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Fledging

It was a big day here. I’m so exhausted you’d think I were fledging. I came downstairs shortly after sunrise to let Stellar out after hearing his nails click on the floor. I was horrified to see a Phoebe fall from the nest – but wait, it hadn’t fallen, it had flown. I couldn’t miss this, so I didn’t even go back upstairs for the camera phone. I grabbed the big camera and went outside.

There were three phoebes already out of the nest, squatting all over the patio.

They could barely fly, with their brand new wings and their stubby little tails, yet they kept fluttering from one surface to another.

Once they discovered the cat ladder, the real fun began. Back and forth, back and forth. Topaz, however, had by now been locked inside for the first hour of the day, given up, and gone back upstairs to bed. Not a peep from her the rest of the day. More hours went by, well-spent as far as I was concerned. I’d been waiting for this day since May 19, when the chicks first hatched. In the previous week, the speed of their growth astonished me.

From the ladder, back and forth to the old cable wire that I leave hanging just for this reason, to the old insulation hole in the adobe double-wall, to the ladder, to eventually, hours later, the honeysuckle and the rose bush beyond the patio. Mama and Papa continued to take turns feeding the babies, but how could they tell who was who? I noticed that sometimes they’d feed the same chick three or four times in a row, until it just wouldn’t open its mouth again, then they’d take their bug to another. Their instincts came through though: when any of them approached another, well, they just kept opening their mouths to receive food, even if it was just another chick coming in for a landing. Sometimes they got lucky.

Even after being fed they squawk.

Everything went really well. Four chicks out of the nest, each getting its turn getting fed, but the fifth chick just would not leave the nest. Even as the others explored sensations of flight, tested their quickly growing limits, I swear even their tail feathers seemed to grow before my eyes, stretched their wings, the fifth chick simply wouldn’t leave.

Mama continued to feed it, teasing with the insect and making the chick reach for it again and again before relinquishing it, and once actually got on top of the chick, I think urging it to leave the nest. I began to despair of it leaving ever, as the first four chicks flew from the ladder one by one, out into the trees east or north of the house.

The last chick flexed its wings a few times, but remained alone in the nest for more than an hour, before finally joining a few remaining nest mates on the ladder. But they, too, flew off, leaving the last little bird alone on the ladder for a long time. I couldn’t leave. I pretended to read, time marched relentlessly on, it was getting close to noon, I could hear the rest of the family chirping from around the north side of the house, and still the last little bird lingered on the ladder.

Some other things happened.

I was grateful that I had no firm commitments on my calendar until evening, when I had a group to lead online. I could bide my time outside. I had started the morning rapt with joy, completely immersed in the huge little drama unfolding with the Phoebe family. By eleven, as I sat anxiously watching the last little fledgeling sleeping on a rung of the ladder, anxiety assailed me: what if they left it there? what if no one came back for it? what would I do? how would I save it? I observed these thoughts arise, only mildly disturbed by them. Even as my mind raised anxieties, a more detached awareness simply watched it all unfold, waiting patiently, reassuring the rest of me that it would all be okay no matter how it went down, and more specifically, calmly insisting that they would never have invested that much energy into bring the chick to this point in its life only to abandon it. Finally, I saw a parent approach it with food, trying to entice it off the rung. It took another hour, but eventually, the last chick flew to the rosebush, then to the maple, then on around beyond the house. I went inside. By then it was hot, and I was exhausted from my irresistible seven-hour vigil. I went inside to meditate and nap.

Come evening, cooled down, I went outside again to water the vegetable beds; stepping around the north end of the house to turn on the hose, I saw them all stacked up along a shelf support in the tool area. Before dark, they had dispersed to several other perches. I kept thinking they’d return to the nest overnight, as last year’s clutch did for a few days after hatching, but didn’t see that before I went in at dusk. I’m grateful for an absolutely perfect day watching the greatest show on earth, a participant observer in the thrilling action of a special day in the life of a single bird family. May they all live through the night, and the summer, and the next few years.

First Flight

Those mom and pop phoebes are indomitable, like Mother Nature herself; constant, though not as sure as the sunrise. Anything could happen to any one of them on any day: a peregrine falcon, for example. But in general, they’re pretty safe here. They put up with me coming and going underneath them, and I suspect en evolutionary advantage to those phoebes who nested near humans: their risk pays off in having fewer (more cautious) predators.

In no time at all, they are climbing out of the nest, stretching their wings. Where is the fifth one? I’ve been watching the houseplants below the nest, no one has fallen out. I can’t really see them from the patio table, my outside office, without binoculars or the zoom lens, so sometimes I take pictures and only know what I’m looking at later.

I’m just grateful they’ve made it this far. Grateful that I have the opportunity to live in such close proximity, grateful they trust me, grateful to first hear their first wing stretches fluttering, and later witness ‘first flight,’ the first time both feet left a firm surface and this baby bird experienced the sensation of flight.

There seems to be a jay nest just north of the birch tree, possibly in an old abandoned magpie nest. It was here I think I heard the screeching from yesterday, before imagining the worst case scenario for a titmouse chick. I flustered a lot of them this evening just before I came in from the pending, blowing storm. Nothing has happened so far except some lighting and thunder, but overnight we got 3 one-hundredths of an inch of rain. I’m grateful for every milliliter of it.

It was interesting to observe: lying in bed around midnight hearing the first drops coming down on the metal roof, and then a steady thrum. Watching my mind attach with relief to the sound of rain, and immediately begin to constrict with the assumption that it wouldn’t amount to much, that it would end all too soon. The rain intensified, and for a moment I almost believed it would last, but then, over the course of a few minutes, the volume dwindled, and then shut off. Oh well. At least I have phoebes.

Though I know I won’t have them forever, I treasure them while they’re here: a healthy approach to every joyful thing in every day. So many things I’ve been grateful for during this one precious day that will never come again, including the opportunity to teach a mindfulness class to two dear friends, a delicious lunch, a hot shower, access to stream a film about the Dalai Lama, and the recommendation to watch Ballerina Boys, a fascinating documentary about an all-male ballet troupe that’s been showcasing a scintillating blend of classical ballet and drag comedy for 45 years. Literally every moment, every breath, is an opportunity to be grateful for something.

Witnessing

I’m grateful today for witnessing so many facets of the miracle of life. The phoebe babies are big enough to peek over the edge of the nest, and I was stunned to see four yellow mouths instead of three. I watched off and on today as their parents flew more or less nonstop back and forth bringing bugs. The chicks would wake squeaking until one was fed, then their fragile little forms would droop back into sleep, their heads sometimes draped over the edge like the one in back. The central chick is stretching its delicate feathering wing.

Witnessing the many buds of the trail cactus blooming at last.
Stellar the Stardog says Which way? I’m so grateful for this face!
Stellar the Stardog contemplates cliff swallows swooping through the canyon in the early morning. Or something. Witnessing the inevitable impermanence of each life, of this precious life, with tender equanimity. I’m grateful that after his slump last week he’s got stamina again for a good morning walk, and can still stand up in the evening.

Birds and Bees

Say’s phoebe perched on the candlestick in front of the living room window reflecting the bluebird sky.

I was sitting at the patio table watching the phoebes take turns bringng food to their newly hatched chicks when one of them paused to watch me. I’m so grateful for these intrepid little birds! They commonly nest in human structures and don’t seem bothered at all by our activity. Below, papa brings a delicious grub to chicks still too small to be seen above the nest rim; mama feeds a hungry little mouth (my first glimpse of this brood); and then she carries away a poop pellet. I remember this from last year: she’ll feed a baby, wait a moment until it upends itself, then grab the pellet as it pops out. How efficient!

Meanwhile, in the vegetable garden, the perennial onions are in bloom and full of bees of all stripes. This digger bee made its way around a whole blossom (with a mineral tub planter in the background), sharing the bounty with a tiny sweat bee.

Resting at the patio table again after planting out the first tomato and the scarlet runner bean, this Bullock’s oriole caught my eye on a hummingbird feeder. I immediately went inside and sliced an orange in half to supplement the sugar water, which is hard for them to get from the small hummingbird-tongue sized holes. They are infrequent enough visitors during migration to make buying an oriole feeder impractical, so I try to keep oranges on hand for the few weeks in spring that I sometimes see them. Each sighting is a real treat.

On another break, I took the camera over to the single pale iris by the tortoise pen, where I’d seen a bumblebee earlier. No bees, but this lovely beetle which I remember from last summer was the main feeder on the white irises. Then the juniper titmouse caught my attention, bringing food to its babies in the hollow juniper in the center of the pen. Noticing me with the camera trained on its hole, it took awhile to approach, before darting into the hole with a flick of its tail feathers, and remaining there til I left. So cute! I’m grateful for the winged residents of the yarden, and for the luxury of time in my day to observe and connect with them.

Wednesday

Sudden Erigeron blooming all along the path through the woods.
The first iris now joined by her sisters
Hamburger buns for Boyz Lunch, baked this morning. Grateful for the ingredients, the time, the recipe, the experience and confidence to make them, starting first thing after morning walk and meditation.
Salmon burgers with roasted red pepper mayonnaise, cole slaw, and potato chips. Plus iced vanilla latt├ęs, and Sanibel Cinnamon Delights. Grateful for the ingredients, et. al, and for Boyz Lunch which punctuates my week when it works out for all of us: they give me a good reason to play with food. And they give Stellar some man-time which he savors.
Grateful for naptime outside the yarden gate.
As much as anything else today, I’m grateful for the phoebe nest under the deck. This morning I heard a different kind of chirruping and trained my attention on the nest, to see for the first time this season a parent flying in with food – very small food, perhaps a fly. All day long, their raising labors have begun, there will be no rest for the phoebe parents now for several weeks, and I’ll have a front row seat to a wonderful treat of nature.

Grateful for another Wednesday, to wake in the morning, make meaningful connections throughout the day with people human and otherwise, and come to the end of it still alive, free of regret, filled with contentment for the simple joys of a regular Wednesday.

Connection

I don’t remember the last time I made an omelette, and this was surely the most perfect I’ve ever cooked.

Today I’m grateful for connection. Through the magic of Zoom, I connected with cousins in five other states, and my eldest goddaughter in a sixth. It was windy most of the day and challenging to be outside, so it was a good day for zooming inside. There are those, I imagine, who are sick of Zoom and might feel it doesn’t offer real connection; but this digital platform has been a lifeline for me the past year of physical distancing, and brought miraculous opportunities to connect with real people in real ways once unthinkable and now taken for granted, bringing me back into connection with friends and family from my past, and creating new connections with people I never imagined.

I made a yummy omelette with Havarti and three fresh fat asparagus, mixed a Bloody Mary with last year’s homemade tomato juice from the pantry, and spent a couple of hours with my dear girl in Brooklyn. Later, the weekly cousins’ zoom brought connection with distant family, a recipe for Turketti which I can hardly wait to try, and a couple of cross-country bird reports of interest, including Bill’s sighting of a phaenopepla, a rare desert songbird who resembles a black cardinal. I’m grateful to have seen one many years ago, and today enjoyed empathetic gratitude for his seeing one though he had no idea how lucky he was. I’m grateful to have been reminded such a marvelous creature exists on this same planet. I’m also grateful for the sense of connection I felt with the food I ate, the water I drank throughout the day, and the earth those gifts came from.

Look at this bird! A phaenopepla similar to that spotted by my cousin near Las Vegas. More about this beautiful desert bird here.

The Forest

The mysterious little anemone on the forest floor last month turns out to be what I thought it was, Indian paintbrush. I experienced a little time warp back then, thinking It can’t be paintbrush, it’s way too early. Then I remembered, it’s late April when it blooms, not when it emerges. And it’s scarlet flowers coincide regularly with the arrival of the first hummingbirds, usually around April 24.
The little buckwheats I mentioned the other day. Though this juniper forest doesn’t get ‘carpeted with flowers’ as some wetter ecosystems do in spring, I’m grateful for its delicate gems tucked and scattered about the forest floor.
I’m grateful for this early morning light on The Survivor, and that Stellar was able to walk all the way down there yesterday. This amazing ancient juniper was cut deeply with a saw, probably 70-100 years ago. Whether the tree was down first, or fell as a result of the attempted murder, the sawyers gave up and the tree survives. I’m grateful for this inspiration to never give up.
I’m grateful to walk through the forest in all different lights at all different times of day, and occasionally stumble upon the perfect slant of sun to light a tree’s face without shadows.
I’m grateful for even a little bit of snow today, and for a lot of apricot blossoms, and for the magical beauty of the two juxtaposed.
I’m grateful for the distinctive song of the Western Meadowlark, and for hearing a new sound from one this evening, perhaps an alarm call, which startled the heck out of me as we walked past at dusk. I had just put my hand in my coat pocket and touched my phone when this loud stuttering whistle went off. I pulled my phone out to see if it was some signal from it! In short order I realized it had to be a bird, and Stellar was off with his nose to the ground so I looked for a ground nest before I spied the meadowlark on the fencepost straight ahead. Checking the field guide later I learned that indeed meadowlarks build their nests on the ground. We’ll have to be more careful walking through there from now on. I’m grateful for filters which can turn a pretty bad photo into an impressionistic ‘sketch.’

So Much

I’m grateful for the first wild asparagus of the season! I look forward to several harvests from this secret patch, and more from elsewhere.
I’m grateful for apricot blossoms! They opened between this morning and this afternoon, like little popcorns at the tips of twigs.

Today I’m grateful for so much. I’m grateful that I woke up after a long night’s sleep feeling like a million bucks. All vestiges of vaccine aftereffects are gone. I’m grateful that Stellar had a good day outside, too. I had energy all day to play in the dirt, amending soil in the raised beds, setting up irrigation hoses, and basking in awareness of this precious wild world of which I am a part, observing all the new sprouts and blossoms, listening to the phoebes, robins, finches and other birds, breathing fresh mountain air under a cloudless bluebird sky. I’m grateful that the conditions of this life I’ve come to in this moment allow me to spend a Sunday in bliss in this garden.

Morning Rounds

Ah, morning rounds! Today I’m grateful for morning rounds. I’ve been so busy with daily gratitude practice that I’ve practically forgotten my life’s work, but the phoebe last night reminded me. Morning rounds. I heard the phoebe’s distinctive whistle early this morning, but not again all day. A few hundred sandhill cranes flew overhead later morning heading north.

It’s that time of year when every day requires an a.m. survey. How different it feels at 34 degrees on the last day of March after a 20 degree morning than it does at 34 degrees after a 20 degree morning in mid-January. For one thing there’s no snow on the ground, which isn’t a great thing, but makes it nicer to wander the garden on morning rounds. And context is everything: knowing it will only get warmer from here, the chill carries a relaxing nostalgia; January cold is in your face all day long. Morning rounds: So many things to check the status on, from pond rushes to lilac buds, from the Bombay Wall to lawn furniture; the serviceberry the buck broke needs to be pruned or I’ll be smacking my face or wrenching my fingers every time I walk that path.

When Fred pruned the fruit trees last week, he looked at the crabapple and snipped a few branches.

“I’m surprised there’s any fruit left on here,” he said. “Yes,” I said. “It’s weird that no one eats it in the fall. And they were too small to even bother picking. But around this time last year the robins came to eat the fermented fruit.”

Then I picked one and bit into it. “Hmmm, not actually fermented,” I said. “It tastes pretty good.”

Next thing I know, the robins have arrived en masse. I counted five at one time this morning fluttering in from the woods to pick up old crabapples from the ground around the tree, drink at the pond, pluck an insect from the dirt, or pick a crabapple from the tree and fly off with it. I’m grateful for the robins in spring.