Nature Connection: Fighting Off Ennui

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond photo

When I sat down at the computer to write my column this week I found myself gazing out the window at nothing in particular in a sort of stupor. My brain had gone silent, my thoughts had vacated and even my eyes didn’t seem to be working right. I had the energy of a sloth and to be fair, that may be underestimating the poor sloth.

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced ennui in the last few months but was probably the most severe. I went to bed at 10 o’clock in the morning and slept for a few fitful hours. It didn’t help.

The garden beckoned. Why is it weeds grow about five times faster than vegetables? It’s an endless battle but it kept me busy for a while. Then I gave up.

In my yard it is the time of baby birds. There’s a family of robins, another of cardinals. The young mockingbirds are nearly grown and independent now and it appears that a new family is in the making already. There’s a catbird nest that recently hatched babies and an oriole nest high in a maple that overhangs my yard.

There’s been some drama between a crow and the orioles, but all the neighborhood jays, grackles and orioles gathered to ward it off. Their efforts appear to have been successful, at least for now, and the orioles are still feeding little ones.

Usually getting outdoors is an instant cure for me but the confluence of abundant weeds and predatory birds made me sigh and wonder, what’s the use? This isn’t my usual response, so I suspected I was succumbing to ennui, a word I’d never used before the dread disease and all its effects settled in a few short months ago. I’m a true optimist and yet my optimism seems to have departed over the last few weeks.

A walk on the beach was self-prescribed but even that felt lackluster. The sun had retreated and so had the tide. The sand looked gray and dull, the water a steely shade of blue usually reserved for winter or early spring. At least the beach roses and beach peas seemed cheerful.

There were two nests of piping plovers with eggs and a few dozen least and common terns swirling and swooping over their preferred nesting areas. About half a dozen crows stood by and as I walked I found skunk tracks heading up the path through the dunes that is blocked to humans but not to furred or feathered predators that can’t read.

This nesting area used to be robust but in recent years it has had a terrible record due to ongoing predation by gulls, crows, skunks, coyotes and even a great horned owl. It’s a small area but it used to host dozens of piping plovers and hundreds of terns. It has been very depressing to watch it shrink year after year.

It is rare that a beach walk leaves me sadder or more depressed but on this day it just added to my overall feeling that I’d caught a bad case of the blahs.

Drawing, painting, reading, baking a loaf of bread and a blueberry pie didn’t help. Sitting in the sun doing nothing didn’t help, either.

All I could think of was the state of despair our country is in. Predators are lurking all over the place. Environmental regulations are being stripped and tossed in the trash as if we all weren’t dependent on clean air and water. Money, money, money. Greed, greed, greed. I can’t stand it.

And yet, there in my own backyard, sat a crow high in a tree awaiting an opportunity to grab an innocent young bird, the beloved of another, to feed itself or its young. I understand that all must eat but I hate watching a crow, grackle or jay empty a nest, one tiny bird after another over a day or sometimes two. Over the years I’ve watched gulls eat baby terns and even the chicks of other gulls. Hawks and owls kill all the time. Even robins and cardinals kill, though we seem less attached to the invertebrates they gather and eat. You’d think I’d be used to it but somehow I thought we humans were better than this. Silly me.

People say it’s a dog eat dog world out there. I guess they are right. I think I may need another nap now. I’m going to need my strength to rise and fight the good fight.