A few weeks ago I almost stepped on a small snake as it slithered across the path in my front yard. I jumped back, startled, and the snake continued on its way along the side of our house. My heart beat rapidly as our dog Beau and I ran inside to share the news and look up the type of snake online. I discovered that we had just seen a king snake, a good one to have around because it’s a predator of rattlesnakes and rodents.
This wasn’t the first time I encountered a snake near the house. Years ago, on a hot July Fourth weekend, a gopher snake sought shade between a planter and the wall near our front door. My husband and our dog Shannon had not noticed it when they went out. I was about to leave with Shannon’s brother, Duffy, when I saw the snake stretched across the doorsill. “Step over it,” my husband said. (more…)
I peered into our once-thriving orchard that bore fewer avocado trues since the drought began. There I spotted a black object lying in the dirt. At first I thought a plastic trash bag had been tossed over the fence. As I moved closer, I realized that this was not a trash bag but an animal’s carcass. Could it be a neighbor’s cat? It looked too large.
I opened the orchard gate, descending the railroad-tie steps down the steep slope unsure of what I’d find. When I reached the bottom, I waded through the piles of dead leaves and discovered a second black object—the body of a crow. I climbed the hill to where the first carcass lay and realized it was another crow. I could not tell what killed them until I saw punctures on one’s neck and its empty eye sockets.
Poor Heckle and Jeckle, I thought. Yes, they were annoying, but they certainly did not deserve to be killed and left. The sight of them lying there dead upset me. I walked back to the house and told Don what I found.
“Hawks are bird of prey,” he noted. “Sometimes they hunt to eat and other times they just kill.”
Shortly afterwards, our gardening team arrived for weekly maintenance. When you live on an acre of land, you need help. I told them about my discovery, and the gardener’s son stepped forward and said, “I’ll help you bury them. Let me get my shovel.”
Until that morning, I’d never been particularly impressed with this young man. He did not seem to enjoy his work, and I suspected he had been forced into his profession by his parents, who worked alongside him. Together, we went down to the orchard. “Yup, it was definitely a hawk,” he said. “Look at the marks on their necks.” Then he dug two deep holes in the corner of the orchard, and we chatted about his weekend and various things while he labored away. Finally, he carefully lifted each bird into its respective grave. As he covered the graves with dirt, he said, “God be with you,” while I silently said a prayer. That morning I gained new respect for this young man.
Yet I still felt the crows’ deaths were a bad omen, and the thought gnawed at me all day. Finally, I searched for “symbolism of dead crows” on my computer. To my surprise, two answers came up. Dead crows can be messengers of death or messengers of change. I’d experienced enough death, especially during the month of May, to hope for the latter. I chose messengers of change as the meaning I would embrace.
I spent the entire day writing for the first time in months. It felt great to be doing what I loved most after a long hiatus. Perhaps these deaths, as the deaths of many loved ones, had been my inspiration.
Years ago when Don and I ventured to Africa, our tour guide identified the animals we’d see. Then she stated the monikers that defined a group of each particular animal and gave us a list. For example, we saw a pride of lions, a zeal of zebras, a parade of elephants, a thunder of hippopotami, a leap of leopards, a troop of baboons, a tower of giraffes, a cackle of hyenas, and a pot of water buffaloes. But we never saw a murder of crows.
I found one in my own back yard.
Memorial Day weekend brought two huge crows with their cacophonous cackling to our yard. They’d visited before, but this weekend they remained close to our home, alighting on a nearby utility pole constantly calling to each other. Their noise grew annoying as we worked in the yard, and I wished they would be quiet.
Later that day I discovered them in our bird bath located at the top of our avocado orchard. One sat on the chain link fence looking soaked while the other sat in the bird bath dipping its food into the water.
“Don, look at these crows in the bird bath. I think Heckle and Jeckle (two cartoon crows from our childhoods) have arrived,” I said to my husband.
“It looks that way,” he said. “They seem to have taken over and scared the smaller birds away.”
Living in the hills of Southern California, I viewed the crows as representatives of the diverse wildlife that calls our neighborhood home. We’ve seen a bobcat, a mountain lion, coyotes, roadrunners, skunks, rabbits, lizards, a variety of birds, hawks, rats, mice, and a number of different snakes. When you live on the edge of wilderness, you learn to coexist with its first inhabitants.
Despite this knowledge, I was startled when I spotted a huge red-tailed hawk swooping over our orchard as I opened the window shade a few days later. I had never seen a hawk so close to our home. I stood at the window transfixed by its aerial aerobics and said, “Don, look at this hawk. It’s magnificent.”
My husband ran into the room to see the large raptor repeatedly circle our property. “That’s unusual,” he remarked. “We don’t often see hawks in the morning and rarely this close to the yard. It’s hunting.”
We both thought nature had given us a great show to start our day and never thought about its prey.
The next morning I discovered the hawk’s true mission. When I made my morning outside rounds of the yard, I peered into our once-thriving orchard that bore fewer avocado trees since the drought began. There I spotted a black object lying in the dirt. At first I thought a plastic trash bag had been tossed over the fence. As I moved closer, I realized that this was not a trash bag but an animal’s carcass. Could it be a neighbor’s cat? It looked too large.
I opened the gate, descending the railroad-tie steps down the orchard’s steep slope unsure of what I’d find. (to be continued)
Our wonderful trip to South America for three weeks in February became more of an adventure than we anticipated.
Our first glimpse of the majestic Andes came from 40,000 feet as the sun rose over Peru. What a magnificent spectacle as we soared through the clouds! These imposing mountains became omnipresent throughout our stay in Chile, forming a backdrop for our sightseeing and an imposing physical barrier between Chile and Argentina.
While on a three-week cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires, we explored cities, towns, nature reserves, and national parks that showcased the cultures of Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas for our Argentinian friends), and Uruguay. The scenery was pristine, and meeting the people and learning about the cultures was enlightening.
On our journey we met lovely, interesting people from all over the world: Great Britain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Australia, Canada, and a number of other countries. Many planned to stay on board for nine weeks, as they sailed from and back to Florida. We discovered that seventeen days aboard a ship fulfilled our need to be at sea.
We returned home tired but excited about the places we’d seen and the people we met. Two days after our return, my husband and I became very ill. Five days later we spent the day in our local hospital’s ER receiving IV fluids and being diagnosed with E. coli. We have since recovered from the initial bout, but we tire easily and require more rest than usual.
And that, my friends, is why I have not posted or written my blog since prior to my departure.
This illness made me realize how fragile life is and how we must treasure every moment.
Wishing you all good health and lives filled with small treasures.
The new year is already ten days old, but I still wish people a Happy New Year when I encounter them. Starting the new year with positive wishes seems only right.
Recently I discovered a young Swedish writer named Fredrik Backman, who also possesses the gift of creating compelling characters. In his debut novel, A Man Called Ove, Backman introduces us to a curmudgeon named Ove, whose compulsive personality distances from his neighbors. The neighbors all come with problems and idiosyncrasies that initially offend Ove, but eventually endear them to him. (more…)