Sunday, January 29, 2017

Recipe for a Sunday morning

When Robert Frost began his poem "Directive" with this line, "Back out of all this now too much for us," he did so as preface to asking his readers to separate themselves from a world that Yeats would have characterized as being "full of weeping." As I've discussed previously on this site, Frost's "Directive" is a journey, in a sense, toward peace, gotten at by employing a childlike imagination.

Exactly. That is exactly how I felt this morning. I needed to separate myself for a time from news reports, from social media... and I needed to seek quiet and beauty. When I start out, and I encounter a place that looks like this:

my childlike imagination is awakened. Where do those roads go? What will we find? What will we see? And suddenly I feel myself begin to breathe deeply, to think about possibilities that are less negative, more ripe with beauty.

For today, my recipe was a simple one: Start with one good dog. Add a pack of water, snacks, emergency kit (just in case--always) and binoculars. Use a sturdy pair of hiking boots to begin a slow, methodical blending of yourself with the scenery. That's it.

Having Thomas with me today was essential because he often alerts me to things I can't hear or see. When we'd made the five-minute drive down the road to where the dirt roads pictured above are accessible, I got out and began my preparations--cap, sunglasses, pack--and immediately saw a small hawk, a kestrel. I did not take this picture, but this is what one looks like:

If I'd been in possession of my Pentax camera with the telephoto lens, I'm sure I could've gotten a shot just like this. Kidding, but I was able to get pretty close watching him through the binoculars, and my guy looked like this guy--only much fatter. When he became annoyed with my creeping ever closer (and who wouldn't), he coasted away with a couple of wing flaps. I then returned to the business of getting Thomas out of the truck, and as soon as he hit the ground, he saw a bird. Far off in the pasture we'd parked next to, he'd seen movement, and he watched. I, of course, said, "What the heck are you lookin' at? I don't see anything," as I usually do, but swung the binocs up to have a gaze--and immediately spotted a roadrunner. No, not the cartoon guy, this guy:

Well, not exactly this guy, but his cousin who looks exactly like him. There is something about roadrunners that is absolutely comical. They're very large birds; this guy was bigger than the kestrel by far. But, I mean, look at his tiny wings and his way-too-long tail feathers and his goofy, adolescent boy hairstyle (or, er, featherstyle). They run. Stop. Run. Stop. Run. Stop. as they alternately look for lizards and check for predators. I watched my goofy guy until Thomas pressed against my leg, reminding me that we were about to wander off into the countryside.

We didn't walk far before we came upon a puddle still left over from last weekend's rainstorms. It was cold last night, and the ice on this one was still melting, glinting beautifully in the morning sun. In the mud next to the large puddle we saw some tracks:

To give you some perspective on size, here's my size 6 boot next to one:

I was not surprised, then when we rounded a bend in the road and saw, three hundred yards or so in the distance, the biggest damn coyote I think I've ever seen. Seriously. This guy was the size of a Mexican gray wolf. And as he began to slowly slink off to the west, he did that characteristic coyote look back over his shoulder like a thug who's been caught loitering before committing a crime, and he looks back as if to say, "Fine, I'll leave, but I'll be back when you're not around, pal." He was beautiful, though.

So was the huge old redtail hawk we saw next. The old man was sitting in the top of a dead oak tree, basking in the rising sun. I got a good look with the binoculars before he swooped away. That's how I could tell his age. Old hawks are like old cars--a bit faded and banged up, with a few dents and scratches here and there. But his wings were still strong and steady, so he's got a couple more years of vermin hunting ahead of him.

It's been crazy-windy here lately, and at one point the road was completely blocked by tumbleweeds, so I took a minute to clear a path through. I only mention this brief pause in our adventure to applaud the behavior of this good dog, who knows that when his leash is dropped he is on "Wait" until I pick it up again, so he sat himself down and enjoyed the warmth of the sun while I worked (and got stickered up a bit, but that's ok; it'll make the going easier for the next guy).

I have always loved Frost's sense of taking his reader with him--on a journey of the imagination or just out "to clean the pasture spring." And you should know, Dear reader, that when I'm out walking on a day like today with my trusty bird-spotter and best friend, I am always taking you with me, wishing you were along for the walk with us. We might not even speak other than to exchange a few words about direction, or to point out to the other some interesting sight off in the distance. I am always mindful of you there, in my heart. So let me leave you with a tiny gift brought to mind by today's journey:

The Pasture
by Robert Frost

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan't be gone long.--You come too.

I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan't be gone long.--You come too.


  1. Kay,
    What a wonderful post!! I play at the grand sport of bird-watching, but I think poorly. I put out a variety of food for those who choose to come to my back yard and allow me to observe them eating. So far, Jays, Cardinals, Junkos, a variety of Sparrows, Great tailed Grakles, possibly other closely related ones I haven't identified yet.
    I confess to you that I harbor a certain distain for what the term "bird-watcher" might suggest. Yet I am now gloriously embracing the reality in my life. You too? What fun!!

    1. Bob, one of the thoughts I had as I was walking yesterday was a back-and-forth in my mind about whether I would actually post about 'birding.' (By the way, you are now officially a 'birder.') I've been bird watching since I was ten years old. Yep. (Critical side note: My mother, when I was ten, argued with the school psychologist regarding my enrichment. "She's gifted," he told her, "get her anything she needs to enhance her interests." "I'm not paying for an expensive pair of binoculars," my mother countered. "You can see birds just as well without them" she said to the extremely myopic young girl. After hearing that story, my first husband bought me a pair.) But yes, there is a slight (?) stigma connected to bird watching. Funny. You can go whale watching and you're pretty cool. If you tell your friends, "Yeah, me and a couple of the guys are going bird watching this weekend," you're considered... at best, I suppose... a nerd. We're a funny society. Do you ground scatter any of what you put out? Or put it in a feeder? I imagine you might attract some quail eventually (but I might be wrong about how developed the area is where you live). Definitely fun!

    2. Kay
      I have a short and small plastic table which I've covered with cardboard and then kind of water-proofed with plastic tape. I put a variety of foods there, plus sprinkle handsfull on the surrounding ground. Then I wedge roasted peanuts in the shell into spaces between the upright boards in my fence. The Jays especially seem to enjoy wrestling them out and happily flying away with their treasure. Sometimes too I'll put tortilla chips between the boards that are too closely spaced to allow peanuts, and surprising, to me, the little sparrows seem to like to bite off pieces until it is small enough for them to fly away with it.
      Your nerdy birder friend,

  2. Bob, that sounds perfect. The birds I had in Baldy were junkos, chickadees, jays, woodpeckers, flickers, wrens, towhees, grosbeaks, a lone titmouse who never seemed to have a partner, bluebirds, and the requisite Cooper's hawk that would fly low through the trees and across the back deck scanning for prey. He and his wife nested in one of the oak trees on the rim of the canyon every year. Oh, and a roadrunner. I was stunned to find a roadrunner in my back yard one afternoon. And of course, the mated pair of golden eagles at the mouth of San Antonio canyon.... They were a joy to spot!