October 19, 2019

summer 2018 birds
Outside my SoCal kitchen window, August 2018 (pen and ink, colored pencil on mixed media paper)

Tend a spot with few expectations…

This is the view from my kitchen window. I did this sketch last summer, on a particularly hot afternoon. I seem to remember how surprised I was to see so many birds on such a warm day. All I had at the time was a hummingbird feeder, bird seed in a feeder and a bird bath. Oh, and how could I forget the lovely pepper tree that is out there also. Of course I did not plant that, but the tree takes on unexpected importance to this story going forward.

When I first added what I thought was something for the birds, I didn’t know if any feathered friends would actually show up, but I had hopes. It only took a couple of days for the birds, of all sizes, to show up, even in almost 100 degree heat. (I think I have made it clear that it’s hot in August.) Maybe with hope there is a kind of abstract expectation without truly knowing what form it will take. Maybe without knowing what to expect, it’s not an expectation at all, but a kind of hope? Just wonderin’

As I have already said, the birds showed up in great numbers. But there were several other unexpected creatures that were also attracted to this set up. A couple neighborhood cats, and whole squirrel families also showed up. I didn’t know if I could keep the cats from hunting the birds I was so desperate to attract, but I tried to make friends with them so they would know to leave the birds alone. You have probably already imagined how that turned out. Yeah, every now and again I find a pile of bird feathers under the feeder…However, I didn’t expect to have trouble with the uninvited squirrels as I had hung the seed feeder far enough away from any bit of porch railing they could stand on. But as you might expect, that wasn’t what happened either. I soon noticed a couple of them gingerly coming down the pepper tree, heading straight for the nearest railing on the porch. Then they (yes, more than one) paced back and forth until at last there was a final frenzied pounce through the air with all their squirrel might and onto the feeder, sending seed and birds flying. I have since moved the seed feeder over and think it is now safe from the very acrobatic squirrels. But only time will tell if that will actually work. 

You may have noticed the few bees buzzing around the bird bath. There are usually at least 20 of them hanging about, clustered together at the edge of the water line. I noticed there weren’t very many birds visiting the bird bath, as it had been clearly taken over by bees. Doves didn’t seem to notice them and the crows just waved them away. So, I put a dish of water closer to the seed feeder and that seems to have been the solution. The bird bath is for the bees and the dish is for the birds. But, not so fast. Recently I saw one of my neighborhood cats drinking from the bird’s water dish. It must taste like some lovely bird juice. None of this is what I expected to see, or imagine, and I can’t really see a solution for that bit of kitty behavior.

bees and sage3
Bees and Sage, October 2019 (Inktense colored pencil, watercolor pencils on folded watercolor paper, 6 by 9 inches)

In the past year I have planted a few things around the birds in the front yard as well as a few things in the back. So, for this recent sketch I used my “just add water” technique—first sketching with Inktense and watercolor pencils, then adding a light mist of water, and finally a little manipulation of the running color with a brush and/or tilting that paper to encourage the flow of water. I guess I should mention that I do like to let the brush do a little scrubbing. I also treated the composition a little differently as each side could actually be a small stand alone vignette. Instead I folded the paper and left both sides together. Now it stands alone like a small card I will never send.

Last spring I added three drought tolerant plants (sage, or salvia) to the front area near all of this activity. I had had no true expectations for these 1 gallon-sized plants other than to have something with a kind of spiky texture up against the stone foundation. I also thought it important to tend a plant that would not need much water. That spring I also threw out some flower seeds in the back, with no idea if they would even grow at all. Amazingly, everything I planted has thrived and the spring/summer backyard flowers provided a bonus I did not expect—honey bees! I am loving that! Now the salvia in front is over two feet tall and the summer flowers in back have turned golden and yellow with two foot tall marigolds and rudbeckia, with also a few brightly colored zinnias sprinkled here and there. And oh my goodness, my tomatoes are covered with bright yellow blossoms, and still producing fruit. Sadly, the number of bees in the back have diminished. But I am not really sad because their numbers have increased 10 fold in the front and now cover the blossoms on each long, purple salvia plumes. Oh, and the hummingbirds are checking out the flowers as well. Did not expect that! The birds that used to visit the backyard flower seeds have gone, but a huge number of very tiny lizards have taken their place on the ground back there. In fact, there are little tiny lizards hiding amongst the front salvia as well. 

Of course, the presence of so many lizards has attracted the attention of our neighborhood cats, especially a large white and orange cat named Rusty. If he hasn’t seen me watching him, he sits very patiently just at the edge of all these flowers, tail switching back and forth. I haven’t seen any lizards drinking water from the bird’s water dish. Just imagining that tasty lizard infused bird water for Rusty to drink. Ahhh.

I also heard the mournful sound of white crowned sparrows outside my kitchen window the other evening. That gives me hope that they have returned to my garden for the winter. It also gives me hope that the weather will start cooling down and winter is on it’s way. It seems there are never ending moments of hope that surprise and delight me. And if I make sure to welcome even the troublesome things that come to my garden, I can hope to be delighted again and again. Funny, this kind of makes me think of a clever circular tale picture book called, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” by Laura Numeroff. Maybe I am the long suffering little boy that tries to encourage the whims of a demanding mouse. But in my little corner of the world a mouse in my garden would probably not be a very welcome site. Of course Rusty might think he had died and gone to heaven.

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