I feel such delight in all the small birds that love to be in our yard. Yesterday morning, the gold finches were all over the evening primrose stalks, eating seeds. Native self-seeded wildflowers for the win! Then I saw a few little brown ones–maybe sparrows–taking a bath in a puddle in the driveway, after the good rain we had the day before. Here is one drying off afterwards.
He turned around while I was looking from the back door. So cute I had to share both photos!
The little birds just love our garden, our trees and bushes, our wildflowers, and we love them. If I had to pick just one sort of critter, birds are my folks! It makes me so happy that they are happy here!
One more bit of good news. The mama turkey has come back a couple times with her baby, after the horrible incident in our yard where her other baby was killed by a neighbor cat. We’re glad to see they are doing well.
The tabby has been hanging out in our orchard the last few days, in stalking position under the cherry tree. I had just been writing recently about how our orchard is a bird haven. The cat decided to make it a hunting ground. Every time I saw it there I chased it away. Yesterday, I was resting in my room and heard a commotion outside, and suddenly saw that it had attacked and grabbed one of the baby turkeys that has been visiting our yard every day with its mother. The mother turkey was screaming and charging at the cat. I tore out of my room and out the back door but the cat had disappeared with the baby.
More yelling at the cat, then Margy joined me outside, and finally the cat ran out from under our deck down the driveway. The mother turkey was pacing back and forth and calling. We started looking for the baby, and Margy finally saw it under the deck, still alive, but looking injured. I recently had read a post on Facebook about what to do about injured birds, and so I called Avian Haven to ask their advice. Wendy suggested that I get it into a box, and then call back. They have a volunteer in the Portland area who could take it.
So I crawled under the deck, using a pad to help my knees, with a very shallow cardboard tray, and creeped over on my belly to where the bird was laying. It was about a foot long, and something was wrong with its wing. I was able to cradle it in my hands and lift it onto the cardboard, all the while talking gently to it. In the house, we put it into a large shoebox, and wrapped it in an old t-shirt of Margy’s. We got a call from the volunteer, Karen, and she drove over to our place to pick it up.
Last night she texted that she had found a wound under its right wing, and did some first aid. But this morning she let us know that the baby had just died. She was hopeful earlier because it had stood up, but then a little later it was gone. She thanked us for rescuing the bird, and said that because of us it had a safe, peaceful end of life.
I just feel so sad. I feel angry at the little cat. We love our two kitties, but they are indoor-only kitties. However, sadly there are several cats in our neighborhood who wander wherever they like, and often into our yard. I shouldn’t really blame the little tabby–it was only following its instincts. And maybe there was a time when cats being hunters was helpful to humans for their rodent problems. But what are we to do? As we try to create a little wildlife haven in the city, as we listen to and love this ecosystem, we try to find a balance. Squirrels, ground hogs, chipmunks can be annoying to our gardens, but cats are known to be the major threat to song birds. Can we change our cultural practices to protect the birds?
How does the Spirit move? How does the Spirit guide us? Is it like the wind blowing this morning, shifting the trees every which way? Might it come disguised as a turkey mother, with two babies always following nearby, meandering through the yard? Might it be in the doors that close, as well as the doors that open? Might it be in a conversation with a friend, sparking new ideas?
These last few weeks have been hard in our nation. Human rights have been undermined by the supreme court, and the attempted overthrow of democracy has been detailed in congressional hearings; gun violence continues, and police violence against black men does not abate. Heat waves remind us of the continued crisis of our planet, and despite many people acting as if the pandemic is over, the latest variant is more contagious and more severe.
I have felt at a loss for words about the big issues of the nation. I turned 69 last month, and after working for justice all of my adult life, I feel discouraged about the horrible backlash which seems to have taken power. Not surprised really. With the long history of this nation rooted in genocide, enslavement, and violence, it is amazing that we have made any progress at all. But for much of my life, it felt as if things were moving in a better direction. Now it feels like the same issues have to be fought all over again. I feel discouraged personally because I no longer have the physical energy to go to protests or marches, to be out there in the streets making a big noise. And because of that, I feel cut off from the community of resistance, which gives one hope and resilience.
So I listen for the Spirit, try to find guidance for my own little life. I look for signs in the wind and in the creatures who visit. The little turkey babies stay close to their mother, even as they wander through the tall grasses and wildflowers. Am I like that baby turkey? When it gets tired or scared, it jumps right up on the back of its mother. Or am I like the turkey mother, and someone needs to jump up on my back? How important it is that we help each other, and recognize the help that comes our way.
How does the Spirit guide us? At times I am at a loss about what I can do, what I should do. This next chapter of my life is new territory. I don’t always understand when one door closes, but can I trust that the Spirit is still guiding me? Can I keep hold of a “yes” in my heart to the next open door? Can I recognize the sound of the Spirit in all of its guises? I am listening.
The last couple weeks have been focused on healing in our household. My partner Margy had knee replacement surgery, and came home to recuperate after a couple days in the hospital. Then, one of our cats, Billie, perhaps from the stress, stopped eating, and had something going on with her liver. So the vet came with some medicines to help her start eating again. I have been the tender of these loved ones, and both are doing well for the moment, but the healing will take some time. I haven’t been able to post on the site lately, being fully occupied with my nurse duties, but today is a quiet day, and I have these few moments to write and share photos.
In the meantime, the yard is unfolding on its own, mostly with our neglect, except for occasional bits of tending, and I have been appreciating its springtime beauty and vitality.
There are two frogs in the pond now, and one day, as I sat watching, one of them was chasing the other one, though not all the way out of the pond. The chased one is more timid, and dove into the bottom. They were both females I believe, so I am not sure what it was all about. But fascinating to watch, and listen to her calls.
Sadly, the robin who has been sitting on the nest on our back porch, finally abandoned the eggs two days ago. She had been on the nest quite a bit, though not always, but they never hatched. I wonder if maybe the location was actually too warm for the eggs. Again, we don’t really know, but it is amazing to observe. We will miss her quiet presence, though I have also seen her in the orchard since then.
Yesterday, a lone turkey came into the orchard on her way to somewhere else. She very politely didn’t eat the broccoli and kale seedlings I just planted this week, but seemed to enjoy the clover.
I wonder if we might be able to create enough food in our garden, for the people and the animals? (Instead of battling with squirrels and other critters) Today, in a webinar, Letecia Layson described doing that, when creating a garden in a nature reserve. “Plant enough food for the animals and for you.” What a wonderful model for interconnection. There is so much wild plant beauty and food already out there too. For example, wild strawberries have spread over vast areas in the orchard and in the further back yard. We don’t usually eat these strawberries, but leave them for the birds.
Way in the back, in the hedgerow which has now filled out in its summer foliage, there is a clump of jack-in-the-pulpit that Margy discovered last year. Since she can’t get back there right now, I looked out for it and was delighted to see that it has returned. I brought her a photo. We also have bleeding hearts, golden seal, and many many ferns along the edge of the “forested” area.
Margy taught me how to use our battery-powered lawn mower, and I have been able to make some paths at least through the growing-taller grass. Mowing is usually her job. We figured we’d go along with No Mow May, but between ticks and invasive bittersweet, we actually do better to do some mowing. But we always steer around the ferns and other interesting wild plants that come up.
All of this has been a lesson in listening to the land, to the plants, to the animals. I have focused on quiet attention rather than doing projects. There will always be projects to do out there, but this year I am learning to be slow.
I am writing this outside on the back porch, listening to cardinal songs from the trees at the edges of our yard both right and left. It’s cooler today than yesterday, partly cloudy, but spring feels like it’s waking everything up, including me. I was delighted yesterday to look out the back windows and see a whole family of turkeys wander through the back of our yard. Seven of them! We haven’t seen any turkeys here for a few years. Wild visitors make me smile. I came outside and started tending the now thawed pond: I skimmed off leaves and trimmed off dead stems and leaves from the pond plants. The blue flag irises have new green shoots emerging, and the fern is also starting to show green shoots.
My energy was depleted after finishing only a part of the work, but then was rejuvenated by drinking licorice root tea with ice and a cut lemon at lunch. It truly is a miraculous plant for me. I didn’t drink it during the winter–maybe I should have. I have been growing a licorice plant for about five years now, so if all goes well, it should be ready soon to let me harvest some of the roots. The small bush dies back in winter, but regrows in spring, and sends out runner roots to create new plants nearby. So, rejuvenated by the licorice, I came back outside and set up our hammock (after rearranging some things in the garage so I could reach it–every project is really a few projects, it seems.)
This season, the hammock is most important to me of all the tools in the yard. I have been feeling so overwhelmed by the garden this past year–the problems were starting to outway the pleasures. I mean, the squirrels took all the green peaches, the oregano was out of control spreading all over, and the hugel mound is full of weeds and small critters, I think, and won’t really work except for zucchini and cucumbers, because the water just runs off the sides. I am tired of the feeling of working so hard to get food, and like I am fighting in a battle. I have been searching for a way to be at peace here, as we were when we started. Our hope was to find relationship with this land, and to be a healing presence for the land. To learn from the land.
So I brought myself to the hammock, to rest, to listen, to see the tree tops, and to be open. I was noticing the green moss beneath the hammock, and everwhere in the back half of our yard, and wondered, “Why does it like to grow here? Is it a good thing?” (I am always asking that when random plants pop up–because we have so many invasives like bittersweet, you never know, friend or foe? And I know so little.) I did some research on my phone. “Methods to get rid of moss in your lawn.” On the other hand: “Methods to grow a lawn made entirely of moss.” People have lots of opinions about moss. But our yard likes it. It likes to grow in compacted soil, shady, moist, it doesn’t need nutrients from the soil. It is at home in acidic places, like a pine forest. We have our lovely pine trees here, that is probably our basic ecology. It seemed to me that lying in the hammock, I was able to let go of doing, and enter into the mindset of learning from this place. It was good. Here I am humbled and grateful.
So even though it was cooler today, I found myself outside again, tending to the pond, pulling out dead tree leaves, cutting old plant leaves to make room for new. Going slow. Noticing two robins in the orchard right now. The wild pansies that were blooming in December are blooming again, and dandelion greens are showing. Chives are emerging under the fruit trees. I am trying to remember to balance the tending with the being tended.
Spring is here in its northern way, with unexpected delights and disruptions–the wild turkey toms proudly displaying in the midst of old snow and random automobiles–a flock of starlings taking over the trees in our yard—two ducks hanging out in the brook. A small group of us celebrated with ritual on the Equinox to welcome these disruptive forces into our lives, to undo the stuck places we’ve found ourselves, and make room for new growth, new movement. We used a frozen bowl of ice, in which we placed candles, to symbolize the thawing times.
We do still have snow or ice over most of the yard, but each day another small patch of brown grass appears; our neighbor was already out raking in her snow-free yard. In the middle of this, two days ago, my car was rear-ended as I was driving the on-ramp toward the highway after grocery shopping in town. No one was hurt, thankfully, though my car is now in the shop waiting for the insurance bureaucracy to authorize repairs. I was able to drive it home from the scene, and take out the groceries, being careful to go through and watch for broken glass in the bags.
Still, it shook me up with the vulnerability that is life. We never know which day might be the last. And meanwhile I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called “Last Chance to See” which follows Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine as they make a journey in 2009 to visit endangered animals that were first documented twenty years earlier by Mark and Douglas Adams (author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Stephen Fry brings a comedic voice to their adventures as the urban klutz who doesn’t usually traipse about in nature. (I recognized his voice from the movie version of Hitchhiker’s Guide.)
But underneath that veneer of comedy is wonder and grief. The final episode was originally going to be about the Yangtze river dolphin, but the dolphins were declared extinct in 2007. So instead, they search for blue whales. Mark tells Stephen that blue whales, the largest animals ever on the planet, have been here for forty million years. Forty million years. And now they are endangered, along with so many others.
I was caught up in the awe Stephen and Mark experienced in getting up close to these majestic beings. I was filled with amazement at the beauty of this complex interwoven planet that we have been blessed to inhabit. And I tapped into the grief that has been haunting so many of us these days. Grief for the demise of so many beings. Grief for the losses that are being propelled by human activity.
I feel so powerless to stop this roaring train that “western civilization” has become. Perhaps there is nothing we can do to save all that is dying. All I could think to do was to let myself choose conscious gratitude and love–gratitude and love for the utter wonder of life on our planet. Gratitude and love for the animals and plants that are our elders and companions. Gratitude and love in the midst of grief.
At winter solstice, the sun begins to rise earlier each morning, but only by about one minute every couple days. As we approach the spring equinox, the changes begin to quicken, each day the sun rises earlier by one or two minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but I feel this sense of speeding up. This morning, I woke at 6, and found myself jumping out of bed, wanting to get outside as quickly as possible, so as not to miss the dawn.
I was not disappointed. First of all, there was the waning moon shining bright in the western sky. Then there was the gang of turkeys marching down the end of my street. Twenty strong, they roam the place like they own it, and they do, as much as we do. Around the corner, a neighbor walks her little dog: Sparkles is still a puppy and just can’t contain herself when I approach. She is trying to learn not to jump. But she jumps. So we say our good mornings with enthusiasm.
On my own again, around another corner, I hear a cardinal singing. He is already looking for a mate, or marking out his territory. I can see him in the tree, his characteristic shape visible with its tufted head, even though he is too far away to see the brightness of his red feathers.
The streets are a mix of clear pavement and icy patches, so I make my way carefully, no rushing. But I feel buoyant in the early morning light. Finally, I approach the brook, and look over to the east, where I catch my first glimpse of the sun rising through the thicket of trees.
I am a morning person, but I usually don’t like to get up before 6 a.m. Just before sunrise is my favorite time of the day, but if it gets too early, I have a hard time making it out of bed. In this regard, I will be saved by Daylight Savings Time on March 10. The sunrise would have been at 6:03 that day, but we jump our clocks ahead, so it slides back to 7:03. Then we have all the days until April 15 before it approaches 6 a.m. again. Nonetheless, everything is starting to wake up now. Buds are starting to appear on the fruit trees. Birds are singing. They know.
[True happiness is not in buying things, but in being thankful for all that we already have. You can ignore any ads that appear at the end of these posts.]
This morning, as the sun was rising, I saw a huge bird shape in the top of the white pines at the very back of our yard. I went outside to see what it was. Looking closer, I saw that it was a turkey, and in fact, there were several turkeys perched high in trees all around us. How my heart is warmed and excited by the fellow beings who visit us here on this land!
Then I noticed that there were half a dozen turkeys on the ground behind me, near our ornamental crabapple trees. Over the next 10 minutes, one by one, the turkeys in the trees flew gracefully down to the ground. They were mostly too quick for me to capture them in flight, though I caught this one as it approached the ground in a blur.
Finally, the whole clan of turkeys gathered together and ambled toward the underbrush near the pines. I too started on my walk to the brook and around the neighborhood. In the midst of all that we face in the coming years, I pray that there will always be animal and plant neighbors whose daily lives bring us joy. I pray that we won’t forget to notice and appreciate them.
I have had the privilege of studying Wabanaki Languages this fall, taught by Roger Paul. For me it has been a small way to begin to decolonize my mind–to begin to think differently. Our final project was to make a short presentation to our class, and I was inspired by the words we had learned to talk about the animals I see and hear on my morning walk. I also drew on the Passamaquoddy/Maliseet (Wolastoqe) Language Portal for further help with verb and noun forms, and I learned some new words along the way. If any speakers of the language read this, edits are welcome! Roger encouraged us to jump in with using the language, even though we will make mistakes.
For those who do not know about Wabanaki languages, you might find it interesting that animals are not referred to as “it,” and people are not referred to by “he” or “she.” There are “animate” and “inanimate” forms, and both people and animals are referred to by animate, non-gendered verb and noun forms. A lot of information is encoded into one word. So, for example, “npomuhs” means “I walk.” “Nutuwak” means “I hear (beings plural and animate.)
Ntoliwis Mayk. Nuceyaw Portland. (My name is Myke. I am from Portland.)
Spasuwiw npomuhs. Wolokiskot. (In the morning I walk. It is a beautiful day.)
Nolokuhs lahtoqehsonuk. (I walk in the direction of the north.)
Nutuwak sipsisok. (I hear small birds.)
Nomiyak mihkuwiyik oposik. (I see squirrels in a tree.)
Apc, nolokuhs cipenuk. (Next, I walk in the direction of the east).
Nomiya kisuhs musqonok. (I see the sun in the sky.)
Nutuwak kahkakuhsok. Tolewestuhtuwok. (I hear the crows. They are talking)
Nomiyak oqomolcin kehsuwok nehmiyik awtik. (I see eight turkeys in the street.)
Apc, nolokuhs sawonehsonuk. (Next, I walk in the direction of the south.)
Npomuhs sipuwahkuk, naka nomiya motehehsim sipuhsisok. (I walk along the edge of the brook, and I see a duck in the brook.)
Nutuwa pakahqaha lamatokiw. (I hear a woodpecker a little ways into the forest.)
Wahte, nomiya qaqsoss. (In the distance, I see a fox.)
Apc, nolokuhs skiyahsonuk, naka ntapaci nikok. (Next, I walk in the direction of the west, and I come back to my house).
Nomiya munimqehs kihkanok. N’ciciya wot. (I see a woodchuck in the garden. I know this one.)
Coness, Munimqehs! Musa micihkoc kihkakonol! Wesuwess! (Stop, Woodchuck! Don’t eat the vegetables! Go back where you came from! )
Munimqehs qasku. Qasku asit kakskusik. Qasku lamatokiw. (Woodchuck runs. S/he runs behind the cedar. S/he runs a little ways into the forest.)
Toke, ntop qotaputik qocomok. (Now, I sit in the chair outside.)
Komac Wolokiskot! Woliwon! (It is a very good day. Thank you)
Yesterday, I looked out a window and saw a turkey in the driveway. When I went on the deck to get a closer look, it flew up to the maple tree in our neighbors yard. But then I looked up and discovered two turkeys on the garage roof, another roosting in the pitch pine, more in the spruce and small maple on the other side of the house–we were surrounded!
The one on the roof seemed to enjoy our conversation–it was looking at me so intently as I spoke. I wonder if this is the same family that visited often during the summer and played in the dirt in and near our future pond? They were younger then, of course. But maybe? If you look closely you can see two of them in the photo below, from their visit in September. This morning on my walk, they were out walking too. Perhaps the deep snow has disrupted wherever they were hanging out during the winter. But they look very fat and healthy. A visit from wild neighbors always makes my day!