Earth Day photos:
The rain stopped, the clouds went away, the plants and trees are incredibly green, and today the sky seemed impossibly blue. Right now that blue sky is beautiful.
Four months from now, after we’ve had nothing but blue sky day after day, after grasses go dormant and turn the hillsides brown, after the leaves of trees fade to dull green, I’ll be longing for the rain to return.
One of the little bushes just outside the window of my office rustled, so much so that they caught my eye. A black furry tail poked out of the bush; one of the fat black squirrels 1 that lives on the church grounds was in the bush. I was surprised that it bore its weight.
Five minutes went by. The bushes started rustling again. This time, it was a gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). I realized that a couple of Oregon Juncos (Junco hyenalis oreganus) were chirping at the squirrel; maybe the juncos were nesting in the bush and the squirrel was going after their eggs! I ran outside and scared the squirrel away. I looked quickly in the bush for a nest, didn’t see one, then retreated into my office because if there is a nest I don’t want to drive the birds away from it.
The juncos are still noisily chirping away. The squirrels have returned to stealing food from the trash cans. I still don’t know if there’s a nest out there or not.
A gray squirrel came back (perhaps the same one again), and nosed around beneath the bushes outside my window. A junco harassed it constantly, chirping, flying at the squirrel’s head, causing the squirrel to duck and twitch. At last the squirrel gave up, and scampered off with the junco chasing it.
1 Melanistic form of the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), an invasive species which has been introduced into the San Francisco Bay region.
San Francisco Bay, the land of eternal springtime: there are flowers in bloom all the year:
“San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in ‘the States’ rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green-houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses — I do not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow.” (Mark Twain, Roughing It)
At the moment here in San Mateo, the rains have just ended, and for most of twelve hours a day the sun shines out of a cloudless sky, and everything is green and beautiful. The acacia trees are covered in thousands of little yellow blossoms cover acacia trees; bright orange California poppies appear along the roadsides; white flowers, purple flowers, red flowers, there are flowers everywhere.
Nor is the beauty only visual; the rich heavy scent of flowers fills the air. I wheeze and find it hard to breathe; our downstairs neighbor sneezes explosively about ten times an hour; our car is covered with a faint yellow film of pollen and I have to wash the windshield twice a day. It is beautiful in this land of eternal springtime, except that I can’t breathe and the pollen in my eyes makes me want to claw them out. I wish we could have a good hard frost and maybe some snow to end this eternal springtime and kill all these damned flowers.
It was warm enough yesterday that we opened most off the windows in the apartment. I spent the afternoon building a planter box for our little balcony, and a raised bed for our small garden. Overhead, the California sky was as blue as it ever gets in midsummer. The breezes were gentle, the air was perfumed with springtime flowers. Intellectually, I believe that the weather is as nice as it is, but since I’m a New Englander to my core there’s a part of me that’s quite sure it will snow again before spring really comes, or a hard frost will come and kill off whatever we plant in the garden.
The front page of the sports section of the San Mateo County Times features a big picture from the Giants’ exhibition opener in the cactus league, and there’s almost a full page of baseball coverage inside. Spring — real honest-to-goodness spring, not this year-round flower-laden pseudo-springtime we have to put up with in the Bay area — can’t be far behind.
Personal to Ms. M: Don’t worry, I won’t be wearing black and orange just because I’m living on the Peninsula; I’m still an AL guy.
Today, Memorial Day, is the unofficial first day of summer. We walked over to Fort Phoenix at about five o’clock this afternoon under a cloudless sky, with cool air and a brisk breeze from the northwest. There were a two or three dozen people fishing along the hurricane barrier. Three children in swim suits played along the small sandy beach between the hurricane barrier and the rocks at the base of Fort Phoenix. As usual in the New Bedford area, we saw skin colors from pale white (me) to quite dark, and everything in between; we heard at least three different languages. There were families with children, and groups of elders. It wasn’t crowded by any means, but there were more people walking around Fort Phoenix than I remember seeing before.
When we walk over to Fort Phoenix in the winter time, sometimes we’ll only see one or two other people — so even though the cool air and brisk breeze felt like late spring, it felt like summer with all those people walking around outdoors. I won’t say that spring is over yet, but it’s getting close.
I just got back from visiting a friend in Washington, D.C. Flowers are in bloom everywhere in D.C., it was warm, and the air was full of pollen. Yet I had relatively few problems with allergies.
Then I got back to New Bedford, where it is cool, and not so many things are in bloom. And my allergies got much worse. My allergies have never been worse than while living in New Bedford. I’ve decided that my body does not like the damp, moist climate that you get living right next to the ocean; nor does it like the inevitable mold that you get in the old buildings that make up New Bedford.
I will miss many things about New Bedford when we leave here at the end of July, but I will not miss the allergens.
Housework cried out for my attention yesterday morning, and then I drove off to officiate at a wedding in Rhode Island in the afternoon, so I had no time to get outdoors. Fortunately the wedding was at a conference center out in the middle of the woods. It was a two and a half mile drive from the highway along increasingly narrow and winding roads. I kept the car windows down, and listened:
…teakettleteakettleteakettle, that’s a Carolina Wren…
…a little piece of a song, Baltimore Oriole…
…chipchipchipchipchip, Chipping Sparrow….
Then I arrived at the conference center. The wedding was to be outdoors, overlooking a small pond. We did the rehearsal. The wedding got delayed for an hour. It looked like there might be a thundershower at any moment so I didn’t dare go for a walk. I stood on the porch and watched the edge of the pond:
…tiny bird, black with a flash of red: American Restart….
…slightly larger bird on a twig, every few seconds flies out to snag insects: Eastern Kingbird…
…something small and brown, without binoculars there’s no telling….
For those minutes, I was totally focused on birds.
It didn’t rain. At last the wedding started. When you officiate at weddings, you’re presiding over twenty minutes that are very important minutes to at least two people, so I become very focused on the ceremony. And at this wedding, there was another Unitarian Universalist minister in attendance, someone whom I respect and who has very high standards, which increased the intensity of my focus even more. Yet I couldn’t quite turn off my earlier focus on birds. During the prayer I heard a buzzy pee-a-wee pee-a-wee, and I thought: Eastern Wood Peewee. It wasn’t a distraction, I was just doubly focused.
In the middle of the vows, off in the distance, some flute-like notes; was that a Wood Thrush? (the song of a Wood Thrush is one of those few sounds that truly thrill me to my marrow). “Please repeat after me….” It was a Wood Thrush. A little thrill passed down my spine, and the superstitious side of me thought: This must be a good omen; this marriage is going to be blessed. No focus on my part, no professional critique by another minister, no amount of preparation, will ever equal the importance of the glorious song of one small drab brown bird.