April 13, 2009
I’ve been in a horribly bad mood, mainly due to family troubles of the kind that make me feel helpless and small — the news of the death of my oldest brother, and my dad’s loss of independence due to a stroke. I’ve also had some just silly bad luck at home, little things like stubbing a toe so hard a few days ago that I worried it was broken (it’s still sore), straining my back lifting a bag of cat litter yesterday, frustration over the economic crunch that everyone is feeling, when I really could use a newer more reliable car. Why is it that bad news and events seem to come in these overwhelming groupings that feel as if they’ll never end — or, if that isn’t what’s happening, why is it that my mind seems to make even the small problems feel big, once it starts on a downward spiral?
Today I knew I needed to crawl out of this hole I found myself in. I’ve been avoiding the news, because that usually just makes me feel worse, and worse was definitely not what I needed. I know some people think that’s an unrealistic attitude, but I find the news unrealistic, in its focus on everything bad and very little good except nonsensical news about the personal lives of celebrities — people who would likely just as soon be left alone when it comes to personal matters.
I decided to search for some positive news on the Internet, and I found this story on a blog called Great Pet Net that I thought I should share in case anyone else could use a lift: Jasmine the Mother Theresa Greyhound. Dogs tend to have a healing way about them, all around, in my opinion. But this one is exceptional. She certainly had a distant healing effect on me.
It’s a beautiful spring day here. Flowers are blooming, in spite of the gopher that keeps eating them. (Our gopher loves California poppies and nasturtiums. What does yours like?) The The Hooded Orioles arrived early from Mexico, and one almost flew right into me yesterday, maybe because I was wearing green and blended with the plants. Later I watched three Red-tailed Hawks circle the sky above our house. Clouds sail across the sky today in a stiff, delicious ocean breeze. My cat Tara is always up for a game of chase or a tumble with toys. Someone I care about is playing Bach on the piano in the next room.
Yesterday I spotted a long, sinuous cloud in the western sky that looked like a Japanese dragon. I didn’t get a picture, but if you’re familiar with the animated film, Spirited Away, it looked a lot like Haku in his natural form as a river spirit.
Now that I’ve set my mind back in its more customary direction, at least for the moment, good things are beginning to happen inside me again, too.
Every now and then I find it necessary to keep a gratitude journal, to find at least three things each day that I’m grateful for to write about. I think I’ll take up that practice again for a while.
July 11, 2008
Then my computer crashed for a couple of days. Here they finally are:
Tara at nearly 15 weeks and 3.5 lbs, in a rare moment when she’s sitting still —
Tara as a blur (her normal state) —
The first tomato? We’ll see.
In case anyone is thinking that my fresh interest in gardening means I have a lush, fully planted yard, I have to confess here that these photos are a cheat. They don’t show the ground still barren of any planting. We live on a granite hill, partly decomposed and partly still-composed boulders. We also live in a semi-arid, overly populated part of the country, so water isn’t cheap. I’m also lazy. I’ve planted around what my husband already planted or nursed back to health, and that might make me appear to be a more productive gardener than I am. But I love my few plants, they’re producing, and I have big plans for next year, so we’ll see.
As you might have guessed, part of my garden is for the birds, though I like sunflower seeds too, so even the sunflowers aren’t entirely for the birds.
I’ve read somewhere that there’s a German paper company that makes fine stationery from sunflower stalk fibers, and that gets an artsy-craftsy person like me thinking. . . .
Of the seven or so sunflowers growing in our yard right now, most face east, most of the time. There’s one near the front door that faces the door, to its north, which means I see its shining face as soon as I walk outside. It’s had the same ladybug on its bloom (below) for three or four days now. I hope she’s taken up residence and plans to take care of it and keep it pest free until it’s finished blooming.
Then there’s this one (below), which faces the southeast (back) corner of the yard. Is it an errant sunflower that thinks it has to stand in the corner — my generation’s equivalent of a time-out? Or does it like the chattering of the caged parakeet the neighbors down there sometimes leave out on their patio during the day? Maybe it’s made friends with the bougainvillea. I don’t know.
I almost forgot one of my favorites, a picture of the quintessential Tara — at least when she’s mellow and not stalking whatever prey or toy or window screen is available to do her destructo-cat number on. This is from two weeks ago when she still had a little kitten fluff —
March 17, 2008
That title sounds like a metaphor for something, maybe political. But it’s not.
Earlier I wrote about the Ringed Turtle Dove I spotted one morning under our pine trees. I’ve been keeping a lookout for it, and have since seen it with a second dove, and the two of them courting. I think maybe they’re nesting in the pepper tree in the yard behind and downhill from ours. They like to hang out in our back yard, and I’ve seen them on the ground, on the fence, on the satellite dish, in the palm tree, in the pine tree, and on the old aerial antenna on our roof.
I also wrote earlier about the Red-Shouldered Hawks and Red-Tail Hawks in the neighborhood. I’m not sure which it is that’s been stalking the doves, but at one point yesterday I went out back and saw one of the doves perched on the satellite dish. As it sat there, I saw a hawk swoop out of the sky, diving for something in a yard two houses up the hill. I think it was a Red-Tail. The dove apparently didn’t see, or wasn’t concerned, even as the hawk flew over our yard, without any prey I could see. Disappointed, I suppose. The dove remained sitting there calmly, right out in the open, either unaware or unconcerned about the hawk.
A few minutes later, out front, I saw the hawk still flying around, getting hassled by a crow, but staying close by. When I returned to the house I took another look out back, because I’d just seen the hawk again. The dove was now perched on our back fence. I started to turn away, heard a kind of thump behind me, and turned my head. The hawk was flying away from the spot where the dove had just been. The hawk let out a frustrated cry, though, and then I saw that the dove had escaped into the nearby pepper tree. It sat there under the leaves, looking ruffled and scared. Yeah, me too. I think the noise I’d heard may have been the dove jamming off the chain-link fence into the tree with a split second to spare, but I’m not sure. It must’ve moved faster than I’ve ever seen it move.
A moment later I heard the dove cooing in the tree, but I didn’t see it sunning itself out in the open anymore yesterday, and today when I saw both doves up on our antenna, they seemed a lot more wary. The hawk, or possibly more than one, keeps circling the area, passing over now and then to see what prey is sitting out in the sun not paying attention.
I’m trying not to pay too much attention — though it’s difficult when these dramas unfold right in my back yard. It’s nature, and I love nature, but nature is dangerous at times, its beauty and peace transient at best. Today I’m keeping a respectful distance.
February 23, 2008
We’d seen it before, many weeks ago. A big bird of prey with black and white bands on its tail. The rest of it was paler than a Red-tailed Hawk, but we only caught glimpses of it flying over, and not a long enough look to identify it. We thought it was stalking the ground squirrel that moved in last summer. Maybe it was, because the ground squirrel hasn’t been around for a few days now.
Day before yesterday, we saw the big bird perch on top of the nearby telephone pole, and we got binoculars out for a really good look. Its breast, the undersides of it wings, and its beak are indeed paler than a Red-tailed Hawk’s. Its breast is almost pinkish or strawberry blond.
It’s a Red-shouldered Hawk, which is apparently found all over the eastern part of the country and along the California coast. I’d never seen one here before, not close enough to identify anyway. Our dominant hawk is the Red-tailed.
I wonder how long it’s been here, because last summer we watched what we think was a clutch of young hawks taking their first flight from a neighbor’s palm tree. Maybe this is one of the parents, back again to nest in the same tree. Or looking for the squirrel, or more squirrels. Poor squirrel, if so.
Our local birds continue to intrigue me with their variety and number. I’ve read, in a Harvard study, that this area is one of the most biologically diverse in the continental US, and that doesn’t surprise me, just basing my opinion on the birds.
I saw lots of owls from the road, when I used to leave for work while it was still dark. I’ve seen plenty of Black Phoebes here the past few weeks. I can’t seem to walk outside without spotting one of them. We have what I think may be Purple Finches, a variation from the House Finches we knew in San Diego, though I’m not certain. Some kind of small woodpecker likes the neighbor’s palm tree. We even have a small flock of feral parrots in the neighborhood, though I haven’t seen or heard them yet this year.
I’ve also seen lots of Mourning Doves, all my life, as I’m sure most people in North America have who pay any attention to wild birds. I’ve heard their mournful song since I was a girl and learned to recognize it. But this morning I heard a dove that sounded different, so I looked out the back window and saw a Ringneck Dove, also known as a Ringed Turtle Dove, under our pine trees. These doves aren’t natives. In fact they’re supposed to have been domestic for the past 3,000 years or so. But I suppose quite a few may have escaped into the wild at one time or another.
I just heard it again, out there, hiding in the pines and cooing, reminding me to post this. I wonder if it’s moved in to nest. If so, I guess it had better watch out for the Red-shouldered Hawk.
January 16, 2008
In a couple of weeks, groundhogs will make their yearly predictions, though I’m not sure a prairie dweller afraid of its own shadow is a very reliable sign of the turning seasons. I’ve begun to wonder if we’ll have an early spring, though. The weather has turned sunny and warm, and we haven’t needed an extra blanket for the past few nights.
Weeds have cropped up all over our yard, making everything green, even if it isn’t the commonly acceptable form of green. When the weeds first sprouted they were beautiful, and in some open, flat parts of the yard, from a distance you would almost think we had a lawn. We don’t, and now that they’re larger, from a distance they just look like a bunch of weeds.
We found something new and interesting under the pine trees. It was a strange vine, not anything I recognized, but vaguely reminiscent of a Cucumber, or maybe some variety of Passionflower. (Click photos for larger views.)
It had grown a lot by the time we noticed it, and was on its way to spreading all over that section of the yard, sending out long, tightly curled tendrils that took hold of whatever was in their reach.
It had already started up one pine tree.
I looked it up on the internet and didn’t find anything conclusive, at least not at first. Nope, not a garden-variety Cucumber, and thank goodness it doesn’t appear to be a Kudzu Vine. It wasn’t a Mandrake, which sort of disappointed me, as a fan of Harry Potter movies, though I don’t particularly want a plant that will scream at me.
Possibilities came and went as I searched for vines with multiple-lobed leaves, even the possibility that it was some kind of wild grape, which it wasn’t. One type of vine that seemed to come close was the Bitter Melon, also known as Balsam Apple or Balsam Pear. That narrowed my search to various forms of gourd or Cucurbitaceae, such as Hodgsonia, or Luffa, or the much more likely Chayote, which is sold in our local markets. But the leaves weren’t right for Chayote. The strongest possibility I’ve come up with so far is some variety of Coyote Melon or Coyote Gourd, which grows wild in our region.
If you know for certain what this vine is, please let me know.
How it got there is the easy part of this mystery, and would be even if I’d never seen a house finch scatter seeds. Our local scrub jay friends are always hiding things in the needles that collect under our pine trees. It’s a favorite place to store their seeds, nuts, magic beans, and whatever else they hoard for later, usually scrub oak acorns, or peanuts people have fed them. Last summer, while we trimmed the pine trees and cleared out a thick mulch of pine needles, one scrub jay kept fussing over our activity, and every now and then he darted in to rescue some of his treasures. In some years we’ve had volunteer sunflowers sprout there and grow to full height.
NOTE: The pictures that follow are from past summers, not this winter. Even here, we don’t ever see sunflowers blooming in January.
Out front, we have an entire patch of some kind of creeping yellow daisy that came up there one year, probably also carried in by birds. We water it now and then, so although it dies back each winter, it returns to open a bright patch of yellow flowers every summer, next to our old pickup.
In any case, the strange vine has been eradicated, so we won’t have any cries of “Feed me, Seymour!” coming from under the pine trees, and it won’t grow so large as to strangle a pine tree. Jack won’t have to climb up the beanstalk and see if there’s a giant living up there. Good thing, too, because no one named Jack lives here, so we’d have to pay Jack to do that. Still, I hope we didn’t kill something we would’ve liked. Sometimes the birds bring us weeds, and sometimes they bring us gifts that we enjoy for years.
Maybe we will have an early spring, maybe not. I’m in no hurry. I certainly don’t look forward to the hottest part of summer. But a long spring would be nice.
September 2, 2007
When I stopped commuting to a busy office and switched to staying home most days, I worried a little whether my new life would be too quiet or uneventful to suit me. But I’m never bored, and I’m sometimes amazed how much can happen right outside my door. I’ve been able to slow down, tune into the seasons, and let them slide gently past. I can be a mushroom, staying indoors and focusing on my inner world, as writers do when we’re working, or I can step right outside and find endless variety, especially in the forms nature takes.
I posted earlier this summer about hummingbirds. There have been lots of birds this summer. The mockingbirds twirled in cartwheel displays, showing off the white of their wings, and flew in wild, veering trajectories to catch cabbage white butterflies. They sang for hours on end, and swooped at anyone who ventured within range of their nests. A nearby rooster crows most mornings and sometimes all day. I’ve seen a phainopepla, a few hawks, loads of crows, orioles, black phoebes, brown towhees, and house finches. My husband saw a California thrasher, who sadly chose a rare time when I was at the post office to stop by for a snack of insects. Now and then a flock of common bushtits flies through, chittering in light tones. They never seem to sit still, and I like their tiny, perfect round shapes, so like the birds in picture books that I read as a child.
We’ve seen butterflies of all varieties this year, as well as plenty of bees, lizards, bats, and the tarantula hawk, and the summer has seen a variety of mushrooms sprouting in the yard, which seem to be able to blend in with their surroundings. (Click on images to view full size.)
Our daily visitors include the ubiquitous scrub jay.
I’ve noticed that a variety of clouds can inhabit different parts of the sky in the same moment.
I even got to thinking about the little fuzzy-edged ones, and wondered if painters who pour watercolor ever pour white gouache to make clouds. That sent me on a lazy search that introduced me to the work of artist Vickie Leigh Krudwig.
We’ve had our hottest weather of the year in the past two days, and today promises to be even hotter. Thirty minutes ago it was 97 degrees Fahrenheit outside. As I write this, it’s 99. Yesterday’s sighting of a swallowtail butterfly almost as big as my hand, and this morning’s sunrise, almost make up for the heat.
I’m attempting to ignore the fact that the sunrise was followed a few hours later by a 4.0 earthquake about 40 miles north of us, which jolted us to our feet. As I write this, thunderheads are forming just east, which looked like this an hour ago,
and like this half an hour later.
I don’t expect a triple whammy day of heat, earthquake, and thunderstorms. I’m looking for the next butterfly. But I may close the car windows just in case.
August 1, 2007
According to my old bird guides, one of which dates back to a field biology class I took at eighteen or nineteen, this little guy isn’t supposed to be here. He’s supposed to be anywhere from Northern California to Alaska. But here he is, in Southern California. (Notice how we Californians capitalize the two regions, as if we wanted to be two separate states, like the Dakotas or the Carolinas?)
Anyway, he’s in the wrong place, I think. If it’s time for Rufous Hummingbirds to migrate to winter grounds, he’s supposed to be in Mexico, or on his way there. This feisty little Selasphorus rufus has claimed the territory around our feeder during the past two days. I’ve been paying attention to hummingbirds all my life, and we’ve fed them for years, here at the north end of the county and in the city of San Diego, but we never saw a Rufous before, at least not closely enough to identify it. With no green on his back (see below), he’s definitely a Rufous.
My photos don’t do him justice, though they might if he would sit still for a few seconds and let me focus. He’s a glowing reddish gold with an irridescent scarlet throat that could stop traffic. He’s faster than any of the other hummingbirds, and he doesn’t let them forget it.
Maybe his range has been thrown off by global warming, as this Smithsonian site seems to hint, or perhaps they’ve always been around and I just haven’t noticed.
April 27, 2007
A few days ago I pulled weeds for a bit, while the earth was still damp from the rain. When I needed a break, I sat in a porch chair to cool off with a glass of ice water.
As I watched, a rosy house finch landed on the top of a tall sowthistle I hadn’t gotten to yet. He began pulling seeds out of a seed puff. For every seed the bird ate he tore a few more off and cast them to the wind. I think he was looking right at me as he did it, too, as if to say, “So there!”
I don’t blame him for replenishing his food supply as quickly as I can yank it out of the ground. I just wish he hadn’t let me see him do it. I have enough trouble motivating myself to get out there and weed without a demonstration of how futile my efforts may be.
It’s all a balancing act, birds sowing weeds while I pull them. I’d better not let them get too far ahead of me. Slow down around here, and you’re done for.
February 9, 2007
I love birds, in fact we both do, but after the death of our last little parakeet friend, Kiwi, we decided we didn’t want to keep birds in cages anymore, so the bird cages we’d collected over the years, actually quite a few of them it turns out, now hang on our patio in a kind of empty-cage symbolism—or pile of junk, whichever your preferred interpretation.
We enjoy bird friends at greater distance these days. When I came across the linked story today, I decided I had to share. It’s a love story, just in time for that love-related holiday around the corner—if you’re reading this post while it’s fresh. But why wait until a particular time of year to celebrate love?
Here for your enjoyment, straight from Australia, is a tale of love among cockatoos. Note the first time I read it I assumed the first page was all there was to it, and only saw the “next page” link on my second time through, so be aware, there’s more.
December 28, 2006
Violetismycolor commented on my post, Interconnections, parallels, and epiphany, and said:
“I had a horse, growing up . . . well my sisters and I did, anyway. I liked riding well enough, but a couple of my sisters were absolutely horse-crazy. And still are. I think that you are either born a horse-person or you are not. Clearly, you are one of themâ€¦the horse people. I always wonder what it is that causes this and have been unable to ascertain what it is. Do you wonder this, too?”
You know, I think if I’d grown up with horses I might very well be as much a horse person as anyone. I confess I’m intimidated by them, unfamiliar as I am, but I’m definitely in awe of their power, beauty, and grace, and I’ll never forget one really sweet horse named Joe, a dappled gray that belonged to a coworker-friend who let me ride him once.
I wonder the same thing though. What causes that attraction for a particular type of animal companion? What makes one person a horse person, the next a dog person, cat person, or bird person?
Although I love all kinds of animals and I’ve been blessed with some special friendships with dogs, cats, and a few parakeets, I have a slightly stronger affinity toward cats, and I don’t know why. Maybe because they’re quieter, more solitary creatures, as I tend to be.
Maybe it has more to do with positive experiences and special individual relationships though. I’ve often thought an unspoken language exists between other creatures and us. (Maybe on the whole I speak cat better than dog?)
The dog I live with now made a silent connection with me the day we met. I didn’t want a puppy, when I stopped with my husband to look at a litter for sale. We’d planned to get a dog again, after we moved into this house, but that day I was about to leave for three weeks out of town on business, starting a new job. I didn’t want the committment of a puppy yet. Still, as soon as this one puppy and I made eye contact, I felt a connection with him. He walked over to me. I picked him up, and then told my husband we were taking him home. I don’t remember our exact words, but Ken said something like, “Oh, you changed your mind. You do think we should get a puppy.” I said something like, “No, but we’re getting this puppy.”
The same thing happened years earlier with a cat, only that time it was both of us who felt the bond take hold immediately. We visited a little mountain town for the day with friends. We split up at some point, and Ken and I wandered into a gem shop. There was this skinny little orange cat that the owner had found starving, abandoned at the town’s dump, and she wanted a home for him. We didn’t think we needed a cat. We petted him anyway. When I picked him up, it was as if someone whispered in my ear, telling me I was going to take this cat home. I just knew, but I didn’t see how I could know, so I didn’t say anything. Ken was the first to say it out loud, and he looked as surprised as I felt. Our friends must’ve thought we were nuts when we left that gem shop with a cat. We named him after the little town, Julian.
Sadly Julian was only with us two years or so before he died of FIP (one reason our cats are now always indoor cats). But both those pets I mention above turned out to be amazing friends and cherished family members.
I suspect the relationship between any two creatures is much the same as that between two people. Maybe human-to-human relationships are bad comparisons, since I think animals are less judgmental and easier to get along with. They know how to love less conditionally than we do. Each creature has a personality, a spirit, and I think friendships between members of different species are just as individual as between people. I speak the same language as most people I know, but I get along with each one a little differently. I try to be adaptable, but sometimes I meet a person that I don’t click with very well. We don’t understand each other. Sometimes I meet someone and we understand each other on a level where words are barely needed. It’s the same with other animals. Although I love cats, there have been a few I’ve met that I didn’t hit it off with.
Maybe someone who becomes a horse person has met a particular horse, or more than one, that they get along with especially well, and are able to communicate with the way they would a best friend or a soul mate. Maybe each, as an individual, has something important to share or teach the other. Maybe if horse and rider are a good match, the horse teaches the rider something about all horses. Perhaps that’s what I’ve picked up on in books and movies about the horse-human relationship. But again I don’t know, and I still wonder.