The spookiest thing about Halloween? That its frights and frissons are based on a simple and scary truth: we humans are the source of the villainies that pose the gravest dangers to us, as well as being the easiest mark for them. Be very afraid!
Birdwatching was one of those pursuits that mystified me when I was much younger. Ignorant youth! I always appreciated that birds looked pretty in a general way, or were exotic, or sang wonderfully or had intriguing nesting and feeding habits, but I suppose I rarely went beyond that in my appreciation of the creatures.
I can’t even quite say when that shallow attitude deepened. While I’m still far from a skilled or knowledgeable birder, let alone an ornithologist, I think I can claim to have gotten smarter somewhere along the way, to the degree that even in places I visit constantly and expect nothing new, I am almost always on hopeful watch for birds of any kind.
Never mind that I can still misidentify a female Cardinal as a Cedar Waxwing at remarkably close quarters and be endlessly fooled by Mockingbirds‘ varied calls and songs as being other birds’ entirely. I have fallen in love with birds and observation of them much more as I age. Their unique beauties set my heart beating a little bit faster. Opening a window to hear an avian chorus in full and tuneful counterpoint opens my soul as well as my ears. Seeing the characteristic wing shape of a gleaming vulture against the singed blue of the summer sky or the forked feathers on a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher lifts my spirits as though I could launch upward into the heavens as they all do. Now that I’ve ousted my childish casualness toward birds, I don’t want them to leave me behind.
Did I worry you for a second? Never fear, friends; I’m not going to be a big old humbug, let alone a grand tragedian, here. It’s just that, living where I live, I’m always in the shadow of some circling or perching vulture sussing out his or her next all-you-can-eat buffet. I’m pretty sure that I too would look fairly delish if I just had the kindness to croak somewhere out in the open within a vulture’s purview, yet they don’t turn up their beaks in disdain at smaller game. So I can get a regular reminder of my mortality just by looking over in the tall grass next to the road, where there is often a vulture or two munching on someone else’s gnarly remains, any time I need said reminder.
I am, as you’ve seen if you’ve spent any time around this blog, of the school that still has an appreciation for a good memento mori as a reminder of the fine and great and joyful things that being Not Dead can have to offer. It’s just about time for the biggest holidays of the year in many cultures, and as workers in the life-supporting jobs that include medicine and law enforcement and social services will tell you, depression, health crises (both physical and mental), family violence, crime and all sorts of other terrible social ills tend to peak. Unreasonable schedules and outsized expectations of delirious happiness around holidays and other celebrations are practically doomed to failure, and even those who are fairly realistic about their expectations may have actually built in a sort of assumption of disaster that only adds to their stress.
Letting go of a lot of this overwhelming and impractical perfectionism and most of the silly entitled assumptions that the world owes me satisfaction and pleasure has greatly simplified my life. It has certainly lightened the load of worry and wishing. And every time I walk under the perch of a local vulture and look up at it as a fellow living creature, I am thrilled to pieces that I have the greatest way of all to celebrate whatever holidays and special occasions I want to enjoy: alive. Not particularly wanting, not overburdened with Stuff and needs and promises I can’t keep, and simply, happily Alive. Just having one of those massive birds circle over my head without interest in me as an entree reminds me that death is close at hand, since the avian beast is clearly keeping a keen eye on something nearby that is already deliciously deceased, yet also says that I am not quite yet on that side of the equation and can go on to enjoy my holidays. Kind of makes every day seem more worth the celebrating.
The ever-marvelous Celi, she of the sustainably-farmed wonders at The Kitchens Garden, challenged all of us to share what we see from our back porch, patio, stoop, door, window or patch of land, and the images pouring in have been a delight. Each so different, each from some other far-flung locale around the globe–but each seen from the home turf of a person joined together in this fantastic community of blogging and readership that makes the otherwise disparate styles and locations seem we are all next door neighbors. What a superb thing, to shrink the world down to a size that can easily fit into a single embrace!So I give you a glimpse of what I see behind my home, too. Our house is situated on a city lot (about the typical suburban US standard of 50 x 100 feet), but it feels both less like a suburban place and much bigger because it backs on an easement, a small ravine for rain run-off and city/county service access. The ravine’s seldom wet (this is, after all, Texas) or used for services, so it’s mainly a tree-filled wild spot and a refuge for local birds, flora, insects, and an assortment of critters that have at various times included not only squirrels and raccoons but also rabbits, opossums, armadillos, deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. There have certainly been, along with the delightful bluejays and cardinals and wrens and chickadees, doves, grackles, hummingbirds and killdeers and all of those sorts of small-to mid-sized birds, plenty of hawks and vultures and, I suspect (since I know others not so far from here who have had visits from them) wild turkeys, though I’ve not seen the latter.What I have seen recently that is infrequent if not rare, is some very welcome rain pouring down on us here, so I’m showing you slightly uncommon backyard views today. The second picture is taken from our raised patio, but the first is the view as I most commonly see it: through the kitchen window, where I can stand safely out of the lightning’s reach (as on the day shown) and more comfortably in air-conditioned splendor than in the 90-105ºF (32-40ºC) we experience so often here. Believe me when I tell you that the intense green of this scene as shown is rather unusual for this time of year, when we would more often have much more brown and bedraggled plants all around us. But we also have the luxury of a sprinkler system, so if the ravine begins to droop in dry hot weather, we’re generally protected from terrible fire danger and can still be an inviting spot for the local wildlife to take its ease. To that end, and because I generally prefer the beauties of the more native and wild kinds of landscapes to the glories of the manicured, I have my new wildflower swath in place and it’s just beginning to show a variety of the flowers and grasses I’ve planted there; seen to the left of the grey gravel path in the second picture, it stretches from the patio all the way back to the ravine.
Bird-watching is easy in countryside where there’s a lot of flat land, a lot of sky and plenty of clumps of brush or trees here and there for roosting and cover. Our recent expedition to Texas Hill Country was a great occasion for it, especially since the fences, power poles and trees that line freeways are both the perfect lookout points and display pedestals for local hawks and grackles and doves. Most distinctively regional among those winged wonders catching my eye as we drove down and back were the marvelous black vultures.
I love watching them, from the graceful, majestic soaring swoops and loops they draw across the broad planes of the sky to their awkward huddling in flocks on the massive transformer towers, to those rare and delightful closeups where I can get a better look at their funny mix of magnificent feathered eagle-like bodies with those wrinkly, wizened looking little heads and their bold hooked beaks. The sudden whuff-whuff as a large bird, unseen above my head on its light-pole perch, dove over me in a low arc to switch poles was like being fanned by the wing of a passing angel the other day. Clearly my intrusion on its territory wasn’t so distressing to the buzzard either, as he opted to land on the next post over and then sat surveying our party placidly even when my husband and I came and stood directly below to gaze on the magnificent creature. He felt exceedingly well fitted for the place, letting the cold drafts ruffle his feathers just a little as he sat gazing out at Canyon Lake under the lowering skies of the first of the year.
Calm and measureless heights of azure Texas sky
Rise streaked with silent foaming white,
The broad hot blue patterned with these delicate
Ambling clouds that stretch to cover great distance at
A leisurely, attenuated speed, always slipping noiselessly
Across branch-tops, over the brazen sun, and into
The realms of seeming outer space, asleep
By a soaring, circling pair of
Dark metallic wings, the steely black of one
Great vulture passing through to catch
The updrafts and to cycle down, surveying
His kingdom plat by plat—he’s joined, soon enough,
By would-be kings, the other buzzard princes of
The wide blue air, who comb the same
Field of clouds with their own
Of two, then three, sharp triangles of louder, faster, sterner steel,
As fighter jets flash by in succession,
Pull together into a tight
Formation from their first sharp linear slash, and make
A single force with which they will unzip