As I was preparing dinner I paused to see which of my bird friends might be out and about. I saw a bird with a brilliant RED head, bright yellow body and contrasting black and white wings and knew— WOW—amazing—look what just flew into my yard in Cedar Mill! A flock of migrating Western Tanagers—I had not seen them for the entire 12 years I had lived here— I had seen them other places but not in my back yard!
Awe is a state of wonder and pleasant surprise that transports us into a different psychological realm. Most researchers in the field of positivity believe that if we notice “awe” moments we improve our mental health. When we appreciate or decide to have a pleasant day a calming effect occurs. Some of this is the tendency to want to share with others. At other times it takes us out of our typical ways of thinking about our surroundings to remind us of the grandeur of nature and the natural world.
Awe reminds us we are part of something larger than our own concerns. It elevates our spirit. Many times awe is due to noticing amazing things in our natural environment- or traveling to natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon or to see the Northern Lights. But we can have awe experiences in our own back yards if open ourselves to this possibility.
Migratory season is certainly one arena for awe as we see birds we have not seen for many months. Spring brings us new growth in plants. Inspiration is a different emotion—feeling amazed by the capacity of human for achievements. Both are forms of positivity, which have been studied extensively by psychologists in the past 20 years.
I have been awed many times—in my own back yard as I have seen Western Tanagers in their colorful plumage eat all the suet I put out – knowing they have many miles to travel to their breeding grounds and feeling amazed by their determination. At other times I have been awed by how adorable the baby hatchings are, which encourage the parents to hunt for worms or seeds to feed them. The parents’ diligence is awe-inspiring. And I have been inspired to respect the transience of life as a Sharp Shinned Hawk grabs a Goldfinch out of the air to feed it’s babies in the nearby nest. Being awed means wondering why the Cedar Waxwing is named “waxwing” until one sees the “blot” of red on the wing which must have reminded a long ago observer of the red wax that used to seal envelopes! Look for this bright red spot on the Cedar Waxwings in your yard! (See accompanying Pet Barn ad in this month’s news for a photo of the Western Tanager)
Another source of awe is to realize that I CAN recognize the multitude of bird songs in my backyard. On a recent day to pick up my newspaper I heard a song I didn’t recognize. Being aware of the “usual” background noises, in this case my neighbor’s tree was “dripping” with migratory yellow warblers eating bugs. On another day I heard what I thought was a “robin who had taken opera lessons” and then realized—that is a Black Headed Grosbeak. His song is full of trills and “fancy” notes but sounds like his “cousin” the American Robin. One can be awed in one’s own back yard IF you are mindful. How many people went out that day to retrieve newspapers or put mail in boxes or just walk and never heard the magical warblers or saw the “operatic robin” which really was a Grosbeak.
Have you been awed lately? If not consider the possibilities outside.