Category Archives: Contemplations

Redbird of Midwinter

Candle and cardinal

My grandmother loved Christmas, and she also loved cardinals. Where I grew up in central Illinois, they were everywhere. Bright red birds with a jaunty crest, that lived alongside the chickadees and blue-jays and nuthatches in the woods behind my house. Bright as holly berries or blood-drops against the snowy winter-land, they showed up on her Christmas cards as a constant reminder of her love for us.

And so, this Midwinter (our first in this new house), I found a cardinal to add to our Yule decorations. We’ve survived the moving process (barely!), but like the winter-laden land around us, all is quiet. The darkness is like a blanket around us as we wait for the winter solstice, when the sun turns around and the days begin to grow longer. Spring will come, and the world will wake and bloom with riots of color. But until then, the candle’s steady glow and the bright bird of promise keep us warm as we rest and recover.

Winter magic

When the weather clears, we can have beautiful winter days in Washington state. Days like this one, that seem like pearls, or birthday cakes. When that happens, we learn to take advantage while it lasts — a sunny memory to carry us forward when the rains and cold return tomorrow.

The beach was full of people enjoying the mild weather, playing and hiking along the narrow Dungeness spit. We didn’t make it out to the end today — maybe a mile at most — before the daylight began to fade. Heading back up the path toward the car, I stopped to take this gorgeous panorama of pinks and blues.

Barely visible in front of a glowing Mount Baker, you can see the tiny, historic lighthouse that clings to the tip of the spit. It’s a full five miles out along a rocky ribbon of land that nearly disappears at high tide. Behind it, Mount Baker — an active stratovolcano in the Cascade volcanic arc — rises some 75 miles distant. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, calm and placid today, reflects them like a mirror.

What’s in a September?

With the autumn equinox, as the days stand equal to the nights and the light is balanced with darkness, we can no longer pretend that summer isn’t over.

The air is crisp some mornings, and though it hasn’t frosted yet, the trees are already sensing that it’s time to prepare for winter.

And so like the stag, we should take on the bright colors of celebration. Harvest time has arrived. The apples are getting ripe on the trees, squirrels store nuts, and birds nip at dandelion puffs. The world prepares for the cold, dreary days to come, and so must we.


August sailing


Spending a few months moving to the new place, which means that not much writing is going to get done for a while. I hope to be all finished and back in gear for a big editing push in November.

Meanwhile, we have a gorgeous commute by ferry between the old place and the new. This is a sailboat on Puget Sound.

Cherries are the bomb

So after a year of looking, we finally found a new house. And this is in the yard. A giant cherry tree full of ripe fruit. And ants — did I mention the ants? They love the cherries even more than we do, and are a bit territorial, you might say. (As I scratch half a dozen bites.)

Cherries for breakfast is totally a thing now. And maybe some for lunch, with cheddar cheese. And then a handful for an afternoon snack… and dessert after dinner… Whenever I run out I go pick some more. What the heck, they won’t last forever; and once they’re gone, that’s it until next year.

I kind of like it that way. Cherries all day every day, just like any good thing, could get old eventually.

A happy/sad

Fledgling robin naps before leaving nest

My babies left the nest today. I’ll miss the little shriekers.

It’s been a busy summer for the songbirds in our area, building nests and raising families. A robin has chosen a cleft in the lilac bush outside our kitchen window for her nest, for the second year in a row. I’ve enjoyed watching the activity as sky-blue eggs appeared, and then tiny, cute-ugly dinos hatched out.

The first week, they’re naked and uncoordinated — little more than gangly legs and giant beaky mouths on tiny, floppy bodies, with spindly, wobbly necks barely strong enough to lift that enormous head.

But on a steady diet of bugs and fruit, the second week they become floofy and grow weird little pins (the start of feathers) on their wings and backs. By now they’re strong enough to snuggle down quiet in the nest and raise a vigorous clamor when a parent brings them a meal, begging for each morsel.

By the third week they begin to actually resemble birds. The pins grow into feathers and the floof covers them completely. They become louder and more adventurous, practicing for the next stage of their lives — fledging. (See photo of sleepy fledgling on the edge of the nest.)

Today was the day. One was bravely scouting the lilac branches. His sibling looked down and, with the bold optimism of youth, took a leap and left the nest. With parents guarding them and shouting angrily at intruders, they will scamper around on the ground until their feathers finish growing, and then they’ll fly. They’ll follow their parents around for a while, learning how to be birds — how to sing, eat, drink, and recognize danger. In fact, any time you see a bird fluttering its wings at another bird, that is a fledgling begging for food.

And next year, if they learn well, they’ll raise chicks of their own. Maybe in the same lilac bush.

Squirrel wars

Squirrel eating at bird feeder This little sucker figured out how to get to my bird seed. Trouble is, he eats ten times more than a bird. He leaps acrobatically over any obstacle to snarf down the yummy sunflower seeds.

So this was my entertainment of the week. I tried moving it farther away but it made no difference. I tried putting a baffle at the top. He neatly skipped around it and continued his thieving ways.

I went outside at one point with an old pie tin, intending to make a bigger obstacle to block him. As he was boldly sitting there and refusing to move, I yelled at him. Instead of fleeing, he flew at my face, a bold, ninja-attack of doom! Surprised, I held up the pie tin as a shield and the little sucker bounced off it, yelling at me as he retreated.

We’ll see how he likes the new bird feeder I ordered.

(Update – The mooch has been foiled – the new (expensive) bird feeder is the type with a spring, that closes if there’s too much weight on it. After numerous disappointments, the squirrel has gone back to scavenging what the birds see fit to toss to the ground. Problem resolved!)

Nature comes tapping

New Mexico's vibrant wildlife, the plucky roadrunner pays a visit to the author.

The Plucky Roadrunner visits

I’ve been visiting my family in the beautiful state of New Mexico, and marveling at the different wildlife that flocks around. Hummingbirds chase each other from the feeders, a kestrel dives and soars. Buzzards circle in the hot azure skies. Lizards turn suspicious eyes up at me wherever I walk, darting for cover. Butterflies flutter by the dozens, and dragonflies zip past on a mission. Tarantulas and scorpions and vinegarones wander the night. It’s an active and vital place.

But perhaps my favorite, a plucky roadrunner. Tap, tap… I open the blinds to discover who is making the noise. There he is, perched upon the bird feeder and challenging his own reflection in the wide picture-window. What a beauty he is, with his sharp-curved beak and a vibrant sweep of red, white, and blue behind his eyes. He plucks up a dying beetle and, as he speeds away, I see the iridescent green sheen of his long feathers. “Come again,” I call as he recedes into the distance.