© Another Day in the Country
How often did you sit still and just watch the swallows this summer? I hope you are lucky enough to have them around where you live. In the morning, when I’m drinking my cup of something hot and chewing on something toasty, I sit and watch the feathered panorama in front of my porch.
This morning it was like a bird carnival. They love the cypress tree with all its lush foliage and my view looked like an Audubon catalog. The flicker was there and the goldfinches. The blue jay, whom I’m usually mad at because he scatters bird seed all over the backyard instead of eating at it politely like the cardinals do, was in particularly fine form with his iridescent blue feathers catching the morning sunlight and sparkling like blue diamonds.
The birds seem drawn to that cypress tree, as if they were on parade just for me. The robin sat on a particularly precarious limb that bent and bobbed beneath his weight. The orioles danced through the fernlike leaves. Swooping down from above the roof of the house came the swallows in some kind of family formation, actually flying so close over my head under the eaves of the porch that I had to brace myself so that I didn’t duck at their startling display.
The red-headed woodpeckers that are called by some other official name — downy woodpeckers I think they are — cavorted in the ash tree branches across the yard, so excited that I thought they must be some other species.
Long gone now, the swallows were getting ready to leave us on their journey south. I’m sad to see them go; just as I’m sad to see summer wane. This summer while I was in California, the swallows tried to set up housekeeping on several of our porches. They’d already taken over Jake’s front porch and made a mess of things, perching on the porch light, dirtying up the walls, hatching two clutches of eggs. Then more swallows were scouting for nest sites. When they tried declaring squatters rights, Jess declared war. “Try the eaves,” she lectured them, “how about the roof peak? Just stay off the porch.” As fast as they built, she squirted them down with the hose, chased them with the broom, and lectured them.
A brown thrasher just came in for a landing in the hackberry tree — you can tell what they are by the size of their body and the shape of their tail when they fly. Of course, then there’s the color, too. I can hear the doves calling plaintively — it’s our favorite Kansas sound. I tell them they should practice stealth instead of being so out in the open because hunting season is here. They pay me no mind.
It’s a miraculous world we live in, isn’t it, with all this diversity?
Last evening a long, wide-winged, spindly-legged, heron flew lazily over my house and cruised Main Street. We don’t usually see his kind in town. “You’d better go check on your fish in the backyard,” my sister said.
I have a particularly large and tasty looking koi in my pond. He was still there, lolling under the lilies. As far as I know, we haven’t had too many predators at the fish pond. We did have a snake whom I accused of nibbling on baby fish. With 50-some 6-8-inch look-alikes its really hard to keep any kind of inventory. I tried drawing pictures of the major residents, writing descriptions like “scarlet red with very long flowing double white tail.” Or “white with blue splotches,” but it doesn’t help much. We are all at the mercy of Nature.
These fish are like sitting ducks, so to speak, because they come rushing to be fed. Years ago, Tooltime Tim swore he was training them to come when he whistled, but, really, they come at the sound of the screen door slamming, the vibration of someone walking or just to the sound of your voice. “Feed us, feed us,” they say with their little mouths making slurping sounds — they’ll actually eat from your hand and Big Blue, the pond granddaddy and over a foot long would make a tasty mouthful for a watchful heron or a hungry raccoon.
There’s one vulture still here circling high over the creek. There was quite a huge family here all summer but they’ve taken off, it seems. I used to take their presence as an ominous sign when they first came to town since they are attracted to death and dying. Having a tree full of roosting vultures did not bode well for Ramona. For whatever reason, they seemed happy here, down by the creek, roosting in an almost dead tree that stands apart on the far bank. It was quite a sight, eight or 10 big black birds circling the town on five-foot wing spans. Too soon, the last of them will migrate, the snow geese will pack their bags and head south and you and I will still be here spending another day, another winter, in the country.