Most of us have been sequestered during the last couple of weeks, preoccupied with the health and well-being of our loved ones and ourselves. Some have been busy providing health care and other critical services.
Thanks to wet weather, Teddy and I have stayed close to home on our walks. It’s been an opportunity to appreciate spring in the neighborhood. Waving at neighbors and greeting them (from 6′ away) is one way to hold on to a feeling of connection.
Despite the human state of anxiety, the natural world has moved forward and suddenly it is spring.
Teddy stopped to examine pee mail the other day and I noticed tiny red maple leaf buds beginning to stretch and uncurl, ready to meet their season in the sun. Other trees are heavy with so many blossoms there is enough left over to carpet the ground.
Small white daisies adorn neighbor’s lawns, and daffodils are already nearly done blooming.
I noticed a robin, just one, sitting and singing from the most prominent peak of each house on the block. One robin for each house. I admire the robins for their equitable distribution of territory.
Peace that comes from getting close to nature can be as simple as stepping outside and paying attention. I hope you are clinging to good things, the people and things that keep you grounded while we wait for this strange time to pass, and it will pass. Be well.
It’s been weeks since I’ve been outside, really outside, by myself, soaking up all the goodness of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. Finally, I went to the refuge last Sunday and it felt so very good.
A pair of geese met me near the path and a small flock of geese quietly strolled the grassland in the distance.
I’ve let other things keep me from taking the time to do the thing that keep me balanced and make me happy to my very core. It’s my own fault, I get busy doing the things I think I should do and forget to do the things I love. In this time of uncertainty, and fear, a quiet walk and connection with nature can set you back on an even keel, that’s what it it did for me.
Maybe there are places where the Tualatin River runs hard and swift, but the vantage points I’ve had make it seem the very definition of a lazy river.
AS I walked through the refuge, a small flock of Chickadees focused on their search for insects and paid no attention to me. Chickadees are always charming and friendly, never seeming to worry much about the presence of humans.
While watching the Chickadees I was excited by a quick glimpse of bright blue wings and rosy chest. Was it a Bluebird? I haven’t seen a Bluebird for quite a few years. In my excitement, I wasted time unsuccessfully trying to get a picture, instead of just enjoying the lovely creature. I’m choosing to believe that I saw a Bluebird Sunday morning.
The forested part of the refuge was wet and muddy thanks to recent rain and snow. I made a mental note to take my shoes off in the garage when I got home. It was worth the mud to find this tall Oregon Grape brightly blooming in the midst of a tangle of trees and brush.
A fellow wanderer pointed out a small bouquet of Trillium deep in the underbrush. If Trillium are blooming, it really is spring!
My Sunday morning walk in the fresh air with birds, trees, the Tualatin River, Rock Creek, and the brisk cold wind for company was long overdue. I must remember not let other things get in the way.
Please take time to remember the small pleasures that give you peace, and stay well.
The highlight of Sunday morning? I saw a Western Bluebird! Maybe.
I’ve been sick and tired of the cold, gray, wet world we’ve been living in for weeks. Then, as though to answer a prayer, the sun came out to play for an entire day recently!
By early afternoon, I only needed a light jacket to be outside. The streets had filled with children riding bikes and scooters, tossing balls, and celebrating the arrival of sunshine.
Grownups were walking dogs, and greeting each other on the street. There is a particularly friendly ambiance in the air when an unexpected sunny day follows weeks of cold rain.
Teddy and I eagerly left the house planning a long walk around Gettman Trail, but we were barely out the door when he began favoring his right front paw. For his sake, I opted for the shorter walk around Shaad Park. His limp disappeared by the time we got to the park making me wonder if the little dog had a reason to fake it.
The last time we visited Shaad Park it was a cold and foggy morning (Cancelled Flights). Teddy and I were alone on the hill that day. there were no hikers and no children using the playground.
This sunny day was different. Grandparents sat on a bench near the playground watching children use the slide and play in the sand.
With the fog gone, we found brilliant views waiting for us on top of the hill. Teddy and I stood by ourselves soaking up warm sunshine and fresh air, feasting our eyes on the valley and the hills surrounding it.
Blue Jays, perky little wrens, and Robins flew noisily from one large old oak to another. They were far too busy to pose for me. The ground was wet and sponge-like from recent rains. Muddy water threatened to fill my shoes but I took the soggy path anyway.
I knew it wouldn’t last of course. It’s not really spring just yet. That sunny day was just a short reprieve from the monotony of winter, but it did remind me to be patient.
In only weeks, the birds will begin the busy nesting season, daffodils will push through moist warming soil, and lipstick-red tulips will brazenly declare true spring. Thanks to a little taste of sunshine the other day, I’m willing to wait.
If the fish in your backyard pond kept disappearing, you’d get tired of replacing them. You’d start focusing on getting rid of the character who was eating them, most likely a raccoon.
That’s why Debbie and Jerry bought a large Havahart live trap, set it up near their pond, baited it with tuna fish, and waited. Several mornings later Jerry stepped out the back door, saw they had something in the trap, and was immediately disappointed to realize they had apparently caught someone’s black and white cat.
Fortunately, Jerry was approaching the trap from the rear when he realized what he really had in that wire cage.
The back end was all Jerry could see of the little skunk. That was good. It meant the skunk could not see him.
Quietly, Jerry backed away from the cage. He would much rather have dealt with a thirty-pound snarling raccoon than a five-pound skunk. He needed advice.
Clackamas County Fish and Wildlife said, “You have to release it. Take it five miles past the Oregon City limits and let it go.”
“Don’t you have someone who can come out and help me?” Jerry asked.
It’s a skunk in a large wire cage. I won’t be able to get anywhere near it!
“We don’t do that, sir. You have to take it out of town.”
How about a humane way to get rid of it without getting close?” Jerry asked.
“No! You are required to take it five miles out of town.”
Jerry was running short of patience by then, “How about I take it to your offices and release it there?”
“No! Do not bring it here, sir and do not do anything to that skunk! We may send a officer out to your house and make sure you properly release it!”
Jerry had to work that morning but he came up with a plan.
Debbie grew up on a farm in Colton. She knows skunks and she says, “If a skunk can’t see you, it won’t spray you.”
Holding up a large tarp so the skunk couldn’t see him, Jerry tip-toed quietly through the tulips, past the pond and right up to the wire cage. Still hidden, he carefully covered the entire cage with the tarp. Then he used several bungee cords to make sure the tarp was tied down tightly. Next, Jerry lifted the large cage to the back of their small Chevy pickup. The skunk was quiet.
Jerry planned to park the truck in a shady spot at his office and then, after work, take the skunk out of the city and release it.
Sailing down I-205, with the skunk in the back of his truck, Jerry was feeling pretty confident.” So far so good,” he thought!
It wasn’t long before Jerry noticed honking, a lot of honking. Then the driver of a white Toyota flew by and scowled at Jerry. Suddenly Jerry picked up the powerful scent of skunk. Panic took hold of him when he looked in the back of the pickup and saw the tarp flapping in the wind. People in the lane next to him flew by as fast as they could, some of them were gesturing toward the back of the truck. Many were making obscene gestures. Those who passed carried with them the scent of a terrified freeway-riding skunk.
They say that a skunk can spray about six times in a row to a distance of ten feet. But this skunk was really terrified and Jerry swears the skunk never stopped shooting until they arrived at Jerry’s work. In any event, the ten-foot range must have been extended to hundreds of feet behind the truck – what with the wind produced by the freeway speeds.
Jerry made it to work and parked in a shady spot far away from any other vehicles. He told his work buddy, John, the tale of his morning adventure.
“Skunks have never bothered me,” John said, “I’m a single man with a cabin in the woods. Bring the skunk out to my place and let him loose. He’s welcome!”
After work, Jerry carefully tied the tarp down again and followed John out to the cabin. In a pleasant wooded spot they slowly lifted the tarp from the front of the cage.
John stood behind the cage, held the tarp in front of himself, and lifted the door of the cage. The skunk could see nothing but freedom.
He waited. And waited.
Jerry couldn’t see any reason to wait for the skunk to gather courage so he went home.
Now it was just John and the skunk.
John continued waiting for several minutes.
Since he was hiding behind the tarp, John couldn’t see the skunk but he was pretty sure it hadn’t left the cage yet.
He continued to wait.
After a while, John peeked over the tarp, just barely, he was too nervous to pull it back far enough to see the cage.
He continued to wait. There seemed to be no movement from inside the cage.
Then he thought, “Maybe I looked away for a second, the little guy ran out, and I missed it completely.”
So he lowered the tarp a little bit more, peeked further over, and looked into the shiny black eyes of one mad and disoriented skunk. Before John could think, the skunk turned, fired, then proudly waddled off.
Too late John dropped the tarp and ran to his cabin.
For two week I’ve been walking by blooming lilacs, bushes loaded with fragrant blossoms. Their sweet smell reminds me of being a child in Spokane (the Lilac City), sitting in the back yard with my little sister, Christine, and sucking sweet nectar from tiny purple blossoms.
It should be enough to inhale deeply as I walk by those blooms every morning; but no, I’ve wanted a branch for myself, sweetening the air at home. There are places I could pull off a branch without leaving a hole for anyone to notice. But early morning walking means I can’t get permission from sleepy homeowners. It wouldn’t be right to take without asking.
For two weeks every purple bush I pass seems to be telling me it’s okay to take a small piece. Yesterday I lost a battle with my conscience – or did I win? I passed by a particularly huge blossoming lilac. I remembered the homeowners are friendly. I imagined asking them for permission to take just one small blooming branch. In my imagination, they said, “Of course!”
I stole a low branch hanging so heavy and rain-soaked that it nearly touched the pavement. Nobody was around and nobody would ever notice anything missing.
My kitchen smells wonderful! I’ll confess to those friendly people when I see them. I’ll thank them for sharing an intoxicating piece of spring.
Bruce, a dear family friend, recently asked me how it’s been since I started my blog.
“Have you enjoyed it?” he said.
At the time, I wasn’t prepared to reflect. I expressed myself in a way that didn’t at all convey what this experience has been.
“It’s been ok. People have been kind,” I said to Bruce.
As if the experience hasn’t been so much more than that.
The truth is the last six months have flown by and it’s been wonderful.
When I imagined exposing my small essays to the public, even family and friends, I was sure it would mean constant grammar and punctuation correction. Sometimes I change tenses in inappropriate places, and I don’t even want to talk about how full of conviction, yet convoluted, my logic can be.
But the critics have been kind. Those of you who have responded to posts and those I have met have been delightful, open-minded, and engaging.
Sally must have recognized Teddy one day when we were walking. We stopped and talked for a while. Sally has an infectious spirit, and she shared some of her adventures with urban wildlife. Now I look for her beautiful smile when I’m out in the neighborhood. Sally is just one of the amazing neighbors I’ve met and had a chance to talk with.
Claudia is a writer and introduced herself with a beautiful comment on one post. In an email she once described a colorful picture of chickens as a ” bouquet of chickens.” Claudia makes a wonderful Monday morning walking companion and she’s not afraid of the rain.
Writing about my dear friend Marlena and her lifestyle helped me to know and appreciate her even better than I already had. She was so generous with herself. It was a joy to write. Debbie generously spent a couple of hours filling me in on skunks – yes, skunks. I can’t wait to share her story!
Many of you have written kind messages. Every one of you has refrained from offering the good advice I should probably listen to.
This is my thank you. Thank you to my writing partner, Cindi, who encouraged me to trust you. Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to read. Thank you for your tolerance. Thank you for sharing yourselves and reminding me that there are a lot of great people out there.
Please consider allowing me to write about your urban wildlife adventures. It will be a privilege, and I promise to be as kind to you as you have been to me.
This week’s Wild City post is a gift from guest blogger, Cindi Brown. Cindi is a professional writer and editor, my dear friend, and my writing partner. She is also the author of the book, Poverty and Promise, the moving story of her time as a volunteer in Kenya. Cindi and her husband live in New River, Arizona near Phoenix. Check out her blogit is a work of art.
Spring has sprung baby bunnies across the desert. They’re more than adorable, the size of a dove, their tiny ears pointed skyward.
Apparently, baby bunnies go out on their own when relatively young. Brent spots one on the walkway in our courtyard and excitedly yells out, “Cindi, come here! Quick! It’s a baby bunny.”
We watch through the front window as the baby nibbles the only few blades of grass in the courtyard. The ground is dirt, but will soon be landscaped.
In a minute, the baby runs under a large rock. If it stays in the courtyard, it might be safe, I think.
The next day, when I open the garage to go to work, I sneak out to the courtyard, practically tippy-toeing, to see if the baby is out and about. No signs. Crossing the driveway, I look at the yard between us and our neighbors. A large bunny sits quietly. Two babies scurry along their trails, oblivious to me. I watch them frolic.
In the evening, a baby bunny comes onto our back patio, under the table, while big bunnies and doves and quail peck away at the bird seed I just threw out. Brent and I watch the baby from the door leading onto the patio from our bedroom. We softly chant for the baby to get into the fray and eat some seeds. But instead, she hops into the little forest of potted plants that make up our nursery.
For 20 minutes, we watch her move between the pots, sometimes looking out at the big bunnies and birds. Then she stops in front of our antique potbelly stove. Then she’s on her hind legs peeking into the lower open door of the stove.
“She’s going to get into the stove,” I say.
“No way,” Brent says.
She’s up and her little back feet pump up and down a couple of times before she is safely inside the stove. We’re giggling.
She hops out of the stove, and then back in, in one brave bound.
“I hope she nests there,” I say. “Then she’ll be a little safe.”
“A coyote could pull her out of that thing,” Brent says. Maybe. But several potted cacti sit very close, blocking the entrance to the stove.
“Put some strips of cloth in the stove,” Brent advises. “Natural cotton is the best thing for bunnies and birds, but since we don’t have any, the bunny can make a nest with cloth.”
“When they’re finished eating,” I say, “I’ll water the plants, fill their trough and throw in some cloth.”
I find a few quilt scraps of white and pink cotton fabric and place it carefully in the stove, after removing a rusted grate. The stove isn’t big at all, and the baby is climbing in the little compartment at the very bottom, not even able to get up to the larger door of the stove’s main compartment.
For this morning’s 6:30 feeding, I scatter the bird seed on the lower patio and then drop a couple of tablespoon of seeds just outside the stove. In a couple of hours I check to see if the stove seeds are there. In the process, I scare the baby, who is at the back wall. But all the seeds near the stove are gone, and the fabric in the stove is flattened, as though she scooted the cotton around to suit her.
I follow the baby to the other side of the house and she is sitting in the dirt.
“Hey, baby,” I goo-goo. “Don’t run away. Come back and see me.”
She runs under a nearby board, still fully visible, and I continue to talk until she lights out for the bunny trails in the side yard.
Back inside, Brent is making pico de gallo and has shaved corn off a cob. “Throw this outside, will ‘ya,” he asks, handing me the corn cob. But he pulls it back quickly and cuts it into five smaller pieces. One piece I sit on it’s end just below the potbelly stove door. The others are tossed into the yard. Bunnies love gnawing on the cobs as much as they love apples.
I’ll keep making sure there’s food and plenty of fabric for the stove, as long as the baby can fit into the door. I hope she stays in our yard and remains covered, safe from hawks, owls or coyotes. I wish all the babies could come into our yard and live in the stove.
Several mornings lately I’ve taken my early morning walk intending to experiment with listening more. I wanted to pay attention to the sounds of spring.
As I walk, bird song and other natural sounds often fade behind everyday preoccupations. Last Tuesday I found the concentration to sharpen my listening. It was a wonderful exercise.
I stood at the top of a hill and marveled at the variety of birds I was hearing. Many of the songs and calls were easy to identify. All of them together were wonderful.
Bird song was coming from four directions. Some was produced only a few feet away and some was coming from at least a half-mile away. Using my phone, I began recording. I made four 30-second recordings.
All four recordings establish, without a doubt, that I breathe. I had held the phone near my right ear and the sound of my heavy breathing (I had just climbed the steep hill) drowned everything else out. A rookie mistake.
Never mind, I tried again. This time I held the phone as far away as my arm would reach. Playing that recording I heard a small quartet, not the symphony that was actually going on. I decided to simply enjoy the music and try to record another day.
On my way home I was able to capture the love song of a Song Sparrow . Turn the sound up!
A day or two later I stepped out our back door and captured the music of the
flicker, robin, bush tits, chickadees, crows, and many more. There was the symphony I’d been looking for– in my own back yard.
(Turn the sound up and pay no attention to the little red dog – he has a dog’s sense of decorum)