Alone in the daylight

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Image from page 164 of “Emmy Lou : her book & heart” (1903) (source: Flickr)

It is only in solitude that I ever find my own core. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I think the art of solitude is really something wonderful. If you ever get to explore being alone for long periods of time, I highly recommend it. Though we are social creatures, I think being alone teaches you not to be lonely.

I remember as a child that the summer days would move by slowly and easily. I would sit with my childhood friends on their porch, vine tomato and salt shaker in hand, and pass the day playing until it got dark. When I got home I would stink of sun, sweat, and be covered in freckles, and there would be dirt in my hair and on my knees. I wouldn’t bathe, I would just crawl into bed, make the sheets dusty, and sleep like the dead with no dreams.

This weekend I chose solitude, as the 4th of July was upon us in ‘merica. I thought I would miss out on all the socializing, but it’s passing without much notice from me. I get to hear all the sounds of it; sparklers, backyard BBQs, laughter. For once I decided to just let the days happen, and it’s pretty cool how one moment just blends into the next.

I did get “bored,” and so when I did I thought of ways to get “un-bored.” But it turns out there’s not much difference between the two, it’s just in the second scenario you invent. I went to buy some plants and lingered a lot in the nursery, gazing on all the blooms. I picked out a yellow Dahlia and a Lamium, and when the sun was behind the Catalpa, I planted them in containers that had been empty for a long time.

The wind has picked up again, and thought it says it’s 80F in my back room, I am cold and wearing a sweatshirt. Grey is lounging in his big bed, and I am keeping the parrots company in their room as I write. If you’ve had parrots as long as I have, you have to learn to be creative in the parrot entertainment business – you learn how to keep the parrot parent (me) from not going mad and still give your cherished pets the time they need outside their cages.

I’ve learned to tolerate the sound of the poorly-made door in the bird room banging over and over again as the wind comes through the window and pushes the door around in its frame. Willie, my oldest bird, starts to whistle, and I say softly to him “You’re singing and I’m trying to write…what am I supposed to do with that?” And he is suddenly silent. No yelling or putting him back in his cage, just an intelligent request directed at a 28-year old cockatiel that he seemed to understand. He is not sad and does not take it personally; writing resumes.

 

Nowhere but here

bewickswren

There is freedom within
There is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup

~Counting Crows “Don’t Dream It’s Over”

The ground is dry and it feels like winter was never here. My little evergreens did nothing, and my shade plants are struggling. I look into the trench my gardener made for planting and I wonder “why bother?” It’s more interesting to see how the landscape plays out, literally.

My view never really changes, though what’s outside does. The holes my dog has dug in the yard have become part of the landscape, and on occasion I see the head of a ground squirrel poking its head out of a hole and looking around. Sometimes it will poke its head out as far as it can and I imagine it thinking “Success! I’ve managed to conquer a backyard and no one has tried to kill me yet! It’s a good day!” Yes, most people in my neighborhood try to kill these squirrels because of all the effort they’ve put into their lawns. My advice is, don’t put all the effort into your lawn. Who cares? And I hate to tell you, the ground squirrels will come back. So, I’ve decided to let them live in my backyard. At least something is living and thriving in this world.

We found that some wrens have made nests in the gigantic Eucalyptus in our neighbor’s yard, two tiny wren apartments in nature’s version of a high-rise. Tiny Bewick’s wrens – bug and fly eaters** and all-around little badasses. Little birds with a big voice and and a wonderfully snobby tail to go along with it. Dust bath: check! Flit along the top of the friendly neighbor fence: check! Terrorize moths (and eat them) underneath the struggling Eureka lemon tree: check! What a grand life. Immune to the trivialities of humans, just enjoying life and avoiding stupid fucking outdoor cats.

The sun will go down soon, and the wind will pick up again. During the interludes of sun and no wind I am content to sit with my dog on the little concrete walls in the backyard, feel the sun on my face and hope for a glimpse of bird, any bird. Even though my dog (Grey) is content to lay on his dog bed in the sun for the most part, the temptation is great when he sees I’m at eye level and comes over for a pat. This is enough.

**Bewick’s Wrens eat the eggs, larvaepupae, and adults of insects and other small invertebrates. Common prey animals include bugs, beetles, bees and wasps, caterpillars, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, crickets, flies, and spiders (source: allaboutbirds.org).

It’s just another day

It’s just another day
Where people cling to light
To drive away the fear

That comes with every night
– Oingo Boingo

Today I retrieved a dead American Goldfinch from the ground. I had seen it sickly roosting on a metal hanger in my gazebo, and I guess it had died on my lawn. My dog Georgia tried to eat it, but I alerted her away from it and put it in the trash. I thought to bury or have it stuffed, but I am too tired for such things as of late.

I have some time to kill before my next job, and my thoughts creep in and out. I waver between bored, satisfied, lonely. I’ve taken to wearing ear plugs to drown out the conures, as they are hormonal from the rain. The days are cold and Georgia’s arthritis is worse. The clouds are not as pretty, nor are the sunrises. I spend my mornings looking out my back window, through the little bits of grass that have stuck to it, trying to make out the little birds that flit among the bushes. As the Eastern Grey Squirrel gorges itself on the millet bell, the White-crowned sparrows wait beneath for the extra bits to trickle down to the felled stump. I can’t see it all very well, as the seal on the window has broken and is foggy, so I just let my eyes rest on what they can see. I don’t look on them with a birder’s eye.

Watching

“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”  – Dr. Seuss

My mind has been unfocused, scattered, assaulted. I’ve been spending way too much time looking into the mirrors and minds of others and less into my own. I won’t even give it a name, it doesn’t deserve it. Turn it off.

I read somewhere or someone told me (does it really matter?) that the problems of the world take a focused mind, an attention to one thing at a time, a meditative finger on what you love most.

That attention may be uncomfortable, like a staring match, and you may blink or laugh, and look away. You might not like what or who looks back at you, or what you see.

But you have to come back to it, because it’s beautiful, that tree, that creature standing before you. Like a Raven’s voice, the natural world is complex and deserves observation.

Wind

My face is a mask I order to say nothing
About the fragile feelings hiding in my soul.

– Glenn Lazore (Mohawk)

Outside the wind is waiting just outside the fall. It dances around late September, and by December it will be here in full force. I watch with patience as the landscape changes; the leaves begin to wilt on the Catalpa, the songbirds are fewer, and we all move forward into darker hours.

My hair is long now, and I have to wear it back in a ponytail when it’s so windy. Even then, strands of my red hair at the temple are pulled away by the gusts and enter my eyes, nose, and mouth. As I walk, the wind is at my back and pushes me forward. The wind in the trees, especially the Eucalyptus up near San Andreas lake, sounds like a rushing river. I am always surprised to look up and not find water, only a gigantic tree, and the intoxicating scent of its bark.

I think of the little wild birds, late at night, sleeping and holding on for dear life to swaying branches. This is much like what I do as I rest, my wings (arms) tucked up around my head and neck like a bat, my only protection from my dreams. The other night I dreamt that there were men in a car, parked in my backyard, and my aviary was on fire. I don’t have an aviary. I am out of control.

The randomness of the wind makes me feel safe. It wraps its tender or strong air in a cold embrace around me, and sometimes sings me a quiet lullaby in the early morning hours, before it dies down at dawn.

Sounds

Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.

~ Lewis Carroll

I felt a sense of joy today, twice even. The first time was early morning, but I forgot where I was. Even though not all is right with the world, I felt a swelling of happiness inside.

The second time I was sitting in front of a coffee shop, staring up over the buildings and in to the adjacent mountains, feeling truly alive and acutely aware of the wind and cold. I watched crows playing on that wind, letting it orchestrate their dance.

It was a day of senses, and I knew it was a special day as the first thing I smelled were some week-old flowers in my office, not rotting but fragrant. As I walked inside from my lunchtime stroll the scent of stems in water and wilting lilies rose up to greet me.

Then, there was the sound of asparagus being broken and hitting a stainless pan, a light ping-ping-ping.

And my little bird Willie, endlessly calling. I finally realized, after all this time, he wasn’t calling for me, but to the Black PhoebeSayornis nigricans, hunting for the last of his sunset meal on my lawn.

Washing dishes sounds like rain. I didn’t rush through that tonight.

Once again

“At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes, and see yourself for who you are, especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, but I am this person, and it that statement, there will be a kind of love.” – Phoebe in Wonderland

Shades of red and purple are vibrant at twilight. A lone dandelion rises up where the unsuccessful hydrangea once was, and a succulent moss grows up around the cheap sprinkler I used maybe once. There’s a lot of this in my backyard; a planter box held together only by the old soil within it, a makeshift wire trellis that nothing climbs up, and an odd little gate that leads to a steep fall onto concrete if you don’t watch your step.

I tied up the grape vines today. The mix I planted to attract hummingbirds and butterflies finally started to bloom beneath the mass of the vine’s tendrils; lovely yellow and magenta flowers among the grass and other weeds. So tiny and delicate you want only to cradle them between your fingers; but inches away without touching the fragile petals. I seek to connect with respect, and nature has its own, unspoken, boundaries. This is a peaceful time for me, until the wind or rain chases me inside again, and to my books.

On lazy days like today, I have tasked myself to make my way through some natural classics: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Loren Eisley’s Desert Solitaire, and the idyll that is anything by Gerald Durrell. Most recently I stumbled upon another author I had not heard of, Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980).

This is what happens when you open your heart and keep your eyes open, I said to myself.

According to one review, Teale expressed “the simple enjoyment of universal nature, with no other end in mind” (Wandering Through Winter), and “on this somber day, when winter’s conquest seems so imminent and so conclusive, I am remembering the calm preparations of the insects around me. Nature, in all her acts, reflects her faith in the future.”

Finally, someone just like me, someone with no other end in mind than to enjoy nature and have faith in the future.

Love

Today I was feeling very happy. Recently, a kind, gentle person from Iowa contacted me and told me that she would like to use some posts from my blog to teach her nature writing class. For a while, this filled me with love, and not to mention a longing to visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Truth be told, I still feel that love, and probably will for a while.

That is how it is with me, that when someone cherishes me for something I did that was born of passion, I tend to feel love, and loved. It’s something I secretly cling to, and long for more of.

And it got me to thinking about love: who I love, and what love is.

Today I learned that someone I deeply love had to experience death and the possible dissolution of their marriage, all in a span of ten days. I ached. I felt a pain in my heart that was not unlike yearning, but I felt a little more lost, and more unsure. It was like peering into space with the feeling that if you didn’t hold on, you might go into a black hole.

In times like these, I like to turn to animals for a lesson. What can animals teach me about love, and loss.

For some reason, when I think of love, I think of last Halloween, when my Greyhound, Jack, plucked a eastern grey squirrel from the Catalpa tree in our backyard, broke its neck, and proceeded to eat it. I shouted “Jack! No! Leave it!” Not only until I pinched his ear did he drop it. His body shook in a primeval way, and I could see he hurt from not only from me pinching his ear but from my disappointment.

I stood on my porch, in the rain, looking at the unbrushed lower teeth and gentle paws of the dead squirrel on my steps, and all I could do is be present with my feelings, that somehow I was responsible for its death. I was hyper-aware of the temperature, the cloudy sky, and my breath as I wondered how to best deal with Rocky. The odd thing is that I never felt more alive, even in death.

This is how it is to be in love, when you experience life without any filters. It’s also when you can let go of expectations and perfection, and learn to enjoy your backyard, even in the driest of winters.

Robin
Robin

The Western Scrub Jay

Western Scrub Jay

Until I moved to San Bruno, CA this last December, my interest in birds was purely a passing one. I was an apartment dweller in Sunnyvale, CA for the last 10 years, and for the most part only got to see the Anna’s Hummingbirds that visited our feeder, and the flirtatious Phoebe that on occasion would visit my windowsill. 

Since purchasing a home in San Bruno and becoming an Audubon Society member for the first time, I’m taking more of an interest in how the birds in my new backyard are making their way through winter. Of particular interest was a Western Scrub Jay who had lost one of his feet. I speculated that it was probably from a cat, or that he had got it caught in something, but he had a very clever way of eating seed from my feeder. You see, my feeder hangs from our gazebo and swings – and as you can imagine the Scrub Jay had trouble balancing on it given he only had one foot. So, he would balance briefly on the feeder and scoop all the seed he wanted onto the ground, and then he would fly down and eat it, keeping an eye out for predators. I thought this was very clever, and I’ve been making a point of keeping my feeder filled while he’s still around.

The Western Scrub Jay, (Aphelocoma californica), also known as California Jay or Long-tailed Jay, is a species of scrub jay native to western North America, ranging from southern Washington to central Texas and central Mexico. Western Scrub Jays inhabit areas of low scrub, and are known for hoarding and burying brightly colored objects. They have also shown an ability to plan ahead in choosing food storage locations to maintain their future food volume.

In addition to learning the basic facts about Western Scrub Jays, I stumbled upon something that might tell me why my “lucky” bird had been so clever in acquiring his food source, in spite of his disability.

In a study done by the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, a group of Scrub Jays was “…given the opportunity to steal other birds’ hidden food caches; another group of Scrub Jays was not. The first group re-hid their own food caches if they were observed when first hiding the food. The second group, who had no experience stealing from hidden caches, did not exhibit the same behavior.”

According to the study, these findings were a major development in the field of animal cognition – that the Scrub Jays could demonstrate planning and have conscious thoughts that events might guide how they should behave in the future.

Thinking back to my footless friend, this made sense. His “event” was losing his foot, and his balancing act on my feeder was how he learned to secure food for himself. He had learned that he needed to adapt to survive.