There is a difference
between visiting a city park
and the thrill of spotting rosy House Finches
flitting in the trees,
and returning to your sit spot—
the place in nature you know best,
that is all soft and familiar
because you are there daily.
This morning I return from the city,
from walks in the neighborhood,
from soulful conversations with dear friends,
sweet and surprising encounters with strangers…
return to the farm,
the front porch in the quiet
country…
to a Cardinal couple,
the Bluejay couple,
the sparrows—
all of us beneath the Hackberry umbrella
of chattering Red-Winged Blackbirds.
Back from travels,
I have hung laundry on the line…
spring-colored linens
and white cotton eyelet wave softly
in the northern breeze.

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Chickens and Guineas
scratch in the flower beds.
A wind chime sings.
Old Maizey sighs, sleeps
curled in the chair next to mine.
Bumblebees crawl
into sunlit purple blossoms.
A White-Crowned Sparrow perches
on the bird bath for a sip.
My soul settles,
sighs,
sips too.


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Cedar Wax Wings (notice yellow-tipped tails)
Gunshot woke me
Saturday morning.
It sounded close—
and I thought of the five deer,
including “the biggest buck”
seen in this part of the prairie
for many years,
that graze just below
the hermitage.
But it was bird shot.
I dressed,
contemplating whether to venture out
to see from whence the shots came.
I was standing at the back door,
coffee in hand,
when I heard the next shower
of gunshot. Two Red-tail Hawks,
who home at the top of a tree
just south of the hermitage,
flew up.
I put on my shoes,
grabbed the No Hunting signs
I’d found in the closet
and got in the car.
I saw no one on the road
and there was no evidence
of anyone in the pasture—
human or deer or bird.
I strung a No Hunting sign—
“under the penalty of the law”
(very intimidating!)—
on the fence near the cattle guard
leading to the reservoir.
Then I drove over to the 200 Acres
and installed a No Hunting sign
on the fence next to the gate
leading into the beautiful pond there.
Quiet though I tried to be,
I disturbed the ducks,
who fluttered and splashed into the air,
took a fly-around
and landed softly back on the pond.
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It’s here,
two days ago,
I saw the two Bald Eagles
the young farmer who rents the land
told me had returned.
Last year, they (are they the same ones?)
hung out in the tree tops
near the Big Pond next to the farmhouse.
They were here a few days
and then we didn’t see them again.
I’m hoping to be able to contain myself
and not disturb them too often
this year. They see as soon as I drive up
and park the car on the road,
the far side of the pond.
They are big,
and, through the camera lens,
I observe their beauty,
their stillness,
their alertness,
their birdness—they groom—
and, their confidence
(this may be an anthropocentric projection.)
I am thrilled to the core
to see them.
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At home,
a mile as the crow flies,
in the Hackberry and surrounds,
there is a flock of Cedar Wax Wings,
a flock of Robins
and I make the first sighting
of a House Finch,
at a feeder hanging low from the tree.
I watch a Red-Bellied Woodpecker
near the top of the pecan tree
try to peck its way into a pecan husk.
Three Bluejays are at it too.
I am thrilled.

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Cedar Wax Wing

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Robin
DSCN2131House Finch
At twilight,
the time when great flocks of Canada Geese
take to the sky,
moving from one place to another
in v-fronted lines,
I stop amidst evening chores,
to watch, listen.
There are so many
that together, they fill the air
with a tremendous honking.
Two flocks fly overhead
as I drive down the road
south of the hermitage,
on an errand.
I see a truck parked
on the road.
The driver has backed it
up against a pasture gate so that he’s not parked
in the road; he holds field glasses to his eyes.
I stop, roll down my window.
“Do you enjoy watching the geese?” I ask.
“And the deer,” he answers.
I ask where he’s from;
he lives a few miles away.
“We’ve had a lot of shooting around here lately,” I say.
“I’m not surprised. It’s deer season,” says he.
“All this area is posted,” say I.
He changes the subject.
I drive on half a mile
and release another field mouse,
caught in a trap in the high tunnel,
where they’ve been munching on the greens.
A few moments later,
when I drive by,
the pickup truck is gone.I think word is out
about “the biggest buck.”
He is magnificent.
As are the Eagles.
I hope people are coming
simply to look,
and wonder. But I am as nervous
and alert
as the deer,
the eagle.


Chickadee

Chickadee

Meadowlark

Meadowlark

Bluejay

Bluejay

Woodpecker and Goldfinch

Woodpecker and Goldfinch

Mockingbird

Mockingbird and Goldfinch

House Finches

House Finches

Goldfinches

Goldfinches

Woodpecker and Red-Winged Blackbirds

Woodpecker and Red-Winged Blackbirds

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Sparrows at Water Bowl

Sparrows at Water Bowl

There is a big window
that affords me a full view
of the birdfeeders
under the Hackberry Tree
off the farmhouse front porch.
So, two days a week,
as I work at the kitchen table,
I can look up
and count the birds.
Like many other volunteers
from all over the country,
I send the count
to Cornell’s Ornithology Lab,
for its “Project Birdfeeder Watch.”
This is the first year
I’ve participated.
Every winter I’ve found great pleasure
feeding and watching the birds.
But counting the birds
has made birdwatching this winter
exceptional.
I don’t know what observations
are important to the scientists
at Cornell,
but counting the birds
has caused me to pay closer attention,
notice more carefully
the life of these winter companions.

Out in the pastures,
there are great swarms of Red-Winged Blackbirds—
large black birds,
with a flash of red under their wings.
Here at the feeders,
50-60 show up,
along with a few of their cousins,
the Cowbird.
Cowbirds have brown heads
and shiny blueish-blackish feathers.
When they all show up together,
the great flock of smaller Harris Sparrows
(about 60 of them)
give them a wide berth.
Just in the last week or so,
the Goldfinch flock has increased,
to about 50!
For the Backyard Feeder count,
you can only count what you can see
at the same time.
I know there are three couples of Cardinals,
but usually
I can only see one or two birds
at a time,
so that’s all I get to count.
There are three Bluejays.
I’ve only seen one Mockingbird at a time.
I’ve seen two Red-Bellied Woodpeckers,
but usually only see one.
I haven’t seen the three Eastern Bluebirds
in the last week.
Or the Robin,
for two weeks.
For awhile,
I could see 10 Eurasian Collared Doves;
the last two weeks,
I’ve only seen one.
And there were 12 Meadowlarks;
now, none are coming to the feeders.

Woodpecker can eat whatever it wants
whenever it wants
no matter who else wants it.
Usually it eats amidst the others,
but sometimes aims its beak
at a nearby Blackbird or Bluejay.
It doesn’t seem to bother
the littler birds,
who probably know
to keep their distance.

Actually, most of the birds here
are ground feeders,
though the Goldfinches, Blackbirds,
House Finches (there are three),
Chickadees (three of them also),
will eat from the feeders,
as will Woodpecker—
clinging to the feeder
in interesting positions.
The Blackbirds like the suet cakes too.
The birds seem to feed
all at the same time.
The little birds are there
first thing in the morning,
until the big birds come and breakfast;
the little birds hang out in the trees
until the big birds finish,
then the little birds return.
They take turns like this
until late morning,
then are gone until
about 3 in the afternoon,
when they all return,
taking turns
until Earth has rolled up
and the sun is about
to disappear.

They pay me no mind—
only disappearing briefly
into the tree branches,
chirping,
when I go outside.
But they are delight for me;
winter would be lonely
without them.

Birds at feeders under the Hackberry Tree

Birds at Feeders under the Hackberry Tree

I sit on the porch
on the 21st day of November,
enfolded in warm, soft air.
I have morning coffee,
on the porch.
Two days ago,
I shared lunch with friends,
on the porch.
It feels
and sounds
like spring.
Yesterday,
there was morning fog.
Plants that struggled
through summer,
now are taking off—
lavender,
transplanted Vinca,
and today,
I notice brand new Hollyhock leaves.
There is as much birdsong
as in the spring.
Many of the singers
are wintering birds,
including some birds that don’t normally winter
here:
Robins,
Bluebirds.
Winter’s familiar company:
Goldfinches, Woodpeckers,
House Wrens, the blackbird cousins,
Mockingbird, Bluejay, Sparrows, Juncos.
A flock of Cedar Waxwings
has been here all week.


Bluebirds

Robin

Cedar Waxwings and Robin

My soul luxuriates
in the softness
of sweet bird music,
furry, winter-coated cats;
my heart aches
at the beauty on the gentle air.
But my spirit
is anxious:
though winter’s trees
drop the last dried leaves,
offer their berries,
and stand strong,
ready for the harshness
of a prairie winter,
spring’s birds
are here,
in a very dry November,
more or less ignoring the birdseed,
drinking long
and often
at the watering bowls.
Deep in the dried grass,
little plants
are greening.
I honor
the anxiety provoked
by the incongruities.
Weary of the dryness,
still, I pay attention
to the gray and beige landscape
that tells me
not to forget.
It is not spring.
And it is not normal
to have weeks
of porch-sitting weather
in November.
Or Robins.

I signed up this year
to count birds at my birdfeeders
for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The counting season began on Nov. 10,
so I cleaned out all the birdfeeders,
filled them with fresh seeds
and decided which two days this week
I would spend some time
counting the birds at the feeders.
This week is a big bird week.
Actually, they spend less time at the feeders
and a lot of their time
drinking from the bowls of water
I keep filled—
another witness to the fact that
the heading-into-a-three-year-drought
is impacting all living things.

This week,
I watched a flock of Robins (14),
a lone Northern Flicker (my first sighting);
(our friend Debra saw one too,
30 miles west of here),
a lone Western Bluebird (my first);
Harris Sparrows and White-Crowned Sparrows (11);
Cow Birds (5);
the resident Red-Bellied Woodpecker,
Bluejays (2);
Female Cardinal (1);
American Goldfinch (2);
Common Grackles (7).
That was during an hour and a half
of keeping an eye on the birdfeeders
hanging from the Hackberry.
Earlier, I saw two House Wrens
and in the neighborhood,
I’ve seen Meadowlarks,
the Great Blue Heron,
great flocks of Canada Geese arriving.
One morning this week,
my friend Cass,
who lives on a farm near Hennessey,
came upon a huge flock
of Sandhill Cranes!

The season
between birds
is over.

Listening first thing
this morning to the report
about yesterday’s elections,
something moving
caught my eye
out the front door window.
It was Pappa Rabbit,
who has free run of the farm.
He was sniffing around the leaves
in the flower bed.
Seeing him
this morning,
white and gray
and especially soft-looking,
brought me up short.
I suddenly felt
softness.
Having been away for a week,
and still overcome by the beauty
of the Great Smoky Mountains
and Lake Junaluska,
seeing Pappa Rabbit
just off the front porch
somehow
brought me home.
The cats were waiting
and walked me to the barn,
meowing softly,
where I fed them—
then the Alpaca boys,
the chickens and guineas,
the goats
and finally the dogs.
All around,
the prairie palette
is a monotone
of beiges, with hints of faded gold—
drab in comparison
to the glimmering golds, oranges and reds
on the North Carolina mountains.
But somehow this morning,
the drab prairie
softened around me,
quieted me
and pulled me back.
I noticed the jillions of burgundy Hackberries
dangling silently
on bare branches.
I began to hear
in the soft air,
the sound of birds:
Bluejay’s piercing squawk,
Red-Bellied Woodpecker’s drumming.
There is no wind
on this cool, sunny day;
but once in awhile,
a breeze.
Sheets drying on the porch,
blow gently,
silently,
and the wind chime sings
softly.
A crow calls in the distance
and a flock of sparrows
chatters sweetly
in the Hackberry.
Maybe it’s having been away;
maybe it’s because the pre-election tension
has dissolved.
It is quiet here
today.
It is a soft place
today.
I sink into it,
gratefully.

While the breeze
was still coolish
(in the shade)
this morning;
while clouds veiled the sunshine
for a little while,
I savored a few moments
on the front porch.
Old friends appeared.
Hummingbird
came for breakfast.
I saw a flash
of Bluejay wings.
Wasps
were already drinking
from the fish pond.
The alpaca
each took a turn
standing over
the water sprinkler
I had turned on in their pasture.
The guinea fowl
and chickens
hung around
the wet grass too.
Box turtle
has evidently abandoned
its early-morning walk
through the flower beds
because it was also in the alpaca pen
near the water sprinkler.

Yesterday was our third day
with 109-degree air temperature.
It looks to me
like green tomatoes
are cooking on the vine
rather than ripening.
Squashes and cucumbers
are still coming on,
and cantaloupe.
Sunflowers
seem to love the heat;
they are taller
than usual.

By mid-morning,
when I went down
to turn off the water spray,
Biak Bay and the goats
were sitting in the shade and breeze
on the south side of the barn.
They seem simply to adapt
to the situation
of the moment.
Perhaps I can take a lesson
from them—
and do my job
of noticing
what’s happening in the moment,
that the planet is heating up.
Noticing,
without being scared to death
about it;
without becoming paralyzed by it.
Perhaps,
like the animals,
innately trusting that Goodness
is taking us in the best possible direction;
and,
responding to this particular moment—
this particular hot moment:
give the animals water and food,
enjoy their presence,
keep cool
with as little fossil fuel as possible:
time to shut the blinds on the sunny windows,
keep the thermostat at 84,
turn on the ceiling and floor fans;
be grateful for the solar panels
on the roof.
Appreciate how fast the hot air
dries thin slices
of tomatoes and zucchini
hanging in the dehydrator on the porch;
appreciate the chance to share
lusciousness, fresh, acid-and-sweet
tomatoes,
crispy cucumbers
and those cool, sweet cantaloupe
with dear old friends who came by
unexpectedly
for lunch.