Nature Shares Her Secrets

“All that nonsense about signs in nature, that’s just old wives’ tales,” the guy at the hardware store said. “You can’t tell nothin’ from looking at the sky and such.”

I grinned to myself. Really, don’t get involved, I thought, as I left.

cloud2Predicting the weather by nature is an old wives’ tale because the old wives’ were right. The mare’s tales scattered across the sky, followed by the clouds that look like farmer’s rows are a sign of a change in the weather. They mean a drop in temperature, maybe wind, and that combination often means rain, too.

Yesterday, with a brisk wind sweeping the desert, I noticed old palm fronds falling off palms. Not fun it if hits your car–they are big and hard, but shedding is necessary for the palm to thrive. And wind generally brings cold this time of year.


Today, coming home, I saw an iridescent cloud–ice crystals gathered at higher than 20,000 feet. It will be cold tonight again. The light was red, so I took the photo through my windshield. The color was more intense, but this will be enough to help me remember to put the comforter on the bed.

cloud1We’ve gotten away from paying attention to nature, and it’s a shame. There is a lot to be learned my standing outside and looking up at the sky. At night the stars form stories to remember; during the day, you’ll know what weather is coming your way.

And at this time of year, it is not bad to remember stars that pointed to important events. The guy in the hardware store, disparaging old wives, I’ll bet he believes the Christmas story–that a star indicated Jesus’s birth, and called shepherds to attention, guided kings with gifts. Even then, we knew that signs of importance came from nature.

Sometime today, when you are racing through life, look up at the sky. Maybe it has something to tell you. Maybe you have something to say back.

—Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and creativity coach.

Learn Like a Thrasher

The thrasher outside my office window fights a small snake under the red bird of paradise bush. The bird, about the size of a robin, would advance, peck the head of the snake, then grab the neck and jump back, pulling the snake off the ground.

redThrashers are insect eaters, but have a curved, strong bill, so I wasn’t surprised to see him going after the snake. And it was a small snake–about as big around as a pencil. He may have thought it was a caterpillar and discovered it was too big to manage.

After about five minutes, the thrasher gave up and flew into the nearby ocotillo, where it warbled for a while, then flew off. He did not take the snake, so I wondered if he’d killed it.

After I’d completed the phone call, I went outside to take care of the snake. Checking under the bush, I saw what the battle was about. No snake.

The thrasher had attacked my drip irrigation hose, about the size of a pencil in diameter, and made of black rubber. The bird had worried about 18 inches of the hose out of the gravel and sand. The small gold-colored metal head was almost completely pulled off the hose. Dead, for sure.



What made me smile about this was that the bird eventually recognized that the hose was not a snake or a caterpillar.  The metal cap wasn’t a snake head. The bird did not slap himself on the head and berate himself. The bird did not kick the dirt and hang its head, embarrassed. The bird flew into a nearby tree, claimed its territory, and moved on.

Wildlife is smart that way. It doesn’t feel embarrassment, shame, or guilt. A mistake is a mistake. In this case, not deadly, so no harm done. (Well, as far as the bird was concerned. I’m going to need a new drip head to replace the shredded one.)

How smart we’d be if we could be the same way. Recognize the mistake, be OK with it, move on. Not dredge it up for years, worrying it like a sore tooth, making it into statements about our general character, intelligence, or emotional state.

Make a mistake, move on. Good lesson from a basic bird.

—Quinn McDonald learns from nature, which seems to have a lot to teach if we watch.

Lessons from the Lizards Tail

The black-and-white cat was paying rapt attention to something in front of the

Crouching house cat, hidden lizard

fireplace. He had that ears-cupped-and-tilted-forward look, and was holding absolutely still, eyes wide open. He does this only when there is something of great interest to him, and that is almost always something that is about to become part of his toy repertoire.

I got up, and looked at the spot on the tile. It looked like a stick. Suddenly, almost all of the stick shot across the room, leaving a wiggling piece behind. Nature works really well. The thing was a lizard, and it had dropped its tail, which wriggled appealingly, allowing my cat to focus on it, while the rest of the lizard scrambled to safety away from the cat.

Picking up the now-tailless lizard with a paper towel,  I stepped out the door and shook the paper towel out gently, close to the ground by the fig tree. The little lizard body tumbled out.”Must have picked it up too hard,” I thought, feeling guilty. I thought I’d killed it, after the cat had missed it. Just as guilt waved over me, the lizard pulled out of its frozen position, and shot, tailless, up the fig tree to safety.

Some lizards drop their tails to save their lives, leaving their prey interested in the wiggly, but not vital to life part. I’d never seen it work so well. The cat was perfectly happy to let the business part of the prey escape if he got to keep the  funny, wiggly part.

It seems like such a good idea to be able to drop a non-vital body part to save the important working parts. We don’t come equipped with convenient tails, but we do drag around burdensome “tales”–the stories we drag around as baggage. The sad story of how our parents didn’t give us what we needed. The mean roommate in college who was so thoughtless. The boss who wasn’t a mentor we’d hoped for, but gave us all the drudge jobs.

All those stories pile up and slow us down. They make us prey for anger, stress, decisions based on revenge and stored-up resentment. We can drop our “tales” of hurt and pity, leave them wiggling for someone else to become fascinated with. Because they aren’t helping us. No doubt, it’s hard to give up the story we live, the perspective we have on them, how we make choices based on past hurts and injustice. And those stories of injustice get us a lot of attention as our friends condemn those who hurt us. That’s what friends do. They think it’s helpful, although often attention simply encourages clinging to behavior.

Recasting our past is hard work and not appealing. The work of letting go of the past means admitting that our perspective isn’t working and deliberately looking for a new perspective, one that allows us to live a less-burdened, less blame-riddled life. It won’t be done in a single day, but the small steps and work is certainly worthwhile. My clients have experienced it, and not a single client regrets the work of re-invention.

We can’t change how our story began, but we can change how it continues and build for a happen ending.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and author of the book Raw Art Journaling, which helps people choose the story they want to live. Yes, the book can be used for re-invention. It’s a multi-purpose book!

Morning Light

I’ve never been a morning person, but my cat doesn’t care. Injured in a fight last year, he’s up pre-dawn, begging to patrol the perimeter of our yard–he won’t stray beyond the fence. This time of year, pre-dawn means 4:15 a.m. or so, and in order to let my husband get some sleep, I get up, feed the cats, watch the sky tuck night behind the horizon, and head out for my walk.

© Quinn McDonald

Life is not always filled with fun, eagerness and joy. Sometimes you have to do work you wish you could palm off on someone else. Sometimes you feel run down and have to wind yourself up. Sometimes you have to attend to duty, suck it up, and stop whining. I live in a land of extremes–extreme drought, extreme heat, extreme beauty, extreme poverty, and extreme laws. There is little middle ground here.

© Quinn McDonald

So this morning, when I saw the sun come up, I just let it feel good. I didn’t think about what was hard in my life, I didn’t think about how much I have to do, I didn’t think about obligations, or money, or responsibility, or the future. I just watched the sun come up.

© Quinn McDonald

The sun came up far North of East. It pushed fingers of light into the sky first. It struggled with the clouds, lighting them from behind, then burning through them. I thought of many metaphors of light and darkness, of sunrise and a fresh day. And then let them go. Sometimes a good sunrise is all you need.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, and certified creativity coach. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, is being shipped to stores right now.