Connecting with Nature: Thankful for Life

This fall season has brought so much loss and devastation. Friends and neighbors are working wearily to restore some sense of normalcy, while many from our Virgin Island community have dispersed and are facing the onset of unwelcome winter chills. Some are really struggling for feelings of gratitude.

Nevertheless many people are saying “Thank God for life”. Even when times are hard, there can be joy in hugs from family and friends, the pleasures of meals and music, and hopes for the future.

Also birds.

Up in New York City I have been searching for peace by going out looking for birds, and trying to catch them in action with my new telephoto lens. In Jamaica Bay, next to Kennedy Airport, the shoveler ducks made me laugh by sticking their fat butts in the air as they pulled up weeds on the bottom of a pond. They were happy to be face down in icy water.

A great blue heron was much more dignified, a cool character I saw as a model for coping with turbulence.

The dark coots reminded me of the ones I saw in Chocolate Hole at last year’s Christmas bird count on St. John.

And I did feel a bit sad to see the snowy egrets heading south – wondering if any birds will find their way to the Fish Bay pond, or if they will just pass by St. John to find a better place this winter.

Closer to my apartment, I met unfamiliar migrant birds in the small park at the tip of Manhattan.

My favorite was the yellow-bellied sapsucker (a type of woodpecker) that ignored me as it punched holes in cedar trees, waiting to slurp up the sap with its long tongue, along any insects trying to share the sweet treat.

A northern flicker, another type of woodpecker, stopped for a moment on a nearby oak tree.

Meanwhile a tiny hermit thrush posed bravely on a different part of the cedar tree, watching me warily.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, most of the migratory birds have already moved south, and chilly winds make bird walks less appealing. There is no electricity in Fish Bay, though, so while I am here I still need to get out and look. I have heard that November is a good month to find rare birds in the city, as they sometimes get blown off course on their way to their usual wintering places.

Photos by Gail Karlsson. Gail is an environmental lawyer, and author of The Wild Life in an Island House, plus a guide book Learning About Trees and Plants – A Project of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John.  For more articles and local information, go to or  Contact: