The Art of Mindful Seeing

The Art of Mindful Seeing
by Jennifer Schlick

IMG_2014 - Back Lighting, Backlit LeavesIt can take as long as twenty minutes to give myself full permission to forget the worries of the world and be mindful as I walk.  To be fully present to this moment.  To see truly what is in front of my eyes.  I may snap pictures before that state of mindfulness settles in, but I know, even as I snap, those pictures will fall victim to the delete key once I see them on the computer.  I take a deep breath and let go of worry and stress.  I invite my eyes, my mind, and my heart to align and be open to visual flashes of color, light, texture.

IMG_1955-2When something catches my eye and stops me in my tracks, I rest with that flash of perception in an inquisitive way, without judgment, without struggle.  I may walk around the object whose color or texture attracted my attention.  I may study the way the light is reflecting off of, or shining through, or just laying softly upon the object.

Eventually, I will raise my camera and attempt to capture an equivalent of the perception I just experienced – nothing more, nothing less.

IMG_1930This photographic practice, described in detail by Andy Karr and Michael Wood in their book The Practice of Contemplative Photography – Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes, will be the focus of a workshop offered at the Nature Center on Saturday, November 15, 2014, 1:00pm-3:00pm.  Think of it as a book report in the form of a workshop.

There are many reasons to make photographs and many approaches to the practice of making photographs.  This is only one.  For me, this approach has been akin to drawing in a sketchbook.  I am not trying to create great works of art, I am simply practicing the art of seeing, and of capturing in a real, uncontrived way exactly what I see.

IMG_1785The practice continues when I get the images home and onto my computer.  Cameras are computers that are programmed to make decisions on our behalf.  Sometimes those programmed decisions distort the image we perceived.  A few adjustments are often necessary to make the captured image match our original perception.

I have found that my practice images are often so beautiful I want to print them and hang them in my home or office.  I have also found that this practice continues to help me see in fresh ways, even when my purpose is conceptual or journalistic.  I find that instead of photographing what I think I ought to, I photograph what is really there.  The book, The Practice of Contemplative Photography, is sprinkled with quotes from great photographers.  Here’s one from Aaron Siskind that expresses what I’m getting at here:  “We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there.  As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.”

Students should dress for the weather and bring their favorite cameras as we’ll be making photographs outside.  Any kind of camera will do.  This is not a class about how your camera works.  It is about an approach to using your camera that will improve your ability to see the world with fresh eyes.  We will review the concept of contemplative practice and try some of the exercises put forth in the book. Finally, a few tips for post processing will be offered to improve your captured images.

The deadline to register is Tuesday, November 11th.  The cost is $33 or $25 for Friends of the Nature Center members.  For more information, or to register, call (716) 569-2345 or visit

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania.

Jennifer Schlick is the nature center’s program director.   Photography has been her passion for many years and she began practicing photography seriously in 2006 when she purchased her first digital SLR camera.  Her work has been displayed locally in both group and solo shows.

Posted in Article, Class, Jennifer Schlick, Photography, workshop

Owl Perceptions

Owl Perceptions
Katie Finch

Owls have long been recognized in folklore, for better or worse. Depending on the culture, its values and their connection to nature, owls symbolized different, often conflicting concepts.  The most common perception of owls is that they are wise.  I remember a rhyme from summer camp, whose author I can’t find.  “A wise old owl sat in an oak.  The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard.  Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?”


Saw Whet Owls

In ancient Athens, an owl was the guardian of the Acropolis and often associated with the, Athena, the goddess of wisdom.  Athenians thought so much of the bird they put it on their money.

Owls have also been seen as protectors.  If an owl flew over Greek soldiers before a battle, they took it as a sign of victory.  The Japanese place owl pictures and figurines in homes to ward off famine or disease.

With the good comes the bad.  In many cultures from Ancient Egypt and India to Africa and North America owls were seen as bad omens and harbingers of death.  In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth interprets the cry of the owl as a sign that her husband was murdered.  “It was the cry of the owl that shriek’d the fatal bellman” she proclaims.  If you’ve ever heard the high pitched, scratchy call of a Barn Owl, it is easy to understand the bird’s association with evil things.


Eastern Screech Owl

Because I am curious about nature and people’s relationships with nature, I find these historic attitudes interesting.  But the importance of one’s perception of the natural world shouldn’t be underrated.  Last year, I came across an article in a 2010 New York State Conservationist about the changing perceptions of owls.  The article described a record from 1900 in New York City of school boys yelling and throwing stones at a sleeping barred owl.  The rocks became a menace to windows as well as the heads of neighbors and passersby so the owl was shot by police as an unwelcome visitor.  Attitudes directly affect behavior.  And education directly affects attitude.  However, as any parent or teacher knows, social norms also affect attitude.

What is it about owls in pop culture today? You can buy owl anything.  In a quick trip around a large store in town where you can buy just about anything, I found an owl pattern or shape on the following items: t-shirts, pajamas, purses, fabric, lamps, posters, necklaces, Halloween decorations, lollypops, greeting cards, clocks, notebooks, hats, scarves and toys.  I’m not criticizing.  I contemplated being an owl for Halloween and I own owl earrings.  I just wonder; why does it seem like there are stylized owls everywhere these days?  I won’t tease myself and think that all these consumers are buying owl paraphernalia because they “Give a Hoot and Don’t Pollute.”  Is it the prominent forward facing eyes, the simple design or is it something more?  Why are they so cool?

Great Horned Owl - juvenile

Great Horned Owl – Juvenile

The funny thing is the difference between the cartoon owls on decorations and the real thing is like the difference between a Teddy Bear and a real black bear.  Owls are not particularly wise, benevolent, evil or cuddly.  Those are human traits that we impose on the birds.  It is more appropriate that we think of owls as lean, mean, eating machines.  Like a well-trained, well-equipped hunter, owls are designed to hunt down prey and kill it.  For many, maybe that’s where they get a bad reputation.  But everything has to eat.  From their sharp eyesight and fine- tuned sense of hearing to their piercing bill and claws, owls are designed to eat other animals.

Owls seem to have permeated our culture in a way that other birds haven’t.  I’ve seen an owl pin on someone who proclaiming their dislike of the outdoors.  “But you’re sporting a bird pin on your jacket,” I say.  “Yeah, isn’t it cute?”  The pin was cute.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve used the same word to describe a real Saw Whet owl.  But they are also incredible hunters that capture live mice, swallow them whole and later cough up the bits they couldn’t digest in the form of a tightly packed pellet.  Where’s the glittery t-shirt that portrays that?

Everyone has a need to be connected with nature.  It is in our bones and we can’t live without it. Maybe having a purple and pink striped cartoon owl pin could be a start to learning more about the natural world.  Come down to Audubon and learn more at Owl Day on Saturday, November 1 from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  Mark Baker, a NY State Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator will be there with live owls.  You can dissect an owl pellet to find out what owls eat, make owl crafts and learn more about these nocturnal hunters.  The cost is $8 per person, $6 for Friends of the Nature Center and includes building admission.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn until dusk and the building is open Mondays and Saturdays from 10:00am until 4:30pm. Sundays we are open from 1:00pm to 4:30pm and are closed Tuesday through Friday. Call (716) 569-2345 or visit for more information.

Katie Finch is a naturalist at Audubon.

Original article published October 2012.

Posted in Article, Birds, Exhibit


by Sarah Hatfield

I collect the produce from my garden in a wire basket. I store my kindling in a circular basket made of wooden splints. My catch-all container in the mudroom is a sweetgrass basket. Two squat baskets with lids decorate the top of my bookshelf. Useful things, baskets. And all of them are pretty, too.

Finished Basket!

Showing off her finished square basket.

From the moment baskets were born, people have used them as a canvas. Intricate designs, complicated patterns, myriad colors, innovative weaving techniques and materials, and numerous shapes are all ways that the weaver has found to put expression into these utilitarian containers. The basket to carry wheat from the field must be a different style than the one used to catch fish in a river. The basket that nestles a newborn must be different than the one used to carry water. There is no limit to the styles and shapes of baskets.

The purposes of baskets are almost as varied as their appearance. Baskets were used to store and transport dry goods, carry water, catch animals, strain foods, and cradle babies. They were used as cooking utensils and as the molds for the first clay pottery.


Having fun in the round basket workshop.

No one really knows the story of the basket. Being usually made of small plant parts, they are quick to rot and decompose. I imagine that one day a woman got tired of trying to carry all the food she needed for dinner, found an empty bird’s nest, and filled it up with seeds and berries and carried it home. Of course, upon arriving home and seeing the thing filled with bird lice, she promptly dumped the food in the woods and set fire to the nest. And then said to herself with conviction “I will make my own nest to carry the food and it will be better.” Thus the basket was born.

Okay, maybe that’s not how it happened. No one knows. But there are tons of baskets with a ton of history and I am not going to bore you by going into it. I will tell you a bit about the cornucopia basket, though, since its season is approaching.


A variety of baskets made by one of our volunteers.

The cornucopia basket (from the Latin cornu copiae meaning “horn of plenty”) is a symbol for, well, plenty and abundance. It is very old and featured in many works of art to represent, well, abundance. Its symbolic origin is steeped in Greek mythology, though there are two myths, so take your pick. Either Zeus, in his infantile enthusiasm, broke off the horn of his goat nursemaid and then in apology promised that it would always provide her unending nourishment (hence “horn of plenty”). Or Hercules was wrestling with the river god Achelous over a girl and ripped of one of his horns, which Hercules and the girl kept and filled with flowers and fruit for their wedding. Or maybe the river naiads kept it and filled with flowers. Or Hercules, being Zeus’s son, inherited the horn from his dad. Whichever variation gave birth to the symbol, the cornucopia is still one of the commonly recognized styles of baskets.

We use it often this time of bountiful harvest, as a decoration on the center of the table. This year, rather than buying one, or trying to find your in your attic or closet, you could come and make one! We are hosting a basket-making workshop and the style will be a cornucopia! You could make your own horn of plenty, using natural reeds and traditional weaving techniques. Basket-maker Laurie Ennis is joining us once again to demonstrate and teach this style to you. Registrations are due October 20 and the cost is $48, or $36 for members. The class runs from 10:00am until 1:00pm on October 25, so you might want to bring a snack! This promises to be a fun project with plenty of learning! Who knows? You might come up with an idea for a new basket and add to the wonderful history of these containers!

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 and the state line, between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk, and the Nature Center is open 10:00am-4:30pm daily except Sundays when we open at 1:00pm. Visit our website, our Facebook page, or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon.

Posted in Article, Class, Sarah Hatfield


Inner Child comes Out to Play with Skunks
by Jeff Tome

Hornet nest dug up by skunk

A skunk dug up this hornet nest early one morning while early risers watched in excitement. Photo by Jeff Tome

Inside every adult, there is a little kid hiding and waiting to come out.  This little one is full of wonder and joy and excitement, but buried under years of knowledge and other experiences.  Firsts are easy to remember, because they are filled with wonder.  The little kid in us thrives on wonder.

People don’t forget the wonder of their first love, or how awfully that ended.  They don’t forget their first apartment or first car.  Those first times are so full of wonder and excitement that they burn themselves into our brains for the rest of our lives.

Photo by Tom LeBlanc. An unexpected encounter with a skunk can turn an ordinary morning into one to remember.

Nature is full of firsts.   I will never forget the first time I saw a family of foxes.  The kits, still mottled tan and black, played and wrestled along the edge of the field as the mom walked patiently alongside of them.  It was dinnertime, but dinner was forgotten as we all rushed to the windows to watch the foxes going past.

There is an excitement in the air when something happens that you have never seen, or rarely seen.  I don’t remember my first skunk encounter, but I remember many of them.  Skunks are just plain fun to watch.  A younger me used to follow them around in the dusk and watch them push their noses into the dirt as they grabbed grubs out of the turf.  There were always three skunks in the yard, and they let me get within a dozen feet of them or so.

It’s been years since skunks have crossed my path, so the little kid in me leapt for joy when one showed up while we were camping in a friend’s backyard.  It was early in the morning, and the skunk was in the front yard, digging joyfully into the driveway below a railroad tie.  It’s back was snow white, but it showed off its black belly when it peeked up over the railroad tie.

Mini Camp

Children gather at windows, because there is so much happening outside that is new to them that they can be endlessly entertained by looking outside.

Every once in a while, it would roll over and over on the driveway, rubbing its back onto the stones with the white tail swishing around like a broom.  While we watched it roll around, the little kid in everyone burst through all those layers of experience that tie it down.  We watched, we laughed and there was a fascinated gleam in everyone’s eyes.

Why was the skunk there?  There were yummy hornets that had built a nest under the railroad tie.  The skunk was busy digging up the nest and eating them.  Perhaps the skunk rolled over so adorably to squash hornets that were stinging it. As daylight strengthened, the skunk ambled off into the bushes and disappeared.

That was when the little kid in everyone went and hid again.   Conversation shifted from awe to the everyday concerns of skunks.  The gleam in everyone’s eyes dwindled to a spark as we talked over whether or not to be concerned about the skunk.  Would it spray?  Would it eat the rest of the hornets?

For my kids, it was a first.  They had never seen a live skunk before, only “skunk road pancakes” that smell up the car as we drive by.  Later, they talked mostly about the skunk’s fluffy tail and how cute it was.  There was no lingering smell where the skunk was, since we never scared it.

It was an amazing shared experience, watching the skunk dig up and eat hornets at dawn.   I don’t think that any one of the six people there will ever forget it.  Skunk watching drew us all together into a tight community sharing an amazing experience.  It was a moment of awe and joy and it turned on that light in everyone’s eyes that said their inner child was peeking out and really enjoying life.

Some moments can’t be planned for.  They aren’t preserved by photo or video.  They live on in the memories shared by the people who were there.  Perhaps those memories are more treasured for there being no other way to share the experience than words, which frankly can’t convey the experience at all, no matter how hard I’ve tried.

Since those moments can’t be planned for, the only thing to do is wait for them to happen and enjoy the show.

Jeff Tome is a naturalist at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary, located at 1600 Riverside Road between Jamestown, NY and Warren, PA.  For more information on experiences offered at Audubon, go to or call 716-569-2345.

Posted in Article, Jeff Tome

Warren Photographer’s Work On Display at the Nature Center

Warren Photographer’s Exhibit at Audubon

Jamestown, NY – Through November, a visit to the Audubon Center & Sanctuary will feature an added attraction: a display of photographs by Dr. Sandra Rothenberg.

Baltimore Oriole - Sandra Rothenberg

This Baltimore Oriole is just one of the beautiful images by Warren, Pennsylvania, nature photographer Sandra Rothenberg on display at the Audubon Center & Sanctuary now through November.

Rothenberg is a nature photographer from Warren, Pennsylvania. With the exception of the Burrowing Owl from Florida, all the bird photographs on display were taken last spring in her own backyard or near her sister’s pond, also in Warren.

Describing taking these photographs, Rothenberg says, “I was hoping to capture local birds standing on beautiful perches with berries or blossoms as they approached the feeders to dine. Often the Indigo Buntings arrived with the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The Baltimore Orioles always announced their arrival with their raucous, joyful songs. I was able to take the photographs while sitting in a small pop-up camouflage tent. The green backgrounds are the hillsides of grass.”

Rothenberg has been particularly fond of bats since she held a small Brown Bat in her hand as a child. Last spring she visited Arizona where she photographed Pallid Bats. Unlike bats in our area, Pallid Bats have pale, long, and wide ears, and their fur is generally lightly colored.

Rothernberg caught the images of Pallid Bats in the desert at a small water hole where they came to drink. In her photographs one sees the bats’ expressions, their sharp, white teeth, their bright pink tongues, the ridges of their elongated ears, and the spirals of their nostrils. “Water splashed on their parched faces as they dove,” she said. “What a thrill it was to wait for them to appear out of the darkness, drink, and disappear into the night.”

With her doctorate in clinical psychology, Rothenberg has worked as a psychotherapist and yoga instructor in addition to studying photography. Her work has been exhibited in New York and Pennsylvania.

Those interested in purchasing any of the photographs on display at Audubon can contact Rothenberg directly at (814) 726-0543 or

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

The Nature Center building, with its collection of live animals, interactive exhibits and the Blue Heron Gift Shop, is open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-4:30 p.m. Sundays through October. Beginning November 1, the building is open Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Sunday is a free day for the building. There is never a charge to visit the Nature Store, walk the trails, enjoy the gardens, or view Liberty, Audubon’s non-releasable Bald Eagle, in her outdoor habitat behind the Nature Center.

For more information on the Audubon Center & Sanctuary and all its programs, call (716) 569-2345 or visit


Posted in Exhibit, News Release, Photography

Photo Club to Meet on Oct 9, 2014

De-Mystify Your Camera Manual at the Audubon Photo Club Meeting

 Jamestown, NY – The goal of the next Jamestown Audubon Nature Photography Club meeting is to de-mystify the camera manual. The topic will be “Camera Guide Basics.”

pumpkins - Laurel Austin-Smith

“Camera Guide Basics” will be the subject at the Audubon Nature Photography Club meeting on Thursday, October 9. Shown here is speaker Laurel Austin-Smith’s photograph of seasonal pumpkins.

On Thursday, October 9, at 6:15 p.m. members meet, show off monthly project photos, present a 15-minute tech talk and have a speaker or demo presentation with social time rounding out the night.

 Camera user guides/manuals are often imposing and 120-300 pages long. Members, Laurel Austin-Smith and Bill Smith will highlight what you need to know, what is nice to know, and what you can pretty much ignore in your camera user’s manual.

 Laurel Austin-Smith is a long-time enthusiast of nature and enjoys sharing that passion with others through photography. Bill Smith can often be found out and about and has exhibited his photos at outdoor street fairs for the past 31 years.

“Photograph something orange” and “Unusual Element” are the topics for the image review that

begins the meeting. Unusual Element is taking a photo of something and photographing it in a nature setting where it doesn’t belong. This makes one look for settings and backgrounds that fit an odd subject.

The 15-minute Tech Talk will be on painting a night scene with light.

A social time follows the program.

Visitors are asked to pay $5 that can be applied toward the annual membership of $30 if application is made by the next meeting. Among the benefits of membership are discounts on photography classes, field trips, and the right to show photos at Club exhibits.

The Jamestown Audubon Nature Photography Club meets at the Audubon Center & Sanctuary, 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York, and Warren, Pennsylvania.

Contact Club President Suzette Paduano at (716) 763-9492 or for more information, or visit the Club blog at


Posted in News Release, Photo Club

Auction Dinner Reservations Due October 15

Exceptional Menu & Distinctive Auction Items Planned for Audubon Event

Jamestown, NY – Great fun, great food, great cause – all are promised to participants in the Audubon Center & Sanctuary’s annual Falling for Nature Dinner & Auction on Friday, October 24, 2014.

Auction 2012

Auctioneer Mike Peterson returns to lead the Audubon Center & Sanctuary’s Annual Falling for Nature Dinner & Auction on Friday, October 24, in Jamestown’s Gateway Train Station. The gala evening will include a delicious Field to Fork dinner and offer artwork, opportunity, and fine cuisine in both live and silent auctions.

“We’re working closely with Miley’s Old Inn and CHQ Local Food to provide the freshest, most delectable, and truly Farm to Table dinner possible,” said Audubon President Ruth Lundin, “and our staff and volunteers have secured an exciting collection of both silent and live auction items.”

With this year’s event set for Jamestown’s Gateway Train Station, Audubon is looking forward to continuing its tradition of providing an entertaining evening that supports their environmental education programs.

Mike Peterson returns as the dynamic auctioneer for the gala affair that begins at 5:30 p.m. with the viewing of live auction items and bidding on the silent auction.

Outstanding artwork to be auctioned includes an oil painting of the Hall of Philosophy at Chautauqua Institution by Oksana Zhurakovskaya-Johnson, a professionally matted and framed “Snowy Owl” reproduction numbered and signed by Janet Mandel, a stained glass panel by Kay Marker, a framed photograph of the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel by Bill Smith, and framed watercolors by Laura Cummings and wildlife photos by Terry Lorenc.

Among the distinctive dining offerings featured are an assortment of wild game dishes served on the bank of the Allegheny River — canoeing and kayaking optional, an evening of Indian cuisine, live musical accompaniment to a dinner prepared by professional chef Todd Singleton, and a local history-filled visit to Cadwell’s Cheese House followed by dinner at the Watermark.

You’ll have the opportunity to sharpen your skills by being the high bidder on private lessons in book binding, photography, and watercolor painting. Or perhaps your dog could better use the training – or grooming!

Auction items with a focus on “experiences” include a guided drift boat day trip below Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River, an Amish tour and lunch at the Cherry Creek Inn, a Figure 8 the Lake guided tour of Chautauqua Lake by the book’s authors, Tom Erlandson and Linda Swanson, and gift certificates to The Oaks Bed & Breakfast Hotel in Jamestown and Edwards Waterhouse Inn Bed and Breakfast in Fredonia.

A plush microsuede life-sized giant salamander, jewelry, a hand-dyed silk scarf, baskets of personal care products and golf accessories, and a $200 gift certificate to Jamestown Kitchen and Bath are also likely to be much-sought-after items.

The evening’s dinner will feature two meat selections as well as a vegetarian entrée. Among the dishes completing the buffet will be a medley of roasted seasonal vegetables, a tossed salad bar, and luscious fruit desserts. The menu will not be finalized until shortly before the event, with choices made from what local producers have at their finest.

Deadline for paid reservations is Wednesday, October 15. To view a selection of the auction items and to reserve your spot, visit Reservations can also be made by calling (716) 569-2345.

To learn more about how CHQ Local Food sources locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy products, visit and

Examples of some of Miley’s Old Inn menu specials are at


Posted in Fundraiser | Tagged ,