your yard next spring. Some are brought in by birds and other animals, but others will have blown about from all over in storms like these.

Reports of wildfires, tornados, hurricane force winds and severe drought fill our news day after day. If you aren’t feeling a bit humbled by nature, perhaps you don’t get outdoors enough. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded we aren’t the only players here on the planet we call home. Reminding us of her power now and then may be nature’s best chance for survival. Without her, we won’t survive either.