Some images, thoughts, and observations from a 4.5 hour walk I took today with the donkeys and Skookum.A couple— mallards winging with the brisk wind fly past my head – flying so low they thread the pines — like a deadly weaving Cooper’s Hawk hot on the chase.
Predator and prey pass the same way.
April’s roaring sharp wind penetrates like the red-tailed hawk’s scream.
The fuzzy new lupine—so many small hands reach toward the sun —emerged from the gnarled, gray decay of last year’s expression.
Why is this so beautiful?
How does one live fearlessly?
The beauty of a Bumbleburr is to be able to change plans. We didn’t spend much time on the ridge. The fierce cold wind drove me off, and the donkeys found their favorite grass scarce up there. They cantered down the ridge path and waited for me at the crossroad.
Please select the audio link below to hear an audio version of “Four Days.”
Four days—me recovering– from surgery, and my spouse
taking care of the animals.
The silent donkeys stare when he delivers their hay.
Skookum shuns him and the dog walk and skirts back to the house. Asking at the side door until I come drunkenly to let him in. Gingerly he hops onto the bed and falls heavily –pressed against me.
Rumbling cat curls my stomach. The three of us float in no-time.
The donkeys trudge through deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures to the farmhouse. Arriving at the side door long ears point the door handle and as patiently wait for me to come and push snow with them.
Hope expired they turn away and go out to clip branches and pluck shriveled rose hips above the snowy mantle.
Chippo wheezes and squeaks when Bruce enters the stall bringing food. I learn later “something must be wrong with that donkey.”
But, no, I know
what has really happened is the man has earned his gift–a greeting in donkey-talk.
Face mask, hat, gloves, and a bulky down coat I venture outside to feed my pigeons. My throat is so sore, I cannot ring “woo-hoo” as I always do. The birds look sideways: fluff their feathers: shift foot to foot. Plink, splat, and kerplunk whole corn, peas, and seeds.
Still, even the tame bronze beauty doesn’t know me; none of the pigeons will come.
Feeling a little sad by what’s so quickly lost, I shut the loft door and climb into the Ranger, start the roar, eager for home and my bed
Please select the audio link below to hear an audio version of “Dream the Rooster.”
I hear my far neighbor’s rooster crowing when I tramp out to feed the birds in the morning. On a day like today when it’s icy and snow layers the ground, the cock’s crow carries like a siren over the prairie and sounds so close, the big boy could be strutting underfoot and weaving around me.
I’ve been listening to this rooster each morning and off and on throughout the day for about a year. I have never seen the bird, and I can only guess which farm he lives on.
I want a rooster too; I wish to hear my own bird marking his time, and to see my dandy strutting and hurrying the hens as males so well do.
On any given day a rooster passes through my mind. Recently I conjured a rather small fellow sporting black and white feather-leggings and a mop hat covering his comb. Some varieties of chickens do resemble this delightful two-tone fop! Not all roosters have the striking red comb that stands high on their head. My imagined paramour is probably better at parading, posturing, and displaying than actually mating though.
Another rooster I daydream about is a living sunset that never goes down. A great red comb and wattles herald his rich mellifluous voice spreading golden light across the farm. His feathers are graduated in varying tones of orange and brown, and he has a glossy black tail. He’s bold and utterly bewitching, and probably the one who– when he reaches adulthood– will have to have his head cut off because he has become too aggressive.
But, the sage whispers, isn’t it enough, my friend, to hear your neighbor’s cock’s crow? To hear its charming accord again and again as the sound reminds you of tall grasses thrusting above deep snow. The cock’s crow and the land. Remember last week when you took your walk; you heard the cock-a-doodle-doo in the distance, and you looked down to see wild turkey tracks in ice. The turkeys were on their way to stands of white oaks, where their dinosaur-feet would swipe back snow and wet leaves so the odd-shaped birds could search for fallen acorns. The rooster crowed again, and you noticed an elk track traversing the turkey prints back and forth, back and forth– braiding the turkeys’ trail.
Isn’t it enough to dream the rooster?
(Captions for each photo will be revealed when you roll cursor over image.)
Areas under white oaks where wild turkey have removed snow and leaves.
Disturbed area under the white oaks where they turkeys have searched for acorns.
The first ice storm of the season brings an inch or two of cold glass wrapping around every exposed surface making road travel and walking conditions treacherous to impossible. And the birds have a hard time reaching food as they struggle to remove seeds encased in ice.
At first light I strap on my Alaskan ice cleats, spin the lids on the birdseed bins, plunge the plastic scoop into the dry, slippery bits, and pour millet, nyjer, peanuts, and sunflower chips onto four platform feeders hanging in the Elderberry shrub. The Stellar’s Jays are first to arrive. I presume it’s the same pair that visits every day shortly after daybreak. They take as much seed as they can hold in their gular pouch, and then fly off, and I won’t see them again until the next morning.
Though ice-fog surrounds the farmhouse creating poor visibility, festive activity springs from the shrub outside the kitchen window as over one hundred songbirds pounce on the feed covering the platforms and on the ground.
But, it’s an Anna’s Hummingbird’s arrival that truly makes the show for me. This bird comes every morning after it has stirred from its torpor (a strategy hummingbirds use to slow their body processes by 95% to survive cold nights), and it drinks some warm nectar in a red feeder I’ve hung from a branch. The Anna’s stays around the feeder for thirty minutes and then zooms off, and I don’t see it again until just before dark when it returns and takes several long sips to fortify itself before the long-cold hours ahead.
I was worried that by keeping nectar available I might be preventing the hummer from migrating, but this is not the case according to the Seattle Audubon Society. The Anna’s Hummingbird in the Pacific Northwest often does not migrate, but chooses instead to overwinter. It survives by lapsing into torpor and also by having a diverse diet. Anna’s eat insects and spiders in addition to flower nectar. According to Gregory Green a wildlife ecologist who writes for BirdWatching Magazine, these wintering hummingbirds seize flying insects from the air, “steal captured insects from spider webs, and pluck trapped insects from tree sap.” Wow, they are quite clever, so it’s no wonder a smile rises when I see an Anna’s busily drinking nectar from my feeder, because I know this tiny creature has just survived another night where the temperature dropped below 30 degrees.
I bring my hummingbird feeder inside at night, and then put it back outside just after dawn. I found a link on the Seattle Audubon Society’s website for heated hummingbird feeders — here is the link, if you are interested. Hummers Heated Delight
Which cleats should you get? It depends on what type of shoes or boots you will ear them with and also what you will be doing. if you are just going to the grocery store, then you may be able to make do with light duty cleats that pull on over loafers. But, if you are working around the yard , barn , or even walking to the mailbox, and it super icy– you need the orange or black cleats that you pull on or strap onto boots. The orange cleats are probably best for most unless you work outside a lot like I do, and you want to hike in icy, snowy conditions.
The land sings of deep drought—the stress is on. Crispy, parched melody –leaves of the white oak are brown and withering like it’s Fall—but it’s too early.
Songbirds pant and teeter in the wind on the telephone wire. The finch peer, seemingly with longing, at the prairie pond, but I am down there with three bird-dogs.
As soon as we begin departure, our fourteen feet flittering fine dust into a rising cloud that pins the dogs’ claws and gnaws its way between their toes and my toes inside nylon-rubber sandals.
The flash of departing dusty pink Capris pants, and the finch descend in a group — swoop to stand along the crusty demarcation line between liquid and earth. In unison the heavy beaks dip for one long sip.
He says, “It’s been in this jar for days, and we can see it getting smaller, but now I don’t know what to do with it.”
“You can’t release it here,” she says.
I say, “I’ll take it.”
Still in the jar, I transport it home in my car and place the container on an outside shelf near the front door for the night. In the early morning before the sun has risen over the ridge, I ride side by side with the jar along the gravel way. Hair blowing; four-wheeler roaring; I consider where I’m going to release this animal.
So, I carry the creature through the main gate– leaving the farm.
I set it atop a wooden post to photograph the scorpion in a jar.
Thru the prism of Ball brand glass, backlit by sun, the scorpion’s pincers wave and stretch toward the ceiling of its cell.
I look about—where and how shall I release it. Will it swing and sting or rush and pinch me? Scorpions have such a scary reputation, but its true nature is unknown to me, so I have no idea how it will react when I let it go.
I lay the jar on its side across the lichen spotted boulder. The precise, minuscule second the lid comes off the scorpion scuttles quickly forward and pops out of the jar and crosses the rock and descends into a dark crevasse beyond me. Freedom it knows.
I wasn’t of any interest. How silly to think that I would matter.