The Miracle of Letting Go

I haven’t been feeling very well the last several days. The biggest bummer is that I’m having a lot of trouble sleeping. My fatigue just seems to make everything I try to accomplish so much harder. Like swimming in molasses. To compound the problem, my mood has been pretty contrary as well. I don’t know if anyone else can relate to this… but there are certain things that never fail to improve my state-of-mind, yet sometimes I stupidly avoid doing them. I’m really not sure why… I suppose it’s the adult equivalent of having a bit of a tantrum. Things aren’t going my way, so I temporarily just stubbornly refuse to let anyone or anything make it better. So, anyway, I’ve been struggling with this and when it came time to do my blog post today, I just didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t coming up with any good ideas and the whole process was starting to feel really excruciating. Finally, I decided to give in. I did the one thing that never fails to clear my head and put things in perspective. I put on my shoes and went outside, determined that I would just do what I always do — look for something beautiful or extraordinary and photograph it. Then, when I came back home, I would simply post whatever I found and not think too much more about it.

I couldn’t have walked more than about 5 minutes from my house when I stopped to listen to the birds, absorbing the sounds that I love so well. California Quail whooping and popping in the bushes. Phainopepla doing a perfect impersonation of water slowly dripping from a faucet. The happy twittering of a small flock of Bushtit trickling through the underbrush. Something caught my eye in the tangle of young olive trees ahead and I instinctively lifted my camera. I had just enough time to process the shape of an immature Cooper’s Hawk, looking a bit startled at being discovered. I wasn’t even sure if I had the bird framed in the viewfinder, but I knew it was “now or never” and I pressed the shutter just before the hawk sailed over my head. I took only one shot and this was it:


Cooper's Hawk immature in-flight**Be sure to click on all of the images for detail shots!**


I relaxed, knowing that I had at least one wonderful image to share when I got home. I eased into the feeling of just being outdoors. I took a deep breath and felt more and more of my funky mood slipping away. I spied a Mourning Dove perched high in the spindly branches at the top of a eucalyptus. The bird and branch swayed side-to-side in the strong canyon breeze. The trunk creaked like an old boat in the wind, and the mass of leaves below the bird quivered and rippled like big green waves. I decided to test if lightning would strike twice and I framed the bird in the lens and waited patiently to see if I could catch a flight image. The dove stayed stoically still, eyeballing me and cocking its head, but not budging. Then, I saw a flicker of movement and reflexively pressed the shutter. Miraculously, I captured this wonderful hummer who zipped in for a split second to investigate the dove and then was gone!


Mourning Dove & hummer


A smile couldn’t help but spread across my face and I grinned foolishly up at the dove. Let’s try this one more time, I said. The dove made me wait awhile before finally flapping noisily over to another branch a few feet away — but I got the shot! Not only that, but I got a second one when it finally had enough of me and flew off that perch as well.


Mourning Dove in-flight

Mourning Dove in-flight


I’m still exhausted (more now than before I went out) and I’m yawning as I write this. But, I’m feeling peaceful and content inside. Tantrum over. Lesson learned. When nothing seems to be working and everything feels harder than it should — go outside, let go, and enjoy what comes!

Harsi / May 31, 2011 / birds / 7 Comments

Wordless Warbler

Black-throated Gray WarblerA male Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) in the oaks.

I thought I might have something more to say today… but when I sat down to start typing… all I got was a BIG BLANK.
Hmmm… might have something to do with it being the 6th day of my feeling cruddy. Keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow’s post!

Harsi / May 23, 2011 / birds / 0 Comments

Harsi / May 22, 2011 / birds / 2 Comments

The Winged Energy of Delight

bird artwork


As once the winged energy of delight

carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,

now beyond your own life build the great

arch of unimagined bridges.


Rainer Maria Rilke

(from “Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke”, translated by Stephen Mitchell)


Lately, I have been feeling the strong urge to CREATE… poetry, art, music, textiles… something!

But, again, the perfectionist tendencies that I have always struggled with loom large over the path I’d like to walk. I have to keep reminding myself that how good something is doesn’t really matter. (What does “good” mean anyway?) It is the daily process of creating that I am craving… not fame, fortune or approval. (OK… if I’m being totally honest, I probably am still craving approval a little… but, I’m trying to get past that one.)

So, I’ve been attempting to move forward by going backward. I’ve been looking at all the things I created as a child. Hoping to rediscover that freedom of expression that seems to elude me these days. I know there was a certain self-confidence I possessed then… an assuredness that whatever streamed forth from my mind and from my hand was as it was meant to be.

I hope to not only start creating again in earnest, but to share much of it here. For now, I’ve posted this painting which was done many, many years ago. (I’m not sure how old I was, but I suspect that I was younger than 13.) I love the flowing lines and open space. The primary colors. The organic sky and oddly geometric bird. Mostly I love the place it came from… a place I’m hoping to reconnect with.

Harsi / May 20, 2011 / artwork, birds, quotations / 2 Comments

Is it spring, is it morning?

hillside, sagebrush & clouds

I can’t stop thinking about my walk yesterday. It was the kind of day that makes you want to write about it with such perfection that everyone reading will instantly know just how you felt. I rarely posses that sort of talent… but Mary Oliver does. She is a true master. Her poetry never fails to speak what my heart is saying.


Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves –
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness –
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree –
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing –
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky – all, all of them
were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then – open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.


brown-headed cowbird, lark sparrow & wrentit

For those that are curious, the birds pictured from left to right are:
A displaying male Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater).
A pair of Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) — they had literally just finished mating!
A singing Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata).


sky clouds grass

clouds that go on forever


Bliss. Peace. Beauty. Joy. Everything I want to have in my life! I hope that Spring is bringing all of these things to you too. We all deserve at least a little bit of this every day.

Harsi / May 17, 2011 / birds, hillsides, quotations, skies / 0 Comments

The Bird & The Bee

OK… so I’m really skating the edge of my “one-a-day post” promise with this one… but, technically it is still Monday… for at least 30 more minutes! *smirk* I confess that I had big plans for all the stuff I was going to get done today, including a fantastic blog post. But, it was so incredibly gorgeous outside this morning that I couldn’t resist slipping on my shoes and heading up into the hills. I always tend to lose track of time when I’m outside and if I’m really in the zone, hours and hours can fly by before I realize how late it’s gotten. Some days I go out and take a walk… other days I go out and the walk takes me! Anyway, here’s just a few of the friends I spent time with today:


hummingbird on oliveI was photographing the sky when this little jewel came and perched on an olive branch right in front of me! After studying my various birding books, I think this is a female or immature Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae). It could also possibly be an immature Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)… the differences between the two are subtle.

bumblebee on poppyThe temperatures were a little too cool most of the day for many of the native bees to be active. (The well-known, non-native Honey Bee seems to be more acclimated to such weather and they were out in good numbers.) So, it was a real treat to get to watch this bumble bee methodically visiting one California Poppy (Eschscholzia sp.) after another along the side of the trail I was walking. I should probably double-check myself with my friends on BugGuide, but I believe this is a California Bumble Bee (Bombus californicus).

** Be sure to click on the photos to see close-up crops of the hummer and bee! **

Harsi / May 16, 2011 / arthropods, birds / 6 Comments

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

moonrise over hillside

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I headed out the door for a walk. I was feeling good and one of the first sights I saw was the faint outline of the moon rising above the hills, which are currently decked out with the pale orange blooms of monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus, I think). Usually, by the time I notice the moon in the daytime, it is already fairly high in the sky… it was cool to capture a few shots of it nearer to the horizon.

I decided to take the road that parallels the seasonal creek. The oaks that grow down there are so magical. And the way it looks when the sunlight streams through the dense canopy is something that my camera never seems quite able to capture. It looked something like this…


oak woodland light

As I was walking, I heard a noise coming from the dense plant growth next to the creek. I looked down and saw this tiny bundle of brown feathers struggling to keep its balance and grip on the twig where it perched. It failed and tumbled down, disappearing into the foliage. I assumed it might be a juvenile bird and so I waited very quietly and patiently to see if it would return. I was delighted when this very young Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) reemerged!!

juvenile song sparrow (melospiza melodia)

The photos aren’t fantastic due to the heavy shade cover, but as you can see it is in the early stages of feather growth — the wings are nowhere close to their eventual full length and the tail is practically nonexistent! Sweet little thing that it was, it sat there and made the most endearing peeping noises over and over (and over!) again.


juvenile song sparrow (melospiza melodia)

Even though the juvenile didn’t seem to mind my company, I didn’t stay too long because I assumed that my presence was probably keeping the parent(s) from returning with food. [Sure enough, when I was walking by the same spot again on my way home, I saw one of the parents flying away from the clump of vegetation where the juvenile was still “peeping” away.]


balloon trashToday’s trash has been brought to you by the letters “G-R-E-E-N  L-A-N-T-E-R-N” and the numbers “6-17-11”.
The title and release date of an upcoming superhero film.

So, in this case, “the bad & the ugly” part of my walk were the same thing: TRASH. We live in a pretty remote area of the canyon and there is relatively little human and vehicle traffic. Nevertheless, every time I go out for a walk, I bring a bag with me and never fail to find new bits of refuse which I pick-up and take home. The constant winds in the canyon must blow a lot of stuff our way, some things get washed down the creek when we have heavy rains, and some of it undoubtedly gets thrown or falls out of cars traveling on the main road. I try not to get up on my soap box too often, but this issue makes me so disgusted. Balloons seem to push my buttons even more than other things… I think because they are just so superfluous. The epitome of a single-use, non-essential, impulse item that people don’t seem to think twice about. They are insidiously designed to escape and travel long distances, often ending up in the mountains or the oceans. Had I not picked it up, the best case scenario for this balloon would be that it continued to break down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic that scatter through the environment. The worst case scenario is that one of the many critters here in the canyon would mistake it for food and try to eat it — a situation which can have dire consequences for the animal.

For those of you who take regular walks in natural areas, I’d like to ask you to consider carrying a small bag in your pocket or with your gear so that if you run across these bits of garbage you can remove them. I know it’s only a very small solution to an overwhelming problem, but I truly believe that every little bit helps.

Thank you for putting up with my rant. May your Saturday be full of the “good” and none of the “bad & ugly”!

Harsi / May 14, 2011 / birds, conservation, hillsides, not nature, skies / 4 Comments

Good morning? Nope… Great morning!!

pre-sunrise hills


I had to get up really early this morning in order to see my husband off on his annual trip to Minnesota for a work-related conference. As I was heading back home, enjoying a leisurely drive through the canyon, I spied a perched Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) silhouetted against the still gray sky and decided to pull off the road to take a few pictures.


red-tailed hawk solo

I walked a bit futher out onto the flat, open area which used to be a fenced pasture area for horses; now, overgrown with dense chaparral on all sides. The hawk was sitting at the top of a large eucalyptus that I knew was a regular nesting spot in previous years. Sure enough, the lone hawk was soon joined in the tree by its mate. Every few minutes or so, one of the hawks (the female, I’m fairly certain) would let loose with a loud, piercing cry — keeeeeeeeee-yah! — then fall silent again. Several times in a row, the female hawk would take to the air and do some brief circling just above the tree, then as she came in for a landing, the male would flap upward as if to greet her before they both settled back into their proximal perching positions.


red-tailed hawk landing

red-tailed hawk pair landing

I so enjoyed capturing these images of them… they were an absolute joy to watch!


red-tailed hawk pairNot a great photo, with houses and whatnot in the background, but I’m fascinated by how different their plumage looks. Red-tailed Hawks come in many, many color forms, from very pale to very dark and every variation between. I believe that the slightly larger, reddish one is the female…

Eventually, I turned away from the now quiet, stoic hawk pair. I started back to my truck, but as I walked over a small rise, I found myself staring into the eyes of a somewhat startled looking Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus). As is often the case when they are approached slowly around our place, the deer seemed more curious about my presence than frightened. I stood very still, moving minimally to take these images…


mule deer emerging***Be sure to click on this one to see the detail image — smiles await!!***


The deer crossed to the other side of the road…


mule deer crossing

…but then actually moved closer, nearing to 40 feet or so.
The expression on her face was one big question mark — WHO are you? WHAT are you? Whatcha’ doin’ standing in the middle of the road there?
Aloud, I said, “Hello, there. How’s it goin’?”
Her only response was an even more intense stare and a twitch of her large namesake ears.


mule deer & chamise

Could she be any more beautiful with the flowering Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) in the background?


I watched her disappear behind my truck and then down into the sloping brush. How can you not feel like a million bucks after an encounter like that?! Quail were calling from hiding places in the dense foliage. A rabbit scampered past. I picked out the calls of California Thrasher, Phainopepla, Wrentit, Common Yellowthroat… just a few of the voices in the busy morning chatter. The sun was now cresting over the hills, its warmth and light spreading over the dark, chilly parts of the canyon.


sunrise hills


I was so incredibly glad to be up early!! Happy and blessed. And maybe a little silly from lack of sleep… *grin* This last photo of me heading home is an homage to my friend Ro, who has made an art form of rising early and sharing her morning walks. (I don’t have a great dog like Banjo to pose with me, but I did my best!)

shadow walking

Did this morning hold any wonderful surprises for you?

Harsi / May 11, 2011 / birds, hillsides, mammals, skies / 6 Comments

Like Light Streaming

singing house wrenHouse Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if all our days contained only natural sounds. Would we listen once again to the wind and know what it meant? Would we hear as much as we see? There is, of course, no way to know — we closed that door behind us long ago — but listening to a bird singing touches something in our ancient past. Birdsong is like light streaming through the keyhole from a lost world.

Don Stap, “Birdsong: A Natural History”

The photo was taken a couple of years ago… But each Spring this scene repeats itself as several House Wren pairs go about the business of singing and nesting in various spots just outside (or in!) the walls of our cabin. Their calls are varied and repetitive, often dominating the soundscape of my daily activities well into late Summer. What bird calls are most commonly heard around your home at this time of year?

Harsi / May 8, 2011 / birds, quotations / 5 Comments

Be Here Now

I’ve been struggling to finish up the next installment of my retrospective on our trip to Washington last month. (Not struggling because it is unenjoyable, but because I can’t seem to decide which images to share… I’m terrible like that when it comes to making up my mind.) Meanwhile, ever since we returned home, the lure to be outside for large portions of the day grows stronger and stronger. Spring is in full swing and the sight of deer peeking out of tall grasses and the sounds of birds singing their best courtship arias are hard things to resist. (Not to mention the bevy of awesome insects that have arrived and promise a new discovery nearly every day!!) I promised myself that I wouldn’t share any of my recent pics until I’d finished with the tales of our trip — BUT WHO AM I KIDDING??? Some things just need to be shared… especially with friends. I hope you enjoy and be sure to click on the images for embiggened viewing!


Coast Range NewtThe Coast Range Newts (Taricha torosa torosa) are one of my favorite annual phenomena. Though they live in the area year-round, they are only easily observable at the end of Winter and through Spring when they leave their moist terrestrial hide-outs to congregate in the seasonal creek and breed. As they are extremely toxic, the adults have very few known predators, but states: “Southern California populations have suffered population declines due to habitat loss and alteration caused by human activity, and from introduced predatory mosquitofish, crayfish, and bullfrogs, which eat the non-poisonous larvae and eggs. Breeding ponds have been destroyed for development, and stream pools used for breeding have been destroyed by sedimentation caused by wildfires.”
This has been a banner year for them thus far and their numbers seem very healthy… which makes me very happy!

StorksbillStorksbill (Erodium), also known as filaree or heron’s bill, is a non-native that grows rather prolifically here in the canyon.
Its small flowers aren’t very showy, but as with anything in nature, a closer look reveals all kinds of intricate beauty.

Organic cloudsI never tire of looking at (and photographing) clouds. The sky on this day was doing some crazy things and I was fascinated by the organic shapes being created…
Does anyone else see a face on the right?

juvenile curled-up rattlesnakeYup! It’s gotten warm enough for the rattlesnakes to be out basking again. This curled-up juvenile Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) was about the diameter of an English muffin when I spotted it behind my house last week.
A few days earlier, I saw a curled-up full-grown adult — closer to a medium-sized pizza in that case. *grin*

deer silhouetteThe Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) population this year seems to have grown. I have no good way of knowing exactly how many might live in this canyon, but I do keep track of how many I’ve seen together at the same time. Last month, I trumped my high count (by several!) when I saw a group of nineteen foraging together.
I really, really, really, want to know what this deer is saying… any guesses? *big grin*

mating ladybeetlesAs I mentioned, this is definitely a fantastic time of year to be out if you enjoy studying arthropods! The native Convergent Ladybeetles (Hippodamia convergens) were some of the first insects to start gathering in the lush grasses and new vegetation. [Whoops! I initially mistyped that these were a non-native species.]
As you can see, they are well on their way to creating the next generation.

pink skyEarlier this week, I stood watching the sky long after the sun had set. At first it was all dark blues and purples, but then something shifted and I looked up and saw this…
Can the sky really be that color, I thought? Yes, yes it can…

blurry birdOK, yes, I know this is a picture of a blurry bird… but, I have a fondness for such things and I especially like this one.
*** Super extra-credit bonus points to the first person who can tell me which bird species this is! ***

For those of you for whom Spring has arrived, may you have the time to appreciate all the wonders it has to offer. And for those who are still patiently awaiting an end to cold and wet weather, may the anticipation make its arrival all the sweeter.

Harsi / April 2, 2011 / amphibians, arthropods, birds, flowers, mammals, plants, reptiles, skies / 6 Comments