Category Archives: nature

Dancers in the wind.

My reward for eating breakfast in a civilized manner was a first-row seat at the birds’ impromptu gala. Every species of little bird I’ve ever seen was in my garden at once, even the titmouse and bluebird, and the Bewick’s wren, those three that I rarely see. In whatever direction I looked, one was hopping around a tree or a path or in transit across the garden.

Instead of carrying my bowl to the computer in the corner, I sat at the table looking straight through the glass across the patio where I could take in the chapel feeder rocking more violently than usual in the wind, and the wisteria vine above it, gently dropping long yellow leaves to pirouette all the way down. The birds who like seeds flitted and flew from their chapel to their fountain spa and made up their aerial choreography on the fly, riding the current of every sudden gust and gale.

Sparrows and juncos, house finches and goldfinches, scribbled wild and invisible designs in the air as they swooped from the plum tree down to the birdbath, and to pots under the fountain to peck around for a few seconds among the hens and chicks, and or newly-planted violas.

It seemed that even their pushing each other off their perches was part of the joy of the morning, and occasionally two or three would do a synchronized pattern of fancy footwork that carried them a distance around the fountain’s rim in a chorus line. One sparrow hopped off a pot down to the ground, but made the trip by means of a high arch — maybe just to feel the lift under his wings. Because it’s fun.

Enjoy the weather!

Bishop Latour meets the elegant goats.

I’ve read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather three times, including an audio recording narrated by David Ackroyd which I only recently completed. These three readings were so far apart that each time seemed a fresh introduction to the characters and the setting. And yet, I do think that the first two readings helped to form a love in my soul for the Southwest territories of the United States, so that this third time I found it there waiting for me, like the warm sand beneath a red rock butte, a place where I might bed down for the night under the stars and feel whole.

Ackroyd’s voice and narrative style seem perfect for the story. There is a steadiness and a lack of hurry that aligns with the faithful dailiness of the lives of the two missionary priests as they try to meet the spiritual needs of a vast diocese that had just enlarged by nearly 30,000 square miles with the Gadsden Purchase.

They are based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but make frequent trips by horse or mule of hundreds and thousands of miles, even into Old Mexico, to take care of ecclesiastical affairs, to baptize babies and perform marriages, and to serve Mass. Their characters are sympathetic and rich; the story of their friendship over the decades is a thread woven through the novel, made up of small stories scattered through the years.

I’m using this audio book now the way I have two or three others in the last years since I sleep alone, for the times when I don’t sleep. I put a well-known story to play on my phone, set the timer for 30 minutes, and let David or another nice person read me to sleep. This only works with voices that do not draw attention to themselves in various ways, usually by being overly dramatic.

That means I am reading/listening to the book, based on a true story by the way, a fourth time. Because every anecdote and scene seems more luminous and meaningful than ever when it is told or described by a warm human voice, I may post here some passages that appear plain and dry to you poor people who may never have breathed the air of New Mexico or seen the Arizona desert in bloom. But today, it’s only goats we will consider, and I imagine that they are goat-ish the world over.

“After the feast the sleepy children were taken home, the men gathered in the plaza to smoke under the great cottonwood trees. The Bishop, feeling a need of solitude, had gone forth to walk, firmly refusing an escort. On his way he passed the earthen threshing-floor, where these people beat out their grain and winnowed it in the wind, like the Children of Israel.

“He heard a frantic bleating behind him, and was overtaken by Pedro with the great flock of goats, indignant at their day’s confinement, and wild to be in the fringe of pasture along the hills. They leaped the stream like arrows speeding from the bow, and regarded the Bishop as they passed him with their mocking, humanly intelligent smile. The young bucks were light and elegant in figure, with their pointed chins and polished tilted horns. There was great variety in their faces, but in nearly all something supercilious and sardonic. The angoras had long silky hair of a dazzling whiteness.

“As they leaped through the sunlight they brought to mind the chapter in the Apocalypse, about the whiteness of them that were washed in the blood of the Lamb. The young Bishop smiled at his mixed theology. But though the goat had always been the symbol of pagan lewdness, he told himself that their fleece had warmed many a good Christian, and their rich milk nourished sickly children.”

-Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop

The air is full of falling.

XV.

Again the air is full
of falling: the fall of the leaves
in the weighty season that brings
all home again to the lowly
miracle from which they came.

Nature, the mother and maker,
requires that life take form,
enflesh itself in the shapes
and habits of the world’s unnumbered
kinds. And then she requires
each one at last to shed
its guise, giving up
its matter to the life to come.

Think of a world of no fall,
no gravity, calling downward,
homeward, bringing all
by the light uprisen down
to rest in the resting land
— a world, instead, where all
that dies would fly upward
and outward, nameless and alone.
How sterile then would be
the earth, seasonless the year.

The year is the showing forth
of the heavenly love that is
the being of the present world.
The leaves, opening and at last
falling, hold a while
the beauty of God who made them
by the work and care of Nature,
His vicar and our mother.
His only is the light
of which all things are made,
the beauty that they are,
the delight that is our prayer.

-Wendell Berry in A Small Porch

Looking autumn in the face.

What sets this autumn apart from any other is my distaste for leaves turning color. Out of the corner of my eye I’ve seen it happening, and my heart protests, “Oh, please don’t!” I look the other way. Time has been swallowed up in remodeling, or waiting for remodeling, and the steady progress of months and seasons was not in my face so colorfully until now, telling me that without a doubt that the end of the calendar year is drawing near as well.

Until yesterday, when on the way back from the gym I drove around a corner and was met with this familiar tree that had just put on its late-season dress. I couldn’t help loving it, just as I couldn’t help being angry with those other orange leaves a week earlier.

The cold weather I dread is holding off, and it’s gotten to 90° for a few days, making for unusually balmy evenings. Sunny weather means I can work in the garden for hours every day, putting up pea trellises, weatherproofing the planter boxes, and staining the rim of the fountain that had built up a layer of white mineral scale.

Rain would be better, though. In Northern California the combination of tinder-dry foliage and wind gusts creates a situation that threatens to repeat the horrors of the fires of the last two years. Too bad we can’t put all that behind us — but “it” is trying to be part of our future as well, a reality of which the power company keeps reminding us, and shutting off the power as a precaution.

A few of my volunteer tomatoes turned pink. They look like Juliets. Barely any sun is shining on them these days so I brought several into the house and when they turned red I ate them. They taste as one might expect from such culture!

 

These moths are all over the garden, but especially on the salvia here pictured – I think I have identified them as Fiery Skippers. What a cute name for a cute moth. [oops – not a moth! See about skippers in the comments.] I began to wonder if it is their caterpillars that are eating my sunflowers, so I researched that, too, and I don’t think so. Next photo is in the Disturbing Photos category. 😦

But look at this: The most fun insect I have discovered this week is these caterpillars…

… and they appear to be the Black Swallowtail again, on the parsley again, looking as though they wanted to be eaten by birds, so I brought the two of them into my mesh cage, after the carpenter and I took pictures outdoors near the parsley patch.

Other heartening events: One window in the soon-to-be sewing room has been framed, and irises keep blooming like they want to be my best friends; the tropical milkweed also, and it makes more and more seeds! I harvested the mystery squashes. [Update: I found the tag that came with the 4″pot, and they are Buttercup Heirloom Squash.]

Tiny harbingers of spring caught my eye as I came up to the front door yesterday, just after my encounter with the bright tree. Yes, the daphne is putting out new leaves, so that in a very few months it can put out those divinely aromatic flowers. See, I do know that the seasons are good! Of course. And when winter comes, this particular challenging and wonderful time will be a thing of the past. I must enjoy it while I can!