Tag Archives: birds

Spring’s Ahead

In Palos Verdes, the cliffs overlook the assortment of beaches and coves like a weaving terrace of basalt and shale, layered with skeletons – the
strata of prehistory.

Climbing out of those towering deserts are bushes and trees.  Dry, salt-ridden and barbed, they harbor living creatures above the ocean, for all their inhospitality.

Not long ago I was watching the sea, standing by the cliffs, when I heard a bird singing close by.  It was balanced on a gorse bush; singing with such passion, with such blithe intensity that it didn’t notice how close I really was.  I was near enough to see the muscles of its throat fluttering, to see the small, sharp beak open to release the notes into the air.  I was able to visualize the music, tiny filigrees and arabesques twisting in an invisible fabric:  lilting and lowering, as the bird saw fit, to suit the musicale its joyous blood would dictate.

In the city, where I live, I have been hearing music too.  Pale and plaintive, it rises with the morning, a lavender echo of breaking clouds and a sunrise swathed in watercolor.  A mourning dove – always alone – rests on a telephone wire, its sadness filling the air.  All I see is the dark silhouette, but I know well the prism of its feathers:  mauve, grey and lilac:  the accepted dress colors for Victorian ladies in half-mourning.  Though there is only one, its mate is undoubtedly nearby.  Whether they are collecting materials for their nest, or scouting for new real estate, their impatient DNA urges them on.

Spring is coming.



Lunch Meet At Ballona Creek

My company moved to its new work space almost a year and a half ago.  One of the first things I noticed about our building was that it was mustard colored:  a bright, condiment yellow.  By itself that was prodigious.  But another thing that was notable was that it were located by a creek.  It was girdled by concrete, true, but it was a creek regardless.  A sign close by even confirmed the fact:  Ballona Creek.

I walk by it every working day.  In the autumn and winter the rain makes it thrilling and torrential.  In spring it relaxes into a mild, green current.  In summer, well, sediment is pretty too.

One day, months and months ago, I was walking to work and approaching the bridge that spans over the creek.  I look into the creek always, an innocent tryst born of curiosity and hope.  But this time I noticed that someone else was doing the same thing.  And something must have grabbed his attention, because he had paused:  he was watching something.

Now, I don’t know why I spoke to him:  perhaps it was, as I recall, a Friday – and on that special day I was more likely to approach a fellow-creature in a rare fit of celebration and friendliness. Anyway, I asked what was of such gripping interest, and he pointed towards the creek.   There were four female mallard ducks waddling in the shallows towards – as far as I could make out – the San Diego Freeway.

We happily watched their progress for some time before I had to continue my walk to work.   I spent the rest of the day in happy speculation:  what were they doing there?  How did they get there?  What were their plans for the day?  Were they on a lady-ducks’ day out?  Perhaps on their way to meeting some friends for lunch on the banks of Ballona Creek – or further on, where it empties into the Santa Monica Bay?

Whatever their plans were, it must have pleased them, because even now I swear that I heard them softly, contentedly, quacking to each other.



The bushes were chattering:  their branches twisting with hidden life.  Their jumping leaves were bright with gossip and the blossoms were shattered by the strident conversaziones.  The petals rested like detached words on the sidewalk.

The impenetrable languages spiraled and sparred, coiling around the branches like a violent filigree of noise.  The bowers of a fledgling Spring shook with an angry din.

But suddenly the tumult was silenced, and the confusion unwound into a shock of quiet.  There quickly followed a soft explosion of feathers – an outpouring of flight in a paroxysm of calm.

They fell onto the grass like a brown, flying carpet.  They put aside their disagreements and fluttering discords.  And they ate in peace.



It was a bellicose day.  The air was curling like fists, punching the muscular sky – shredding it with its four-cornered ferocity.  From the North, South, East and West the winds leapt like animals, rippling with strength and unbridled life.

Collapsed latitudes were tossed inside the atmospheric oceans, aimless harmonies lost and silent within the windy day.  Their coordinates became as feeble as toys, broken numbers that punctuated the whirling spheres.

Irresponsible gusts of wind, shocking and reckless, traveled in pure, cold breaths.  Breezes, like twisting fingers, tore apart and realigned the outraged day.  The currents in the air climbed and roared, tossing the clouds like ships.

Stars, asleep behind the waiting twilight, spun throughout the writhing sky.  Torn from their moorings, they rode the buffeting shoulders of the heavy gusts, the coiled breezes that galloped across the restless firmament.  Their unhinged light fell to earth and was absorbed greedily:  it bubbled just below the surface like a hidden, radiant lake.

That night would be an especially dark one.  The moon – luminous and lonely – would be looking impatiently for her minions and wondering at the empty constellations that surrounded her.

Birds, resting in battalions, waited out the battle fought above them.  Curved and soft against the rocks, they slept in stoic defeat.  Occasionally another refugee would join them, to either be accepted, or scolded for its trouble.

There Is No Room At The Inn

No Room At The Inn

Flying with panic and grace, they cupped their wings to embrace the agitated weather – holding it close to silence it, as a mother would hold her squalling child.

Lost Flock

Lost Flock

Dinosaurs In The Sun

It so happened, the other day, that I found myself surrounded by dinosaurs.

I was at the beach, seated on a tree trunk torn from its submerged forest:  bleached in the morning heat.  I was watching the surfers, bobbing in the ocean like black corks.  But I soon was aware of scattered splashes – scintillating pops of water that excited the eye into finding their energetic source.

I found it quickly enough – pelicans: large and unbalanced oddities on land, mathematically graceful and superior when aloft.  Yet, always possessing their terrifying, ancient profile.   Their wings gently cupped the blue air as they circled around the rich and feeding sea.  Then suddenly they disrupted their leisure and spun into a head-first dive, descending from the sky like feathered javelins.  As the wind glittered through feathers stretched like fingers, wingspans of six feet bent at the wrist and elbow to create a hunter pulled irresistibly to the terrified, silver flocks beneath the water.

Free fall

 And when the sun illuminated the angled wings, the heat seemed to dissolve all flesh, revealing the memory of skeletons that once hunted beneath antediluvian skies.  Miopelecanus, Protopelicans…dinosaurs that lifted themselves into the sky, blotting out a sun that was weary with creation, balanced over a cold horizon.  Then, 30 million years ago, they fell – betrayed by evolution, witnessing through dying eyes the advent of future generations.

A Pelican Always Could

Millions of years earlier, reptilian scales reaped a soft harvest, growing into feathers.  Bones and claws were smoothed and reformed within the privacy of smothering forests and canopies of trees so vast that the twilight seemed endless.   No longer able to cope with the prepubescent world, the dinosaurs died – in the shadows of the freshly born skyward populations.


It’s sad to think of…however, tiny dinosaurs, carrying their ancient DNA like old photographs – survive and persist.      

That same day, when I was able to turn from the ambushes launching into the water, I became aware of something behind me:  microscopic avalanches of sand, pebbles startled into motion.  I saw a shadow the size of my palm, alternately balancing and skipping across what must have seemed to it a country of hurdles and crevices.  No view seemed to satisfy it; as soon as it stopped it set off on a different tangent, muscles and flesh contorting to create speed that blinked and confused.


Reptiles succeeded amphibians 300 million years ago, when the swamps suffocated in the gasping, thirsty air.  They thrived in the sudden deserts that burst like fire throughout the ancient puzzle of continents.  They undulated across the changing world, a population of dragons that sought the heat to bring their cold, turgid blood to a living boil.  They bristled with a landscape of scales; a painted anthology of their past lives.

But as millennia passed, only their twisted skeletons remained, delicate intaglios pressed into ancient stones and forgotten mountains.  Yet some escaped evolution’s deadly judgement.  Including my friend at the beach, enjoying the warmth and letting the sun penetrate its fierce skin – as his ancestors had done.  

I thought about those things that day.  I thought about the chain of circumstance that brought me to the beach, under the same blistering star whose flames engulfed the bones of distant beasts and the arc of event and accident that brought new ones to my sight.

Flight of Fancy

They stand upon their pelagic kingdoms, looking past watery acres and the silvery minions flashing their livery beneath the waves.  Noble and chaste, they balance on the currents with a white, feathery poise.  

In A Land Faraway

Boyfriend, A Board and A Bird

Wrapped in the blue air, the maritime fragrances of kelp and salt, their bodies are antediluvian and unchanged.  Their ancient plans are betrayed only when the prehistoric arms are silhouetted in the revealing sunlight.  They dared evolution, and soared over the writhing natural world below.

And when they fly over the ocean, their pale reflection melts into the waters below, like a warm frost, like a memory merging with hidden, oceanic realms.  Necks fold and bend like corsets, but the legs are free, like yellow-tipped rudders.  Their movement is slow and leisurely, a royal wave flying through the air.

A Leisurely Journey

They land on rocks, in a rush of wind and white.  They walk with disjointed grace, each limb engaging in a graceful life that is refined, but separate.  The light is creative with their feathers – in the shadow, it rides the silhouette in a single, radiant outline, then dissolves into a lavender dusk. 

Behind The Foam

 In the sunlight, they become a blast of unspoiled, blank color that blinds in its purity.

Pond Prowling

Their name comes from the French word “aigrette” – a word that also refers to the feathers that bloomed from ladies’ turbans and from their jeweled foreheads during the breathless years before World War I.  The world had discovered color, craved exoticism, and women indulged in rich shadows, paints and stolen decorations.

Fashion Demands

In 1918 a law was passed, preventing the harvesting of feathers…causing the turbans and hats to tremble, like angels when they first felt the birth-pangs in their shoulders.   Wings sprouted from their brims, alive and blood-warm with their ancient DNA.   They then flew away: back into the wild, nautical air, towards heaven, towards their kingdoms in the sea.

The Sky Was Singing

I've spoken at length about my eyesight before.  Suffice and briefly to say, it is not good.  Things that are fortunate enough to be close to me I can see well.  I can see my feet as they carry out the herculean task of carrying me to work.  I see streets.  I see cars.  I can see – or sometimes sense – a dog's eager face looking into mine, asking for a pet, a scratch, a silly word.  I can see a cat's depthless distaste.

Distant things are a different matter.   I'm often forced to rely on my imagination – a fortunate thing, perhaps.  Birds, for instance, are a terrible problem.  Finches become tiny twittering shadows that make the branches shiver, as if they were trying to brush away their melodious tormentors. 

I know where sparrows keep their nests – I'll often stop by, just to see how the domestic arrangements are progressing.  I never see the parents until they buzz by me like a feathered Luftwaffe.

Ms. Dove has set up house in Boyfriend's garage again; I always check on her, but can't see her until I've come up close.  And then suddenly I'm almost level with her black, terrified eyes.  When my dubious face becomes too much to take, she'll fly away, the wind whistling through her lavender wings like a mother's protestations.

Mockingbirds, I'll admit, are impossible to ignore.

When I'm outside – especially during the blue, sharp mornings – I'm surrounded by birdsong.  Happily I never see the sources.  Therefore, it is the houses that sing – music and voices charm from the rooftops.  Trees rattle with dimunitive discussions.  The letters on street signs are suddenly living and articulate.

And when the birds scatter across the sky, scoring the blue paper with invisible notes and trebles, their bodies seem to disappear into the cavernous atmosphere.  I look up and see nothing but song, as if the sky was so comforted by the tender sun, it could not help but sing for joy.

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I Listen For My Voice

I have become reconciled to Spring.  Even though it puts the soft chills of Autumn and Winter to flight, I do not resent that pastel-colored season.  If Summer is a lazy voluptuous woman, immobile in her thick and fragrant bower, then Spring is blithe and slim: as changeable as sunlight under water, breaking into watery prisms, impossible to count.

Spring is busy.  Nature's offspring are born during that verdant time, when the earth becomes lush again and the air is blue and spinning.

During these months, birds become loud, reckless and bold.  Where I live, real estate is at a minimum, and the days are strident with their arguments.  Gables, street signs, garages, rooftops – all are populated with perfect creatures that maneuver through the air with a mathematical ascendancy.

Their songs pierce the sunlight until the golden fabric becomes a pattern of their febrile joy. 

When I walk to work, I always pass by a row of decorative shrubs: prickly, tropical and dense.  Once, I heard in their sultry depths the plaintive pwee-pwee of a newborn bird – too childish to realize the danger of its voice.  I stopped, hoping I could discern where the nest was.  It was then that I saw a peculiar machine perched on top of the shrubbery.  It was a mockingbird, rising its wings up and down like an automaton, a heraldic toy.

It was trying to make itself as intimidating as possible.  But despite this whimsical masquerade, I moved closer.  It was the sight of its needle-like beak, ready to embroider the skin of any intruder, that finally gave me pause.  I spoke a few calming words, all the while waiting for the gasp of wings: the impatient breath in my ear should I not be retreating quickly enough.

I have often thought about the words I spoke to that angry parent.  Mockingbirds are famous mimics, and I imagined this bird measuring my voice, analyzing its tonal equations.  And I hope to hear it again one day, coming back from its green, concealed places or floating down to me from the sky.

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The Fearsome Hats

Decades ago, carcasses rode high.  Perched, poised and stuffed, they were trapped beneath silk netting and created a coy diorama above the ladies' hats, the large hats, the fearsome hats.

Birds, glass-eyed and full of straw, were arranged by diabolical milliners into a frozen mockery of flight – no longer enticed by the breezes that curled and tickled. 

Feathers were pinned to the monstrous brims that hid the ladies from a sky grown increasingly empty and silent.  Torn from back and wings, plucked from breasts and tails, they were anchored by jewels:  copper-veined turquoise, milky jade, rubies that fumed like dragons' eyes.  The feathers were no longer warm with nature's delicate tints; they were dyed in shameless, brazen colors, wrapped around a prostitute's beckoning finger.

But time has passed, and since then birds have flown before the reach of fashion's degradation.  They look back from the safety of a less profligate world to one of dissolute plundering, when bodies fell from the sky in a black rain.

The ones I saw wouldn't be so bold if their chaste plumage was still sought in the cause of dishonored decoration:

They probably have no recollection of their ancestors, pinned like halted butterflies; inert ships sailing above the heads of their mistresses.  Their DNA is crowded with migratory itineraries, flight maps, astronomical charts, longitudes and latitudes traced across an unknowable planet – no doubt there is little room for any remorse for those whose travels were arrested so long ago.

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A Nest Flies Away

When I was walking home, I saw a curious thing rolling towards me.  It was small and light; it was blown across the sidewalk like a bite of tumbleweed.  Or it could have been spools of dust drummed up from earth by a confused wind – bursting into confused shapes as it bounced off the sidewalk.

I walked towards it – it was momentarily still, shaking and weary in the indeterminate breeze.  I looked closely.  It was a bird's nest.  Made of countless threads of dried grass and stripped twigs, it was a woven home, a knit of natural things, gently made through the diligence of two sparrows.  Little bursts of life, with songs of boldness and pride, they built their nests every Spring, following the commands of the DNA coursing through their veins.

And now the results of one couple's homemaking lay at my feet.  The nest was the color of dried flax, and it was the size of a cupped hand.  The middle was hollowed out and lined with pale, winsome feathers.  Down, plume, semiplume:  the parents had dug deep into their breasts to tear out a cushion of warmth that would complete a bed destined to protect a chorus of helpless lives.

Once part of a sparrow commune hidden in the shadowy, airless eaves of the welcoming houses, an errant wind had lifted it from its moorings like Dorothy's prairie home, and taken it for a ride of confusion on the airy columns, streams and currents.  Only instead of stopping to crush a witch, it stopped in front of me.

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