Working at my home office today while convalescing after foot surgery, a little flock of finches and sparrows landed in the crabapple tree outside my window and began to eat the tiny pea-sized fruits. A living poem, I thought. Having promised myself never to deny, or even to delay, inspiration, I wrote the poem that came: Through Winter’s Window. I hope you find it a spot of warmth on this freezing Winter day.
THROUGH WINTER’S WINDOW
fidgety finches, purple bibbed,
nibble nervously on
purple crabapple fruits,
not whole berries,
but tiny snatches and pecks,
wiping beaks on branches
when the sticky pulp sticks
watching from within walls, me,
through gridded, two-paned glass,
through slanted shutters
and dark nylon micro screen;
still I see the fidgety finches,
joined, now, by sparrows
brown on brown
round, scarlet leaves of fall
have fallen; only the marble
fruits hang on
though winds gust, throwing snow,
and winter sun appears
a weak old bulb
on the world’s periphery
but the red-throated finches
and striped sparrows land in
a happy-dozen flock to nibble and talk,
to swipe and nibble and talk,
seeing not nor caring
that I watch
unhearing from inside
Riding my bicycle home from work the other day I noticed an American Robin standing proud and tall in the midst of deluging lawn sprinklers. He knew where to be to pluck juicy earthworms from the saturated turf. And he knew how to keep cool in the 100-degree heat. What caught my attention most was his bearing of obvious satisfaction, his beak lifted slightly, contemplating his idyllic surroundings. I couldn’t help putting pen to paper.
beak above the plane
in thick lawn sprinkler
he is in the right place at the right time
The Western Kingbird is one of my favorite birds. It is unremarkable in size, color, song, or other characteristics enjoyed by more glamorous birds. Its only coloration is a slight yellow-green on the breast. But I love to watch the Kingbird’s frenetically acrobatic flight as it catches insects on the wing. And I love listening to them from where they sit perched on the top of fence posts and power poles, singing an indecipherable electronica, devoid of tune but fascinating nonetheless. Every morning when I leave for work, and every evening upon my returning home, a little Kingbird calls to me with a friendly whistle. Today he let me take this picture as he perched on my wall with a grasshopper in his beak. Enthralled with my new friend, to whose whistles I always offer my own greeting of “Hello little Kingbird,” I wrote this poem.
You are always
there, in that same spot,
on the top
of the fence post,
at me, so I will
look to you,
find you, again
in that place,
and hold my gaze, then
twitch and twitter,
A quick hop,
an airborne bug,
quick little Kingbird.
And you wing away
with a twitter
and a whistle
Photo by Liddy Mills
My friend Elizabeth found an injured bird yesterday, a European Starling, and took it in. Many people think of Starlings as junk birds. I know of farmers who pay boys to kill as many as they can. But Elizabeth took it in. She fed it, watered it, and wrapped it in cloth. Elizabeth named it Songbird. She sang to Songbird, and, as she sang, Songbird fluffed its feathers and watched her. She placed Songbird on a bed of straw, but the bird kept trying to come to her as she sang. “I held him as he took his last breath,” Elizabeth sadly recounted. “I hope he understood that some of us humans care.” She buried Songbird in the yard today, on the Sabbath. “Songbird deserved a burial,” she said. Elizabeth’s caring heart touched mine, and I wrote this poem, near midnight.
and lay crumpled
in your townhouse yard.
You scooped me up
and sang to me
You cradled me in a cloth
and stroked my feathered head.
Sing to me
You watered me
and laid me in a bed of straw.
Sing to me
You kept the cats
Sing to me
You cried when I died,
and you buried me
in your townhouse yard.
You sang to me
For another story about trying to save an injured bird, see Chapter 37: Of Caterpillars and Birds at my blog page Rabbit Lane: Memoir.
I love wild birds. Each visual and aural encounter with a bird inspires me, lifts my spirit somehow, and causes me to stop what I’m doing and to watch and listen. “Do you hear that?” I’ll ask my children as we walk on Rabbit Lane. “That’s the cry of the Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Now every time you hear that lonesome call, you’ll know who it is, and can watch. See? There he goes?” The Meadowlark sings the most beautiful and complex melody. Common Sparrows twitter chaotically, wooing mates in the tree branches. Red-winged Blackbirds whistle and dive in for a sunflower snack. Mourning Doves coo softly and sadly. I hope you enjoy this prose poem about some wild birds in the Rabbit Lane neighborhood.
Small striped Siskin grasps a high twig with black-wire feet, glancing repeatedly downward, wishing someone would fill the hanging thistle seed bag.
Two Red Tails sit close on a high bare branch watching the fields together for a mouse or a vole or a gopher that might poke its snout up through the snow. Which one will fly?
A thousand yellow-shafted Northern Flickers crowd a copse of gambel oaks and mountain maples, each of the thousand chatting earnestly to the other nine-hundred ninety-nine. The red-shafted flies alone, flapping then gliding close-winged, after sounding a solitary cry.
Kestrel finds its way into the coop, with no room to dive and where the chickens are ten times its size, and cannot see the way out. Brian grapples it with leather gloves and sets it free to fly, not before noticing the beautiful markings on its face, the scalpel beak, and the black glossy gleam in its eyes.
Bald Eagle came only once to our cottonwoods and stared down at me as I stood stupefied.
(Belted Kingfisher by Caleb Baker-2015)
Driving to church one morning, I noticed a Belted Kingfisher perched on an electric wire suspended over Stansbury Lake. What a strikingly beautiful bird. I wondered about his perspective on the world from that perch. All through church I thought more about the kingfisher and what he saw than I did about the sermons and what they taught. I wondered what he saw, what he felt, what he thought about, what it must be like to dive like a missile into the water, then rise with a writing minnow. Sitting in my pew I wrote this poem. My family thought I was taking copious notes on the sermons. (Thanks to my son Caleb for this excellent drawing of a Belted Kingfisher. The smudge is from the best of many scans, not his pencil).
watching from your high-wire perch,
looking down upon the world,
upon the water—
what is it that you see?
diving from your elevated view,
a yellow-beaked torpedo—
what was it that you saw?
fluffing your feathers dry,
back at your vigilance place,
the minnow having slid down your gullet—
what was it that it saw?
flying on your blues and blacks from your high-wire perch
into the nook of a sheltering tree,
the waning sun still warming—
what will you see tomorrow?
In September I hear the plinking of low caliber (but still lethal) rifles through Erda’s country neighborhoods as hunters harvest pretty Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves from where they sit perched on power lines, fence posts, and tree branches. I find it hard to believe that the State and County governments allow and even license such hunting. I find it hard to believe that people still go to the trouble of making pigeon pie. I believe the birds are simply killed. To these hunters I say, please leave my pretty doves alone. Let the hawks and falcons do the harvesting. This poem further expresses these sentiments. (See the post Of Boys, Pigeons, and an Evil Rooster for more on doves and pigeons.)
A soft crying floats down
from the cottonwoods and power lines
to mingle with the morning mist:
a penetrating, mysterious cooing,
haunting calls of ghosts in the trees.
Pushing off from tree branches and the tops of fence posts,
doves’ gray tails fan wide with white-border bands,
wings beat powerfully with percussive whirring.
A .223 rifle cracks, pop, pop-pop,
plinking doves off power lines like cheap arcade prizes.
A shotgun shouts its BANG!
obliterating delicate birds in a whirl of flying
feathers twisting in air as they fall.
Another open season
to “harvest” my pretty mourning doves.
I think that I may write to the County government,
ask my elected officials why:
Most Honorable Commissioners:
Is there such an overabundance of doves,
as to create an unbearable nuisance,
as to pose an unarticulated threat,
that you feel compelled to countenance this slaughter?
Or do you dispense merely a license to kill,
a tolerance found in pioneer history that
modern man delights to perpetuate?
shooing the rifles off our roads,
chasing the guns from so near our homes.
letting the harmless doves alone
to grace my morning walks
with their woeful cries that take me
to the edge of somewhere sweet and tender,
laced with loss and mystery.
Sincerely, your humble constituent (voter).
I may write.
Mornings seem quieter than they ought to be