2021, winter

january (sounds)

January doesn’t exactly call to you. It’s easy to zone out in the numbness of these dull, dreary days. And sometimes the look of January is hardly enough to make me look up. But the sounds out there, they still work.

It’s a quiet mid-afternoon, and I try to convince myself it’s peaceful. But the mood is more like melancholy. Trees and what’s left of plants look like they’re scarcely holding on. It’s a still cold quiet void. Quiet and gray. My spirit too.

Yet, if you hang around the quiet long enough, there’s more than silence.

A subtle rippling, just audible. Water moving over stones and around bends. Gentle enough to make singular tones. Soothing, like listening from another room, while a friend strums the guitar. Slowly picking, one string at at time.

Then the chirps. Tiny chirps. Jays and towhees. Cardinals, for sure. Their winter tones are sweet and relaxed now. Comfortable, less commanding, less stressed, almost purposeless. Not the loud complicated spring show-off mating songs or the summer alarms and calls. It’s soft and gentle. As if they’re going about life, hunting the brush for a meal or snack, and mindlessly humming.

There’s been too much gray. Too much cloudy. I’d rather have snow. But we get comfort where we can. And January brings a quiet comfort. If nothing else, it brings quiet. Quiet intersecting lonely intersecting reassurance. A kind of hushed reassurance.

birds, seasons

the birds

Is it still summer? Yes, technically. But not really. We know it, don’t we?

The bugs are merciless and the cicadas are still noisy. The birds? I haven’t seen it just yet, but the same robins who would almost fight to the death over a strip of land in July, gather like one big happy family in September. A bunch hanging together on the gutter, looking down at another group picking the yard for worms. In my imagination, it’s something like happy hour. The offspring are hunting the lawn, and the grown-ups are up there standing guard, smoking, and telling the summer’s war stories. Bad talking the feral cats. Mocking the hawks. Like … hey, you remember the morning that loudmouth blue jay helped us fight the accipiter hawk? Chased that guy right out of the oaks, almost knocked that napping sap-sucker from its nest in the poplar, and we didn’t let up til our squawking hawk friend crash landed somewhere inside the big sycamore.

Territorial lines are gone now, I guess.

Not the hummingbirds though. They’re still in it to win it. I’ve never seen hummingbirds willing to share. I’m not sure they even share with their loved ones. That nectar must be something worth fighting for.

It happens every year. The catbirds finish nesting there, and the hummingbirds take over. One guy (the defender) claims the feeder and sets up perch inches away. And waits for interlopers. I can see the bird there right now.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but hummingbird competitions are fun to watch. One zooms in from nowhere for a sip of that intoxicating nectar, and the defender guy moves at light warp speed to intercept. Where do they get those reflexes? All that sugar, I guess. And the fight is on. They fly off after each other, at unbelievable speed. You’ve seen hummingbirds, you know what I mean. Synchronized turns. Timing. And angles that defy aerodynamics. Then the original defender guy returns to its perch.

The roses are fading, and the tomatoes are struggling to redden. But there are warm days left, and the hummingbirds have energy in the tank to fight on. One day soon, one day in September, they’ll leave.

And that … that is the end of summer.

music, nature, plants, sounds

evening

It looks like these trees and this brush are endless. Sometimes I feel that way too. But they’re not.

I was hunched over, trying to get a picture of the flowers and the green and a bit of the sunlight still coming through. It was getting close to eight, and there was a towhee doing what towhees always do at sundown. It was ‘drink your tea’ time. They sing those notes over and over, part of the evening ritual.

But this time there was music too. Human type music. Past all the green, up a hill, there was a house and the glow of flames in a fire pit, and somebody was out back. None of my business, but how could I not notice? He was playing folksy music, and it sounded so good I wanted to yell, “Hey, what’s that you’re playing?” Of course I didn’t. I thought it was somebody sitting by the firepit playing a guitar or banjo, and singing one of those folk songs that feel like springtime, and good times, and flowers in a field. Eventually I realized the music was too good, it must have been a recording.

I didn’t want to move on, but I started walking slowly along the path, around a bend, and the music playing behind me faded in the distance, past the trees.

Photographed May 29, 2020

bird watching, birds, life, nature

birds

I’m a casual bird watcher. I don’t study the books, their feathers, their habits. I’m just a backyard observer.

But if you have the time right now, if you have a porch, if you have trees outside the window, then this is the time.

Now. Like NOW.

The thing about bird watching is that it takes time and it takes patience. You can sit there, reading your book. You can relax. But you have to get the observational part of your brain ready to notice. Notice the repetitive movements of a bird flying back and forth. Or a song. Oh, those sounds. Those sweet, sweet songs…going on, and on, and on. If you want to embrace the best meaning of passion and purpose. If you always wanted to get in touch with that part of our existence, this is the time. There are robins already with nests, making their ‘time to rest for the night’ songs. There are frantic cardinals making their nests. And if you’ve never seen a female bird hell bent on getting a nest ready by the end of the day, then maybe you don’t know the definition of focused. Or goal-oriented.

I know I’ve spent too much time looking at a computer screen. Tomorrow, yes tomorrow, it’s time to get part of me outside. Safely, appropriately, socially distanced and all that. But the statistics won’t change because I look at the maps or the circles on the maps or the numbers. I’ll have no impact on the way the world spins as long as I keep my distance.

Birds have bird brains. They’re not smarter than humans. But they can show you something about life that you didn’t quite get. About trying with everything you’ve got. About constancy and determination.

Anyhow, just my pitch for bird watching.

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But … an important but … don’t interfere. Watch from a distance. Don’t draw attention to a nest.