Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

She hangs there, upside down, eyes fixed on me as I open the gate and ease into the garden. I leave it open behind me, a gateway to the wild air I hope will call to her. As I draw near, she unclamps her talons from the netting and explodes out of the corner. She bumps against the overhanging net, this oddly constrained sky, and latches on again. I try to herd her to the open gate, but she’s not having it. The yellow toes, tipped with tiny scimitars, cling even tighter. The sharp eyes, bright and lucid, do not blink. The beak–that deadly instrument–gleams and menaces.

I have to get her out, but how? How, exactly, does one extract a wild peregrine from one’s tomato garden without either party being wounded? Bird netting is supposed to keep birds out, not in, but here we are. Bees, I remember suddenly: my long-cuffed goatskin beekeeper’s gloves are just the thing. I fetch them from the house and slip them on, feeling anxious, desperate, and hopeful. Somehow, I have to manage this.

She lets me get right next to her, eyeing me intently but without complaint. I stand still for a moment, then reach out both hands and cup her body gently. The heart beats at the speed of light–hers and mine alike–and I feel her anger, fear, and hope. With one hand, I softly stroke her back and head, and tell her it will be alright. We stand like that for several minutes. Gradually, the toes begin to uncurl, and I pull her free of the netting. Her wings quiver once, twice, and I hustle to the open gate, my hands full of impatient, flapping falcon. At the threshold I open them, arms high. She soars away, without looking back.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Go beyond the market for a minute. That fruit you’re holding has a story, about work and care, sun and water. It’s also about the harvest, a dance of exploration, partnering, and purpose that changes and delights both parties.

First, as for any dance, you need the proper costume–here, that’s long sleeved shirt, long pants, and sun hat. Gloves are optional; I mostly go without unless I’m picking berries. Also, tools–not many, just a sturdy picking box or bag, and a light but trusted ladder.

Next, survey the scene and plot your choreography: what is the angle of the sun, and the set of the branches? Where is the fruit sparse or heavy, inviting or still green, smooth-skinned or bird-bit? Where will the ladder best be placed to reach this one, and then that? Where will the tree accept embrace, and where will it refuse? Once sure of your partner, set the ladder firmly and begin.

Every sense will guide you–sight for judging blush or hue, smell to catch a sudden waft of nectar, hearing for the creak and rustle of the tree echoing your movement, taste to spot check as the impulse strikes you. And touch–the last, but the most critical. Take the fruit in your hand and hold it, gently. Feel its heft, the firmness or slight give against your grasp, and ask the tree if it is ready. As you tug ever so slightly, she will tell you: ripeness falls to you like water into sand–softly, smoothly, silently. Resistance says perhaps tomorrow, but not now.

When the picking’s done, climb down and thank the tree. Is that her sighing, free now to begin another season’s work? No telling, but perhaps you’ll hear it as you bite into that peach.

~~~~

This pieced aired as part of KQED FM’s Perspectives series on 8/4/14. Listen here.

Read Full Post »

20120805-144735.jpg

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It’s more than a bit ironic that my mother died, quite unexpectedly, only a few weeks after my last post. As you might imagine, that’s a lot to deal with….and I will address it here in a while. Blogging hasn’t been foremost in my mind the past few months as a result but light is beginning to creep over the horizon. Here’s a piece I wrote yesterday.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bambi is relentless. Oh, sure, he’s cuter than just about anything–especially when he’s new and tiny, all decked out in bright white polka dots. Those enormous, outsized ears, the tender inky nose twitching at the slightest hint of danger or excitement, the dark, moist, long-lashed eyes, and endless spindly legs would make anyone smile and coo. Anyone, that is, except a gardener.

Bambi, it turns out, has a voracious appetite–and he’s not alone. Mother, aunts, cousins, and siblings join him on patrol, irregular brigades of Bambis fanning out along the edges of the day in search of anything, and everything, that might be tasty or digestible.

I know this, of course, having shared my forest home with Bambi and his crew for years now. I’ve got deer fencing around my garden beds, and the fruit trees are in their own secure enclave. Other plants are deer-resistant, or ample enough to share. The yellow plum, for one, bears way more fruit than we can use, and Bambi’s welcome to the windfalls and whatever’s hanging out beyond the fence. I’m thankful that I have this wild and lovely space, and glad for our (mostly) peaceful coexistence.

Recently, however, I transported a young Meyer lemon tree and left it–overnight–outside the fence. After breakfast, I found it barely recognizable–every leaf, bar none, nibbled to oblivion, branches utterly denuded and forlorn. It was my own fault, to be sure, but every single leaf? Talk about a low blow!

Fortunately, the tree–which I immediately moved into the enclosure–recovered, and actually looks better now than before its run-in with the Bambis. And I’ve relearned a lesson about being a good neighbor–sometimes, it really is about good fences.

20120806-075700.jpg

Read Full Post »

Nocturne

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

A few months ago, I discovered something amazing. I’d seen it thousands of times before, but never really paid attention–it was just there, a background as I hurried from point A to point B, a wordless blanket shrouding my house as I slept, an invisible backdrop to an outdoor concert or a rooftop drink with friends.

What is this wonder, so unquestioned yet so fascinating? It’s nothing fancy or exotic, and you don’t have to go far to find it. It’s no more or less than night itself—implicit, deep, and intricate. Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m talking about–we all know what night is, right? What’s the big deal?

Night isn’t just the absence of day, though it certainly is that. Night can be a time of freedom as we leave our jobs, commutes, and daytime stress behind. Other things fall away with the sun’s light too–colors are less bright, shadows become less sharply defined, and the busy noise of day fades quickly as the moon ascends the arc of heaven. In their place, night brings treasures of its own: softer and more subtle colors, richer and more complex shadows, and the music of its many creatures, varied and evocative.

Next full moon, go outside, stand still, and just be in the night for 10 or 20 minutes with nowhere to go and nothing to do but pay attention. No doubt you’ll notice something new. At first, it may be your own breathing, or the beating of your heart, sounds the busy press of daytime overrides. After a few minutes, perhaps you’ll be struck by the way the air moves and breathes, the way the stars and planets track overhead, or the way the moon’s glow transmutes ordinary into extra-ordinary. Make the night itself your sole intention, for a minute or an hour, and who knows what you’ll discover?

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The squeals were incredibly loud, for such a small creature. The chipmunk who’d been despoiling my blueberries was in the planter munching away when I approached. She panicked, and somehow got neck and all 4 limbs tangled in the bird netting I thought was protecting the bush from just such meddling. My first thought was serves you right–maybe now you’ll leave my plants alone. The next was even worse: I could just leave her there, trapped, and put an end to the marauding. Maybe I’d get to enjoy a few berries myself, if she were out of the picture. After all, wasn’t that why I’d planted the bush, and nurtured it painstakingly? Then I drew that picture to its one possible conclusion–a slow, tortured death from fear and dehydration–and I couldn’t do it. I turned and went into the kitchen for a pair of scissors.

Holding the netting up and carefully untwisting it, I found the strands that bound her and cut them, each by each, taking care not to cut her or let her bite me. I could only imagine the terror she felt, and the bewilderment. Seconds later, she was free, and promptly scampered off to hide beneath the grill, chittering as she ran.

Will she remember our encounter? Will she be grateful? Will she and her progeny forswear forevermore my garden’s bounty? I have no reason to believe it. No doubt a day from now, or a week, or a month, I’ll search in vain for the plump, ripe purple berries I desire….and have second thoughts. Maybe I’ll wish I had left her there to die. I’m not a fanatic, after all: I do kill mosquitos, gophers, and other assorted pests. But this was a line I could not cross–I can’t say precisely why, but I can say I’m glad of it.

update: I’ve since started using Havahart live traps to catch and relocate the chipmunks, with some success. They sure do love almond butter!

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

This essay aired on KQED FM as part of its Perspectives series on August 16, 2011. See their website for the downloadable MP3 file, as well as some interesting listener comments.

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

I suppose it was inevitable. After years of living in the mountains, I’d seen enough to know it was a matter of time, no matter how careful I was. Still, I thought I could escape.

It was dark, and raining, but that’s no excuse. I’ve driven in far worse conditions without an issue, though there have been some close calls. The most serious was due to fog: creeping 5 miles an hour up a narrow, windy road at dusk with zero visibility , I heard–and felt–a soft, fleeting thud against the left front fender. As I realized what had just happened, the deer sprinted off across the road, a brownish ghost emerging briefly from the mist. A second later, unharmed, it was swallowed by the fog again.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

This time, I saw the blur of motion in the corner of one eye–a few erratic stops and starts off on the side of the road–and thought the animal had decided against crossing. I was wrong, and because I was in a hurry I did not slow down. The thump and crunch were sickening, not least because right before I hit it, I saw the little skunk run toward the road again–and knew it was too late. I’m so sorry, baby, I told it, wishing desperately for a different outcome.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

One skunk more or less may seem insignificant, but I’d just contributed to the estimated one million vertebrates killed on US roads each day–one every 11.5 seconds. This includes wildlife from mice to moose, endangered species, and household pets. Human injuries and deaths result too, and pricey damage to vehicles. Fencing, signs, and wildlife crossings can reduce roadkills, and high-tech solutions may help in the future, but awareness and reducing speed are still the best bets for avoiding these tragic incidents. It’s a lesson I know I’ve taken to heart.

This essay was aired as part of the Perspectives series on KQED-FM on April 6, 2011

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Since I just returned from another fabulous trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, I thought I’d post this article I had published a couple years ago about its magic. The bird count this year is 32,000 geese and 9000 cranes, but that’s the only change. You can see many more photos of the birds on my Facebook page.

“Wildness incarnate,” conservationist Aldo Leopold called the sandhill crane. Standing at the marsh edge in the freezing January wind, I close my eyes and feel his meaning as a cascade of plaintive hoots sets my brain afire. A group of sandhills flying overhead, headed for their evening’s refuge, is the source of this eerie anthem. The sound is unlike any other birdsong I know—primitive, strange, and heartfelt, it evokes an era and its creatures long since vanished. Yet the cranes are still here, very much alive after more than two and a half million years on earth. They may be even older: some fossil evidence from Nebraska suggests the sandhill crane may be ten million years old, the current version little changed from that ancient prototype. Unlike the dinosaurs, however, they have somehow managed to escape time.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

I’ve come to southern New Mexico to see and photograph the migratory birds over-wintering at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. This means mainly snow geese (an estimated 48,000 “light geese” this week, according to the posting at the visitor’s center) and sandhill cranes, though there are other waterfowl and shorebirds here, and a handful of bald eagles. The geese are spectacular, rising en masse from an icy pond at first light amid a literal thunder of wings that fills the rosy sky mere feet above my head. The din conjures a freight train in the frozen air, and the first time I hear it I look around for one, not realizing that it is the rush of feathers assaulting my ears. All around me on the observation deck, gasps of wonder and amazement escape from seasoned birders and photographers and first-timers alike.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

But it is the cranes that captivate me: roughly 13,000 are in the refuge at the moment, every one a beautiful enigma. Necks out straight and wings spread to the limit, they trail their legs behind as they travel from their daytime feeding grounds to the pond they have chosen for the night. Watching them land is a delight, and often I find myself not even reaching for my camera—though that is the reason I am out here like a fool, shivering in the wind chill and bemoaning the icy needles tormenting my fingertips—the better to enjoy the sight of their wings tenting upward as they spot a likely landing site, followed by those legs! Those long crazy legs now stick straight down, prehistoric toes spread wide like forks, as the cranes spiral slowly to the water. The ballet is the same every time, and I never tire of it, this odd vestige choreographed back in the Pleistocene.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Sandhill cranes are large birds, weighing in at roughly 7-10 pounds and with a wingspan that can be five to seven feet, depending on the subspecies. On land—and especially on ice—they are gawky, even hesitant in movement. This is most affecting as they tap their toes against thin ice in the low-slanted early morning light, gauging whether it is thick enough to run and lift off from. Satisfied that it will bear their weight, they lean forward ever farther till it seems they must pitch over headfirst. A few more tentative steps forward, a few more degrees of tilt, they inch across the ice, toes still tapping. Just at the point where you think capsizing is inevitable, the wings bow upward in a feathered arc. Legs and wings begin to churn, and suddenly there is liftoff. Watching it reminds me of being on an airplane, trying to feel the precise moment when the wheels lose contact with the tarmac: it always catches me like perfect magic. One moment you are rooted, solid, and the next—without ability to name it—you are loose, weightless, flat earth slipping out the corner of your eye.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Once the sandhills are aloft their gawkiness morphs into grace, as anyone who has seen it will attest. The goofy tuft of feathers on their rump, so odd and frumpy when the birds are earthbound, becomes elegant and streamlined in the air. The long neck and legs fuse in one elongation punctuated by slow beats: up, down, up, down, up, down. Unlike the geese, whose rapid wingbeats seem more than a little frantic, the cranes have a laid-back flying cadence. Feathers at their wingtips fan out wide to catch the currents. The long downbeat is unhurried and imposing, huge wings like hushed grey blankets descending through thick air, while the upstroke is more lively and ephemeral. As the wings rise, widespread feathers at each wingtip are etched with burnished back-light. Coupled with the cranes’ haunting cries, this flight pattern is a spell that binds. I know I should raise my camera and get to work, but I just can’t, not yet. Time enough after this batch passes, or the next, or perhaps tomorrow morning.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

One morning there is mist, some odd conjunction of warm sun the afternoon before and chill pre-dawn air causing it to rise from the ice like spirits seeking consolation. The cranes huddle in the cold, resting on one leg with the other folded up against the body. Many have their heads tucked under one wing, turning them into an orchard of fuzzy lollipops planted in the ice. Others preen their rump feathers, narrow bills darting here and there to put them right. The mist turns mazy orange as the sun begins its morning circuit, and the mass of birds is silhouetted in breathtaking luminosity. In front of the cranes are rows and rows of snow geese seated on the ice, heads popping up in random agitation to show against the coral-shaded mist. I’d seen photographs of mist like this at Bosque, and hoped fervently that conditions would be right during my visit. This truly is amazing luck, and there is no way I will waste it. Despite the bitter cold, and the folly of having left my tripod in the car, I click the shutter furiously as the color shifts from tangerine to cantaloupe to honey and the mist begins to dissipate. Wide-angles and tight zooms, artistic blurs and requisite crisp-focus shots, I fire away until the mist—and the memory on my camera card—is nearly gone.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The sun rises, and the mist vanishes. The geese and cranes are still on the ice, and give no sign of taking off anytime soon—or none that I am able to interpret. After several days in the refuge, I’ve begun to think I know their pattern: sleep on water safe from predators, rise in tandem with the sun, fly to corn fields for a full day’s feasting, return to marshes as dusk nears, and sleep again. But now it’s bright, sharp morning, the light is fast becoming flat, and they’re not going anywhere. It’s nearly time to stow the camera gear and find a way to fill the hours till late afternoon, when shadows lengthen and the angle of the light is sweet again. For now, though, I will stay and wait, watching these old spirits and wondering at how little we understand of the rare wild things and places left to us. Finally, after what I’d swear is hours but is really more like twenty minutes, a few cranes forsake the ice and fly over me. I look up and listen keenly as wildness, made flesh in these great birds, sends a haunting call into the sky and trails its dark legs high above.  

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

A shorter version of this essay aired on KQED-FM (88.5 in the SF bay area) on February 3rd, 2011, as part of its ‘Perspectives’ series. See their website for downloadable MP3. (program = perspectives; search = peggy hansen)

I’ve posted a few very short video clips of the cranes, and snow geese, on my Facebook page. Check them out, and be sure your speakers are turned on!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »