Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What is a Sunset?

The windows and world outside, at 8:35 p.m., were just drenched in pink. Some evenings it's peach. Sometimes it's lemon yellow and rose. Why does the sun go down so beautifully? I never get tired of looking. I never get tired of thinking to myself, "This is the only time in the history of the universe that the sky will be this exactly this way." And loving it as long as it lasts.

And no one sees it in the same way, either. Therefore I think that the sunset might be a personal gift to each of us. Maybe God knows that each of us, in our own way, has had a hard day. He knows life is hard. He knows all about it. Maybe the sunset is his flag ("I'm over here! I'm here!") or his beckoning ("Over here! Look over here!"). Or it's his painting, and he's hung it for us, and wants us to enjoy it, because he's the artist.

Of course there's some kind of explanation involving dust, molecules, isobars, and so on, but nobody has ever explained to me why each one is different. I've decided to stop asking and just look.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Watch Where You Step at Night!

I went out in the dark to look at stars and planets. They were
wonderful; they
were wealth. Then, in the driveway,
something wet and coldish flapped over my
foot and ankle.
I thought it might be an oak branch that had fallen and somehow

got wet.

I moved away and turned my flashlight on it. It was a snake,
silvery, a foot long,
indignant and thrashing about. Probably
a young blacksnake; their young shine
like minnows. If it was
hurt it was not seriously, because after
it was done thrashing
it did the sidewinder thing across the asphalt and into

the tall grass. I cried, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!" and
hope it understood and forgave me.

It did not bite. I am truly very sorry. I didn't expect a snake
in middle of
driveway in the dark. But from now on, I will.
They say you learn something every day.
That's especially
true in the country.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fathers of Baby Cardinals

The cardinal pairs have just had their second nestful of babies. You know they're being made when the male cardinal whistles. You know they're born when he's back and forth carrying sunflower seeds in his beak to his wife, who stays subtly on a tree branch in the shade. He cracks the seed casing for her and feeds her just the kernel. It's so romantic!

And now the juvenile cardinals. They look like females except with brown bills (females' are orange) and instead of crests have just just a feather or two, a proto-crest, like stubs on the head of a young buck. The reddest thing about them is their tail feathers. In fact I used binoculars to check that they weren't summer tanagers. But they are juveniles all right. Their father picked sunflower seeds out of the feeder and flew down to them, cracked the seed in his bill, and fed them the kernel, right into their beaks, just like he fed their mother.

What good spouses birds are! What good and trustworthy parents! I've seen a bluebird leading a bunch of his fledges to the birdbath where they leaped in and splashed joyously, like a troop of Cub Scouts at a swimming hole. There's no question in my mind that they did it purely for the fun.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tails Used as Umbrellas

Squirrels. You either love them or hate them. I hate them because they eat suet and seed that I set out for my birds. But it's like Abraham Lincoln said: "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better." So I tried to see something good in sneaky, thieving, relentless, plant-ripping rodents that run in packs.

-Their fur looks very soft.

-They are smart in a self-protective way, and hard to shoot. They learn fast what a gun is.

-Someone tells me that their meat is tough but it tastes good.

-When it rains they put their tails up over their heads like umbrellas, which I think is a very creative use of a long furry tail.

-They can be interesting in a sort of genetic way. In upstate New York the squirrels are black. In northern Arkansas the squirrels are white or white mixed with gray. In Missouri the squirrels are, of course, gray. Sometimes with brown tipping.

Excuse me, but I have to go get my rifle now. I just like to look at it, you see.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


5:30 a.m. is early to get up on a holiday, but I like to make the most of a day off. Fed and watered birds, watered the plants. I noticed that there was none of that nice cool icy early-morning edge in the air, courtesy of the rocks and cliffs and the trees now at their leafiest. The wind was coming from the east, from the city, and I felt the sting of ozone in my nose. That's how I knew it was going to be a humid day.

This area is famous for summer humidity, although it usually lasts six weeks at the most, July through part of August. It is now 9:00 a.m. It's damp and humid even in the shade.

To beat the humidity: No one can beat it. You sweat and soak your clothes, but that is okay; you are not alone. Men in the city may wear khakis to the office; women wear bare legs, capris, sleeveless tops, and sandals. It is okay. People become ingenious. A clever friend installed a ceiling fan on her porch so she can enjoy summer breezes on the porch when there aren't any natural ones. People serve iced tea or iced coffee or lemonade, and sit still if they can. Outdoor workers change their schedules; 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. becomes 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. When someone visits, we immediately sit them down and give them a cold drink and sometimes, if we can, even give them a dry t-shirt to replace the one they've soaked.

When it's humid outside, you are never alone. Humidity brings us together. Everyone talks about it. Strangers will talk to you about it while they mop their brows. And you listen. When it's humid, everyone seems to care a little more. And they also like:

The Secret Lemonade Recipe (makes one quart)
-half a cup of white sugar
-half a cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Stir these two things up a little. Add
-cold water to equal one quart, stir until absolutely clear.

Serve and relax!