Forest Bathing International Magazine, Issue 1 - Page 22

sit spot reflections

How bluebird boxes can deepen enchantment and learning at sit spot

by M. Amos Clifford

Time was, my sit spot was under an old Coast Live Oak tree growing in my yard on Sonoma Mountain. From its shade I could look down a slope where a large meadow gave way to a rising hillside covered with forest. I got to know the behaviors of the foxes and turkeys, deer and rabbits, and many species of songbirds and raptors who frequented the area. Once a magnificent Coyote ambled across the meadow.

Sit spot practice is one of the most potent ways we can learn about nature. Over time, it evolves from “this is a place where I sit” to “this is the place where the local community and I gather,” as the birds and animals get to know the sitter. By simply sitting and observing with relaxed, unhurried curiosity, we cultivate many layers of knowledge and intimacy with “the land.” Domestic animals get involved also, and they too are teachers. Once I was tending to an outdoor chore near my sit spot when I noticed my two cats sitting side-by-side and giving concentrated attention to something in the meadow. I joined them and together we watched a bobcat hunting for mice.

The sit spot itself changes, marking changes in one’s inner life and the passing of seasons. My sit spot tree fell over in a storm, breaking off about 5 feet up its trunk. The stump became my sit spot. We left the fallen tree in place, as habitat. As it lost its leaves the many birds who visited were much more visible among its branches than they had been when it had its foliage. A group of hairy woodpeckers set to work and within a couple of years had pretty much demolished most of the tree. Because we have an annual music festival at my house, we decided to

break up the remainder of the tree and pushed the branches down the hill into loose piles, where they could serve as habitat. That decision saved our house, when the Santa Rosa fires burned our neighborhood, with total destruction of two of our neighbor’s homes. The firefighters told us that if the dead tree had been left in place, the heat from it would have ignited the house and they would not have been able to save it like they did.

The stump burned in those fires. Now its remnants stand as a beautiful sculpture. Thus does a sit spot evolve over time.

A couple of years before the fires I had become interested in blue bird boxes, and put two where I could see them from my sit spot. In their first two years, they were inhabited by Western Bluebirds and Green Tree Swallows, both cavity-nesting species that seem to get along with each other.

I noticed a transformation in my sit spot experience. I came to know individual Bluebirds and couples, as I watched them build their nests, lay eggs, and eventually leave with their new families. It wasn’t always a pretty story: entire clutches were wiped out by predators that I have still haven’t identified. I developed an appreciation for how fraught with chance is the project of raising nestlings and successfully introducing them into the world. I’ve worked with the Bluebirds by adding predator guards to their boxes. They seem to help.

After last year’s fires, there are far fewer insects on the mountain. Is this the result of the fires? I don’t know. Over the past several years I’ve noticed a general decline in insect population (try googling “Insect Apocalypse;” I’m not the only one seeing this!). This year we had no Green Tree Swallows and only two nesting pairs of Bluebirds. One of the nesting pairs chose the box by the stump, which is also easily watched through the window from my kitchen table.

My travel schedule often takes me away for weeks at a time, so I’ve sometimes missed the drama of new bluebirds meeting the world. This year, I was there for the official fledgling ceremony of one family, some of which I photographed and videotaped.