Category Archives: nature

I grow younger again in January.

In spite of being only 95% recovered from my illness (a wild guess at a statistic), I started something new today. Pippin and the Professor gave me a Christmas present of a year’s membership in the local regional parks agency. It includes other benefits besides free parking, but my unwillingness to waste that part made me want to use it soon and often. I’d thought that I’d need to drum up a walking companion in order to get myself moving in that direction, but today when the afternoon suddenly opened up, I decided to go on my own to the most familiar of the parks. I’ve written about this one before, most memorably just after my husband’s death almost five years ago.

It’s winter, and I knew there would be a lot of grayness on this mostly gray day; I was (surprisingly) surprised at how much there was to see that wasn’t drab. Some of the regional parks I will visit have no parking fee at all, but this one is $7! So it was a good one to start with, to make me feel the monetary value of my gift — which is surely the least part.

It’s not a huge park, but it is crisscrossed with several trails and I never have a map. In the past it seems we often end up back at the parking lot before we are feeling done, so I was trying to make the widest loop I could around the perimeter of the space. I think I did okay. Where a huge bay tree hangs over the creek, I took this picture in which I already can’t tell where the lines lie between the sky and the tree and the reflections.

In the last several months “everything,” most lately the attack of who knows what viruses, has conspired to make me feel my mortality. Not that I thought I was near death, but in just one year’s time I seemed to have become several years older, weaker and flabbier. I know youth is relative to a point, but I thought my youth might have died. It felt very good to be walking briskly in the fresh air and to be right there under the sky when the sun came out from time to time. It was shining nearly horizontally in my face or my camera lens when it did. Frogs croaked, and towhees hopped about in the bushes.

Have I mentioned that I also put my back “out” just before my battle with the viruses? I couldn’t even do anything about that for weeks, but last Friday I did see a chiropractor and am now on my way to getting back my less flabby self. The weather is of the sort that makes me want to curl up indoors with a book and a blanket, but I have had my warning, and I am going to fight against my tendency to the sedentary lifestyle.

Not far from the descent to the parking lot, I was on a ridge from which I could see across the road below to the vineyards on the slopes beyond. And on my drive home — only ten minutes! — I noticed workers pruning the vines.

January is usually somewhat depressing for me, but this year I have been distracted from the bleak weather by other things that one might think more depressing. It didn’t work that way; I was continually reminded of God’s presence and had so many occasions of joy and contentment, it was obvious that they were pure gift. And this Christmas present from my children — it is a gentle prod to do the things they know I will love. I wonder if I can squeeze in one more park before the end of January?

New friends stopping by…

The carpenter who was hanging doors today brought his nine-year-old son August along with him, with my permission, with the idea that he would stay near his father upstairs. The dad didn’t mind that I set August up by the fire instead, to eat his lunch; I really like the dad and I was glad to meet one of his children, and to make him comfortable. He liked to chat.

Lesser Goldfinch in winter

I got a break from that socializing when they had to go briefly to another job, and I ran some errands having to do with the remodeling and the Christmas celebrations upcoming. When I got back August was glad to see me. He asked whether I had pets, and started advising me that I needed a cockatiel to talk to. I explained about my love for watching the wild birds, and as we looked out at the garden I told him that contrary to present appearances, the birds often came by the dozens, most recently goldfinches. He said, “Look, there’s a hummingbird… it’s a small one.” And suddenly, a flock of birds surprised him by arriving all at once at the seed feeder, and we began to study them.

The yellow-headed birds did not look like goldfinches. I stumbled over boxes of Christmas decorations and faucets to pull the Peterson’s Guide off the shelf, and paged through the colored plates with August looking on, and we determined that this bird is a Townsend’s Warbler. How convenient it was, a few minutes later, when a Lesser Goldfinch, one of those birds I’ve been seeing for years, joined a warbler on the feeder so we could compare them side by side. Of course, the warbler is larger, and different in many ways.

Townsend’s Warbler

August really wanted me to take a picture of the birds, but I explained that I never can get good pictures through the window, and if I open the door, they all fly away. So I am posting here two pictures I found online.

I am pretty pleased at the double gift, a boy and a new bird sighting, all in one day. Thank You, Lord! Now I must get back to my cookie-baking…

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