Category Archives: habitat

Cooper’s Hawk, or possibly Sharp-shinned, 3 times.

3 times now,
this hawk has visited our 1/3 acre piece of the world,
which has a half dozen big old trees,
and sits a little ways southwest of Seattle, on a hilltop.

The first time I was sitting out front,
editing my book manuscript in a lawn chair
I heard the screeching cry
and looked up to see a small-bodied
white-bellied
brown speckle-winged hawk
swooping across our yard to tackle a giant squirrel on the power line.

Our squirrels are bold, and large,
accustomed to taking dares from our giant Great Pyrenees Mix,
and this one did not submit to death
it screeched back, and clung to the bobbing wires
the hawk grasped on with yellow talons
and I watched,
mouth agape
as they tussled over the driveway.
The squirrel won out
and darted for the trees,
and the hawk disappeared into the neighborhood skyscape.

A week or two later, it reappeared, screeching once,
I spied it high overhead
coming in for a landing in one of our evergreens.
It lifted up after a moment,
and Ryan and I pointed it out to Callum
floating ever higher in slow fixed-wing looping glides.

This morning I was drinking coffee on the back stoop after a thunderstorm
savoring the damp autumn chill in a light brown sweater,
and white knit cap,
and it returned, screeching once or twice,
soaring over the back driveway.
A woodpecker thudded several times on a telephone pole overhead,
and I texted a friend,
“Does that mean I’m supposed to read some Ann Lamott?”
“Ha!
she replied.
“that’s a good read on it.”

I look up the hawk online after I put our son to bed,
maybe a Cooper’s Hawk,
probably a Sharp-shinned
immature, whichever species.
A common woodland hawk,
“among the bird world’s most skillful fliers,”
that primarily hunts other birds.

My first impulse on seeing a wild animal in the city is exhilaration,
followed by sadness, assumptions about habitat degradation and the like,
followed by the calming epiphany
that some creatures can cross worlds,
that the natural world suffuses everything.
Adaptation
gives us all a chance
to survive.

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Filed under basic goodness, habitat, outside, poetry, stories, watching it all go by

Fishing Family

My friend Heather’s husband Ross is headed to sea today,
or maybe yesterday or tomorrow.
They never know the exact date when he’ll ship out,
and they don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring.
They chop firewood
plant gardens
rebuild portions of their house
hang nets for the summer salmon season
teach their sons to climb ladders,
use tools
prepare food,
practice kindness.
They go on dates in canoes,
birth babies at home,
and snowshoe a few miles into the wilderness
to have family time
in a primitive cabin.
They volunteer in their community,
preserve hundreds of pounds of food from their garden,
and eat well.
I’m fairly certain that between the two of them,
there is nothing they could not do.
While Ross pits himself against the elements
to make their living
in the wintry Pacific a few thousand miles to the north,
Heather will keep everything going
with grace
and humor
while training to be a doula,
caring for ailing elders,
building furniture,
traveling cross country to see the grandparents,
and growing more gorgeous all the time.
Sometimes she takes the kids camping as a solo mama,
and laughs that its easier than being at home sometimes.
Depending on which fishing season it is,
she can talk to her husband daily,
or only once a week, for ten minutes,
or not even then,
but after a while,
the call inevitably comes
that he’s headed home.
Until then,
they labor through the seasons,
adding weft
and strength
to the warp of a marriage
seasoned by saltwater
struggle
and joy

my fishing family. Ross, Haven, Heather, and Liam.

my fishing family. Ross, Haven, Heather, and Liam.

(To read more about their family and their work, check out some of the words and pictures here).

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Filed under basic goodness, blue collar, Family, Food, Garden, habitat, Labor, love, marriage, motherhood, Ordinary

I am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness.

spend the morning watching rain beading on freshsprung march buds
daffodils are blossoming yellow and damp alongside covert crocuses
they seem more nuanced, as flowers,
when the sky is dim, and grey
more capable of the lesser human emotions

i am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness

there are asbestos-containing-materials in our new house
and its not shocking, i guess
but i am furious anyway.
Not that a house built in 1930 would have
asbestos ceilings
and asbestos glue under ugly flooring
but furious that anyone was ever fooled into thinking this was a good idea
that the newest laboratory innovation was really going to make life better
and now we’re left to clean it up

midway through the morning it occurs to me:
there’s nothing shocking here.
maybe in getting pissed about the mistakes of previous generations i am missing the point
Everybody wants it cheap, and easy.
Everyone wants to have their cake
and eat it too
my generation is just as willing to overlook the risks
Goodbye Asbestos, hello vinyl siding and polychlorinated biphenyls.
goodbye styrofoam,
hello nalgene bottles with bisphenol-A
goodbye oil hello nuclear power
goodbye coca-cola with cocaine
hello diet coke with aspartame

i am picking my battles and looking out for basic goodness.

there is a wind gust and a raven swoops upward suddenly over the ravine
then turns its head into the invisible force
and strikes out northwest
i am looking forward to years of wandering my own yard
clipping branches from familiar trees
for ikebana
at all seasons

somedays i chide myself for writing much about Ordinary Life
when there are So Many Big Issues playing out in the World
big issues that i care about,
big issues where my voice is relevant to the discussion
and i have something to say
But then I have moments
in which i remember:

This is All there is.

This ordinary moment each of us is living:
right Now,
is all there is.
All those Big Issues are Here, Now.
in our breakfast cereal,
in the set of choices we have before us
Ecology, “Politics,” Gender Issues, Violence, Pollution, Economics, “History”
coffee, dogshit, bills paid, weather, food in the fridge, the water coming out of the tap, the inventory of the kitchen trash, the history my body carries as it walks around the house, the dust in the vents, the microchips in my cell phone, the corporate giants who own my organic feel good toothpaste.

i wander around the yard in a hoodie snapping pictures of spring flowers against the grey sky
the dog refuses to join me,
because of the rain
and stays inside on the couch
with pillows

i make soy hot chocolate on the stove top
put on an ani album from ten years ago
and start packing photo albums and journals
into discarded archival boxes

midway through the afternoon, i hitch my shirt up over my belly
and stare at it, waiting for him to move
I haven’t really been certain yet
if the flutterings are actually him
and not my blood pumping, or my stomach working,
or my ligaments stretching
suddenly,
the skin pops up alongside my bellybutton
and returns to level so quickly i’m not sure i really saw it
so i wait
and there he is again
and again
i watch, entranced, for forty-five minutes
as his limbs surface under my skin like the fins of whales

i am picking my battles
and looking out for basic goodness

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Filed under Americana, Assata, basic goodness, Change, fathoming, habitat, Ordinary, outside, Peace, photographs, poetry, Pregnancy, violence, watching it all go by

Once, clouds of them filled the city streets.


On the last day of our January visit with our grandfather in Milwaukee, my sister Emma and I go with him to the City Museum downtown.

The wind is bitterly cold. Grandpop wears gloves while he drives, but takes them off once he parks the car. People call him Smoke. He tells us he’s not sure where the nickname came from, but he’s had it since he was a kid. A friend of mine surmised that because his name is Morris, one of his friends must have pulled the “Smoke” from the association with Morris Tobacco. He was the first child in his family born in the United States, a few years after his parents immigrated here from Russia. He grew up in Philadelphia, which is where he met my grandmother Frances, and raised my father, Howard, and his sister Ellen.

The rivers in Milwaukee are frozen, a novelty to us northwestern girls. We find parking, and wander into the museum. Drink coffee and hot chocolate in the cafeteria, then make our way up the stairs, under a giant whale skeleton covered with white lights for the holidays. We are drawn almost immediately to the butterfly room. Stepping through the double glass doors, the warm humidity envelops us. There is piano music playing, and a small waterfall. Plants and trees crowd around, pressing at the walls and brushing our shoulders, and the windows face the street.

Outside, the bitter Wisconsin wind sweeps snow off the sidewalk drifts and swirls it into spirals. A schoolbus stops at a stopsign, then lumbers through the intersection. Pedestrians tug their collars higher around their necks and lean into the wind.

Inside, we begin to shed our scarves and coats. There is an utter absence of wind, only the movement of thousands of luminous butterfly wings.

We walk so slowly we are scarcely moving at all, gazing at the tiny, soft bodies, the shimmering colors and intricate patterns on their wings.
We watch them fly and hover and rest. Some land on us, clinging to hair and bright scarves.

“When I was young,” Grandpop says, “clouds of butterflies would appear in the city. Not just monarchs either, every color. Clouds of them. Of course, you don’t see that anymore.” I see it in my mind: a gang of young Jewish boys playing stickball on a cobbled 1920s Philadelphia street. Women in dresses and hats pass by carrying shopping baskets, and horse-drawn delivery carts make their way up the streets, bearing coal or ice. A sudden swirl of color and movement in the sky, thousands of butterflies, oranges and reds and pinks and purples and blues, hurrying between the buildings. The boys stand still, craning their necks, shielding their eyes against the sun, watching the living cloud pass by.

We stay in the small butterfly room for a long time. They feed on sponges soaked in sugar water and fruit juice, and land on tiny chunks of watermelon and apple. I watch a large one, brown on one side and shimmering blue-purple on the other, fly up against the window, over and over, and wonder if they mourn for their migrations, for larger spaces. I wonder if they remember the stories of the days when clouds of them filled the streets. For now though, they live in a tiny utopia, replete with all of the problems and advantages that come with an engineered habitat.

We glory in them, speaking in soft voices and watching carefully where we step. Emma spots one dying on the pavement, and searches for a twig, which the butterfly weakly clings to. She deposits it in a plant. “I didn’t want it to die on the pavement,” she tells us.

When we leave, we take turns spining slowly in front of three mirrors, to make sure that none of them have hitched a ride to the Big World on our clothing.

I think: I will remember this when I am old.

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Filed under butterflies, Emma, Grandpop, habitat, History, January, migration