Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Goose Bumps

As I sit here with the cats, warm in the glow of the gas logs, 
I hear the wind howling unabated from the far, far north, bearing tidings of unimaginable cold, 
and I get goose bumps. 

That's right. 

The mere thought of that cold, cold wind against my tender skin causes my flesh to go all goose pimply. 

Apparently the same mechanism which makes Matilda's hair stand on end when she spots a 'possum on the porch causes my hair follicles to freak at the sound of the arctic blast.

Which makes me wonder, do birds get goose bumps?


Does the soaring turkey vulture not get just a wee bit chilly way up there on the wind?

Does its skin not get just a little bit goosey like mine?

Here's hoping it's sprouted a few extra feathers since summer, 
and that all good creatures, 
feathered or furry or bald or both, 
find safe haven somewhere from the brisk midwinter wind.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Singin' in the Rain

One of our resident Carolina wrens,Thryothorus ludovicianus, singing its heart out in spite of (or because of...) the chilly drizzle. 
These little critters hang out around the house all year long, even exploring the garage and occasionally darting inside the house when a door is slow to close.

On any given morning, we're likely to hear the wrens' insistent "teakettle-teakettle!!!" as we sip our morning cup of joe. 
If this weather keeps up, it might be another day or two before those Christmas lights come in;
I don't think the birds will mind...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

December Blues

The December slate has been largely empty here at Hoot Owl Karma,
lens and pen neglected, as the hustle and bustle of the Holidays, year-end activities at work, and the worst colds we've had in years conspired to sap the season of some of its joy.

Fortunately for us, family and friends rode to the rescue. 
Sharing stories and laughter and lots of love, tolerating the coughing and sneezing and sighing, and serving up piping hot bowls of chicken and rice soup at just the right time, together we've negated the nasties and made more memories and lived to tell the tale.

So, in spite of a lingering sniffle and cough, we're back in the saddle with a salute to the blues of  December.

Great blue heron, hunter true,
stalks the shallows of deepest blue, 
stained by the heaven's ephemeral hue.

Morning wings mount to the sky, 
leaving behind a magical shimmer;
green-clad pines, bright blue skies, 
and crystal clear water becomes a mirror.

Turn from the pond, 
where Deep River's surging banks give rise to barkless giants;
silky skinned sycamores thrust ivory limbs from lowly earth high into the blue,
a crescendo of color to quell the raging of the stream,

clearing space for birdsong, 
as mockingird mounts to the mic 
of the budding sweet gum branch,
belting out the blues of December.

And if you pay close attention
to the melancholy refrain, 

you're sure to catch a hint,
the slightest tremor,

like a brief glimpse of crimson among the briars and the vines,

you're sure to hear the echo,

of the sweet, sweet breath of spring.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In the Company of Birds...

Last weekend, Hoot Owl Karma headed to Blowing Rock for our annual "tree trip," 
and we lost ourselves among the peaks and valleys of western North Carolina.

Seven days later and some three hundred fifty miles to the east, 
we found ourselves gazing at a gathering of grebes on the waters of Bogue Sound.

At the shutter's first snap, these salty synchronized swimmers dive deep, 
leaving us to reflect on a vast and empty expanse of ripples.  

A bit farther east, brown pelican splashes down to break fast in the midst of school of tasty minnows, 

while great egret serenely stalks shrimp in the still waters nearby.

As we approach the dunes, berries abound; 
smilax smothers a thicket of yaupon and myrtle, 
offering its bounty to all;
subject to the approval, of course, of the highly territorial and vocally dexterous mimic,
northern mockingbird.

Seaside sentinel, strangely silent, eyes us, then the berry, suspicious of our intent. 

We slip mutely past and mount the dunes, silent but for the squeak of bare feet on cool dry sand,
 leaving the feathered forager alone with its fruit.

Before us the Atlantic, 
waters crystal clear and cold as the mountain streams from whence they've flown.

And another forager, in the foam, 
sanderling perhaps, or sandpiper, 
one of the ubiquitous avian denizens of the desert beach, 
finding life and sustenance beneath the barren sand, 
probing with perfect precision along the fluid, ever-moving margin of beach and tide.

Winter plumage is already in vogue, 
though November's not quite gone,
as ruddy turnstone tucks one leg up against the chill.

Conserving energy, or simply doing what comes naturally, 
our avian acrobat seems completely at ease with all its weight upon a single leg, 

even in the face of breeze brisk enough to ruffle a few feathers.

Just beyond the jetty, 
gentle breakers dissolve into foam as a lonely wader strides deliberately down the shore.

Even on winter's eve, 
sand fleas burrow just below the mingled and shifting surface of saturated sand, 
filtering the waves for food,

converting tiny organisms to larger links in a living chain, 

extending for the moment directly into the gullet of a drably clad winter wader called willet.

Farther up the beach, just beyond the reach of the chilly waters, 
but directly in the path of the brisk breeze,
our intrepid turnstones seem determined to find a place in their down
for every possible un-feathered appendage. 

Or, alternatively, improving circulation through constant motion, 
dancing a dervish with their shadowy twins ; 
whirling ever closer to the beach's other chilly wanderers,

and offering an up-close glimpse of their incredibly rich and vivid and
decidedly un-drab winter plumage.

Finally, it's back across the dunes for shelter from the relentless wind, only to encounter a most handsome raptor perched in the weathered branches of a long-dead juniper. 

Sparrow hawk.

American kestrel, North America's smallest falcon;

and at this moment, in this light, 
it is without a doubt North America's most handsome falcon.

Our all-too-brief trip to the beach is at an end, 
but we count ourselves blessed to have spent it as we did -

in the company of each other...

and the birds.

So long, sparrow hawk; 

happy hunting.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Perfect Tree - Polychrome Version

Bald eagle wheeled high overhead against the bright blue sky for a moment or two before soaring away at breathtaking speed. 
A good omen, we figured, as we headed west in its wake, embarking on this year's version of our annual quest for the perfect Christmas tree.

Fast forward twenty-four hours...

cold, fog and a heavy drizzle, 
and we are the only non-natives stirring along the crest of the Blue Ridge.

Young folk grazing eye the strangers' passing with mild curiosity before fading soundlessly into the mist like spirits of ancient Appalachia.

A little farther up, we dismount at a likely looking spot and pause for a portrait before inching our way forward along the ledge.

The rain intensifies as we enter a rhododendron thicket near the falls, 

and the galax at our feet glistens in the cold and damp.

The firs and spruce dwelling here by the stream are much too tall and lanky, 
nowhere near the perfect tree, 
so we make our way farther up the mountain still...

A thousand feet higher, 
far beyond the babbling of the brook,

galax is here on the heath as well, mingling on the margins with wintergreen.

Relentless rain puddles on the barren bald; 
freeze tonight and thaw again on the morn, 
converting ancient stone to fresh new soil, 
one grain at a time.

And from this softened stone rises moss and galax and grass, 
then rhododendron and blueberry and pine. 
stunted by the wind and ice and dearth of dirt; 
yet evergreen and shapely, 
the perfect tree?

Perhaps, we think, but who would dare to cut such trees as these?

Ancient, gnarled survivors, bowed but not broken by nature's nastiest blows.

So we linger and admire these perfect trees,

and we pose for a picture or three,

with just a hint of envy,

the adventures they enjoy

and the sights and sounds and sensations they experience

here in their home 
on top of the world.

And then we make our way down,
leaving behind their mountaintop abode,

paths converging near the base of the slope,
a clear consensus building,

a knowing that comes from the head and the heart. 

This year's Christmas tree, just like the last, and the one before that,

was planted and watered and fed and groomed
on a farm in the valley,

where our one perfect tree, among thousands, 
waits patiently in the rain for our arrival.