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Western Scrub Jays

I’m grateful for this smart, beautiful, sociable (some might call them noisy) Corvid. At least one pair nested in the yarden this year, using an old magpie nest in the juniper just north of the house. They stayed pretty far from the patio while the phoebes were nesting, but now that that family is gone, the jays are getting bolder. I welcome them drinking at the bee bowl, and enjoy watching and listening to them eat the acorns in the Gambel Oak, and flit around the patio pots in hopes of scavenging something, perhaps a few stray dog kibbles, or a treat from the compost bucket. I’m grateful for Western Scrub Jays, whatever variety it is that lives here.

I’m also grateful, as always, for hummingbirds, a dozen or so still zipping around all hours of the day among feeders and flowers; mostly juveniles and females, though I saw but couldn’t capture an adult male broadtail.

Berries

I’m grateful for berries. These bright berries on the blueleaf honeysuckle, Lonicera korolkowii provide food for birds from now throughout winter, ripe or dried in situ. This gorgeous bush is native to ‘The Mountains of Central Asia,’ which I just learned is a very specific geographical ecosystem, also home to half the world’s wild snow leopards. The Mountains of Central Asia is a biodiversity hotspot consisting of two major mountain ranges which extend among six countries, including Afghanistan. I’m grateful that this plant thrives in our climate and is a beneficial habitat shrub and not an invasive species.

Little purple berries on New Mexico Foresteria also feed birds, in particular the Townsend’s solitaire which I have seen yearly in this shrub. Not technically berries, but I’m not being technical. They look like berries, they feed like berries–but they taste pretty awful to me. Anyway, the flowers are full of tiny native bees in spring, and abundant berries in late summer also provide bounty for wildlife. I’m grateful to have this buffet in my landscape.

Some limbs on some of the junipers are laden with ripe juniper berries. Again, pseudo-berries, but berries is what we call them. Most of my dogs have nibbled them off the ground when they’re plentiful, with gusto; they were a food fad a few years ago; they feed wildlife; they are purported to have health benefits and healing properties; and they flavor gin. I’m grateful for juniper berries in the yarden.

I’m grateful for raspberries! I’m grateful that I savored and saved last summer’s gift of a gallon raspberries, and still have some left this summer, since the crop was paltry in this drought. Nurturing a new cluster of water kefir grains, I splurged and put a few frozen raspberries in to flavor yesterday’s decanted batch. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful for a healthy, fermented raspberry soda. Actual berries or illusory facsimiles, I’m grateful for berries: fruits of the labors of bees and bushes.

Harvest: Squash Blossoms

I’m grateful for the astonishing bounty of my garden! I’m grateful for the water, the soil, the raised beds, the seeds and sets, the years of learning, adapting to, and exploring the infinite lessons of gardening, the main one of which is making friends with impermanence. I’m grateful for squash blossom time! The first blooms of many squash are all male flowers, which are expendable, and it’s even beneficial to harvest them until some female, fruit-making flowers arrive. Can’t let ’em go to waste! This morning’s harvest included four big squash blossoms, three winter and one zucchini.

Experimenting, I stuffed each of them with a piece of Laughing Cow cheese, and a plug of homemade pesto, twisted them shut, and refrigerated them until happy hour.
The right tools for the job: I rolled them in a simple batter of egg and cream, then dredged them in flour, followed by breadcrumbs, and set them in hot olive oil…
…turning on all sides until they were crisp: so simple, so delicious!
Took them out onto the patio at dusk, where I enjoyed them in twilight silence, broken only by a few nighthawk swoops, some crickets, and four or five phoebes flying around the roof. Grateful for fried squash blossoms on a perfect evening with wild companions.

Reliability

Stellar has been the most reliable friend a girl could hope to have. I’m grateful for another good day with him, another long walk along the canyon rim, another day of dependable trust and companionship.
Is every town as grateful for their UPS man as we are? I’m grateful for the town’s sign, and for Tom’s cheerful reliability over the past twenty years. I intend to show my gratitude, when he delivers his last package to my house tomorrow, with a few farewell gifts: a box of Milk Bones, a big hunk of cake, and a fifth of Crown Royal. I hope everyone will shower him with their own gratitude. Since he probably won’t be stopping at everyone’s house tomorrow, I’ll happily include your name on my ‘thank you-best wishes’ card if you let me know by noon, or pass along a little something as a couple of people have already asked me to do.
It’s hard to say for how many thousands of years Say’s phoebes have been reliably reproducing in this area. I’ve spent half an hour trying to find out online. I can say, though, I’m grateful that the species has been reliably nesting under my deck for the past three years. Today, three chicks took their first flights, not going far, and I think they all returned to the nest at nightfall. More on their fledging tomorrow.

Simple Pleasures

It’s not that these transient pleasures, like a cheese sandwich or a dog walk or the phoebes, in and of themselves bring genuine happiness. It’s that appreciating the simple pleasures of a complex world, among my confounding species, on this fragile planet, imbues life with contentment for me. I finally feel as safe as is humanly possible, walking out here on the edge of impermanence, after all those years chasing certainty and running from death.

The phoebe chicks have spilled out of their nest! These four little lives are almost ready to take flight. They haven’t started flapping yet, but I’m sure tomorrow they’ll be stretching their wings. As a friend said the other day, It’s so nice that their home and your home are so close together that you can watch everything and get to know them so well. Indeed it is. I’m grateful for the simple pleasure of living in harmony with other species.

Every Little Thing

I’m grateful the babies are still alive, still getting fed, still growing.

I’m grateful for every little thing about this day, starting with I woke up alive, and relatively pain free. From there, anything else is gravy. I didn’t do much today. I didn’t even think or feel much. I’m on staycation. But I paid attention to the phoebes, the jays, the magpies; to weather, lightning, potential rain; to nutrition, mine and others. I paid attention to the moment as consistently as I could, and remembered quite often to breathe, or rather, to notice my breath, each inhalation, each exhalation, the exact conditions of the body at the time. I’m grateful for each breath that allowed me to read some things, to watch some TV: I’m grateful for things to read and TV to watch, and various individuals who make those entertainments possible. I’m grateful for these five or six senses that let me make sense of, or at least interpret, the world outside this body-mind.

I’m grateful for the garden thus far, and for the One Dog who makes everything else possible.
I’m grateful for even the barest hint of rain.

More Phoebes

I’m grateful the phone camera can get a decent shot, since I’ve shipped off my ‘real’ camera to trade-in on a newer, lighter model with better lenses.

More phoebes in the world can only be a good thing. I’m grateful for the four precious chicks in the second clutch, bigger and bolder each day. I’m grateful their parents are both still alive, catching grasshoppers and other insects in my yarden. I’m grateful to see two or three at a time of the first clutch flying in the woods around the house. A couple of times I’ve watched two phoebes swooping together as though in play, or dance. The more phoebes around, the fewer grasshoppers marauding my vegetables. I’m grateful for more phoebes!

They squeaked all through the party last night, with their parents flying in and out over guests’ heads. I’m not sure how many people noticed them, but I sure admired the birds’ equanimity.

Sunset

I’m grateful today and every day for the gorgeous sunset. I’m grateful to have live through another precious day, a day that will never come again, in a life that continues to be blessed with so many opportunities. I’m grateful to live in a beautiful old-growth forest with ancient tree beings, and fleeting foxes, and an abundance of phoebes, among the many lives that make up this rich ecosystem. I’m grateful for the awareness to appreciate all this precious, ephemeral life, including my own. More about that tomorrow.

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.