For the Birds

RK just told me that studies show that certain birds sounds (magpies, jays, crows) are not calming to humans. I wonder if that is that because we have pre-judged those sounds. I love the sound of jays — raspy, bossy, and confident. Often they are the only bird sounds that can amplify over the noise of the city. Jays can put a cat in its place. Birds are unfairly separated into good and bad.

Tangled tree with a Zion view. 

Why do some people call a magpie a garbage bird? It is smart enough to recognize itself in a mirror! What makes a raven a “dirty scavenger?” Have you noticed the deep glossy black of a raven’s feathers? If it wasn’t for scavengers, can you imagine the litter of dead, rotting things? And of course, eagles are scavengers but we all agree that they are regal and photo-worthy. Pigeons, when they are called doves, are a symbol of love and peace, but as pigeons, they are disdained. But why? They can find their way home from hundreds of miles away. They survive in the dirty city with the odds stacked against them. They are stoked to clean up your donut and cheeseburger remnants that didn’t make it to the trash can. When I was in New York, many years ago, I was grateful to see pigeons — wild animals! in the city. They are all birds, living their bird lives.

In the desert, in mid-November, when the nights dip below freezing, there aren’t many birds around. Last weekend I sat on a camp chair on a large stretch of slick rock and watched the scrub jays fly around the junipers, busy and talkative. There were flashes of blue wings, screeches and what looked like the business of getting things done.

Ravens flew overhead, catching the breeze and hovering. Occasionally one flew between me and the sun and cast its shadow over our camp.

These are the hearty ones, they don’t head south when the nights gets chilly. Maybe they know there are still good times to be found on this mesa.

The coyotes are still here, we heard them very close to another camp. They have been eating prickly pear fruit and leaving their scat on rocks, where it dries out into piles of red seeds. This is some of the only vivid color this time of year, in a dry season, when even the blue sky feels muted. Even the claret cups are gray.

A tiny cactus growing out of the lichen.

We rode a new trail, one that we thought would be easy on shoulders and dog paws. It proved to have exceptional views of Zion and was thoroughly enjoyable, even without being as technically challenging as we usually prefer.

Last weekend, we soaked up the sun, the dryness cracked the skin around my fingernails, I strolled through the desert to practice seeing and not looking. My bike went from vivid red to desert red with dust. We slid out in sandy corners and admired twisted junipers. We hunkered into the tent at 7 PM to read and hoped the dogs would be tired enough to sleep until sunrise, or at least close to it.

This is the micro season of warm sun and winter shadows. Cold nights and short but deliciously sunny days, just warm enough for short sleeves if the wind doesn’t blow.

Coffee on Gooseberry Mesa
That coffee is delicious and the sun is about to get warm…

There were a few other groups camping on the mesa, but like the birds, most seem to be riding during the day and then seeking more comfortable lodging somewhere below. This place is so comforting, so familiar to us. To wake up with that view, with those trails, and a warm cup of coffee is like slipping into a warm soaking tub, even if I am layering a sweater, flannel and puffy jacket until the sun gets going.

And there are the jays, getting down to business and not bothering about us at all.

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