Saturday, May 31, 2014

Of Birds and Horses

The Whistle That Caught My Attention
Of Birds and Horses
Members of a Greater Colony
Not Exactly Black
Easy Ride
Fly Catchers
Roaming Colony
Seed Seeker
Grazing Together
Resting Together
The Black Bird and Her Horse
Red-wing black birds are colonial. Unlike osprey that hunt unescorted, or bufflehead hens left to tend nests alone, black birds settle a territory. And there's a hierarchy within the colony--the most dominant male has the reddest shoulders. The ladies, naturally, blend in with horse dust.

Until this very moment, over my third cup of coffee on this last day in May, I never recognized the lady black birds. After all, they aren't really black nor do they have obvious red epaulets. Some of them might not even be ladies, but juvenile or non-mating males.

A bird I never pay attention to, other than to grumble at its propensity to ruin a good photo of the horses by being in the way, just puffed and whistled like the red-winged leader of the black bird pond colony.

All along, Elmira Pond has been swarming with black birds. Only the dominant male is so boldly red-winged.

Moments like this and I forget coffee, grabbing the camera. The lens helps me focus, to see what I might have missed. And there's a symbiotic relationship with the birds and horses on Elmira Pond that I was missing. The horses are part of the colony.

If my dogs, even leashed, come near the black bird territory, all fuss unfolds. If an osprey flies high overhead, two or three males dart heavenward to bully him past fishing here. Yet, the horses trod unharassed.

And the ladies and non-mating males accompany the horses. Some will sit on a warm backside to peck at flies and mosquitoes; others gather in a cluster around hooves gleaning seeds that drop from grazing muzzles.

It is an artistic system when you look at it. And here's your look--photos of birds and horses.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Misty Pacific Northwest
View From the Apple Tree
A Great Blue Heron (Not THE Blue Heron)
Best Grass Mower Around
Male Hooded Merganser
Male Red-Wing Black Bird
Big Basking Turtle
Not Happy to See Me Return
Mist and rain shroud the pond. Like getting bucked off a horse, I'm hesitant to approach. It's a silly feeling, really, but true nonetheless.

I peer through the veil of rain but I can't see anything--no Blue Heron, no ducks. Did they all leave Elmira Pond in my absence or did I lose my ability to see?

The apple tree, my favorite view of the pond is so overgrown, that I stay behind the fence.

Then the clouds part and I climb back in the saddle for a fair-weather ride around the pond and I remember how to see again.

Blue sky, white clouds and a great blue heron flying overhead. Not my Blue Heron, but kin. I haven't lost my sight.

Next, I employ the best mowers in town to crop the grass around the apple tree. It will take a week or two, but the horses will get the grass under control.

Sun shines warm on my face and I sip coffee outside. Really that was all I needed to do--just sit outside. In such moments Elmira Pond comes to life.

I catch movement on the waters that are deep blue today. Two bufflehead hens paddle the shore and two ringed-neck ducks still occupy the waters.

Another sip of coffee and I catch a blaze of white. There's the hooded mergansers! A couple--last year the male was picked off by an eagle so this is a new delight to see a merganser pair.

The red-wing black birds have multiplied. Though I find them annoying neighbors--alarmists--the males are beautiful when they hunch their red shoulders like bodybuilders flexing biceps. They even chase Blue Heron who pops out of the reeds long enough to glide to another patch of reeds.

He ignores the birds and watches for frogs.

I've not heard any bull frogs, yet but at least one big turtle is sticking close to the pond log. Once the bull frogs start up, I'll wonder why I waited to hear them. Loud and proud is their song.

As if not used to my presence, the tree swallows dive-bomb my head. I'm surprised as this is a first.

We all just need to get reacquainted now that I'm back in the saddle, riding over Elmira Pond.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Osprey Thwarted

Osprey Chase off the Pond
Waiting in a Tamarack
Thwarted From Fishing
Heading South
Back in the rainy Pacific Northwest, it feels chillier than sunny Missoula, Montana. But that's okay. I've adjusted to the rain and it feels right.

Sitting on the porch step, rain sprinkles my feet as I sip my first cup of morning coffee. I wiggle my toes and watch the steely sky. I'm looking for osprey.

A shrill whistle sounds from the pond and three red-winged blackbirds fly into formation. They spot the osprey before I do. I want to tell the alarmist birds that osprey eat a diet of 99% fish, but then again, who knows? Maybe that 1% is blackbird eggs cupped in pond nests like a gourmet treat.

Three determined blackbirds harass the bobbing fisher-bird who looks huge in comparison. He dodges the trio and lands in a tamarack to the south. Maybe he's thinking how to sneak past the blackbirds to the pond. Amidst all the rain sprinkles the fish are rising, ringing the water in such a way that must frustrate the osprey.

It frustrates me--I want to see the osprey cannonball. But alas, he flies off heading south. The blackbirds trill to one another and I go back inside to get a second cup of coffee.

Osprey thwarted, this time.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Out of the Gate

Red-wing Blackbird on the Pond
Chasing off a Hawk
Snow Melting on High Peaks
Tree Swallows Nesting
Right Horses, Wrong Pasture
Busted Fence, Snapped Barbed Wire
Minimal Horse Damage
Back at the Ranch
The call of a red-wing blackbird gets me out of bed. Groggily, I ask Todd what the names of the horses are. (Names trip me up as I wrote last summer when the horses arrived.)

"I don't know," is his pre-coffee grunt of a reply.

So I begin thinking up new names. The sorrel mare was here a short time last fall and I had called her Sweetie, but she needed a better name. The palomino needs a "golden" name.

I watch the blackbird chase off a red-tail hawk in the early morning blue sky. He must be guarding a nest in the reeds. Behind the pond, one of the peaks from the Selkirks is still crusted in snow, but I can see exposed rock. What a perfect time to return to Elmira.

The mares must be in the far pasture and I find shoes so I can go take pictures. Outside Todd is walking back from the horse barn with the dogs. "The horses are gone," he tells me.

We just got them last night! Gone? "Where," I ask as he rolls his eyes at me.

"Not here." This man really needs to pour some sunshine in his coffee. He then points to the open gate. Todd calls the Cowboy and I grab dog leads. I'm a buckaroo; I can find horses which turns out to be easy as soon as I spot my Neighbor trying to open the back gate while juggling a cup of coffee.

Can men not function without morning java? I really want a cup too, but my horses are missing and I've got priorities. "Morning! Have you seen any horses?" I ask.

"Just coming to get you. They took out my fence." I go through the gate and we walk the quarter mile back to his place. I see the mares in his pasture.

Neighbor points with his coffee mug at the cedar post the sorrel mare took out before snapping three lines of barbed-wired. We know which mare went through first because she's cut. Our place doesn't have barbed-wire because it's bad news for horses.

She lets me walk up to her, but she's skittish. Neighbor says something spooked them to drive them through the fence like that. Back at our place they simply walked out of the gate. I don't think grizzlies or wolves or even wolverines open gates.

Clucking and cooing softly I tell her she's a good girl. I want to see her cuts. They're not deep, which is a blessing. She'll live. I've seen horses cut up so bad that they've had to be put down. And last year we had a mare get tangled in old hot wire from the Blue Bird Ranch. We had to unwrap at least twenty loops from the mare's leg. Fences don't always contain horses.

I wrap a dog leash around the sorrel's muscled neck. Horses have powerful necks, and I pat her for reassurance. I walk her over to the palomino and wrap a lead on her. Neighbor takes the palomino and we walk out of his pasture. "My gate was wide open," he says.

Of course, leave it to a spooked horse to plow through a fence when a gate is open. We walk back to my place leading the mares. The sorrel is still jumpy, and I'm hoping she doesn't kick me or pull away. My mind is 100% buckaroo but my body can't keep up. That why I write and no longer ride.

Cowboy and Husband arrive to open gates and we get the mares settled in to the Elmira Pond pastures of plenty. Cowboy jokes that the grass wasn't lush enough. I tell him about Neighbor's fence and the men discuss its repair. We look at the sorrel's cuts and decide nothing needs more than bag balm which I offer to do until it heals. Her hoof is chipped but Cowboy is a farrier so he'll trim up the hoof.

We discuss the knapweed issue--last summer I dug some plants out, mowed more but it's a nasty weed. Todd wants to burn it and I'm concerned with keeping chemicals out of the pond. Cowboy suggests a few harmless chemicals if there are such. I see more mowing in my future.

Funny, but neither Todd nor I say that we're moving as if some miracle of God will keep us here and him employed closer than eight and a half hours away.

I even start planning the garden I swore I wouldn't plant. How can I not sow seeds even if I won't be here to harvest? Do the migratory birds ever worry about building nests that they may never use again?

I ask about the horses names--Snapper and Beary. I knew Snapper, but Todd said it was the other mare. I shoot him a wifely told-ya-so look. I think I need coffee, too. Talk dwindles. Neighbor says his coffee mug is empty. Todd grunts that he hasn't even had coffee. We depart, each seeking to fill our own cups.

Day one of horses and already an adventure right out of the gate!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Heartbreak Ranch

Spring in Missoula, Montana
The Greening of Elmira Pond
The Flood of Grass that is My Yard
In Time for Lilacs
The Old Apple Tree Blossoms
Dried Blossoms Give Way to Baby Cherries
There Will Be Horses!
Between Missoula and Sandpoint, the Clark Fork River flows muddy-brown and aqua--the combination of snow-melt and glacial tills. Even the grass seems in full flood.

Green shoots heady with feathery seeds cascade toward the sky like rain in reverse. Even rocky crags in the Cabinet Gorge are garnished with green. Yet snow clings to the tallest peaks like the trio of Scotchman Peaks.

Spring that has bustled in Missoula with tulips and lilacs has caught the northern Rockies in its verdant grip. Elmira Pond will most certainly be green.

And did I mention overgrown? That's the unexpected surprise after being away for an entire month. It's green and the grass is hip deep in places. I scan the pastures for horses and the pond for waterfowl. Both are empty and my heart sinks.

No horses. What is a buckaroo writer to do with no horses? Already the clover is thick, a gourmet carpet waiting for the munching teeth of horses that add color to the green like moving, grazing flowers.

Disappointed, I seek blossoms. I missed the cherry tree's pink blooms--all that is left are dried, brown petals already forming fruit. That's good. The apple tree has blossomed and many remain. Last year it gifted me three apples and this year there may be more. The crab apple trees are beyond bloom, but not lilacs.

As if in perfect timing, I've arrived to a bush in full bloom. The warm sweet scent lingers in the air. Beyond the lilacs sits the old Elmira Schoolhouse and I wonder if the bush is old enough to have bloomed when children played tag across the meadows I now claim as yard. An overgrown yard.

And no horses. It's going to feel like the Heartbreak Ranch this summer bereft of a buckaroo's best friends. Why does it have to be empty now? I had hoped for fullness; to drink from this cup for as long as I could until Todd and the Uhaul moved me away.

No horses.

So I go inside to clean house. The higher my level of anxiety, the brighter my woodwork gleams. I pull out the wood polish that I've hardly used since arriving to Elmira Pond 20 months ago. Three hours later my hands are greasy and gritty, and my office glows. I've unpacked, too.

Weary, I decide to step outside to the south porch to stare at empty pastures and the pond. Maybe Blue Heron or the osprey will visit. After unlocking the door, I step through and see a note. My heart catches as I read the line: "just wondering if I could bring you a couple of horses down."

Horses! Elmira Pond will have horses after all--the cowboy didn't forget that we have pasture to graze. It won't be the Heartbreak Ranch. There will be horses! 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Time to Recharge

Now I know the length of time until my batteries need re-charging.

It's been one month since I left Elmira Pond and while I've been blessed with presence, getting to be with each of my children, to share in their lives and achievements, to bask in their love and play Catan and hang out in Missoula, Montana, and visit the upper midwest briefly, I'm longing for the pond.

I long for the soft, black earth of my garden, for pink cherry tree blossoms, for the scent of May lilacs.

I long to see that first osprey cannonball into the pond and grab a fish with his talons. My ears are perked to hear his chirps.

I long to sing to Blue Heron, to hear the bull frogs fill the night air with their sonorous mating calls. We can all make sounds out of tune.

I long to just sit on the warm wooden steps of the porch and drink a cup of coffee and just look--at the pond, the sky, the birds, the trains. Whatever surprises the day holds.

It's time to go back to Elmira Pond. Time to re-charge my batteries, to work on my next round of novel revisions. I'd like to say, to go home.

But like the migratory birds, I will have to move on, too.

We never truly possess a pond.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Passing Through

Pecking and Bobbing
One Show Only
Just Passing Through
Dandelions push through the cracks between paved driveway and cracked cement. Nothing remains passive. Nothing stays the same.

A flit of movement captures my attention. A tiny bird emerges from the winter-dry rose bush, pecking at the ground. He, or she--I can't tell--is a feathered ball of charcoal gray with an almost indiscernible streak of rust on back feathers.

I think it's an Oregon junco.

Juncos pass through, usually in groups. I've seen them descend in mass like bouncing hail, covering the ground so fast and disappearing as if they never dropped from the sky. At least three groups have visited.

This junco is friendly and I imagine us getting acquainted over the summer--me sitting on the sun-warmed boards of the porch, him bobbing in and out of the roses. He'll be striking once the stalks green and bud.

But nothing remains passive. Nothing stays the same. He leaves only his digital expression.

And like this junco, one day I'll just be passing through, too.