Category Archives: birds

Dear little things.

Sunday evening, and I’m quite worn out, from doing so little, seemingly – but the screens are getting to me. We only have two weeks left of church school on Zoom, for which I am glad. I love the children in my class, which is why it’s exhausting to try to be “with” them this way, and it must be difficult for them, too. In any case, half of them don’t seem to be present the way they were when we were together in the flesh. I think it’s because they are quiet personalities, and Zoom-ing takes a certain amount of assertiveness.

What I did today, not in order: I took a walk first thing in the morning, and another one this evening, just before it started raining. I listened to a story by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; talked to my godmother on the phone; listened to four homilies on the Samaritan Woman, three of them from previous years and one given fresh this morning. It seems a whole book could be written about the history, psychology and Christology of this passage of scripture, Christ’s encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well. As with many of the lessons, the preparation I do is rich food for my own heart — but I often feel ill prepared to teach about it.

I sat in the garden a bit, and thought about small things that are lovable. Those olive flower buds I mentioned last week, and other tender new growth and flowers I’ve seen here and in the neighborhood. The landscape is already filling out, and it’s only May — which means the mass of foliage and living, breathing botany has yet to reach its summer peak of green-and-fruity.

My grandson Jamie is not little the same way, but he’s still not half-grown, and I have this cute picture. He’s one of the California grandchildren, of which there are only three, so I saw him in March when I was up there.

I bought a hanging pot of succulents last summer, and had to keep it in the greenhouse over winter. It’s kind of a scruffy jumble, but two of the three plants in it have flowers now, which is nice.

olive
succulents

mock orange

I was mistaken about the dear little things in the birdhouse: they are not bluebirds, but chickadees! It’s so obvious now, in this picture taken eight days after my last.

I’ve been busy like a bee in the garden. But if it rains tomorrow, maybe I will read more, and write about books…? Good night, Dear Readers! May God give us restful hearts. If we are sleeping, may it be deep and renewing; if we are awake, may our work make us tired with that good kind of fatigue that helps us go to sleep again, in peace. Amen.

What a springtime it is!

Warm days and blooming flowers are pulling me outdoors, to pick more peas or to sit and read. I should be planting something in my vegetable planter, but I can’t figure out what. It’s raining today, so I can put off those decisions a little longer.

At the same time I seem to be cooking more this month. Ginger broth has been a favorite drink for a while now; I like it hot with a little cream and honey, or mixed with pineapple juice over ice. Just this morning I discovered that after I boil pieces of fresh ginger root for three hours and strain off the strong “tea,” the leftover pieces still have a surprising amount of flavor. I made my own crystallized ginger with them!

An experience I haven’t had for ages: While I stirred the ginger in the syrup with one hand, I read this book from the other hand. I guess it is just the right size, weight and genre to fit the situation.

Likely it was one of you bloggers on whose site I read about The Daughter of Time, and I bought a used copy years ago; it went to my shelves where a hundred other books wait to be opened. And last week, suddenly, I was in the mood for Tey and the mystery of Richard III.

Reading the first couple of chapters, I began to wonder if being in the mood was enough —  maybe I should have brushed up on my Kings and Queens of England first. But I pushed on, and with the help of family tree diagrams in the front of the book I began to get my historic bearings. I love this story because the main character Detective Grant likes to read letters and other primary sources, and to look at pictures of faces, all the while using his common sense and imagination to “write” what is probably a more accurate history in his mind. It is so much fun to think along with him.

Some other things I’ve made recently are two types of grain-free cookies. One of the recipes starts with a can of garbanzo beans. It has chocolate chips, and was yummy. Today I made up a recipe that included carob powder, walnuts and cinnamon, also good. I still haven’t found the perfect cookie in this category.

Asparagus season coincides with Lent, so it wasn’t until the very end of my harvest that I could make cream of asparagus soup to eat immediately. It was quite lovely. I think I squirreled some of that away in the freezer.

So, I have let the asparagus go to fronding and photosynthesis. You can see the tall twiggy foliage (it will become more ferny) in the picture below, behind the hedge of teucrium that is getting ready to burst into its glory of purple and accompanying bees. Stay tuned for that.

Many of the images from the front garden are pretty scruffy; the California poppies that grow out there go mad for a couple of months and begin to get leggy and messy. I pulled out dozens of plants and cut the rest down to the ground. They will keep coming up and blooming for the rest of the summer. The lamb’s ears are sending up their flower stalks.

I don’t mind tearing out the poppies, even though they were still blooming their hearts out, because now the yellow helianthemum can take center stage for a while.

At the moment I can’t remember what these purple perennials above are called. [Shoreacres in the comments helped me find it: Verbena bonariensis] They are very tricky to photograph because of the airy, widely spaced arrangement of their blooms, the profile of which is seen against my car farther above. I got two of them last year to replace the two wallflowers that died an early death.

The  next two flowers are both new, but in different ways. The irises are in their fourth season, but this is the first time they have bloomed, so I’m very happy, and pleased to see “who” they are after all this time since I chose them. And the friendly yellow flower is on a yarrow [Nope! The reason it doesn’t look like a yarrow flower is that it is actually a type of marguerite, a cousin of yarrow, both of them in the tribe Anthemideae, in the Aster family. This one might be Anthemis tinctoria, or Dyer’s Chamomile. Thanks to my friend May for helping me get straight.] plant that I only planted last fall; it has grown big plant over the winter and is now brightening the walkway. Thinking it was a yarrow, I was startled at its round and sunny face.

On a warm day last week — one of them was 90 degrees! — I sat just baking a bit and noticing things happening… The tiny white flower buds on the olive tree next to my new icon stand, and below them, delicate lavender stems with swelling evidence of blooms in the making. Mostly bumblebees are in the back garden; I wonder if the honeybees are out front waiting for that teuchrium.

One evening I was having a FaceTime visit with two-year-old Raj who is in D.C., high in an apartment building where he can’t have his former daily routine of playing in the park a few blocks away. More frequently of late we have had these virtual visits that are keeping us connected in an odd way. He likes to look (on his mom’s phone) at my collection of toy trucks, and my fountain and playhouse.

On that particular day we were just about to say good-bye, because it was his bedtime, when I had the idea to look in my birdhouse while he was watching. I knew that some bird or other had been making a nest a while back, and I didn’t think it was so long ago that the fledglings would have left the nest. I stood on the bench and leaned over, and stuck my phone in as far as I could…. and we saw this:

So it was bluebirds making a home in my garden this year! What a springtime it is.

The evening’s excitement was blue.

If I had procrastinated just a little longer this evening, I’d have missed a great blessing. As it was, I had just enough minutes to take a walk and make it back before dark. I wished I had given myself time to drive somewhere different, but I did take a slightly different route. What I saw made me thankful in the end about all the timing.

As I set out I was recalling how I wanted to share pictures of the lemon curd I made last week. The color is so gorgeous, not just Lemon Yellow but Lemon and Egg Yellow. I’m not a fan of yellow for decorating my house or my self, but when I had just got my driver’s license as a teenager, I thought I’d like to have a yellow pick-up.

That idea must have been a response to discussion about such things among my friends; I can’t imagine that I was dreaming or scheming  on my own initiative, as I don’t seem to have a (good or bad) ambitious bone in my body. I know I never tried in any way to get a vehicle. This evening, musing on my lack of yellow clothing, I emerged from the redwood grove at a street to see a yellow pick-up. I have to say, the one I “wanted” was older and rounder, but just about that color.

That was fun. I walked and walked and found blue and purple things to take pictures of. Lovely rosemary, and a too-blue house, that was trying to be a flag. Yellow, too, narcissus of a form that always pleases me when I see it at this time of year.

I ended up on the bridge over the creek close to my house, and there a man with a camera spoke to me; he wanted to talk with someone about the kingfishers he has been trying to photograph for six years. I have been walking along this creek for 25 years and I didn’t know we had kingfishers. He said there was an otter in the creek lower down a couple of years ago, too.

I mentioned the bald eagles I’d seen; he had not had that experience. And he said I certainly would have heard the kingfishers, they make such a racket as they fly just above the water, very fast. Would I have forgotten that? Of course it’s possible. I’m still surprised, though not incredulous, at what I have forgotten. The man was kind enough to introduce himself to me and shake hands, and he and I walked in the same direction down the path, talking about good places to see birds, and good hikes to take.

And then, a great commotion, there they were, tearing down the creek channel behind the trees, not stopping to have their picture taken. So noisy! You probably all know their sound already but if not, you can listen here. About three minutes later, back they came just as loud and fast, but this time I glimpsed a flash of blue.

I was so happy to see that Mary Oliver wrote a poem about the kingfisher, because that wild creature may remain a phantom blue noise for me for a while to come, but — there was a sighting!

THE KINGFISHER

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak
he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world — so long as you don’t mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn’t have its splash of happiness?
There are more fish than there are leaves
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn’t born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water–hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
I don’t say he’s right. Neither
do I say he’s wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry
I couldn’t rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back
over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

-Mary Oliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(bird photos from Internet)

Owls bring the night in.

In the late fall I was sitting here at my desktop after dark when I heard an owl in my back yard. I knew it was an owl because he sounded just like the ones in the movies. I don’t think I had encountered one in person ever.

But I didn’t know what species he might be. I spent a good hour listening to various owls on Cornell University’s site All About Birds site, and the owl cooperated by demonstrating his distinctive call many times. He came another night not long afterward. For a while that first night I thought perhaps he was a Barred Owl, but eventually I knew for sure that he was a Great Horned Owl.

In my research I found advice about how to build a platform for this owl to nest on, how high up to attach it, and that it should go up in November so that the owls might find it when they go looking for good nesting sites in February. I did wish that I could start on one more project like that, but it was obviously not the right thing for me this year.

Probably everyone has more familiarity with owls than I do, but if you’d like to hear the calls of five owls this is a helpful Audubon page that limits itself to just that many: Identify Five Owls

You can guess how honored I felt that such a creature had visited me, even if he couldn’t be seen. His voice seemed full of romance, and let me in on the secret drama of the night. Of the five owls on the linked page, his call is surely the most pleasing, low and soft. So many owls are screechy.

Richard Wilbur wrote a poem about an owl’s voice. His own voice is more pleasant to me than that of the Barred Owl that he writes about; maybe that’s why someone came up with the explanation for a child, and why I like his poem so much. You can listen to him reading it: here.

A BARRED OWL

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

-Richard Wilbur,  from Mayflies: New Poems and Translations. © 2000