High Desert

Malheur Landscape

Malheur Landscape

Autumn stirs a deep longing in my soul.  I know it’s time to let go of my leaves, turn south, find home.

Contrary to instinct, my husband and I head north to the high desert of south-eastern Oregon.  Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a landing place on the Pacific Flyway, where the lake and high desert nurture birds migrating north and southwards.   We were late.  Most birds– Sand Hill Cranes, Geese, Ducks, Swans – had already left.  We hoped to find them on our return to California’s Central Valley happily ensconced in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the winter.  They were.

Although we found over 25 bird species at Malheur, what we really discovered was High Desert.  In the absence of the usual hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, the landscape was laid bare, revealing muted shades of autumn orange, yellow and purple. We circled the perimeter of the 30 mile-long Steens Mountain one day, then drove to the 9,733 foot summit the next, crunching in the snow to peer down the glacial valleys or watch Bighorned Sheep.  As Duncan, our Naturalist Guide from the Malheur Field Station, interwove stories of geological, avian, symphonic and human intrigue, I pondered that all places on earth must have their storytellers, artists and musicians.

Nine days on the road was enough for our weary bones.  My friend Nancy suggested that maybe we take these road trips because it feels so wonderful to be back home, snuggled in our own beds, with dreams of the full moon rising over the desert.

Moon over Malheur

Moon over Malheur

“The silence in these empty lands is long.” 

(Ursula K. LeGuin,  from the book Out Here – Poems and Images from Steens Mountain Country)

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Flap, Flap, Rest

Rod's-TwoOspreysCrp_110421_10

Moonshine Road Ospreys **

I meant to write today, but an Osprey outside my window kept calling me to play.

“Look, I can fly . . . I can fly!”

It circled round and round above the pines outside my second story window.  “Come out! I’m flying!”  I checked my timer (more on that later).  Fifteen minutes of writing to go.  I’m on a creative roll . . . Can’t stop now.  Sorry.

“But I’m flying!”

I paused. Several years ago, I saw an Osprey through my bird scope when it first ascended from its nest.  Perched on the outer edge of its spindly woven branches, it flap, flap, rested.  Over and over.  Flap, flap, rest; flap, flap, rest; until one set of flaps lifted it straight up from the nest.  Oh my. Back down to rest, then flap, flap again.  More height.

Each lift-off took it higher, until the wind beneath its wings gently drew it forward and away from the nest.  At first it glided motionless, then instinctual pull of muscles set the wings in motion.  I knew I was witnessing the first-steps-of-a-toddler moment.

I looked down at the timer on my desk, then at my laptop. “Oh hell.  I hit “save” and flew downstairs in time to watch the white streaked underbelly fly low overhead.  I followed the squeals as it circled the house then flew west, its calls fading into the distance.  I stood, bare feet on a wet lawn, binoculars dangling from my hand, and laughed.

Back at my desk, mind now up in the trees, I reset my timer and try to refocus.  Distractions:  How does the Pomodoro Technique address them? My writing friend, Heather Donahue, introduced me to this time-management system that’s immensely helpful for staying focused and productive in writing.  Set a round, tomato-shaped ticking timer for 25 minutes. ( Pomodoro = Tomato in Italian).  Write until it dings.  Set for 5 minutes and take a break.  Return for 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes off.  Flap, flap, rest.  Flap, flap, rest. I get a lot done that way – writing, cello practice, long projects, etc.

Being focused is good, but I realize I live in a world surrounded by mystery. If I don’t allow myself to be distracted by nature, I miss out on the sheer joys of life.  I can always reset the timer later!

** Thanks to my neighbor, Rod Bondurant of Camptonville, for permission to use his beautiful photo of the Moonshine Ospreys.  While Ospreys aren’t an unusual bird near bodies of water, the Moonshine Road nest is in the Tahoe National Forest, half-way between Bullards Bar Reservoir and Middle Fork of the Yuba River.  Neighbors have been watching this Osprey family return since 2006.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

A Community Of Jays

Jay BirdI’m trying to write, but birds are squawking outside the window. Not just a few chirps.  These guys are upset.  OK. I press “save” on my computer and head outside to find six Steller’s Jays flapping about in a heated conversation. On the lawn is Obi, my sweet old Animal Save dog, his mouth slightly open with that evasive “I’m not going to show you” look.

Ignoring my demands to “drop it,” he heads downhill accompanied by an aerial Greek Chorus.  He has his prize and isn’t going to relinquish it to me or the worrisome birds swooping overhead. I follow and corner him by his invisible fence, pry open his mouth and extract a bedraggled fledgling. Yes, it’s still alive.

Now the jays turn on me. Like the procession in Peter and the Wolf, I hold the bird high and head for home – dog leaping at my heels, ten birds now circling overhead.

With Obi locked in his dog yard, I set the soggy fledgling on the grass and watch from inside the house. I count twelve jays now. One lands next to little bird and gives him a poke, causing him to topple over, feet upright in the air. Another joins the poking.  Parents, probably.  I set the fledgling in a safer place and return to my computer.

After two hours of non-stop squawking, I realize the birds are now obsessed with my caged dog who is huddled tightly in a corner. They vent and dive. Obi’s eyes plead. I suggest he apologizes.

The Steller’s Jays continue their diatribe for four hours solid.  They seem to have no scruples about raiding other bird’s nests and eating their eggs, but they watch each other’s back more than any bird I’ve seen.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.