Saturday, January 22, 2011


The juncos have been feasting at the feeders this winter, dozens at a time, stopping first in shrubs to make sure the coast is clear, then leapfrogging like checkers toward the open yard. Sometimes the entire flock will jolt into the air and run for cover, and for five minutes the space is empty and silent. Eventually, one junco will venture out, land on the ground, peck at the seed-covered snow. Then another. Then thirty—until they get spooked again.

I’m sitting on the couch, flipping between a television show on U.S. air tactics in the first Gulf War, and an episode of Airwolf. Out of the corner of my eye I see a swoop of a large bird, a streak of white and olive. A flicker?

I race to the sliding door and can’t see anything. Nothing at the feeder or birdbath, nothing at the suet. I scan the tops of trees. Nothing. I look between the skeletons of perennials and don’t see anything move, not until a stroke of dark brown tail feathers pulse from behind the base of the arborvitae. A small hawk quickly lifts from the ground, junco in its clutches, and vanishes into the tree line.

I slip on my shoes to inspect the battlefield, astonished that this happened right here, in my tranquil haven—that nature, in all its forms, has come here to roost so fully. I find only a few scattered grey feathers, some in the folds of dark green thuja, some in the snow, but not a trace of blood. It was a clean kill, something with skill and even honor. Such terror in a moment, it seems wrong to be here, out in the cold, painting a picture of awe and rapture.

[This happened today, and is about as true as I get, down to the detail. The mini garden memoir has over 40 pieces, is on the cusp of 100 pages, and almost 25,000 words. I will finish by February. I have a rough outline, and most pieces in preliminary order. Just a few more to write, fill in some holes (plant profiles, a little actual horticulture).]


Les said...

We had to watch the slow death of a racoon in the garden yesterday, but it was not from the talons of a raptor. I think it was dying when it came in, either way it was not pretty, especially with my dogs tormenting it before I knew what was going on. Of the two scenarios, I'd rather be the Junco.

Indoor Fountains said...

It is remarkable to see the food chain in actual working motion!! LOL

Benjamin Vogt said...

Les--I'd rather have the junco too. Your dogs don't eat wildlife, do they? Then bring in the aftermath?
IF--It sure is! And today, shoveling snow, 50 geese flew right over me. Awesome.