Field Notes #3

April 21, 2009 (pre-Earth Day)

Today, as I head out for the trail into the canyon that will take me past the dead coyote, I decide to  call that trail Coyote Trail, or maybe Coyote Way, to remember that coyote mouldering at the trailhead.   As I pass those remains, I try to satisfy my curiosity about the animal’s gender, but the back legs are frozen together in a rigor of modesty.   A cloud of black flies on and around the carcass goes a-buzz at my intrusion into its community  feast and fur-lined creche.  

The day turns out to be warmer than anticipated.   I walk with my fleece jacket tied around my waist, but I’m not long on the trail before realizing that bringing  it was an unnecessary precaution.   After weeks of cold wind and an unusually undecided  early spring, the weather has at last begun to pool into something fully vernal.   At night, from my back porch, I see Orion set in the west just as Scorpio begins  rising  over  the easternmost, juniper-lined  knoll.   It seems as if in the movement  between these two the season hangs in some balance.

So I take Coyote Way down into the canyon, becoming over-warm in process.   I’m happy I didn’t leave my canteen behind, as I’ve sometimes done on the cooler, more in-between days.

When I reach the canyon bottom, I  walk to one of my favorite sittin’ logs near the  creek.    Scanning the  canyon’s west rim, I pick out a distant silhouette perched atop a rock near the rim.   It’s too far for me to make out clearly, but  its shape  suggests strongly that it’s a golden eagle keeping watch.   If it is an eagle and not some eagle-mimicking feature of erosion, it will of course be fully aware of my presence below it.   Not to slight rocks, but what stone knows or does not know lies outside of my ken.

I wore one of my husband’s old henley shirts today, medium brown in color, though that’s much faded.   It’s a long-sleeved, warm thing.   Too warm for conditions.   But wait.   Not fair to blame  just the shirt for  the discomfort I’m feeling.   As I sit on the log, I peel the shirt off then remove the garment top I wear beneath it.   It’s an extra layer that in this weather, in this place, puts me at a little extra risk.   I stuff the top in my jeans pocket and squirm back into the shirt.

Maybe I’ll have to  answer to  God for this one day.   Perhaps this is how the conversation will go:

God: Why did you take off your garment top?

Me: Why did you make the sun so hot?

God: To test you!

Me: After all that’s happened between us, why would you feel  the   need to do something like that?

Suddenly I’m overcome by the exquisite quality  of life, despite all the odd challenges  that have caught me by my tail.     I’m overwhelmed by how it feels to  be-in-this-world and by a wonder that seems to  grow in my  organs and  warm  in my marrow.   I’m grateful for my life, that it somehow managed to form forth and  survive this long to see yet another spring, which anymore  opens like a random gift given for no special occasion, a gift that unfolds clarity and mystery together.   I have not lost one grain of the attraction I’ve always felt between myself and this   world.   It’s hard to express, because I am, of course, not something apart from this world, like the pole of one magnet touching the opposite pole of another, but part of it.   And how is it that one feels attraction for what one is a part of?

I don’t know what I’m trying to say.   Perhaps I can’t say it, not in a brief flight of words like this, but maybe in a lifetime of saying it will come out well said.

I start walking again, knowing my path will take me a hundred yards nearer the eagle-figure-on-the-rock.   I expect that if it is  eagle, it will take flight if I cross whatever boundary it has set between us.   As I loop around and reach what I suppose to be the nearest point to the eagle form, I look up at it.   At the touch of my eyes, which  any eagle  can feel  more keenly than I can,  the silhouette  sprouts wings,  takes to the air, and the matter is settled.

I hear swifts calling as they prowl the vining tangle of canyon breezes, and maybe I hear swallows.   Anyway, today the canyon is a different world from the one it was two mornings ago, when the wind pinned me  against stones and few birds came by.   Today the air,  still  a complex of breezes and gusts, is  much moved upon  by turkey  vultures, eagles, swifts,  and yes, finally, the  cliff swallows.  

The eagle flies  cross-canyon to the west rim, and together we make our ways  northward, me covering ground along the canyon bottom and the eagle looping against the cliffs.   Mourning doves’ calls pipe and echo, sounding like stray notes  a  some  rustic flute.

As I begin climbing out of the canyon, I hear the heavy vrrrrr of big wings diving past.   I look around, accidently into the sun, then can barely make out in time an eagle, wings flexed and rounded, split the air as it passes making the sound of a high velocity projectile.   Looking back at the ground, I find myself momentarily blinded.

I stop at one of my lower perches— not the best seat in the house from which to watch the bird flight extravaganza, but it’s comfortable and bejeweled with flowering rock echeveria and some  frilly yellow flower lifting its impressive  bloom from a tall— well, not very tall, but straight plant bearing long, narrow leaves.   This plant’s  blossoms are shaped something like heralds’ trumpets with frilly bells.    

Beside the flowers, I have a friend here, a lizard.   I remember this animal from last year.   It lives in the rocks that form my perch and we’ve become somewhat accustomed to each other.   It will bask nearby, on the top of a rock where it can  watch me without too much concern.   I enjoy this creature’s quiet presence and hope that always, when I stop here, it will come like this, up onto a nearby rock, where we might share this space and look at one another from time to time.   It’s only half-grown, so if, like me, it manages to survive being-in-this-world for a few more years, we may become better acquainted.

A  large black fly keeps landing on the page of my hiking journal, following the pen’s tip as it moves across the paper, tracking the wet ink with quick, jerky fly-steps.   ???

With the swallows’ return, one more stone of loneliness rolls off my heart.  

Now I can bless even the turkey buzzards.


4 thoughts on “Field Notes #3”

  1. Maybe so, Th.

    The religious overtones of this dialogue depend upon my happy imaginings of possible readers’ personalities.

    Glad you liked it. 🙂


  2. Re: hawks and eagles

    One day driving along logging roads in Idaho, I saw a hawk flash down and snatch a yellowish songbird out of the air ten feet above the road. Not even a feather drifted to the ground.

    That one burned into my mind’s retinas.

    Re: overclothes

    I think a demure smile and a counter “You peeked?” ought to move the conversation onto a different topic.

    Re: vulturic blessings

    We who are about to die salute you. 😉


  3. One day driving along logging roads in Idaho, I saw a hawk flash down and snatch a yellowish songbird out of the air ten feet above the road. Not even a feather drifted to the ground.

    That one burned into my mind’s retinas.

    I’ve witnessed kestrals and prairie falcons snag sparrows, juncoes, and finches. In a couple of cases, I think the hawks involved made use of the distraction my presence caused the smaller birds, and while those focused on me, fleeing in directions that made them vulnerable to the hawks, the hawks blindsided them.

    These moments presented lessons on how my presence “out there” can affect the well-being of other creatures. Something seemingly as harmless as walking out my front door and crossing the forty feet to my car, and bam! Some poor junco, a member of his or her little wintering-over community, falls prey to the winged lion.

    I think a demure smile and a counter €œYou peeked? € ought to move the conversation onto a different topic.

    I’ll remember that. Could come in handy on judgment day.

    We who are about to die salute you.

    Dark humor from a green frog!


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