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A Ten-Point Messenger

Sunday, December 10, 2017


I'm back from 12 days away, 10 of them in Ecuador's Andes. It was the most excellent adventure!!

 And all is well at home; both Liam and Jemima survived without me; both boys pitched in to make sure she got fed every day; and I've done nothing since I got back but study and photograph blue jays. It feels great to be back in the saddle again. My suitcase exploded in the living room, and there it still lies, because there are jays to be watched. All my Ecuador birds are jammed into one 128-gig memory card that is glowering at me from a corner of the drawing table. Let us out!! they cheep.

I have stuff to do. I'll get to you. Here's the rest of my magical Dean's Fork walk, from a post I prepared before I left.

Keep them on the memory card, says the winter wren. I'm the star of this show.

Alone, and yet not alone. The animals were coming to me this fine late November day, and each one lifted my spirits and made me feel accompanied. You could ask who might be sending them. You could pick now from any number of spirits who've passed on, but are walking beside me every day.

I came up to the Miracle Sycamore, a tree I've enjoyed for years. Sadly, the Miracle half of it finally died this summer. I'd marveled each time we met at the fact that the blasted-out shell of bark that was once such a fine, huge tree had managed to send up a living, vital trunk to the heavens. And that trunk subsisted off what that hollow shell could give it, through the remaining bark layers. You'd have thought it was dead, but no. It still grew.

And now that trunk has died. But there's another trunk. It took off from the base of the tree, and it's running off the roots it's made for itself. Yay for that!  It's all part of the same tree, so the Miracle Sycamore isn't dead. It's just taking another direction.

Being a writer, I've seen nothing but metaphors in this valiant tree. I gather them up and tuck them close to my heart for safekeeping. 

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.--Joseph Campbell 

For me, Campbell's mantra is embodied in this tree. That sycamore had a life all planned out. She had a  big strong supporting trunk. She was headed to the sun. For whatever reason--lightning strike, disease, flood--who can say--her great wide trunk failed her, became hollow and weak. You could see right through it.

 It was time for plan B.  Every trunk for itself! She sank down some more roots and sent up another trunk. Years from now you might look at her and never know she'd had another life, for the hollow part will have fallen away.
I feel my heart lift as I look up at her sending out new twigs and branches, lit by the last rays of sun. Let the old part go. Life is what you make of it.

The light was fading fast. I headed home, enjoying the feel of chill descending in the shadows. I decided to take the low road back, because it has thick briary tangles and often gives me deer. 
Sure enough, as I walked, I sensed their presence all around me. I even heard two antlers clack together. I became very still and walked slowly and softly. 

A small buck burst out of the briars to my left and bounded up the trail. I didn't have time to raise the camera. I stopped and waited. I was pretty sure I wasn't the reason he was running. 

There was another buck on his trail. Shall we count the points? Click on the photos and you'll see them all. He's got a double brow tine on his left antler, and three points on the beam of his right, for a total of ten. Wow-eee. How I love shooting bucks this way, leaving them to run and walk and fight and scuffle another day. I get all the thrill of the hunt with no blood other than that which pounds in my ears.

This is the first ten-point buck I've had in my sights in years. Oh glory, hallelujah. I love my does, and I think I've proven that, but what a thrill it is to see their elusive mates!

I don't mean to hurt his dignity, but I loved this pose, and I can't help noticing the white stockings down the front of his legs. Hmmm. Another thing to watch for, another thing to notice.

And then, in the ultimate gift of the wild, he stopped and looked back down the trail and saw me. I checked the time signatures on my photos and we locked gaze for 11 glorious seconds before he put his head down and charged into the brush. Thank you, Buck; thank you, Animals; thank you, Dean's Fork, and thank you, whatever great spirits are sending me these gifts. It was a walk for the record books, one to remember forever.

I came back up the hill and found the rusty gate, portal to all my favorite places and things, waiting open for me. Might as well walk through.

Remembering Hannah--Dean's Fork Walk 2

Sunday, December 3, 2017


I looked back down where I'd been and reveled at the stripe of sunlight still illuminating Hannah's old pasture. That big cut log to the left is where I saw her last, on my birthday in July, 2016. That image is burned into my mind. That was a day the animals came to me, too. Three skunks and Hannah.  They know.

There was nothing like this moment, and it was one of those rare times when the camera captured exactly how it felt to be met, accompanied, as darkness was falling. That was the last time I saw Hannah. I understand she's gone to live with five other horses. So maybe that's good, better for her. But Dean's Fork just isn't the same without the spirit of this perfectly made, cool little Appaloosa. I loved it so much when she'd come walking out to meet me, and accompany me a few hundred yards down the road before turning back to her preferred pasture.

A redtail screamed and circled overhead. They always make me smile, because I'm wondering if DOD sent them. At this point I'd have been perfectly content with all I'd seen and been able to shoot. But I heard footsteps in the leaf litter, and the fattest of all possums came walking down, crossed the road, climbed down into the streambank and up the other side, and kept going.

He was a good-looking boar possum, had most of his tender ears (frost tends to bite them ragged); had his whole tail and all his fur.


He crossed Hannah's pasture and kept walking. I bet he knows where all the persimmon trees are.

And up the next slope he went, a possum with a purpose.


I wasn't dead sure who left these. Maybe a bobcat, maybe a fox. Hybrid poop, with the short squarish segments of a cat, and the long hairy taper of a canid.

In November, you begin to treasure the last colored leaves. You look for the contrast between them and the brown background, and revel in the blue sky while it's here.

I got down to the black barn, and the magic portal that let me inside last time I was there had been tied delicately shut with blue twine. Oh. 
As much as I'd enjoyed snooping around in there, I was glad to think that someone was trying to keep the barn uninvaded. 

I stuck my iPhone's eye up to a crack and got in that way.

 I never tire of the slashes of light that come through open barn siding. I know I'll paint this phenomenon someday, maybe when I have to sit still for awhile. Like, getting over something, or letting something heal.  I feel compelled to move as much as I can while I still can. 

Everything was still in place, including the giant black mound of bat guano that makes me smile every time I see it. That's a LOTTA BATS. Or a few, pooping for a very long time. Either way, it's a beautiful thing, at least to me.

Back out in the sunlight, I found more tracks from the good-sized coy-wolf that had made the exact same walk I was making, just a few hours earlier. He'd have to do for my canine companion. Unseen, like most of my companions these days.

Leaving Jemima (She's fine!)

Monday, November 27, 2017


I wrote "The Thing About Jemima" in a long morning session, and by the time I finished it I was in sore need of a long hike. I think of the woods trails as my quickest route to deliverance. There's little that can be wrong with me that six miles won't fix. It's good to have a place to go that makes you feel better.  Truth be told, it's probably the walking that saves me as much as the place. If something's bothering you, get moving. By the time you get back, your primitive brain will have decided you've outrun the cave bear. You'll live another day. You'll look forward again.

It was a rare, sunny winter afternoon, and I could see right away that the animals were all coming to me. The white-throated sparrows were peeping and fluttering in the multiflora rose. A beautiful male eastern towhee sounded his "Joreeet?" then hopped back down into the thicket. I know the secret  towhee word, though, and I whistled it softly through my teeth. Seeureet? I whistled.

That got him back out! Huh? What?! Who said the password?

The afternoon sun caught his eye, and it shone like a garnet. He postured and gave me his good side, then switched around. And then he leapt to another sumac branch, and I caught him in flight. Except that he barely opened his wings. "Flying is just assisted leaping," he said. "Watch me."

I did. And I remembered, watching him, that all Jemima had to do was leap, and flutter some, too, and she could get through the forest just fine.

Thank you, Beautiful.  

It occurs to me that the title of this post may cause some alarm, so I rush to reassure you that Jemima's been in the past three days! She's been coming in the morning with a gang of friends, and she's been ignoring her chicken and peanuts, gobbling corn and seed with the ruffians instead. 

 That's her on the left. The one with no primaries.

 Taking a leisurely breakfast with Maybelline (now he's on the left).  These shots taken November 27 around 7:40 AM.

Hi Ma. Don't worry about me. I have my posse. They're pretty sharp. They look out for me.
It's incredibly hard for me to leave home, knowing she's hanging so close by, but I'm leaving for Ecuador tomorrow. And who knows, being Jemima, she could go on another 8 day bender while I'm gone. I'm prostrate with thankfulness that she decided to see me off this morning. Thank you Jemmy, thank you.

 I'll be away for 10 days, which neatly coincides with the week of whitetail gun season that started this morning. Blam! Blam! My least favorite sound, besides the snarl, crack and crash of logging. There's a beauty to that, for me to just leave the country while my friends go under fire. I can't do anything to help them; can't walk in the woods this week, so I might as well go explore some of the highest bird diversity on the planet, on both slopes of the Andes, with a bunch of beloved friends, right? Right!

Liam is on Jemima duty, and he has a full page list with lots YOU MUST's and boldface and !!!!!'s to refer to. Lucky Liam!

Back to Dean's Fork. We were on a walk when Jemima barged in, all blue and white.

Allis Chalmers was looking fine against a pillowy mackerel sky. As the saying goes, we'd be barely 24 hours dry, for sure--it would pour all the next day. 

I peeked into the upper corner of the canopy.
There was the phoebe nest!

The aging woods behind were looking very thin, but the grass still had an emerald sheen.

I kept hearing winter wrens. They sound a lot like song sparrows, but instead of giving one "Chimp!" note, they often pair them. Little rattles and trills give them away as wrens, too. They're hard to see, these far northern migrants. They come down to southern Ohio and it feels like the tropics to them, because they've been messing around the roots of wind-thrown trees in boreal forests all summer long.  I find them all winter long in stream beds among the tangled roots, popping out from under logs for a moment, then disappearing again. 

I took about 20 lousy photos, and then I got some good ones.  Please click on these to see his exquisite patterns.
I played about two seconds of winter wren song on Lang Elliott's BirdTunes, and this little character came boiling up out of the tangled roots to kick my a-s. His tiny tail was cocked straight up, and he was moving it the way Andrew McCutchen twirls his bat when he's thinking about clocking one out over the stands and into the Allegheny River. 

I really love these shots, the glow of sun hitting the forest floor and tumbled fallen logs behind the bird, the smooth Smilax brambles crossing, none of it fazing this little bird who chooses to live in jumbled disarray. 

He sang, and the world buzzed and sang around me, with the wonder of hearing silvery birdsong in gray November.  

I've split this magical walk into three parts, so you'll have something to amuse yourself with while I'm gone.  Next:   Remembering Hannah. 

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