March 2013


Lately,
when I open the door
to the chicken coop
in the morning
a male guinea
chases one of the chicken hens.
Then rooster chases the guinea.
They do this for a few minutes
and then get serious about eating breakfast.

Yesterday,
up in my yard under the Hackberry tree
where I scatter sunflower seed and chicken scratch
for the wild birds,
a male Brown Headed Cowbird flew in
with a flock of black birds,
but then he didn’t fly away again.
And he didn’t eat.
He sat, hunched,
on top of the seeds.
Neither did he fly away
suddenly, when the others did.

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Chickens under Hackberry Tree

Rooster and the hens
venture into the yard later in the morning
and while they’re pecking,
the sick Cowbird toddles out of their way.
Eventually the cowbird moves over
to the heated water bowl.
He reaches his head up
and pecks at the rim of the bowl,
but can’t reach the water
and doesn’t seem to have the energy to hop up
for a drink.
He sits, hunched against the bowl
for awhile
and eventually,
takes a low flight path
away.

Late afternoon,
chickens are back,
and so is the Cowbird,
though I don’t see him
until it’s too late.
A cat appears from somewhere,
nabbing the sick cowbird,
which sets off a chain reaction
among the chickens…
a brown hen is disturbed
and flies up,
which sets off rooster,
who runs after the cat
who dashes toward the barn,
rooster chasing,
until a male guinea goes after rooster.
They have a long cock fight,
head to head,
flaring neck feathers,
flying up,
dancing in circles—
neither getting the advantage,
until another male guinea
rushes the male guinea
who started the fight,
and they run off together.

I find cat but the cowbird
is already dead.
Before long,
chickens, guineas,
cats, birds
are all pecking the ground,
or sitting in the sun,
wandering around,
keeping safe space,
coexisting again.

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A small black dot
did it.
Stopped me
mid-step,
amid busyness.
And, for an instant,
we were riveted—
or, maybe, only I
was.
The little black circle,
perfect,
simple,
in field of smooth gray
feathers:
the eye
of an Eurasian Collared Dove—
compels me
to stop,
at least momentarily,
but why?
I don’t stop long enough
to ask;
I only marvel,
fleetlingly,
at the beauty
in such simplicity.
It is just now,
three days later,
that image
returns
in my mind’s eye
and I stop
to ask what it is
about simple beauty
that arrests.
And,
on this Holy Thursday,
it comes:
Force of Goodness,
Astonishing Love,
manifesting
in the eye of a dove.

We are constantly entertained
by the company of fowl.
Six chickens—young adults—
are now feasting daily
in the high tunnel.
Despite this utopia of greens,
they come running to us
the minute we enter.

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Six young Guinea Fowl Keets
have been under a heat lamp
less than a week.
Twenty-some hen eggs,
including a few laid here
but several gifted from a friend
who raises heirloom breeds,
are in the incubator.

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The rooster and three hens
and the six guineas
have found their way out
the big barn
through a Dutch door we open
in the morning.
It affords the fowl freedom
and the rabbits who free-range in the barn
(relative) security.
There are young roosters
in the high tunnel,
but the rooster in the barn
is fully matured
and is having a heckuva time
looking after the hens,
now that they’re free-ranging.
This morning,
two hens were out first thing
scratching for bugs
while one was still on the nest
in the coop in the barn.
He rushed back-and-forth
trying to keep his eye
on all—
and he looked
stressed.
When the egg-laying is done for the day,
they move as a family
around the barnyard and beyond,
rooster leading the way out,
keeping alert for every danger,
shepherding them back home.

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The Guineas,
who have historically had trouble
keeping track of each other
and all getting together
to get back home
at the end of the day,
have successfully found their way
back and forth through the Dutch door,
over fences and back into the goat pen,
and they gather outside a ground-level barn door
to be let in as sun is disappearing.
We are grateful
for their scratching, pecking,
wandering.
Besides being delightful company,
producing lovely eggs,
cleaning up goat manure,
they are already making a dent
in the grasshopper and tick population—
still strong after
another
mild winter.

The air temperature
was 18 degrees
at 8 this morning,
but it’s also sunny
and calm,
so it feels much warmer
than yesterday,
when the temperature
registered higher
and the wind was strong.
The day before that,
Sunday,
we awoke to a blanket
of snow
and a little ice underneath.

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These are the days
of winter-and-spring.

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Trees are budding,
Daffodils blooming,
Vinca shoots sprouting
in the dried grass
(Yay! It survived the drought.)
Winter birds are still coming to the feeders
and singing their spring songs.
Meadowlark especially.
Some birds have gone on—
the Goldfinches, I think—
and some summer birds—
Robins—
are arriving.

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The last two mornings
I’ve awakened to watch the male Pheasant
who frequents the block of wild bird seed
behind my house.
Normally shy and skittish,
he seems more relaxed,
spending a long time pecking at the block,
ever vigilant,
but less skittish.
Though largest,
he doesn’t mess with the other birds;
the Red-Winged Blackbirds
and Red-Bellied Woodpecker
(both, known to run off smaller birds)
give him wide berth
even though he tends to fly
rather than fight.
He shines copper
in the sun;
the white ring around his neck
glows.
This morning,
instead of dashing off
to the shelter of trees,
he casually made his way
around the place,
even climbing atop
a mound of soil—
in full view of any lurking threat—
and stood long
in the sun,
shining.
Then he meandered around,
pecking,
watching a cat run,
meandering more
before finally
disappearing in the tree line.
Unusual.
Noteworthy:
Some days
are for ignoring the threats,
for simply standing in the sun,
shining.

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On days like this
I remember the day,
long ago,
that a dear friend and I
stepped out of a restaurant
and onto the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue,
in Washington, D.C.
I was grousing about the “gloomy” weather.
My friend, an artist,
was excited for this teaching moment.
With a restrained thrill in his voice,
waiting to be expressed in the moment I would see,
he pointed my eyes across the street
to the Folger Shakespeare Library,
a very gray building.
He told me that colors stand out
on drizzly gray days
and sure enough,
I could suddenly see
an intensification of colors
in that wet, gray building
and the trees that stood
in front.
Since then,
I have enjoyed
gray days.
And this one
especially.
The cold mist on my face
is refreshing
as I set out on a walk,
immediately enjoying
the depth of colors
in the dried,
now wet, prairie grasses—
bronze, magenta, gold, copper.
But it is walking along the creek
that sets my heart a-thrill,
for there along the creekbed
I notice a tree I’ve seen often
but never before has
the expanse of life
on its limbs
been revealed.
It’s like a secret
revealed on wet days,
the days we humans
so often avoid the outdoors.
Almost every inch of this large tree,
every tiny knob,
every long stretch of limb
is covered in some kind of lichen—
many shades,
many shapes,
of green, blue
now vivid
in the mist.
Moving closer,
I gasp,
and catch that breath,
at the sight of tiny trumpets,
the brightest yellow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Tall Grass Prairie Preserve

It would appear that the common conception of evolution is that of competing species running a sort of race through time on planet earth, all on the same running field, some dropping out, some flagging, some victoriously in front. If the background and foreground are reversed, and we look at it from the side of the ‘conditions’ and their creative possibilities, we can see these multitudes of interactions through hundreds of other eyes. We could say a food brings a form into existence. Huckleberries and salmon call for bears, the clouds of plankton of the North Pacific call for salmon, and salmon call for seals and thus orcas. The Sperm Whale is sucked into existence by the pulsing, fluctuating pastures of squid, and the open niches of the Galapagos Islands sucked a diversity of bird forms and functions out of one line of finch.

Conservation biologists speak of ‘indicator species’—animals or birds that are so typical of a natural area and its system that their condition is an indicator of the condition of the whole. The old conifer forests can be measured by ‘Spotted Owl,’ and the Great Plains once said (and would say it again) ‘bison.’ So the question I have been asking myself is: what says ‘humans’? What sucks our lineage into form? It is surely the ‘mountains and rivers without end’—the whole of this earth on which we find ourselves more or less competently at home. Berries, acorns, grass-seeds, apples, and yams call for dextrous creatures something like us to come forward. Larger than a wolf, smaller than an elk, human beings are not such huge figures in the landscape. From the air, the works of humanity are scratches and grids and ponds, and in fact most of the earth seems, from afar, to be open land. (We know now that our impact is far greater than it appears.)

As for towns and cities—they are (to those who can see) old tree trunks, riverbed gravels, oil seeps, landslide scrapes, blowdowns and burns, the leavings after floods, coral colonies, paper-wasp nests, bee-hives, rotting logs, watercourses, rock-cleavage lines, ledge strata layers, guano heaps, feeding frenzies, courting and strutting bowers, lookout rocks, and ground-squirrel apartments. And for a few people they are also palaces.

Gary Snyder, “Blue Mountains, Constantly Walking”
In Dharma Rain, edited by Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft

I’ve always foundPimento Cheese
comforting.
But once I really paid attention
to what I was eating,
I realized it isn’t all that
flavorful.
Perhaps its insipidness
contributed to the comfort,
raising the question:
Does comfort food
need to be
on the blander side?
It’s too late now:
I’ll never be able to eat
tasteless
Pimento Cheese again
after adding
one simple ingredient—
finely chopped fresh garlic.
Garlic so upped the flavor,
Pimento Cheese
became addictive.
As if it could get any better,
I then discovered
Chipotle Pimento Cheese.
Then, Chipotle Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese.
Way beyond comfort now:
Very Dangerous Stuff.

Over-the-Top Pimento Cheese Spread

sharp cheddar cheese
smoked Gouda cheese
mayonaise
fresh garlic
onion
chipotle chiles, ground
pimento

As always, use the amounts that suit your circumstances and your taste.
As always, use local ingredients if possible. Here in Oklahoma, we go for Wagon Creek Creamery cheeses.
I like to buy spices at Savory Spice Shop, 4400 N. Western, Oklahoma City, because their spices are ground fresh weekly and because my friends Able and Debra Blakely own the Oklahoma City franchise. There are franchises of the Denver-based company around the country. (Their ground Chipotle Chiles are delicious.) Add the chiles, taste, determine how much you like, add more depending on your taste.
Finely chop garlic and onion (I don’t use a lot of onion, but some.)
Grate cheeses. I use a little more cheddar than Gouda.
Option: You can also make this recipe delicious without the smoky ingredients (Gouda and Chipotle.) But use more than one kind of cheese—sharp cheddar and a flavorful white cheese.
Pimentos are a kind of red sweet pepper. You can buy them in a jar, whole or already chopped. Drain the liquid before adding to the cheese mixture. I normally eschew processed food, but I never see fresh Pimento Peppers in the market. Other red sweet peppers would be a substitute, but I don’t really want crunchy in this spread. I’m still bound to the mushier, jarred, chopped pimentos, just like my mother used—part of the “comfort” of this food, perhaps.
Add mayonnaise a bit at a time, using just enough to hold the spread together.

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