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Life Lessons Learned from Bird Watching

Patience, Persistence and Seizing the Moment

It was early on a Saturday. The sun was up and shadows receding. Dew sparkled in the stillness of the morning. I was drinking my first cup of coffee, sitting on our deck in the shade of a nearby pine tree.

Birdsong filled the air. This year’s fledgling purple martins were soaring overhead with dazzling acrobatic displays, some more skilled than others. One young purple martin, whose sleek dark coat still sported fluffy white baby feathers, misjudged its landing and crashed into the pole supporting the bird house. After resting on the ground for a few minutes, it was flying again in ever greater arcs, increasing in speed and distance then zooming back to the bird house, landing and taking off, again and again. The crash landing was a momentary disruption in its mastery of complex flight patterns.  Suddenly, on the edge of my vision, there was a blurred movement.  One of our resident Great Blue Herons, in lightning-fast fluid motion, speared a Chesapeake blue crab. Breakfast for the heron; one less crab in the tidal inlet.

Wildlife provides a frequent reminder of the virtues of practice, persistence, and seizing the moment. Fledgling purple martins fly in dance-like synchrony as they perfect their aeronautic skills.  In the span of one second, the blue heron shifts from prolonged and absolute stillness to a startling, almost invisible spearing of a hapless crab.   Simultaneously I witness demonstrations of beauty, patience, practice, precision, and expertise.

It is a small leap of imagination to understand how Nature’s elemental truths gave rise to attributions of human character traits for various animals. Thinking about the great blue heron fishing in the creek, I imagined an especially regal totem. A quick search on the internet confirmed my impressions. Here’s what I discovered. The American Indians of the Pacific Northwest used herons in their totems.  Webster’s Dictionary defines totem as “natural object, usually an animal that serves as a distinctive, often venerated emblem or symbol. A means of personal or spiritual identity.”  “A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Native American tradition provides that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her through life, acting as guides.”

The heron has been recognized throughout history as a powerful symbol.  It is a Chinese symbol of strength, purity, patience and long life. In ancient Greece and Africa, the heron was a messenger from the gods. In Eastern and Egyptian mythologies the heron represented the life-giving force of the sun. The heron symbolizes a surprising number of positive qualities: dignity, intelligence and precision, family, resourcefulness and wisdom, strength in emotional balance, the expression of compassion through dignity and tact, patience and trust, grace, and confidence. A lovely and evocative set of attributes that is consistent with the implicit credo of nurse practitioners — a credo that is promulgated through rigorous training and our programmatic accreditation process.

On a daily basis, preceptors and trainees act with patience, allowing trainees to perfect their skills and hone their abilities.  Preceptors and mentors model compassion in spirit, informed delivery of healthcare, and precision in action.  Trainees persist until it good practice becomes rote and can be activated immediately when needed – they develop the clinical ‘muscle memory’ to delivery competent healthcare upon demand.  The intent is to serve others with intelligence and competence, grace and dignity, tact and compassion.

This is the time of year for transitions.  Purple martin fledglings fly.  Students graduate.  New residents prepare for their capstone year of professional polishing.  Novice nurse practitioners culminate their metamorphosis into confident practitioners.

In closing, Carrie Underwood’s song “Change” shares in the spirit of making the world a better place. Do join me in acknowledging the gift that nurse practitioners bring to healthcare.  To all the newly minted nurse practitioners, to all those who are embarking on their career path, to all those who provide quality healthcare, and to their preceptors and mentors — Your presence makes a profound difference.  You change the world. Thank you.

Until next time, wishing you peace and good health,