Writing Like a Great Horned Owl

photo by Pixabay

photo by Deb Broocks

There was this magnificent great horned owl that lived in the hayloft of the barn, part of the old farmstead that became the Nature Conservancy field station on the Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon. A month ago I spent a week there as a participant of the Outpost writing workshop sponsored by Fishtrap, a non-profit writing organization located in Enterprise (see my previous post, Writing the Zumwalt Prairie).

Occasionally we would see this stately bird from its perch at the hayloft’s opening scanning for prey and looking down on us sternly from above.

Owls are unique in that they can rotate their heads 180 degrees in each direction.  Their feathers are constructed in such a way to facilitate silent flight and their eyes are 35 X more sensitive than the human eye needing only 5% of the light we require.  Add to that their extremely acute hearing and you have an extremely adept hunter.

Dissecting owl pellets

Since owls typically swallow their prey whole, they have a daily ritual of regurgitating a tidy package of fur, bones, feathers, and the like into one tidy package known as an owl pellet.  When one dissects an owl pellet you can piece together the skeletons of the small rodents, and birds they consumed.

During our writing circles with our teacher /poet Kim Stafford, he encouraged us to always be paying attention with all our senses as we experienced the prairie around us, being mindful not to disregard the other visitors to our psyche as well.  He stressed to capture those thoughts and inspirations on paper or voice memo before they escaped us- much like the owl and its prey.  These morsels of observation are what feed us as writers.  Kim is never without a small notebook and pen.  I often saw him jotting things down as he went about his day.

To be any kind of creative it is important to pay attention from wherever our perch may be.  Writing, (or sketching)  like an owl is the essence of personal expression.

Writing on the Buckhorn fire lookout

Owl Pellets

 by Alanna Pass

I am learning to write like a great horned owl

I sit on a high perch

so that I may swivel my head in all directions

observing, listening, smelling

for inspirational prey

I leave my perch at a moment’s notice

a presence detected

with a silent swoop I spread my wings

extend my outstretched talons

and snatch my prey before possible escape

I bend head to toes

open my hooked beak, extract this morsel

and swallow it whole

repeating this routine until I feel a blissful sense satisfaction

Then I rest

to coalesce all my inspirational prey into one tidy parcel

until complete

I project my written pellet into the cosmos

to land at the feet of others

with the intention that they may also

experience the wonders, the truths, the inspirations

that I have lovingly collected, digested, and presented

from my perch with a view

art by the author

Surviving a Heat Dome In Oregon

We were driving back from a blissful writing workshop up in a remote area in E. Oregon when we came back into cell service.  I’ll never forget my friend, Linda saying “Oh my god- there’s this thing called a heat dome that’s moving into the Pacific NW.  It’s going to get up to 116 degrees F!”  Seriously I thought she was joking until she insisted it was true.

We live in a place where occasionally we will experience triple-digit temperatures in the low hundreds but not this.  These are Death Valley or Phoenix temps.- not Oregon.  Another blow- last year it was the forest fires and now in late June extreme heat.  Add to that the pandemic, politics and it’s beyond cataclysmic.

My house has no AC.  There have been few times we have needed it as it is well insulated.  This time, however, since it only dropped into the high 80s at night the house would not cool off and remained at 89 degrees inside. This was intolerable- especially for me as I am highly sensitive to the heat and can get ill.

Continue reading “Surviving a Heat Dome In Oregon”

Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021

I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey.  The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public.  It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike.  It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.

The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up.  At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not.  It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine. 

It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.

Here is a poem I wrote along my hike…

Continue reading “Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021”

Sky Dance

Some of you may have witnessed this event called a “murmuration” of starlings- thousands of starlings swirling through the sky in a grand, seemingly coordinated performance. If you haven’t, do watch the video included with this post. I have noticed them more this year than in years past.

With technical photography, scientists are understanding more about the phenomenon. I think its one of natures “trade secrets.”

Murmurations

I am not fond of starlings

But in late autumn

Sometimes they crowd in the treetops

In a chirping chorus

Like a reunion of relatives

With an abundance of news to share

Who knows what stirs these rather uninspiring birds

To gather in in such a cacophony

Then on queue as if the din is too much

They rise from their perches to find positions

In an undulating dance that wafts over harvested fields.

They dip, swirl and twirl as one body

Thousands of avian forms performing with

Ballet grace in the sky

I pause from my walk to watch with reverence

A celebration?

A spiritual rite?

Scientists still don’t know quite how or why

A mystery

But I know magic when I see it

Alanna also blogs about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

Of Voles and Holes

Image courtesy https://www.thetimes.co.uk/

If you have country property here in my corner of Oregon, you have probably noticed an explosion of small mammals, including ground squirrels, rats but especially voles this year.  Rodents have population cycles peaking every few years and then falling after the predator population catches up to them.  This is a banner year for voles

Voles are rodents, bigger than mice with smaller ears and short tales.  They are chiefly vegetarians munching on roots, nuts, young plants, and bulbs.  They are proficient tunnelers.  You don’t want them in your garden.

On the positive side, they aerate the soil and distribute nutrients in the soil layers.  My inner biologist recognizes their role in the great circle of life but my outer gardener is extremely frustrated.  I am perhaps the first person to write a poem about vole holes?.  Adding a bit a humor has made the situation in my lawn more tolerable.

Continue reading “Of Voles and Holes”

The Art of The Earthworm

This is a departure from my usual content.  I just posted this on my other blog, One Sweet Earth but I thought it might be of interest to my readers here with an added poem… 

I have always been fascinated with the unseen world of nature that exists beneath our feet or is too small for our eyes to see. Some years back on a forest field trip for my 6th-grade science students, the guide pointed out small mounds covered with small bits of debris on the muddy parts of the forest floor.  I’d seen these before, never giving them much thought.  “Those are earthworm middens,” she said.  HUH?  How did in all my years of natural science and ecology did I miss this one?

The guide informed us that earthworm middens are the entrances of earthworm burrows.  The reason they are built up like little volcanos is they pile their casings (poo) outside and alternately store bits of organic material at the entrance to later come up and feed upon.  In January I came upon in one in the yard with a magnolia leaf sticking straight up from the entrance like a rock from Stonehenge. It appeared that this leaf was too large, tough for this worm to manage.

Continue reading “The Art of The Earthworm”

Trespassing in Nuthatch Territory

img_3614There are many species of birds around the acreage of our country home. I feed them and provide some housing but some find shelter in unlikely places. Recently at dusk, we spotted an avian form fly down and slip through a crack in the slats of our well-house.  “That better not be another starling, “I remarked. Starlings harass the native birds and we often block their nesting sites. We investigated but could not see in the dark recesses. With a gooseneck flashlight made for engine repair, I spied a female nuthatch sitting on her nest looking up at our invasive bright light…

Trespass

As I peer through the hole 

enlarged by tiny pecks

the  bird’s white face gazes up 

feathers spread wide over her nest 

eyes pleading

the dark fortress breached

I leave her in peace

holding close a sacred memory

 

nuthatch
image coursesty marthastewart.com

An Old Take on Going Viral

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My university education steeped me enough ecology and natural science where I developed a different view about modern humanity and our dismal treatment of our natural environment.  A couple years back I wrote this poem to give myself some comfort (in a sciencey kind of way) that the Earth will be just fine without our presence.  I never shared it until now as it seems so appropriate to the times…

 

 

STARTING FRESH

Beyond the scope of our perceptions

They live, thrive even

Unseen

The precursors of life 

That once rose out of primordial goo

Giving rise to our modern-day selves

In the span of millennia

 

Now they keep house 

In the dark soil

On doorknobs

In the lining of our guts,

Or riding on the currents of air and water 

 

They are the good guys and the bad guys

Working the magic of digestion, decomposition, disease 

Keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance

As they go about their quiet business

While we humans multiply and innovate

Thinking the planet is ours to consume

And ours to fix

 

In the end will come the justice of Nature

Indiscriminate of zealot, terrorist, or model citizen

From microbes, having no other intelligence 

Than the genius of mutation

A plague perhaps, unleashed with a single sneeze

 

Our technology, heroes, and gods will not save us

The Earth will rest, then heal in its time

Nature will learn from her mistakes

And new life will rise

Our presence recorded in a layer of rock

Six inches thick

 

On that note…

Be well everyone and make the most of your social isolation! 


grand-canyon-1083745_1920

 

 

 

Pausing for Bumblebees

Covered in pollen in a zucchini flower
Bliss in a zucchini flower

It is the height of summer blooms. Bumblebees are to be found everywhere about my yard.  I find them in the cool of the morning sleeping in flowers, drunk from the previous day’s feeding.  As the day warms I pause to watch them at their work, mindfully probing into pistils within blooms sucking out nectar.

They are especially fond of compound flowers, those in the genus, Compositae, the daisy family, the largest example being a sunflower. These are flowers within flowers.  Look closely in the middle of a dahlia, zinnia, daisy, dandelion sunflower, etc. and you will find multitudes of tiny flowerets surrounded by showy petals. It’s like one-stop shopping for bees.

Bumblebees make up the genus Bombus with 255 different species.  Generally, they are black with varying stripes of yellow and sometime red. They make nests near the ground under logs, duff in small colonies.  They are honey producers but in smaller quantities.

Though bumblebees don’t get as much press as their smaller cousin, the honey bee, they are extremely important pollinators.  Bumblebees are particularly good at it. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, and the beating combined with their large bodies

photo courtesy livescience.com
photo courtesy livescience.com

vibrate flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit.  Bumblebees flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down like other bees. Researcher Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington likens wing sweeping like a partial spin of a “somewhat crappy” helicopter propeller,

They are gentle bees, single-minded in their work and rarely sting which is good because their sting can be particularly nasty.  I have never been stung even though I sometimes gently pet their fuzzy backs then they are immersed in feeding.  Such sweet bees.

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In Praise of Bumblebees

They probe dreamily in the center

Of pie sized yellow flowers that nod towards the east

Keeping me company

As I work in the garden

 

These tiny winged beasts do their work

Heads up down, up down

Placing in precision their needle-like proboscises

In a sea of stamen and pistil

 

Gentle black creatures

Intoxicated by pollen and nectar

So immersed in their work

My finger can stroke their furry backs

 

I find them in the morning exhausted

Dozing in the midst of flowers

Dusted with yellow

Dreaming bumblebee dreams

 

Buzz and bumble

Find purpose in my zinnias, my dahlias

And sleep until the warmth of a new day

Calls you to your tasks again

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Fun facts thanks to livescience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of a Different Feather

daiga-ellaby-h43VqtlnV7U-unsplashA cup of steaming tea in hand

From my padded perch with propped up pillows

I gaze out the bay window

Observing morning activity at the feeder

 

Among the usual finches, chickadees, & nuthatches

DSC01591
Author’s photo

Unusual activity catches my eye

A petite junco carefully feeds seeds to a juvenile robin

Three times its size

 

Wait, this cannot be!

This bird is of another feather

With no natural obligation

But my eyes do not lie

 

This little junco is clearly committedimage2977637_web1_shaw-1

To care for this young robin

As another to its own

From mindful feedings

To standing by at the edge of the concrete bath

As the youngster bathes and drinks

 

I wonder, what is the story of this orphaned robin

And how did it come under the junco’s care?

I would like to think mercy to save another not of its kind

2018_bird_week_15_dark-eyed_juncoI can only conjecture

But still, I find hope

In the actions of this tiny little bird

And its very big heart

 

*Note: According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, “cross-species” feeding is a very rare thing to observe.  You can read more about it here.