Going out to feed the birds
on another not-too-cold
morning. The air is still;
unperturbed. Before
I open the door I see
through the window
Red-Tailed Hawk sitting
atop the center of the roof
of the round-top barn.
I move outside slowly,
watching it
watching the pasture before it.
I don’t know how long it has sat there.
I do know that if I move too close
or open the metal trashcan that holds birdseed,
it will fly. I am aware that I want to move
and that my movement
will cause Hawk to move.



The feeders are empty,
except for the thistle feeder
and a caged one that only little Chickadee
can get into. The bigger birds
empty the rest of the feeders during the day,
and peck clean all the seed strewn
on the ground beneath the big Hackberry Tree. Red-Winged
Blackbirds, several kids of Sparrows, Red-Bellied Woodpecker,
three Cardinal Couples, and now—just this week—the Meadowlarks.
They come and go throughout the day.
But all day, the three Chickadees
feed. While Red-tailed Hawk sits for hours
on high—tree or hay bale or fence post or barn roof—
watching intently,
diving to pasture to feast occasionally, wee Chickadee
spends its entire day feeding—
snag a seed from the feeder,
fly up into the tree to munch it, back
to the feeder, over to the water bowl,
up to a tree limb, back to the feeder—
seemingly using about as much energy
to get the food it needs to survive one more day
as it needs to have the energy
to survive one more day.



As I move to feed the other birds,
Hawk slips silently off the top of the barn.
Little Chickadee sits on an empty feeder
waiting—she does not move when I approach—
for me to fill the one next to her with seed.

I suspect
they, Hawk and Chickadee,
neither one
have any idea
what it takes
for the other
to live.


Humans cannot survive in a master/slave relationship to the Earth and her creatures. Love and peace require a different relationship, one of respect, reverence, and gratitude. One of reciprocity.

—Matthew Fox,
Meister Eckhart, A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times

Beavers were indigenous to the prairie
before the settlers came. A keystone species—
their presence affects the habitat
and therefore, the lives of many species—
they have lived on the planet for 10 million years.
(Long before mammoths, beavers were 7 feet long!)
Once there was a continental United States,
there were, at one time,
two hundred
Alice Outwater writes in her wonderful book,
Water. A Natural History:

…their dams {made} meadows out of forests, their wetlands slowly capturing silt. The result of the beaver’s engineering was a remarkably uniform buildup of organic material {topsoil} in the valleys, a checkerboard of meadows through the woodlands, and a great deal of edge, that fruitful zone where natural communities meet… Where beavers build dams the wetlands spread out behind them, providing home and food for dozens of species, from migrating ducks to moose, from fish to frogs to great blue herons.

On the prairie, before settlement,
the beavers, prairie dogs and bison
helped create a healthy, symbiotic ecosystem.
These were the prairie’s hydrologists.
Outwater writes about the beaver’s contribution:

Water detained in the wetlands behind a beaver dam is more likely to percolate down to the groundwater, raising the water table and creating springs and freshets throughout the watershed. A land with hundreds of millions of beavers is truly rich land, and the wetland associated with beaver dams made the New World’s water plentiful and clear as the dew.

Beavers do more to shape their landscape
than any other mammals—
except for human beings.
With humans’ settlement of the prairie—
and the western European appetite for beaver-skin top hats—
beavers were hunted until their numbers declined
from 200 million to 10 million.
Prairie dogs and bison populations were also hunted,
their numbers drastically diminished,
which critically changed the prairie ecosystem
up to this very day.

Unlike the prairie dog and the bison,
beavers returned to this part of the prairie,
to this part of the prairie we call “our farm.”
And they continue to do what they do:
(Outwater writes that beavers make wonderful pets,
and that even living indoors with people,
they still continue to build—cutting down the legs
of tables and chairs and building
little dams between the furniture.)

Beaver dam on Doe Creek, and wetland

For twenty years,
beavers had maintained a beautiful dam
on Doe Creek
in a place that didn’t disturb
our father’s farming operation. When we returned
a few years ago, we thrilled
at their presence—
and the sublimely beautiful wetlands that pooled
behind their large dam.
Their presence was more interruptive
at the Big Pond our father built following World War II.
It became the site of our family’s new home,
in the 1960’s. When beavers began cutting down
the trees around the pond,
our father invited trappers
to get rid of them.
For the last several years,
beavers have kept away from the Big Pond.
Until about three years ago,
the beavers continued to live on Doe Creek.
But as the current drought deepened
and Doe Creek dried up, beavers had to leave.


Several months ago,
we saw evidence of their presence
again at the Big Pond. Young trees
along the north side of the pond
had been freshly chewed down.

DSCN2715Evidence of beavers on Big Pond

Frank saw beavers swimming
on the east side of the pond.
Over the months,
more trees have been cut down
and when the beavers began blocking the culverts
that allow water to flow into the pond,
Ann knew they had to be stopped.
Had the drought ended
and the water in Doe Creek flowed again,
we could have moved the beavers to that
old lodge.
But there seemed little choice:
the Big Pond’s ecosystem is already threatened
by the drought.
Ann has gone to great lengths
to ensure its survival the last three years,
after it dried up completely for five months.
Still critically shallow,
the pond—and life in and around the pond—
needs every drop of water
that falls, or flows, into it.
A few weeks ago,
Ann contacted the department of agriculture
and made plans for the trapping
of the beavers.

About 10 years ago, Ann’s son Ben
planted a Willow tree beside the big pond.
It had grown into a beautiful, 12-foot tree,
which we all cherished. One day, Ann noticed
the beavers had been gnawing on it. And
it was down.
We discover
that both male and female beavers
secrete a musky oil that was a popular medicine
in the Middle Ages—
said to cure, among other ailments,
Castoreum is high in salicylic acid—
the basic ingredient in aspirin.
The beaver ingests this substance by dining—
wouldn’t you know it—
on Willow bark. This week,
Ben has been visiting from Colorado. And this week,
Ben saw three beavers floating
in the Big Pond. Trappers have confirmed five
dead beavers; predict more.
The Willow,
the beavers,
that headache—
all gone.
Like so many interfaces now
between humans
and other parts of the natural world,
here is great irony.

I’m learning to live
in irony, paradox,
I’m learning to wrestle
with limits.
I’m learning to swing wide
the heart and mind
to outrageous possibility…
I wish these beavers—all beavers—
could live
where they won’t be inconvenienced
by humans.
I wish we humans could use our capacity
for creativity
to learn from the beavers,
with respect and reverence
for these incredible engineers
and spend some time
figuring out how to live together.
A symbiotic relationship
would be wise: for one thing,
the prairie could use some wetlands,
some recharging pools
about now.

In ecology,
there is a term for “the edge effect”—
a transition between two diverse communities.
A beaver-engineered wetland,
for instance,
is an edge.
This is called an ecotone.
Outwater writes that an ecotone is unique in that
it “contains organisms native to each overlapping community
as well as organisms characteristic
solely of the ecotone itself.”
The edge effect, then,
results in an increased variety and density
at community junctions.
Probably, it’s not only the edgy
communities here on the prairie
who could learn from the ecotone
between the beaver
and the human being.
I hope we human beings
live long enough
to learn how to live
with the beaver,
with diversity of all kinds.
I don’t think
we have the beaver’s 10 million years
to figure it out.




Our December Newsletter:
Hello 2015. At Turtle Rock Farm

Leaving The Year of Wonder
and entering
A Year of Engagement

I took a peek
at Commonwealth Urban Farm‘s
vegetable washing shed
one day last week—
the last pick-up day
for their CSA
(Community-Supported Agriculture)
members, who have been receiving
a bag of fresh, organically grown vegetables
since last April.


DSCN6375Pea Sprouts

What Lia Woods
and the Commonwealth Urban Farmers
in northwest Oklahoma City say
is true:
fall gardens do great in Oklahoma.


I was staying in the home
of friends who are members
of Commonwealth’s CSA, the Veggie Club.
There was all-around appreciation and awe
at the abundance and beauty
when a bag of colorful, fresh, nutritious vegetables
was unloaded in the kitchen. In

“I am passionate about quality basic education for children that starts with and builds on the local language and culture in poor, rural and underserved areas.”

My favorite place
for holiday-shopping
is Pambe Ghana,
a Fair Trade market
in Oklahoma City.
It is run completely by volunteers,
the items are all handmade
Fair Trade items
and the proceeds all go to support
bi-lingual education
using Montessori teaching methods
in a village in Ghana.
La Angum Learning Center was founded
by an Oklahoma City University
alum who received her master’s
in Montessori education, then returned
home to her village
to found a school so that children
could learn while speaking their native language.
Ghanan schools traditionally
teach only English—a language unknown
by the children—in the first three grades.
Alice Azumi Iddi-Gubbels
established the school in 2007. Each year,
a new class is added and villagers
construct the expanding school
using local materials, including bricks
made of mud. Children can now attend
school at La Angum through the sixth grade.
At so many levels,
holiday buying at Pambe Ghana
is sustainable:
the people who make the goods
get fair prices;
the goods are beautiful;
buyers learn the stories
of people in other cultures
who make the items;
shoppers get to meet
the wonderful volunteers
dedicated to helping Alice
and her school;
the children of a Ghanan village
receive an excellent education;
Oklahoma buyers stand in support
of a Ghanan village full of parents
who care about their children;
and the gift-receivers connect
with so many
when they open,
use and enjoy their presents.

Some of my favorites
are beads made by a group of women
who have been accused of being bewitched
(though they are not)
and come together for healing
to be able to re-join their communities.
Brightly colored,
amusing, hand-knitted finger puppets.
Bells (friends receiving these will be invited
to send love and healing to Earth
when they hear them ring.)
Seed pods (made by a family that collects
the pods seven hours from their home)
painted brightly and made into fanciful African birds.
Gorgeous, sturdy, roomy Ghanan baskets.
Exquisite textiles,
including batiked fabric
and a wall-hanging perfectly crafted
with potatoe-stamping.


Pambe Ghana
is at 6516 Olie St.
in Oklahoma City.
(Two blocks north of 63rd Street;
one block east of Western.)
It’s open noon to 6,
Tuesday through Saturday
through December 23.
Look for them too
next week at the “Pop-Up Market,”
mid-town Oklahoma City—
10th and Walker. See more
about Pambe Ghana on their
facebook page.

DSCN6100Red-Winged Black Birds

DSCN6291Goldfinches at Thistle Feeder

DSCN6292Little Chickadee

There are so many Red-Winged Blackbirds
eating the milo-corn-wheat-sunflower-seed-mix
from the birdfeeders
that I fear the smaller birds
will have to go
I try to put the seed out—
filling the feeders,
scattering some on the ground—
and after
the big birds normally feast,
but the last couple of days,
they have come early, stayed late
and wiped out the food.
they even managed to stand on
the little ledges and contort themselves
to pick thin, black thistle seeds
from the tiny holes in that feeder,
made especially for little birds.


I’ve been keeping an eye
on Squirrel, who helps herself/himself
to the seeds on the ground
and drinks from the water bowl
that St. Francis holds,
but can’t seem to figure out
how to reach the seeds in the feeders.


I was thrilled to see
Roadrunner right up at the house today.
He/she showed up in the afternoon
and hung out in the yard
below the feeders, back and forth,
off and on,
until all the birds
left for the evening. When it was present,
the black birds flew away. All the birds
flew away—which is smart of them
because, as I learned today,
Roadrunners eat small birds.
It ignored Squirrel
and really seemed to ignore the birds,
though I saw it hunch down close in the grass
like a cat
waiting to pounce.
Evidently Roadrunner likes mice
too, which might be the reason
it’s here. Birds feed here
every winter,
but this is the first I’ve seen
here too. Maybe it’s the mouse plenty
that’s attracted it. I’m trying
to simply observe
and not get further enmeshed
in who should eat
how much,


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