Diary: A Fated Oak


Listen to the posting- 3 minutes- click here:


“The point of a maze is to find its centre.  The point of a labyrinth is to find your centre”  David Brazzeal, Guerilla Labyrinths .


The snow is disappearing in patches. Bare spots here — there. Picking my way from spot to spot I move across the oak savannah for a labyrinth snow walk.  Eventually I run out of open way, so I turn and find the beginning looking for another series of snowless patches that perhaps will lead me further.


I run into another wide stretch of snow, so I twist again and seek a fresh run of open ground to set my tennis shoes. Finally, I find an open sea that takes me right to the fated oak.


She’s worn and tired, nine branches drooping severely down.  Jagged torn broken limbs litter the ground.


The oak’s rough trunk and branches are covered with a black lichen dressing like she’s been on fire. On top of the burn are pumpkin rust dots of roe-lichen and small scattered celadon plant-rosettes. Reef coral of the Oregon oak savannah.


The oak trees around the old tree are hearty–healthy with slender limb-fingers lifting in supplication toward the upper.


But the fated oak has experienced a turning.


We will one day.


I think about that as I sit on rough rock with Professor Skookum nearby. He’s twelve now. Maybe another year or two. Skookum lies heavily but comfortably on a big ice patch. Perhaps we both watch and listen for new beginnings- after all it is Spring time.


Killdeer, circling high and calling not far away are searching for snow-free ground to lay 4-6 precious eggs. They arrived as expected, but our land didn’t welcome with its season-late deep snow blanket.


And, a Say’s Phoebe, our earliest nesting bird sallies forth from an old wooden fence post as an unseen male robin sings trying to establish territory somewhere over there.


Weak- weak spring, but we’re all here –journeying– endings and beginnings surrounding the center.

A Fated Oak

Diary: Mallard Spray

Click here for audio version –less than 2 minutes

From whence she came I do not know. Her shadow glides over me and snow and soars silently across the valley meadow– over Kickin’ Mule Creek, over another meadow where she alights heavily in a sentinel Ponderosa Pine. The dogs seem to have completely missed the turkey hen’s passing.


Sixty head of elk have worn a snow packed path through the meadows, into Spanish Oak alley where the lichen and moss streams down from branches; their path angling sharply downward and crossing Kickin’ Mule Creek.  Professor Skookum, Gypsy, Cowboy, and I follow the easy elk road instead of trudging our own path through three feet of snow.


Like buckshot from a shotgun—a rising spray of eleven mallards peppers the sky after the dogs and I surprise the ducks. They were floating in the tiniest wild-mint filled pool in the creek.  A pool just large enough for three big dogs.


How the ducks got up so quickly and cleared the branches of the woods seems magical. Gypsy stiffened into a hard stop-to -flush, but Cowboy glanced up at the fleeing ducks, wagged his tail, and tore off in glee, but not after the ducks. He ran through the creek, up the snowy embankment and into the meadow other side. While twelve year old Professor Skookum just watched then proceeded carefully with me and we picked our way around slippery creek rocks—to meet the other side.


Blizzard Feed

Below is the audio version of this story. It’s just under 3 minutes long.

The birds are busy feeding for indeed they are feeding for their lives.  Blizzard feed. A commanding chorus of red-winged blackbirds are arranged like a cloud in the old gothic elm in front of the farmhouse. From the cloud– trills, buzzes, and thin seductive whistles. Three pipes of a low noted flute followed by a lusty buzz is the most majestic of the blackbird sounds. Punctuating this chorus is an incessant chip, chip, chip, chip. The blackbirds perform not for us, but somehow the raucous orchestra bursts through our glass windows and fills the living room with sound.


When the blackbirds descend onto the platform feeders, the platforms swing and wildly. Older males flick their bright red epaulets and the younger males keep their wings in close.


Mostly, posturing is minimal, because everyone is focused on getting food. The males and the striped females swing side by side.


Only a midnight blue Stellar’s Jay is bold enough to stop in and grab a sunflower seed. The smaller birds keep their distance.


Once the blackbirds return to the elm or the telephone wire, one can see the blizzard feed is not a single species event. English sparrow, house finch, Eurasian collared dove, mourning dove, spotted towhee, golden crowned sparrow, and white crowned sparrow drill for thistle, cracked corn, millet, and sunflower seed. A Northern flicker hits the suet cake. Even a denizen of the prairie the Western Meadowlark sits in a doorway, leading to the deck, watching as snow pours down and covers the grasslands more and more deeply


Snow has been falling so densely the past six hours, that the farmhouses’ exterior window sills are supporting many little birds. The sills are snow free, because we have a hip roof with deep eaves.  Miniature-bodied juncos have lined up along all the sills. Their unblinking obsidian jeweled eyes register the environment as the birds rest and conserve energy.


The bleakest bird today is a young Cooper’s hawk sitting bunched and weary on a branch of the old elderberry bush just outside the kitchen window. The raptor might survive another day, if it could just catch one of the small birds flitting about it. But, already the hawk seems past the blizzard feed’s tipping point.  The tipping point, the tipping point, the tipping point…





Diary: Mallard Quack

Less than a minute – click to hear quack like a duck!

Prior to dawn and just before dusk I heard the mallards down on Big Pond quacking… “quack, quack, quack….”


This morning the snow fell. This evening snow poured down upon the ducks as they quacked merrily along. Each snowflake became one with the pond and the song of the ducks. “quack, quack, quack.”


Diary: Feeding Elk

Though we are seeing a thaw- the forecast predicts 4 days of coming snow, and a fair amount too– a foot or so more. We’ll see.

The elk are here. Here because their grounds up in the highlands are totally covered in snow. So, they come down in search of food to the lower lands. They have torn apart the ground on about 50 acres of scrub oak in search of acorns.

Since this is becoming a tough winter- the neighbors have been talking about how to ease things for the elk.  So, we have hundreds of pounds of grass pellets and brought in a large load of hay yesterday. My husband placed some of it last night.

Several of the neighbors are doing the same.

Some say you should feed the elk and some say it’s not a good idea. It reminds me of the hummingbird controversy – to take the feeder away or leave it hanging until the birds decide to leave on their own.  

Snow Sand

Click to listen to the audio version — 3 minutes

“The deep snow is just like sand for the donkeys’ hooves; the donkeys browse tall grass and shrubs as they step through the heavy snow; the grains of snow-sand grind their hooves, front to back, side to side, and come spring they’ll have perfectly trimmed feet. When I come back  in  the spring, I won’t have anything to do except visit with you”. Matt Dumolt- Mule Springs Farm farrier 


The sun. The donkeys and I stepped methodically.  Grinding away, at a long narrow path made days before by my four-wheeler. I had tried to cut a path, so we could continue taking our daily walks.

Ziggy, the gray donkey led the way; I followed, but it was a balancing act. I had to place one foot directly in front of the other, instead of a little out to the side like humans normally do. Somehow the donkeys, with four legs, were able to skillfully manage a very narrow trail. Recall those sure-footed donkeys who carry visitors along ledge-path to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. 

For Chippo, the donkey behind, I was just another herd member.  If I stopped, he’d stop, but when we were walking sometimes he would be so close, I could feel his muzzle brush my body. It wouldn’t take much to topple me over. So, I’d make a backward swishing motion with my arms— like swishing a tail back and forth. Just as a mother donkey would do, to tell the young one “back off.” Chippo respected this message. Soon we’d be three— walking on— and all three perfectly spaced. 

Occasionally, I lost balance and stepped outside the deep rut. This was totally disconcerting, for if I stepped off-trail, I might break through or not. If not, it was a big step up-then back down. It was startling to crash threw though, a jolt, before I could regain the narrow path once more. Either way, it slowed us and tired me to step off path.

The sun was welcome, and it cast a deep light making white impossibly bright. Still, darker pocket-lines of elk tracks often traversed our path. And, I rested a while with Chippo resting too behind me.  I spied delicate, spidery tracks on the snow. The trail meandered; it might have been made by a mouse. Suddenly I thought of the Sahara desert and a caravan— bright hot sun and white sands as viewed from a thousand feet above. Imagine this! The tracks of camel in the desert as seen from above would reflect a similar pattern like the tiny trail I was seeing now. Sahara sands and snow sands sharing patterns in common. 

Cow Elk Crossings

Click on this link to listen (2 minutes 5 seconds)–

Early morn and sitting in my leather reading chair, I happened to glance up from Walden.  Across the fields and up on Razorback Ridge; I spied a large dark form moving. It stood out sharply against the snow and black etched oaks. I seized binoculars and glassed a cow elk, alone. She was plowing through several feet of snow across the impossibly steep hillside. Running —from what?

She suddenly grew still and alert. Still as a predator focused razor sharp. Still as prey when discerning dangers preceding life or death.  Erect and tense, a solid statue now —she listens and reaches out feeling for threats. Just moments later her neck shifts forward and she pushes off again — a lone trajectory crossing the winter ridge.  

Meanwhile, hundreds of songbirds have fallen on four swinging platforms —feeders piled high with black sunflower seeds, millet, tiny cracked corn, and thistle. A noisy frenzy- feeding after a long cold night. 

The sun begins to tip above Razorback Ridge and the glow strikes the farmhouse, barn, and all the frozen lands.  The timing seems off, but I have just heard the unearthly cry of a cow elk. So often sounded in the middle of a night, it’s piercing, haunting counterpoint overlays the songbirds’ trill, and reminds me of the cow now long across and every beings’ eagerness to survive.