Too Much Sky

I’m of the mountains and valleys. On a hike I’ll often say; “Just a little bit further, let’s see over yonder.” I follow paths sometimes only I can see. They have secrets I want to explore. Discoveries to make. Sometimes it’s a waterfall in a slot canyon, a vantage point to spy on animal or a really impressive tree. I once found an old miner’s cabin and on a solo trip an entire lake!  It was only Tuesday when I discovered the possibility of a new adventure. I remember it felt like forever for my day off to arrive. I took my cat, who thought she was a dog.

I drove up an old service road, then walked, shimmed, and crawled through the thickets until I crested a small ridge. The lake was small, more like a large pond, but I could see the outlines of what it had been. It was a place of eagles. I made a pouch for my cat out of my long shirt and tied it to my waist with her head sticking out. I didn’t want her to become a sacrifice. I fished the lake to see what was in it, only perch it seemed. I tossed them back in. The eagles can keep their perch and their secret lake. I’ll never go back or share the location. It’s for the eagles. I was only a guest. They were still on the endangered species list at the time, trying to recover from the long shadow of DDT pesticide use.

Sometimes, we humans, kill things with kindness. As I write this now in the year 2021, the Pine Siskin and other songbird populations are crashing. The Pine Siskins are going through an irruption and salmonella is spreading from bird feeder to bird feeder. It’s time to take them down, at least for now. Nature can rebalance when we let it. It needs space and time to heal, just as a wounded person.

When you kill a forest, you kill the magic within it. It destroys a sacred song. Until more people learn to harmonize better, some things will never be known to you. I’ve never feared for my safety in the forest; The monsters live in houses.

I used to practice getting lost, but my senses guide me to water and lower elevations. The trees never stop talking. There’s always something manmade to bump into unless you keep to the higher ridges and that is a conscious thought. It incurs intent.

The first time I flew from Washington to Florida the land below me became an ironed out Shar-pei, with Florida as it’s leg. (Shar-pei being both a wrinkled dog breed and Chinese for “sand-coated”) It was here that I felt lost. It was so flat! I felt like a mouse in a field looking for a place to hide. My future father-in-law said he knew the feeling; it was the feeling of “too much sky.” My future brothers-in-law took me to a terribly unfortunate named place called “the Devil’s Hopper” for elevation. It was there that I felt at home. What can I do but embrace my oddity? I’m the kind of person that feels at home in the bottom of a sinkhole. It seems ironically befitting. I’m a cat who needs a box, a fox who needs a hole, a dog who needs a den and an ant who needs a hill.

When I lay on my back under a clear night sky I am again overwhelmed with the feeling of “too much sky.” We are tiny creatures clinging to a rock. I’m grateful the sun rises every day and hides it all away from me.

Links for more exploration:

Descend Into the Sinkhole | Florida State Parks

How Ddt Harmed Hawks and Eagles | Actforlibraries.org

With dramatic increase in population of pine siskins, PAWS advises removing bird feeders to combat salmonella – My Edmonds News

Cuando la pata de gallina apareció…

He celebrado el día de acción de gracias con sus posteriores fiestas decembrinas, por más de una década, en la tierra del norte americano. Cuando de repente una mañana, y totalmente desprevenida en el jardín de mi casa, noté la primera pata de gallina.

Después de tantos pavos rellenos, tantos aderezos vividos, tantas risas compartidas; hoy, finalmente agradezco esa aparición aferrada a las raíces de un arbusto mayor. 

Temídamente se asomó a la superficie, para ser vista por el rabillo del ojo. Me hizo sonreír. Pude entonces ser consciente de esas finas líneas de vida, que dan cuenta de historias talladas a lo largo del rostro.

Las patas de gallina aparecen un día para no irse jamás, para tergiversarse en las raíces de nuestros recuerdos, cacareando nuestra atención, para que de una vez y para siempre, agraciadamente, honremos su presencia.

Crow’s feet apparition

I have celebrated Thanksgiving, following by the Christmas holidays for over a decade, in the land of the American North. When one morning, all of a sudden, totally unaware, in the garden of my house, a crow’s feet showed up. 

After so many stuffed turkeys, vivid dressings, and shared laughs; today a gratitude was elevated for that apparition clinging to the roots of an older bush.

They fearfully rise to the surface, to be seen out of the corner of the eye. It made me smile. I was then able to become aware of those fine lines of life that compel stories, carving along our faces.

The crow’s feet emerge one day never to leave, revealing themselves like the roots of our memories, cackling for our attention, so that we gracefully honor their presence.

Gardening with Bears

I envisioned that one morning I would be standing at the large living room window, cup of coffee in hand watching the field when a bear would stroll by. Blissfully safe in my house I would say, “Good morning, bear.” All cheery-like, of course.

Reality likes to kick sand everywhere though. I found myself instead at the far end of the field, on my hands and knees, pulling dirt and rocks away from a diseased Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) stump infected with Eastern hazelnut blight. A diseased acorn can further the blight by birds and squirrels that forget a cache, allowing a diseased tree to become rooted. It can decimate an agricultural hazelnut grove. A cash crop in the nearby state of Oregon.

So, there I was being a good citizen for both humans and trees alike when a big black bear (Ursus americanus) decided to walk by. I knew he was in the ‘hood. I’d often seen fresh bear patties along the street. Bobcats, Coyotes, and the like drop “scat”, but bears make patties, large dark piles of bear poop. Around here it usually has cherry pits in it, even the coyotes will help themselves to the native Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana L.), the ornamentals that line the road at our street entrance, or the ones planted for backyard fruit. Washington state is the apple state, but we grow a lot of cherries too.

So it was, that the bear finally came before the patty. My dog was sleeping on the porch attached to a 15ft tether. We do this because she’s got a strong prey drive. All it would take is an errant squirrel or rabbit and she would chase it to no end until a vehicle stopped her. She’s got no sense when she spots a living squeaky toy. On this morning, her sleep was disturbed by something much larger. She started barking like crazy. I understand all of her barks, but this one was new. I stood up quickly with my hands on my hips wondering, “What does this bark mean?”

I turned around and there he was, less than ten feet from me! I could make out the individual hairs on his nose. He stopped abruptly and so did I. I’ve seen wild black bears before in the woods at a distance, equivalent to the size of a fat Golden retriever, but this suburban bear was huge. At least 800 hundred pounds. What the hell are people putting in their trash around here? Raw steaks and donuts?

All I could hear was my dogs frantic barking and the sound of my own heart beating. The bear sized me up and I did the same without making eye contact or any posturing that might be taken as a threat. We need some space. Yes, we definitely need some space between us. I’ve got a sharp axe and a sledgehammer within reach, but no desire to fight. He seems to agree. So I say in a carefully measured voice, “Why don’t I just back up towards the noisemaker on the porch, yeah?”

I back up slowly putting distance between us, glancing at the bear, not staring, not challenging. Once I’ve doubled the space between us the bear felts safe to proceed with his morning constitutional. He continues walking down the field toward the street. He was so quiet for such a big beast! I always thought they would be huffier and gruntier to give me some warning, like in the movies. It’s surreal to watch those massive paws walk so quietly. My mind wants to give it a soundtrack like a T. Rex is walking by. Pound, pound, pound with each step, but they don’t. They don’t make a sound and the birds have betrayed me. Just like a deer, when I hear the chorus of birds suddenly stop, I’m alerted that somethings wrong. I’ll pop my head up and look just as surely as if the dog has barked. Now I have learned another new thing. In the opinion of small birds, a bear is no threat.

Why do I pay attention to birds? Because cougars will hid expertly in the bushes, but they can’t hide from the birds, nor can the coyote, but mostly I listen to the birds, because they feel the vibrations in the air before I can. They were my first clue, just before the Nisqually quake hit our area on Feb 28th, 2001. So I listen to the birds as we perpetually wait for “the big one”, the day the Cascadian subduction zone give a great heave and snaps out the surface like we’re particles on a dirty rug.

But wait, there’s more to this bear story! When Mister Big Bear reached the road my neighbor from three doors down was there walking his puny little Shitzu. They all stopped unsure what to do. Poor Mister Bear has a new dance partner. The little dog was too scared to bark. Another neighbor rode to the rescue in his mid-life crisis, a metallic blue corvette. He stopped so the other neighbor and his little dog could hop in. They waited until Mr. Big Bear felt comfortable enough to pass. People who don’t live around here consider my City a “suburb” of Seattle, but we’re not. We have pastures and fields. The tallest building in our downtown city core doesn’t exceed seven floors. We live in what researchers and biologists call the urban-wildlife interface. I call it sub-rural as an antonym to sub-urban (suburban).  

Recommendation:

What Happens When You Plant a Pile of Bear Scat? – Cool Green Science

Bear Behaviour – Understanding black and grizzly bears – BearSmart.com