By Jack McShane

Presently at Yale there is a new course that is wildly popular with over 1,200 students enrolled, Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life. One of the reasons for its popularity is the fact that college students today are more overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and depressed than they have ever been. The course teaches them not just the science of happiness, but the practice of happiness. Now we have Elon Musk, the primary owner and inventor of Tesla, the electric car, and space adventurist, complaining of depression and of working up to 120 hours a week at one of his factories. Here is a perfect example that, having a superior brain and plenty of money does not necessarily result in happiness. These two recent news articles got me thinking about my own very lucky and relatively very happy life.

So why all this? As most of you know, I am a big advocate of getting out into the natural world and enjoying its splendor. This simple act is sure to enhance one’s happiness. Recent reading has informed me of a new activity called “Forest Bathing,” something kind of new-age originally initiated in Japan, put together in the states by folks who seem to have just discovered the benefits of enjoying the natural world and are now pushing hard to get their message “trending.” So, I will let that go as there is plenty of room in our forests and even let them try ocean bathing, although I hear that some of my beloved surfing spots on Long Island are getting crowded. Caveat: Don’t forget, that the happier your life has been having done all that you have loved and enjoyed, the more quickly it will seem to have passed. I feel, like mine has been like a snap of the fingers. If only life was like a computer with pause and backspace buttons.

Enough about bathing. Locally I am intrigued by reports of a “cinnamon crow.” These reports are from people that I know and trust as they have been around a long time and spend a lot of their time in the woods. Most sightings have been down near and on both sides of the Shavertown Bridge. It has been seen mingling with other crows which indicate that is a crow of very odd coloration. I have spent some time down in the area, binoculars in hand, hoping for a sighting – no luck.

I had just recently had an odd sighting of my own in the same vicinity. One day, having just made the turn onto the Tremperskill Road at the Route 30 intersection and just past the trailhead, I saw what at first looked like a brown crow cross the road and land in a tree on the reservoir side. It looked weird, and upon landing on a branch it had a kind of unsteady wobble. Stopping immediately, I knew that it was not a crow: Different kind of beak and in no way a crow, an unknown species to me. The bird took off rather clumsily, continuing down toward the reservoir. At home I got out my Sibley field guide to birds of Eastern North America; went through it with no luck. Then taking some more intense scrutiny I found a picture of a juvenile Double-Crested Cormorant. Voila! Not having seen cormorants on the Reservoir ever, I was assured by my friend Ann, who paddles there often, that she has observed them many times. Amazingly, two days later I saw three mature cormorants roosted on some vertical wood debris where the East Branch enters the Reservoir at the intersection of Routes 28 and 30, confirming that this was a correct ID. The Cinnamon Crow remains a mystery.

If you heard a rifle shot deep in the forest between 9/8 – 9/23 it may have signaled the demise of one of our black bears. This was the time of a special early season in the DEC’s valiant, but I think useless, attempt to slow down our bears’ increasing population growth and expanding range. Statistics show that most bears that are shot are shot by deer hunters when a bear happens to cross their path or tree stand. An unknown number, albeit I think quite a large number, are taken by farmers who have suffered major damage to their cornfields and receive nuisance permits from the DEC. All hunting seasons are set by the DEC instead of animal rights activists; science trumping emotionalism is a good thing. I believe most people want to do the right thing, they just need accurate and scientifically based education.

Sightings around the farm include three wood ducks and a great blue heron on the lower pond and two days later two wood ducks and a very statuesque great blue heron on one of the upper ponds. It must be very tough for the herons to see their prey as the waters are temporarily chocolate due to the ongoing logging operations and the monsoon-like weather recently. Nancy spotted eight birds she thought were crows, but on closer inspection with binoculars turned out to be ravens: A “conspiracy of ravens” as opposed to a “murder of crows;” you know like a “gaggle of geese” and a “rafter of turkeys,” and so on. A friend described a gathering of turkey vultures in the trees overlooking the carcass of a road-killed deer as a “conclave of morticians.” A blue-headed vireo survived a window hit. My whacky “emotionally disturbed grouse,” who has been scuttling around tail-free due to the summer molt, has now a new full-grown one ready for the onslaught of winter.

“In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.” Naturalist John Muir.~