hawk

It’s Not Always About You – or – Environmental Gratitude in my Work and Life

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Eric P. Nelson

Having recently emerged from the holiday season that now runs from the day my Jack-O-Lantern takes up its position on the compost pile to the day my Christmas tree gets tossed onto the grim-faced Jack-O-Lantern, I feel rather drained from all the sentiments of gratitude and goodwill that I have both expressed and received during this extended season. They’re genuine, mostly, and seem appropriate at the time, but I’ve now shifted into New England-style winter survival mode, and quite prefer it after a long season of excess.

Recently, I read an article about “environmental gratitude.” The term was new to me, but after I read the article I realized I had discovered what motivates and guides me at work, and in many aspects of my life. Environmental gratitude was defined as, “a finely tuned propensity to notice and feel grateful for one’s surroundings on a regular basis, which generates pervasive attitudes of concern for planetary welfare and commitment to contribute ecological benefits to the extent of one’s ability.” It’s a bit dense to digest, but the article goes on to describe the phrase in simpler terms.

Unlike the gratitude one may feel during the holidays, environmental gratitude is not beholden to particular benefactors, does not require mutual intentionality (Thank you for that 2,000-calorie holiday meal!). Instead, simply recognizing and appreciating the very existence of the natural world and your connection to it can instill a sense of gratitude that can, in turn, influence your general attitude about protecting nature and motivate you to take action.

This has happened to me over the course of my life, and it’s how I approach my work at EPA, at least most days. No thanks sought, or needed, from those living things in the watery world that hopefully benefit from my actions. In truth, though, I do get thanked through my interactions with the natural world. And while I’ve seen nature in some of its most impressive forms, I’m just as enchanted by brief encounters close to home: a passing glimpse of a hawk flying through Boston Common; a hummingbird pausing on a branch above my shed; crows calling, winter quiet in snowy woods; a pungent whiff of exposed mudflat on a lonely beach; the jewel-like stars overhead at my bus stop on a clear, dark winter morning; the iridescent beetle that landed oh so briefly on the back of my wife’s neck. Such encounters are everywhere for all those who care to take notice. And to me, they matter.

The article, “Environmental Gratitude and Ecological Action,” by Richard Matthews, was featured on the website.

About the author: Eric Nelson works in the Ocean and Coastal Protection Unit of EPA New England in Boston, but prefers being underwater with the fishes. He lives in a cape on Cape Cod with his wife and two daughters, and likes pesto on anything.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Red Tailed Hawk

By Amy Miller

The lone hawk sat on our swing five feet from a gaggle of neighborhood children. “It’s a juvenile,” my-son-the-raptor-expert declared.

About 50 times the size of the hummingbird fluttering over the nearby hibiscus, it didn’t look like a juvenile to me.

“That’s why it’s so close and not afraid of us,” Benjamin informed me.

One week it’s stink bugs, the next it’s red-tailed hawks. Humbling the things your kids know (and you don’t).

When I asked Benjamin how he knew it was a red-tailed hawk, he looked at me like I had asked him the color of Grant’s white horse? Besides large red tails, these hawks have predominantly auburn bodies and a few dark feathers along the outer lines of the wings.

The next day the “definitely a red-tailed hawk” landed in a tree outside my window. Never before had a bird of prey been so near for so long to our family homestead. I stopped friends driving by, called neighborhood children from their dinners and took a number of pictures thinkable only in the digital age. The hawk posed for the pictures, presented its profile and for a week was almost a pet.

And so I took an interest and learned that hawks are territorial and will defend their hunting area; and that red tailed hawks belongs to the group of hawks know as buteos. I learned that buteos rely on eyesight and stealth. They grab prey – usually small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects- then drive talons in to ensure the prey is dead. Accipiters – the other type of hawk – are fast and built to fly quickly through the woods with shorter wings.

It is the talons, hook-shaped beaks and good eye-sight of raptors, like eagles, hawks, vultures, owls and falcons, which  sets them apart from other animal-eating birds, like crows, robins and woodpeckers.

When our new pet decided to move on, it soared high, as hawks do, to save energy they otherwise would use to flap its wings.

These birds, native to North America, are particularly adaptable. They are found in deserts, forests and grasslands and they may migrate or they may stay put. The older birds with established territories sometimes choose to stay. After I hadn’t seen the hawk in awhile, I assumed it had joined the majority that migrate south.

Then, a week ago, the hawk reappeared, back on the giant maple with its leaves almost all fallen. I welcomed our pet back home.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.