May 18, 2023
Recently in one of my favorite comic strips, the cartoonist’s first frame showed one of the principal characters sitting at a kiosk with signage which read “emotional rest area.”  The unstated analogy, of course, was to the rest stops along our highways.  In subsequent frames a friend shows up, lays down beside the booth, exhales, and then professes that he might just stay right there for a week.

Birders can relate.  For us everything from a national park, to a walk in the desert, to just sitting in the backyard with the binoculars is an emotional rest area (EMA).  I can certainly relate.  Before retirement from the so-called real world I had a mental rolodex with about a dozen stress free zones which I typically visited in a loose rotation at least twice a month.  Some were a ten minute walk from home, others a half day’s drive.  There were several times I contemplated staying for a week.  Or a life.  Who’s looking at their watch or counting minutes during happy hour?

My real world career primarily revolved around two things:  listening and teaching.  My ‘office’ was an EMA for my clients/students to chill, vent, laugh, and recalibrate, typically on a weekly basis.  I enjoyed my career, but since I retired I have not once looked in the rear view mirror.  My retirement has primarily revolved around two things:  nature and solitude.  My ‘listening buffer’ was full, and of course the pandemic also had a little something to do with the latter.  I have discovered I need only two things in my EMAs, my best friend and my camera.

Here’s a very short list of a few of my most memorable emotional rest areas prior to my retirement:  Attu Island, Madera Canyon, Francis Beidler Forest, the Osa Peninsula.  I can save you the trouble of researching them by telling you the common denominators of each location are nature and solitude.  And for sure plenty of exciting birds.  I have spent days in each place, and in each I have contemplated life and spending a life.

Now that the corona virus is approaching endemicity, the light at the end of my dark personal tunnel is a bucket list of as yet unvisited emotional rest areas.  Here’s a very short list of those:  Tower Camp, Boot Canyon, New River Gorge, the Pantanal.  Again let me save you the research—nature, solitude, and birds along with my best friend and the camera.  Days, maybe weeks.  Who knows, since I’m now in my third act, maybe a life.

As I contemplated that comic strip a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I had seen a Lifer, my first Tropical Parula at the then newly developed Sarita Rest Area on Highway 77 in south Texas.  If it seems an ironic yet happy coincidence that a highway rest stop once morphed into an emotional rest area where I searched for a Lifer, I can tell you that for the rest of my life photographing nature at an EMA will be no coincidence.  I’d tell you I hope to see you at one of these places, but only if you’re chilling.  No venting allowed, even if you’ve traveled halfway around the country, or the world, and missed your target bird.  EMAs are stress free zones.

Terek Sandpiper, Attu Island
Terek Sandpiper, Attu Island