Category Archives: Birds

Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely

I often escape to the canyon for a mountain bike ride or to the Jordan River with a kayak.  Both have their attractions.  But when I want to be slow and quiet, to see wildlife, and to forget my troubles, there is nothing like a long paddle on the river.  Turtles sunning on logs.  Mallards flying upstream.  Great blue herons and belted kingfishers.  And signs of beaver chew.  This humble river runs the length of the great Salt Lake Valley, home to 1.2 million people.  The river runs mostly unseen and ignored right up the middle of the valley.  I am grateful for decades of visionaries who have seen to the river’s cleanup and restoration for people to kayak and canoe, fish, and cycle and walk and run on the riverside trails.  I can’t wait for my next glide on the river.  In the meantime, this poem distills some of my observations and impressions.

Who Ever Thought That Old River Could Be So Lovely

Paddling is as much pushing as it is pulling, a balance of both with each stroke, to spread the strain and stretch my strength to keep on.

The moment my kayak slips into the dark smooth water I feel free from sticky attachments and my fears float off with clouds of elm seeds.

Today I learn that when a Canada goose flies its elongated neck slightly dips and tremors with each wing beat.

Why would so many hundreds of swallows, swarming around me, glue their mud-daub domiciles under the lip of the rumbling interstate?

I feel a surge of joy just knowing that these new gnawings on elm trunks and new nippings of willow shoots mean that beaver again work the river.

A hen quacks increasing irritation as I keep arriving and she keeps needing to fly off. Her drake makes no protest, and I ask if he is lazy, or unconcerned, or thinks his partner makes sufficient complaint for them both.

My peace is disturbed by the screams of two-cycle engines racing on dirt tracks and spinning up dust: I pick up my paddling pace.

A snipe calls a chiding chirrup as she flushes then flutters on short wings, her beak longer than half her round body.

Squat socks knitted from gray grasses hang by the dozen on the ends of elm boughs: oriole nests: empty and sagging and looking forlorn.

I float close enough to a wide flat turtle sunning on a log to see scarlet stripes on his face and we stare carefully at one other until he slowly slides off and I swear I can hear him sighing, yet another human has interrupted my nap.

Women speed by on the riverside trail and some wave and call out a hello, and I wonder if a man gliding alone on a glassy green river seems romantic.

Young perfume from budding olives embraces me gently with intimate arms, and I know this is where I want to be.

 

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Walk in the Woods

At the start of a seven-mile walk on the Dark Trail in Settlement Canyon, a flash of bright color and a chirp caught my attention.  In the branches not three six from me perched a gorgeous Western Tanager, red head, yellow breast.  It inclined its eye to me, and twittered a greeting, then leapt away.  How cheerful the encounter left me; how uplifted and inspired.  (I took this photo of a Western Tanager in 2007.)

WALK IN THE WOODS

Tanager of the West
yellow breast beaming
scarlet head brilliant under blue sky and sun
how kind of you to incline
to chirp to me
and warble.

Every Tanager and Towhee and Flicker,
I find,
every Fritillary and Mourning Cloak and Blue,
I see,
every walk in the woods:
instructs and enlightens,
uplifts and improves.

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Looking Up

The night’s newly-fallen snow coaxed me into the canyon for a solitary hike.  As I trudged along, often sinking up to my knees, I tried to focus upward on the beauty around me.  But I have noticed how often I focus downward on the trail and miss seeing that beauty.  This poem is about perspective, about looking up to see and to have our soul enriched and uplifted.

LOOKING UP

Hiking
this precarious trail
I am guilty
of looking always down
at the rocks and roots
that would send me sprawling,
tumbling, bleeding

I am missing it:
streaks of Tanager and Goldfinch
leaves green upon green
Oregon grape blossoms: yellow cream
orange-lichened branches arching over
blue sky above

this Black-capped Chickadee
sings to me
demanding I stop
insisting I look up
to see her
to see the world
and I invite her to come into me
and to fly around freely in my soul

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Sparrows

Hundreds of House Sparrows took up residence in Harvey’s chicken and pigeon coops, eating several pounds of expensive lay mash and pellets a day, squeezing easily through iconic hexagonal chicken wire.  Our project together on my recent visit to Enterprise was to sparrow-proof the coops.  We measured, cut, and stapled fine mesh screen to the coop’s frames, over the chicken wire.  “Poor spugs,” Harvey chuckled, feeling half sorry for the little birds, with Winter coming.  “Don’t worry,” I ribbed, “they’ll just get to know your neighbors better.”  And we laughed.  Stepping through a narrow coop door to tack up some screen, I felt a mystical change in the air, and knew instantly I had a poem.

SPARROWS

hexagonal holes
in the chicken wire fence
contain
the gentle hens
perhaps
the neighborhood’s shy red fox
an escaped white-pelted mink
but not the house sparrows
who land and poke through
with ease
to gorge on lay mash
yes:
chicken wire was made for sparrows

entering the coop
through the narrow coop door
taut spring twanging
I feel a change
in the air
though the air within
is the same
as the air without
passing sparrow-like through
hexagonal holes
but I sense
I have entered
that mystical zone
where tame hens lay perfect eggs
and chortle
and brood
where brown-eyed mice scurry for mash morsels
where startled sparrows swirl
in a tight and dusty vortex
darting out past the propped door
for the last time
before it closes
newly-clad
with tight-holed screen

Harvey with his wife Mary

Harvey and moi in front of the homing pigeon coop

Hexagonal chicken wire overlain with fine screen

Harvey, Mary, and me on our way to church

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

On the Jordan

Utah’s Jordan River meanders northward for 50 miles from Utah Lake to the Great Sale Lake.  I have enjoyed kayaking sections of the river with family recently, finding it a beautiful, peaceful, contemplative place, though a challenge to paddle upstream in spots.  I have also enjoyed riding the riverside trail on my bicycle.  I wrote this poem after my third paddle during which I grieved over the recent death of my nephew.  The glassy, calm water, the Great Blue Heron and Belted Kingfisher, the signs of fresh beaver chew, the tree branches arching over the water, all served to sooth my mind a bit.  Water has a way of doing that.  Enjoy.

ON THE JORDAN

down here
low
on the water
so much fades away
unseen
beyond the banks
no buildings
no cars
no traffic lights;
on the water ahead
reflections of sky and trees
behind, a gentle wake
and the river stretches forth
forever, it seems
around gentle bends
all overhung by drooping tree boughs
reaching over and down
for me to paddle
under and around

Kingfisher is belted
brawny in the neck
tall-crested
offended
at my nearness
swooping low
over his reflection
with a chiding cackle;
I chase him from tree to tree
downstream
to the edge of his territory
where he turns
to brave me and my boat
and fly
upstream
excreting as he passes

Heron is indeed
great and blue
perched on a dead-fall
as I round a curve
and hold my paddles still
floating toward
silent and slow;
she grows anxious
turning her big-beaked head
quickly left and right and left and right
on her tall and slender neck
and she leaps to fly
slow-beating wings out
their full six feet;
an irritated trill
downstream

Sparrow, white-crowned
hops about
unconcernedly
on a bed of green algae
and assorted human garbage
beer cans, basketballs
soda cups, sneakers
caught in the branches
of a fallen tree

the river flows slowly
and I can paddle
upstream and down
with even strokes of equal ease
dipping left and pulling back
dipping right and pulling back
reaching forward—and pulling back
water sprinkling

thoughts glide and eddy
opaque
like the brown water
reflecting
sky and trees
thoughts stuck
in the muddy muck
like the butt of a green Russian Olive limb
chewed and planted
last night
by a beaver

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Empty Arbor

I worked for years to convince grape vines to grow up my arbor.  I imagined an arbor crisscrossed with verdant vines, heavy clusters of green and red grapes hanging down, and me sitting in a chair underneath, in grape-shade, pleasantly paralyzed by grape and wild flower and spice garden perfume.  But the vines never grew more than a few feet high before turning brown and dying.  Too much water?  Not enough iron or acid to compensate for the alkaline soil?  It no longer matters.  The grape arbor became my bird arbor, hosting many pretty species year-round.

EMPTY ARBOR

Bird feeders swing empty from nails pounded in the arbor.
After years of compost, fertilizer, water, and iron,
the vines still grow sickly and yellow, vines that grow no grapes.
I once dreamed of the arbor covered in a dense green,
with plump, hanging clusters of white and purple grapes.

Bird houses nailed to the arbor sit vacant,
the entrance holes too large or two small, too high or too low,
or too exposed to climbing cats,
vacant but for teaming yellow jackets that relish dark nooks.

The finches prefer the spiny blue spruce nearby.
Who knows where the sparrows and blackbirds live?
But they visit by the hundred, chirping and chasing, cracking at shells.

I must fill the swinging feeders
for the little birds that descend to my empty arbor.

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Birdsong Scratchers

My son Caleb loves to wood carve.  And paint.  And draw.  Creations of all kinds.  Caleb carved these charming bird-beak back scratchers out of tough Russian Olive wood collected near Rabbit Lane.  He has created an Etsy account where you can see each of these awesome artistic bird-beak-scratchers highlighted individually.  Pay a visit; take a look.  Way to go Caleb!

(Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.)