Travel Journal: Honeymoon in Sonoma

Travel Journal: Honeymoon in Sonoma

This website was born in a pool, as I floated in the sun surrounded by vineyards. I joked with my newlywed wife that only in these moments, suspended in cool water and staring through sunglasses into the blank blue sky, could I be my true self. It was incredibly meditative. I found myself floating far longer than I expected to, letting my mind drift from thought to thought and letting my heart fill with gratitude for all the amazing experiences I'd had in that last week: getting married to the love of my life, having a fun-but-not-too-exhausting reception, and now relaxing for a week in California. Suddenly, my mind turned to birds.

The seed had been planted at our reception. My sister-in-laws sharp dressed boyfriend thought my bird blog was ongoing; upon hearing that it was discontinued, he made a throwaway joke that I should bring it back now that I'm married and my wife is legally obligated to support it. It was a funny moment, but it was also inevitable that my inner birdwatcher would be awoken once I arrived in Sonoma. Away from the city, and west of the Rockies, I would be exposed to creatures I don't see in Saint Paul. With so much free time, my mind would be unburdened by work related stress and it would naturally become more curious about the landscape around me. And of course, me and Lucy would go book shopping in Santa Rosa and I would do what I always do: walk out with a book about birds.

All of these factors combined to putting me in a certain state of mind. A gorgeous plush toy of Totoro (from the blissful Hayao Miyazaki film My Neighbor Totoro) got me thinking about the movie's serene landscapes and message of rest and joy. A newly released demo of Pikmin 4, a nature-focused video game that I was eagerly anticipating, got me thinking about the franchise's focus on small creatures that many of us walk around taking for granted. All of these things had my gratitude at an all-time high: gratitude for my life, for my family, and for the gorgeous world I get to walk around in.

By the time I was floating in the pool, I had seen a lot of birds. Some were reliable mainstays of my neighborhood in St Paul: American robins, crows, house sparrows, house finches. We saw a lot of birds of prey that I couldn't identify, as well as plenty of warblers and goldfinches that I never got a good enough look at. A few western bluebirds flew by us, which is not a new bird for me but is always a delight since I don't see them in an urban setting. And while I can't say for certain, I'm 90% sure we saw a barn swallow and a tree swallow.

Two birds shared the spotlight though. Twice, we saw a California Scrub Jay. Found only in the West Coast, it was a native version of one of my favorite backyard birds. While it lacked the crisp colors of the Blue Jay, it was still a delight to see. Later, we saw yet another hawk flying overhead. We'd seen a lot of them, and I'd always tried to ID them and always failed. This time though, it flew down and got within 20 or so feet of us. There was no hawk at all. It was jet black and scruffy around the neck. All week I had talked about wanting to see a raven. Rarely found in Minnesota, especially around the Twin Cities, ravens are striking and fiercely intelligent creatures. But I knew that it was easy to see a bigger crow and trick yourself into thinking you'd seen a Common Raven. I kept reassuring myself that every crow I saw was in fact, just a crow. Here though, there was no question. This bird was massive, and it had stopped by us quickly as if to say "Hey, stop embarrassing me by lending my reputation to those puny crows". To the raven, I humbly apologize.

Even when I didn't see many birds, I was deeply in love with my scenery. Best of all were the foggy mornings, sitting in our sweats and slippers, drinking tea on the patio. In the distance we saw mountains obscured by mist, rising from behind the wide reaching vineyards. It was blissful, it was chilly, it was an amazing time to take a deep breath. Lucy told me that one morning, she stepped out and saw an egret fly off. It was during these cool mornings that we reflected on how happy we were.

So there I was. Reflecting on ravens, and scrub jays, and misty mountain ranges, and book stores, and Pikmin, I was overcome with love for the world and it's feathered citizens, and I felt like I had all the time in the world. Floating, sunbathing, and smiling, I knew it was time to recommit myself to discovery and expressing gratitude. It was time to blog about birds again. Only a week that magical could birth such an epiphany. If you know me, you know I don't like doing much of anything. But my heart is susceptible to the charms of the Earth, and Sonoma was phenomenally charming.

Before flying back, we spent a night in San Francisco. While waiting for a Muni train after dinner, a red-tailed hawk flew right by us and landed on a nearby pole. I took a quick picture, and it stayed long enough that I could take a step closer and make sure I had identified it correctly. I even saw specs of brown on its white chest plumage, showing that it was a juvenile. It was an imposing hawk, but it was also a young bird. And here it was, rewarding my commitment to curiosity within 24 hours of making it. Just in case part of me needed reassurance that bird encounters can happen in busy cities.

The next day we returned home, taking to the skies ourselves. In 7 days I had gotten married, taken my honeymoon, and been reborn as a bird blogger once again. Truly a week to remember. Who knows when this blog will die, but I know exactly when and where it was born.