May 24: birthday

Lazuli buntings and yellow-breasted chats shout from either side of the river. A wrentit sings upstream, a hummingbird buzzes between the boulders. There are swallowtails dancing in the shade of the willows. Yellow warbler chips above them. I was awoken before dawn by the flycatcher outside my window. I went on a run and met all the neighborhood dogs. I think we’re gonna be friends. I saw the neighborhood horses but they were busy grazing a front lawn, so we did not properly meet. An osprey greeted me when I got back in the neighborhood and so did the nameless dog who I’ll call Sheeba. Red-shouldered hawk call from upland. Yellowjacket tickles my arm with the wind from his wings. I intended to go to the Trinity & Klamath River confluence this morning but it turns out the road is closed today until noon! It’s great to be in a place so small and sleepy where that can happen… closing the only highway with no warning and no signs. So I’ll have to settle for just one river today, sigh.

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I turn 25 today.

IMG_0171[This is my third day on Green Fire Farm & Winery in northern California.]

May 2: day 3

My hands smell like goat’s milk. Not like the refreshing beverage from the store, but like warm and sticky bodily fluid. Today I got a little more to come out but my aim is all wrong. It runs down my arm and squirts on my shorts – not even close to the cup! Liane’s been very patient with me. But I caught her giving me this expression over her shoulder that reminds me of the way Sugar would roll her eyes at me.

A cougar was allegedly spotted today at the edge of the property. The goat kids were making progress with being weaned but now separating them from mom means that one of the two groups will go unprotected.

I went hiking today and was dumbfounded by the bird sounds, walking around with a crook in my neck and frown on my face. I’ve possibly never seen so much poison oak in my life – arching over the trail at waist height, like evil snakes trying to entrance you. I did well at avoiding it until I saw a fresh pile of bear poo and then my focus strayed and I think some brushed my ankle, and finger, and arm. Will find out in a few days I guess!

May 1: day 2

MORNING
Nashville warbler and ash-throated flycatcher are vocal at dawn. And turkey. A scrub jay, a crow. The lilac bush glows. The sun moves quick – the shadow on the ridge drops before my eyes.

EVENING
I got bit by a goat today, because I thought it was so cute to let them nibble on my fingers. Turns out they have sharp back teeth. Tried my hand at milking this morning and got about a half an ounce. It takes practice. It’s a relief to be around goats – no need to fear for your life every time you’re in back of one. And let me tell you, that bite was a pin prick in comparison to the bite of that mustang Emma Grace.

April 28

A breeze is already moving through the yard at 8:30. The scene before me is so alive with bird activity – finches singing from the trees, orioles calling from the big oak, doves singing from the north, a pewee off to the south, a sparrow singing from so deep in the brush it’s almost inaudible, there’s a Cal towhee stretching its wings in the shade, and cowbirds at the feeder. I’d be lying if I said they’re not beautiful, the way their brown heads glow chestnut in the morning sun against their cloaks of midnight.

When Papa Claude tells you to do something, you do it, because he knows best. Yesterday he could see I was discontent so he told me to go for a ride in the quad, so I did. And it was fun! I feel like a little kid when I’m here a lot of times. We went on down to Walmart to get a new band for my watch. I drove Joe (GI Joe, the 1945 army jeep). And then we went for a ride in the Model A and I got to drive! Yes, I feel like a little kid. We also worked together to make a new cap for my power steering fluid! It’s been a fun and heartwarming day.

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I am off to start WWOOFing at Twin Pear Farm tomorrow. I feel similar to when I left here for the ranch a year ago – ready for a salvation from the road and a place to exist for more than just a few days. I am manifesting so much positivity, though trying not to have hopes or expectations.

April 5: morning on the farm

 

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Two downy woodpeckers tap at the base of a bare tree. No buds yet. Robins sing from all directions; there’s one on the lawn, one on the road, two in the pine. There is a light rain, growing louder as I sip my coffee, but not an avian eyelash is batted – it is spring and there is too much to do. A red-bellied woodpecker has joined the downys. A song sparrow melody rings out from the shrubs beside the old barn. Two juncos tease each other from low branches. Red-winged blackbirds trill, there’s a few grackles too. I’m appreciating them, as I’ve been out of the east for some time. Appreciating robins too, despite their ordinariality and gutter-sucking habits. Their clucking and whinnying and constant jest lend to their good nature. They seem more like humans than other birds. Maybe that’s a large claim to make; I’ll just say that I, at least, identify with them. A few crows I hear in the distance now. It’s quieted down in the yard a bit. Cold toes, empty mug. I’m going inside.

 

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I spent some time wandering around the old barn, with a general sadness about how it was once a home for livestock and now all that remains are slouching doorways and splintering beams. It’s a project that wouldn’t be worth the investment. But as I came around the south side, I discovered that this old barn is, in fact, still a home. These Eastern Phoebes have claimed it for themselves this season. It made my day!

the month of March

I’m lacking written content for March. I covered a lot of ground and “didn’t have time” to put it all into words, so here are a slew of pictures taken during the journey from California to Michigan.

 

Arroyo Grande, CA: Every step I took, Christmas the Turkey was right behind me. Words cannot describe how much flattery he showed me in such little time.

 

Arroyo Grande, CA

 

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200 tree swallows at the Salton Sea

 

Milk and cookies on the tailgate. Steak dinner on the tailgate at Joshua Tree.

 

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Visited Joe Cannon and his bob-tailed cats in southern Arizona; Hiked on a trail called No Name in Carbondale, CO; Climbed to the top of Horsetooth Rock in Fort Collins, CO.

 

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Shout out to Nebraska for giving me 20,000 sandhill cranes to gawk at in the middle of a 10-hour drive through a state I have been in many a’times with little enthusiasm.

 

Feb 28 – Thrasher Surveys in Carrizo Plain, day 7

The mountains were bathed in pink at sunset again tonight, it never gets old. During my surveys today I was walking through the wash among the saltbush when I heard a very faint rustle in front of me. I knew, KNEW, it was a thrasher. I took another step, cautiously, and she dove out the back side of the bush with a single call to me. It was an intimate moment – her cry was a stern but helpless plea to leave her unborn children alone. Left me with a slight pang of guilt as I looked to the spot where she fled from and discovered a nest with turquoise eggs.

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I rest with sun-beat shoulders this evening. And something like a mind-beat spirit. Where is my mind? Need to practice quieting it. I decided today that I want to go to Michigan with Andrew. I want to see spring warblers and have Easter with mom. I want to be a little kid coming in for dinner with grass-stained feet after an early spring day of sunshine and opportunity. Driving across the country won’t get ya that, ya know? It’s in the past. But what have I got to lose by going, because I don’t feel that I’m finding my way here right now.

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Feb 24 – Thrasher Surveys in Carrizo Plain, day 3

Blinding sunrise this morn, clean blue sky all day. I found my first Le Conte’s Thrasher perched atop a saltbush. A few burrowing owls flushed as I approached their territory today; it’s quite the opposite experience of flushing a quail. Quail are always in pure panic mode, wide-eyed and horrified, frantically fluttering with dramatic clucks; they cause a commotion that leaves your heart beating as fast as theirs. The burrowing owls, in contrast, take flight in silence with deep and graceful flaps, landing calmly and quietly in a secret spot, never once glancing back. This central valley sun feels good on my skin and leaves me feeling exhausted in the best way.

Le Conte's Thrasher, Carrizo Plain NM
Le Conte’s Thrasher in the Carrizo Plain National Monument of central California. Pretty mediocre picture of a pretty spectacular bird. They have a very limited range, spanning just a small area of the desolate southwest desert. I jumped at the chance to do these surveys so I could get to see one!

Oct 3

We drove to Wood River this morning under a dramatic sky, threatening rain in every direction. As we paddled to our island a lone greater white-fronted goose flew by, frantically. I had never heard one before and found it quite funny. We opened nets just before sunrise and it was quite a fiasco. Many of the ropes had been cut again, some poles missing. The vegetation all had frost on it, and some of the ropes were icy. I forgot gloves. Net 1 fell to the ground. Your typical opening hour.

For the first 3 hours of the morning the thermometer read 0 degrees C and it drizzled on and off. Enough to warrant closing nets, but too little to call the day off. And when the drizzle would pause, we would re-open nets. At least if it had poured we could have left, but that kind of undecided weather is the worst. It was miserable – the cold, cold wetness. Makes me highly apprehensive about the coming of winter. Though among the misery was some magnificence, as there always is if your eyes are open to it. As I fought and fumbled with net 1, I heard a rustle in the canopy and looked up just in time to see a BARN OWL fly out from the island over the marsh! Full frontal view of that white, white face. I have never seen one before. Finally! I had been looking for months. Later in the morning I was examining a group of sparrows and discovered a white-throated!!! I am 90% sure. It’s like Mother Nature, once again, is slapping me in the cheek with beauty in the face of adversity. Not just any beauty, but some that I have been specifically seeking. Though I wasn’t looking today… and that’s why they came to me.  Once again! When will I learn?

We had 9 golden-crowned sparrows today, many of them with large deposits of fat bulging over the clavicles and belly! Most were weighing 32-33 grams, but then we pulled out a guy with such a deeply colored and well developed crown… and he weighed 44.8! Wow!

 

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Oct 1 – sounds in the night

It is 225 in the morning on Oct 2. Sleep doesn’t appeal to me these days. Too much to experience. The stars are spectacular tonight. I stopped off Dead Indian Rd for some moments and tried calling in an owl. What responded was similar to a pygmy, but higher and faster… that means northern saw-whet! When I returned to Rocky Pt I stopped at the mailboxes to star-gaze and I heard quite a racket going on in the trees! Sounded like a sharpie (no, really) screaming, and lots of wingbeats. Maybe juv owls. Now I am at the boathouse to retire. When I left the truck I heard screeching right overhead! Barn owl!? So many mysteries in the night tonight. Can I fall asleep now?