Saturday, August 11, 2012

The bird in the basement....

           Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.--Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
             ~ William Wordsworth, "Lines (composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey...)"

As I rolled slowly around the last switchback turn, a young deer suddenly leapt out onto the highway from the brush at the side of the road.  I hit my brakes hard—not out of concern that I would hit him, but because I’ve been taught by Bob Walker, my favorite old timer on the mountain, that “there’s never just one.”  I slowed to a crawl, scanning each side of the road for the mother as the little one bounded ahead of me on legs seemingly made of rubber.  Eventually he had the good sense to veer off into the forest again, and I resumed my short journey to the post office.
That was yesterday.  This morning at 5:00a.m. I shared a banana with a polite but hungry raccoon who had grown frantic scavenging because she had three small kits to feed.  A few hours later, on another trip to the post office and in the exact same spot where I saw the deer, I watched a mama mountain quail scurry across the road.  And I stopped again and watched as her chicks turned tail at the sound of the truck and scuttled into the bushes.  I knew they would wait until it was absolutely quiet again before attempting to cross over, and their mother, by clucking, would be the one to signal the all-clear.
And this afternoon I watched in dismay as Luna Cat slunk into the cabin and down to the basement, a dark-eyed junco hanging from her jaws.  I followed her down, scolded her, and she dropped the bird at my feet.  Immediately it flew up, beating its wings frantically against the basement window.  As I approached slowly, the bird stopped fluttering and became still, turning its head to watch me with one tiny onyx dot of an eye.  I cupped my hands around its body, leaving its head exposed, and slowly walked up the stairs, out the door and into the forest (leaving poor Lu still downstairs, prowling and puzzled, searching for her bird).  I stood for a long minute, the bird now nestled on one open palm, talking softly and stroking him with a finger to pull away the pin feathers he’d lost in his brush with death.  When he was ready, wits about him now, he simply flew away.
I had this experience with a hummingbird once.  I had removed all the screens to rinse the dust off after washing windows on a brilliant summer day, and the hummingbird just flew right in.  The scenario played out in the same way; the bird, with wings whirring, pushed its body forward against the clear glass, confused, becoming still as I moved toward it.  I cupped it in my bare hands, walked outside and for an instant marveled at the miracle of holding this creature—until it dashed off without so much as a buzz by of thanks.
Two weeks ago, as I was showing the cabin to some prospective buyers, a bluejay hopped into the cabin through one of the French doors left open.  I reached down to shoo him out, but the motion startled him and he flew up to a kitchen window.  Wrapping my hands gently around his folded wings, I carried him back to the yard and set him down.  After a moment, he flew to the safety of a low tree branch.  The potential buyers were amazed.
“Yes,” I laughed, “I’m the bird whisperer.”
I’ve held a baby ‘possum in my hands as well, though I had the presence of mind to pull on my thick leather work gloves before I scooped it up.  The mother ‘possum, heavily laden with five other joeys on her back, hadn’t managed to make it back to my neighbor’s shed under cover of darkness.  The sun had risen and people were about—including some excited children—when Junior toppled off, and she was frantic, unwilling to subject the clinging babies to the danger of the humans and equally unwilling to leave the wayward child behind (a situation that, sadly, I’ve had some experience with myself).  I picked up her pink-nosed, beady-eyed child and followed her as she trundled toward their home, setting him down just outside the shed and then backing away to watch her turn and gather him in.
It’s been hot in recent days, even up here on the mountain, and after over-doing it yesterday, I chose a quiet day today, mostly reading and writing.  During a peaceful interlude of dividing my attention between the huge thunderheads rolling by and the acorn woodpeckers pecking at the hanging feeder, I wondered again what I will do to find these miracles when I no longer live on the mountain.  I have been witness to amazing things here—bears on my back porch, a baby bobcat chasing a lizard nearly at my feet, a small fox lunging through three-foot snowdrifts on a full moon night to sniff hungrily at my French doors, bighorn sheep standing proudly at dawn to face the rising sun, the gorgeous buck who simply walked out of the forest and into my backyard in search of water (which is always left out for anyone who needs a drink), the mama raccoons who’ve brought their babies at dusk so that I can see and remark upon their cuteness, countless shooting stars, a lunar eclipse…. 
And yet, as I continued to reflect, the stories of the stranded baby ‘possum and the hummingbird came to mind.  Those experiences did not occur here on the mountain.  I rescued the hummer when we lived in Chino, the ‘possum after we’d moved to a housing track in Rancho Cucamonga.
And so I guess… miracles are everywhere.  Of course, it’s easier to see these things here on the mountain where Nature still retains the luxury of being wild and unfettered, so it might be that I will have to look a little closer, be a bit more attentive to the world around me once I settle in the valley again.  But I’m sure I will have adventures there as well.  Thank goodness Nature is immutable, that we can go away for years at a time, as Wordsworth pointed out, and still return to the same “steep and lofty cliffs” to find them virtually unchanged.  There’s a certain comfort in that, as if it were possible to place a bookmark in time, and by returning to the physical place, return to some point in our past.  It sounds like magic, I know, but that’s why the mountain is so alluring… because the magic is so strong here.  


  1. Where are you planning to move to when you sell the cabin?

    1. I will be moving somewhere within bike riding distance of Upland High School... until I retire... at which point... Missouri would be nice. Or Central California....