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Nervous system observations in nature

by Nicola Aug. 6, 2019

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Loons on Wolf Lake in Temagami

My partner Doug and I had the incredible opportunity on the August, 2019 long weekend to watch two adult loons with their chick from our campsite on our canoe trip.  Without any understanding in the big picture of loon rearing and what was happening for the little chick, we observed the activation or sympathetic charge of its autonomic nervous system,  as its parents disappeared under the water to fish.   The longer it was alone, it would paddle frantically to catch up to where it saw its parents last (fight/flight).  It would then peep with increased volume & urgency changing course as the parents popped up in a new location wailing and hooting to help the chick find them.  There was a brief time to meet up for reassurance & to share in the catch (parasympathetic expression of the nervous system resulting in deactivation) and then they were off again, leaving the chick alone.

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As we watched these waves of activation & deactivation for the chick, we could  feel the distress in our own nervous systems during the fishing that spread out over a long period of time.  A few hours later, Doug and I were so grateful to experience something we had heard about but not seen....the little chick was on the back of one of the parents.  As we packed up our campsite to head out in the canoe, the mum or dad continued to have this little one cradled in.  At times it would rest its own head next to its baby's head, nestling in and soothing the little one.  We felt the settling and warming of our own hearts and bodies just to observe this intimate, quiet moment on the lake.  As I reflect on this experience, I think of how we are all navigating this survival energy as we move through our busy day, and how  important it is to be able to regularly find a way to settle and calm our nervous system so that we move from activation (doing) into the restful physiology of deactivation (being).