Sunday, November 29, 2009

An unexpected bird

I got to the park early Saturday morning and headed down toward the lake, hoping I'd see the big flock of juncos that usually feed in the tall weeds near the water. The juncos continue to boycott my feeders, but at least they let me enjoy them on neutral territory. As I got near the lake I saw something moving in the grass up ahead. It was white with a vivid spot of red. My first thought was Oh my god, that's a chicken, but I immediately contradicted myself. It couldn't possibly be a chicken. What the hell would a chicken be doing miles from the nearest house? It was probably a bag of trash some lazy fisherman left behind.

But no, it was, in fact, a chicken--a white Leghorn rooster, to be precise. He was pecking around in the grass, but he seemed a little uncomfortable and disoriented. He fled when I approached, but didn't go far, just hunkered down about 20 feet away. I doubt he made his way to the lake by himself. Domestic ducks and guinea fowl will wander far from home, but as far as I know, chickens generally don't. If I'd seen him closer to town, I'd assume he had escaped from one of the Mennonite farmers who sell chickens on the roadside, but somebody must have deliberately carried him to such a remote place. Most likely, he was nabbed out of someone's yard and dumped, either as a prank, or maybe by an irate neighbor who was tired of his crowing.

I was certain he'd be a coyote's dinner last night, but this morning he was still there, in almost exactly the same spot. He seemed even more freaked out than yesterday. He was hunched down in the grass and kept absolutely still until I was almost on him, then he ran a good distance. I noticed he'd lost his tail feathers, so maybe he had encountered a predator and escaped.

It's a sad predicament for the bird. He's pretty much doomed. Even if I could catch him, which is doubtful, he'd be no safer at my house than in the park. There are coyotes all around my place, not to mention the free-roaming neighborhood dogs. If he's still there in the morning, I may ask the park staff if they can rescue him, though I don't know how interested they'll be. A stray chicken doesn't rate very high on the sympathy meter.

(The photo is a Leghorn hen--wrong gender, but I like her attitude. You can see some Leghorn cocks at My Pet

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The air was still and cool...

The air was still and cool this morning, the sky gray. The deep green cedars and leafless oaks were perfectly reflected on the glassy surface of the lake. As I came around a curve in the shore, a beaver greeted my appearance with a tail slap that produced a 5-foot plume of water. The sound echoed off the ridge above the opposite shore. I stopped to watch the expanding ripples. The chill subdued the little waves, so they moved outward gently, without breaking the mirror. A couple of does bounded away from the water as I approached, and flashes of white through the trees told me I had also startled some of their companions.

I followed the trail away from the lake, into dense woods. The moss along the path was vivid green, as bright as grass. Otherwise, the world was brown and gray. The only sounds were the burble of the creek a few yards away and the occasional rasp of a wren. A large buck with a spectacular rack of antlers stepped onto the trail ahead of me. He faced me down for a moment, but when I kept coming he thought better of it and departed in a few effortless leaps.

I came to a thick bramble that had shaped itself around the root clump of a long-ago fallen tree. A female downy woodpecker was skittering up and down the trunk of living tree nearby. Pausing to watch her, I became aware of the many little lives inhabiting the darkness of the bramble. Most were just unidentifiable shadows, but a few came out to show themselves: a squirrel, a pair of titmice, a solitary female cardinal. I wondered what might be burrowed in the earth beneath the natural shelter, sleeping the winter away while the birds were busy overhead.

As I backtracked up the trail on my way to the road, the quiet gave way to a persistent rustle that grew louder. Something was coming my way through the deep carpet of leaves. I thought it must be more deer. But no, it was a flock of wild turkeys—a huge flock, several dozen birds, marching in single file through the trees. They kept their column in perfect order, absolutely silent except for the sound their scrawny feet made. The birds passed by without noticing me, focused on a destination only they knew.

Photo of cave art at Lascaux. (Click on the link for a virtual tour of the cave.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sleepy time

Why, you ask, is this sleeping princess adorning a Turn Outward post? Because sleep is on my mind, and I had no desire to go looking for a not-too-cute image of sleeping critters. I love this beauty in all her finery, and the lure of sleep this time of year is as powerful for palace-dwelling humans as it is for the inhabitants of the woods.

It's hibernation time, and I'm missing the creatures of summer. A few weeks ago I saw a pretty box turtle who was hanging out at the base of a tree. It was a rainy day, and he was nestled under a mushroom that was easily three times his size. I immediately felt sad when I saw him, because somehow I knew he would be my last turtle friend of the season. There's always something poignant about the annual disappearance of the reptiles, even though I know they will return when the time is right. Same for my resident woodchuck, who disappeared sometime in October. I mourn the loss of her companionship, and look forward to the happiness I'll feel when she emerges in the spring.

Much as I miss the hibernators, though, I like to think of them curled up in their safe and restorative sleep. I long for sleep myself when the days get short, and sometimes I think the man-made world ought to accommodate that desire a little more. We toy with the clocks, but we don't change our lives much to suit the somnolent season. On the contrary, most of us are busier and work harder in winter. I'm not sure who decided we'd arrange things this way, but personally, I think they were misguided. I protest. I'm going to bed. Good night.

The Sleeping Princess, Frances MacDonald McNair, 1910

Go here to read about bad things that happen to turtles who don't get their beauty rest.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The deer have begun to gather into their wintertime herds. It amazes me to see them collectively decide to do this every fall. One day they’re grazing alone or in small groups of three or four, and then the next day a threshold is crossed. The daylight diminishes to a precise point that cues them to form gangs of a dozen or more. I disturbed three sizable mobs as I walked along the trail this morning. I don’t like to distress them, but it is fun to watch their white tails flashing through the trees as they scatter.

I arrived at the park at the same time I always do—right at sunrise—but since Daylight Saving Time ended last night, the clock said it was an hour earlier. Consequently, the access road to one of the trails I really enjoy hiking was still gated. Park rangers are sticklers for schedules, so I had to choose another route. I envied the deer their subtle, sun-ruled sense of time. The clock is such a crude substitute. It is a shame to live under the tyranny of an abstraction.

I'd write more about time but my body is telling me it's an hour later than the clock claims. I'm weary. Go here if you're in the mood to think a little more about time.

Deer in the Wood, Paulus Potter, 1647.