Bird Roll Call: January 28, 2018

  • Accipiter sp.2
  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American kestrel2
  • American robin1,2,3
  • American tree sparrow2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose1,3
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1
  • Fox sparrow2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Pine siskin2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • Rock pigeon3
  • Song sparrow2
  • Thrush sp.2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

A blue jay sat in one of the sweetgums while I carried shell peanuts out to the wreath feeder. It swooped down as soon as I turned around. I wasn’t even back to the house when it dislodged a shell and flew off.

I finally heard the Carolina wren today after several days’ absence. He was singing a three-note song, a variation on his usual two-note offering. I believe the notes were B-flat descending to G-flat then up to A-flat. He repeated this series three times, with an additional B-flat, G-flat, and rest at the end. Rhythmically, the song was structured like this:

| — — — | — — — | — — — | — — } |
.
.
Key: …..| = bar …..— = note …..} = rest

After I heard the wren, I saw him at one of my feeders. He flew to the ground, into my neighbor’s woodpile, onto my fence, up to the top of the utility pole at the back of the property, and into one of the sweetgums before flying away. He sang his two-note song while flitting about (B-flat descending to G-flat). A little while later, I saw him on my neighbor’s roof, where he scaled the satellite dish and surveyed his territory. It looked like he was standing at a pulpit, ready to deliver a sermon.

The squirrel who has been attempting to carry twigs up one of my trees took that activity up again this morning. I’ve decided that there is no utility in what he is doing. He seems to be acting compulsively. He’s also destroying the tree by breaking off twigs day after day. I wondered how long I would have to watch his pitiful display.

The sun came out and turned the yard into a sepia-toned photograph like the ones my partner used to take in the ’90s. American goldfinches floated in like soap bubbles and took my attention off the squirrel. A slate-colored dark-eyed junco landed on the window sill a few inches from me. Up close, I could see how much brown was mixed in with the bird’s gray plumage. These are the kinds of details you can’t observe from a distance.

The first to bathe today was a male American robin. When he was finished, the adult and first-winter white-throated sparrows flew down for a drink. They are so delightful, especially the juvenile with its skinny legs and sprightly attitude.

After watching the birds in the yard, my partner and I headed out to Kill Creek Park. Almost all the birds I saw there were concentrated in one spot just off a parking lot near a stand of cattails next to the lake. When blue jays saw a hawk and sounded the alarm, the birds flushed from their spots and scudded past me toward the water. A sparrow almost hit me in the face. Hardly any people were there, which was lovely, just a sprinkling of men fishing or walking their dogs.

Locations — in my backyard, at Kill Creek Park, and while driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Kill Creek Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 26, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

As I sat down to watch birds, I saw the male northern flicker looking for the female again today. She was nowhere to be found. I haven’t seen her or the male she appears to have partnered with since the day they became an item.

A red-tailed hawk landed on a low branch in one of my sweetgum trees. I noted its yellow eyes, the brown stingray patterning on its breast feathers, the speckles on its belly feathers. A blue jay approached the hawk and began cheeping at it like a small songbird. I’d never seen that strategy employed before and wondered why the blue jay chose this approach over sounding an alarm call. Unfazed, the hawk settled in for a long rest, its body spreading out until it took on the shape of a Foghorn Leghorn cookie jar. A second blue jay arrived on the scene and began making a “meh, meh, meh” sound — not exactly the alarm call, but at least something a little more assertive than cheeping. This was followed by silence, then the second blue jay cycled into a different call. I believe it was the first call listed on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds page.

After a few minutes, the blue jays left the hawk in peace. It looked to the right without moving its head, its right pupil gliding toward its beak. I could see that its brown head was mottled and resembled depleted soil on the side of an asphalt road.

Only the northern cardinals remained. The hawk’s feathers blew in the wind. It leaned forward a few times but didn’t fly. Its pupil held the sun. Above, gulls looked like gashes in the sky’s sateen. Dark-eyed juncos, oblivious to the hawk’s presence, gathered at the birdbath. The blue jays returned and dove at the hawk; one hit it on the crown. The hawk scratched its head with its left foot then tucked the foot into its body, a sign that it was insistent on relaxing. A second red-tailed hawk called from above. The sound was quickly swallowed by silence. The wind picked up and spread the hawk’s feathers farther apart. It swayed side to side with the undulating branch.

The neighbor’s dog came outside and flapped his ears. The hawk paid no attention. A squirrel chattered from the cavity in the silver maple. The hawk didn’t care. What interested him was high above. Its eyes traced two lines through the sky: contrails from a jet. It cocked its head one way then the other, as if trying to put the strange white streaks into a “hawk” context. How were these lines relevant to its life? Once the jet was gone, the hawk turned its head around backward and angled it downward. I imagined it taking inventory of what was pertinent: finch, finch, dove, squirrel.

The blue jays returned again and finally sounded the alarm call, but in a half-hearted way, as if they were merely doing what was expected of them as opposed to what they felt compelled to do. A squirrel nearly fell off the utility line at the back of the property but recovered. Squirrels remind me of The Flying Wallendas when they engage in such acrobatics. A mourning dove landed on the utility line. The hawk watched with interest before turning to look my direction, head on and beak down, like a school librarian glowering over a pair of reading glasses.

The male flicker returned to the yard. He sat in a tree calling for the female who did not choose him. “Kyeer, kyeer. Kyeer, kyeer.” It was a sad call that brought to mind Basho’s famous haiku:

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.

Hearing the northern flicker, I missed the present moment even as I was experiencing the present moment.

The hawk turned around on the branch and wagged its tail. By this point, it had been in the tree for just over one hour. Its demeanor quickly changed from relaxed to alert: head forward, feathers tight against its body, eyes scanning everything. It dipped forward and raised its tail before flying into the neighbor’s silver maple. There, it assumed the same stance as the red-tailed hawks I’ve seen along the roadways. The hawk was no longer resting. It was ready to hunt. I knew it was going to fly before it flew — first left, then right. Then it was gone. Within seconds, songbirds popped out of their hiding places: a northern cardinal here, a dark-eyed junco there. I put my binoculars down and walked away.

Location — in my backyard.

Twitter: Light-Catchers

A staircase of shelf fungus scales the side of a hawthorn tree.

All around me, the ground undulates. Robins shovel leaves in search of food. “Do what you want to do” floats into my mind as clear as birdsong.

A Carolina wren sings a medley that includes the song my wren at home sings. B-flat followed by G-flat, repeated five times.

A female hooded merganser sleeps on a sheet of ice, her mate nowhere in sight. Upstream, a great blue heron squats low in the water, drenching its chest.

I like talking with the old men who don’t seem to have anyone.

Hawthorn tree: Your fungus is soft, your spikes hard. This is life.

At home, I get out my piccolo and play along with the birds.

A child screams like a hawk — or maybe a hawk screams like a child.

Frozen water droplets hang from the branches like thousands of crystal balls. Light-catchers, these drops tell our future.

Trees shred the wind. My dog sleeps.

I feel like the dark-eyed junco in my yard who has the excreta of another bird stuck to its tail.

Language is in my fingers these days, not my mouth.

I am ill and screaming like a starling.

Even the noisy house sparrow calls me back to the present.

My thoughts yellow like old paper.

Winter: Snow remains in the shadow my house casts.

Life: looking down to see the remains of a dead bird at your feet.

Bare tree limbs speak to each other in Morse code.

Starlings pull up the garland of the sky and hang it on trees. — Jeff Schwaner

Life is better since I started pointing my camera away from me. By camera, I mean mind.

Twitter: Red Birds

Church bells, and two mourning doves flying toward them.

These birds are using me for my birdbath.

A blue jay flew up to my kitchen window and looked at me as if to say, “Do you want your life to be wild, or do you want it to be precious?”

I am a screen for the shadows of birds.

The birds are the sky’s shadow puppets.

Now a butterfly is at my window. And a stink bug.

On Nextdoor, my neighbors are trying to pair monarch caterpillars with the milkweed plants they need to survive.

Today is a long drive behind a garbage truck.

I am thankful for trees, which provide homes for so many animals.

On the water, twisted leaves look like origami swans.

Fall: An American white pelican circles a small lake in Kansas.

Nostalgia: missing the bald eagles I saw yesterday.

My fingers are still purple from cutting fresh beets.

I love a red bird on a brown fence.

It’s enough to hear the songbird. I don’t turn my head.

Earlier, I saw an old man carrying a large stuffed dog. “I like your dog,” I said. “Don’t touch him,” he replied.

Suffering is a dwelling with a large doorway but very little interior space.

The female cardinal is the color of the red maple’s turning leaves.

Twitter: Tack Coat

The tack coat of dawn gives way to the scumble of morning.

Dawn. Hot pink rubbed over midnight blue. Sudden lightning. My dog in my arms, trembling.

A rabbit appears out of nowhere like a lost thought. I think of an old friend.

Some folks decorate their porches but never sit on them.

Little man down there putting away your grill, come out of your garage and look up.

Some people kill birds. Others put out bird feeders.

Tonight’s sunset turned the sky into a cauldron. Below, a thrasher the color of depleted soil foraged quietly beneath a sapling.

Birds define the air.

How do you see the air without the bird? Assume there are no trees.

The cowbells follow one another / Into the distances of the afternoon. — James Wright

In the sky, a great heron goes unnoticed by lovers on a picnic.

A tender young boy watches a pair of red-winged blackbirds as his friends taunt him.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher perches on a stop sign until I get too close with my camera.

The verses are in the land, in the trees before they became paper, in our hearts before they were rewritten by language.

I used to think to be not alone meant / never having to walk through the high wheat / or struggle in the water. — Allison Seay

I just saw a man texting while driving a tractor down a major thoroughfare.

I might be getting too involved with the animals who live in my yard.

Essays: A Secret Order

In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.
 
— Carl Jung

This morning, my chihuahua threw up on me in bed. I was curled up in the fetal position, and she was behind me with her chest against my back. You could say she was the big spoon and I was the little spoon, as preposterous as that might sound, given that I am approximately eighteen times her size. But there it is: big spoon = chihuahua, little spoon = human.

Understandably, being woken in this manner led me to believe I might not be in for the best of days. As I took care of my dog, got myself cleaned up, and cobbled together all the linens that needed washing, I felt defeated before I’d even brushed my teeth. Then my centralized pain set in, along with intestinal distress because I dared to eat out yesterday afternoon. As if that weren’t enough, I felt like I was being strangled. Yesterday, my new thyroid surgeon examined the scar on my neck from the thyroidectomy that my old thyroid surgeon performed last fall. He needed to assess how much scar tissue was present. Turns out, there’s a significant amount of scarring, and manipulating the area has made it extremely tight and painful today.

I needed to get it together, and fast. My first session with a holistic therapist was scheduled for noon. This meeting was important to me. I didn’t want to arrive at the therapist’s office sweaty, whiffling, and redolent of dog vomit. I needed to be lucid, solid, maybe even likable. (The last one is always a longshot for me, but I hold out hope with every new interaction.)

I made it to the session with my pestilent body in tow. A sack of pain I was. The therapist put me at ease by pointing out her Carl Jung action figure and saying, “Not everyone has one of those.”

“They don’t,” I thought. “But they damn well should.”

She also had a stuffed Yoda on her desk. He was wearing spectacles. I should probably show her my bright orange, 3D-printed Yoda head at our next meeting. I don’t have any Jung tchotchke to share, but I do feel Jung at heart, so at least I have a pun lined up for next week’s session.

The therapist knew things were serious when she began charting my immediate family, and I was in tears by the time she asked me what my father’s name was. I would have totally lost it if she’d asked my mother’s name. (It was Merry, which is heartbreaking considering how much trauma she was born into and lived through. Given her life circumstances, my mother’s name was a cruel, impossible demand — a mirthful adjective that would never find its occasion. What were my grandparents hoping for, beyond hope, when they fitted her with that albatross?) In short, I wasn’t able to mask my physical or emotional pain, and that made me feel as vulnerable as a fledgling swallow leaving the nest for the first time.

The therapist asked how I was feeling. I told her I was a burning tumbleweed careening down a hill, setting the countryside on fire.

She seemed to understand.

I asked her if she thinks there’s more merit to the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress than other DSM diagnoses. She said she doesn’t give a hanging chad about diagnosis. She only cares about hearing and seeing the person in front of her.

“You are not a diagnosis. You are a human being,” she said. “What I’m hearing and seeing is you.”

I tried not to cry because I don’t want Therapy Dana to be someone who is weepy throughout an entire session. But I’m not sure I’m in charge of who Therapy Dana is or isn’t, let alone what she does and doesn’t do.

I chose the Jung quote above because it makes me think about the DSM and its litany of disorders. The DSM is a dead end that never leads back to order. How do you make your way out of that book once you’re in it? My therapist says you have to stop looking at the disorder and start looking at what will help you heal.

I don’t always know where to cast my gaze, but I’m looking.