Remember the silence around Pueblo Alto in Chaco, so heavy you felt blanketed by its snows, and the desert landscape spread out below, unmoving for miles? That was silence. Not even a breeze singing on the stones.
June 8, 2006
Hiked in the rain this morning. My boots got so mud-caked my footsteps fell almost silently. Odor of rain-pressed sage. I drew it down into my lungs, it weighed in them, it coursed through my chest in a rush, flushing like a deep emotion. The rain soaked me. It’s been a long time since I walked in the rain and got a good soaking.
I crossed paths several times with a colony of cliff swallows. They skimmed low above the brush, maybe because the rain had pushed insects down near the ground. They flew over, around, and parallel to me. They let me in among them and I was able to get the best look at them Iâ€™ve had yet. Up to now, Iâ€™ve only seen them at a distance.
I miss being among the barn swallows that nested under concrete bridges in Payson, so having the cliff swallows as occasional company felt satisflying. I mean satisfyingâ€”funny slip of the pen, there! Cliff swallows are more striking than I realized, especially when their feathers are wet. They are as confident as barn swallows, flying in very close. But they arenâ€™t as acrobatic, theyâ€™re more conservative in flight–still twinkling, as birders call it, but making no special embellishments as do barn swallowsâ€”a wisdom in this desert environment. We do have a few barn swallows around, which only adds to the swallow-flight pleasure factor for me. They donâ€™t come down as far as my house often, but Iâ€™m always happy to see them.
Last night I walked with Mark out to the edge of the desert. The nighthawks (much more swift-like than hawk-like) were active. Every once in a while weâ€™d hear in the darkness overhead the â€œWhroosh!â€ of wings as male nighthawks displayed to femalesâ€”a noise that prompted Australians to nickname the birds â€œboomers.â€ When Mark heard it, he asked, â€œWhat was that noise?â€ â€œA nighthawk,â€ I said. â€œTheir bodies make that noise?â€ â€œThe air rushing past their wings as they dive,â€ I said.
When I arrived home from the hike today, I found the hummingbirds hanging around the feeders and perched on the clothesline that runs around our back porch. I thought they were sheltering from the rain but wondered at last if they had nectar. I found the cups empty and went in to make more. As soon as I appeared on the porch, nectar in hand, two birds flew down to me. They drank from the cups as I filled them. Hummingbirds bring our entire household joy. Yesterday, when the storm front rode through on winds gunning it to seventy miles an hourâ€”peeling shingles off our roof and blowing debris through our yardâ€”the hummingbirds still found energy to joust with one another over the feeders, even though the wind folded their little bodies nearly in half as they flew around the cups. When they perched on the feeders and dipped into the nectar, the wind bent their tails over their backs.
With their brilliantly colored throat patches, hummingbirds put me more in mind of lizards than any other bird.
July 26, 2006
(Dedicated to the predominantly male-controlled bloggernacle.)
This evening, I am sitting out on the back porch watching lightning storms to the south and to the east, some sixty miles and more away. The cell to the east rumbles and flashes like a great engine. One huge thunderhead, its bright crown thrust into the remainder of the day, its bottom black with night, steams across distant plateaus in Colorado. Scorpio hangs off the thunderhead’s broad right shoulder. Lightning illuminates the whole engine then trims one edge in thin silver scalloping as the rest of the storm goes momentarily dark.
Off in Arizona, another storm fires bolts as orange as pumpkins. Shreds of rain trail below, threaded with crooked veins of fire. Heaven is lit up from within.
The Arizona storm drifts west, lightning intensifyingâ€”it looks like firecrackers going off under a hat, only silently, as this storm is too far off for me to hear it thunder.
Meanwhile, the Milky Way swells out from deepening dark and runs south into the lightning chambers. Hard to tell where storm clouds end and star clouds begin.
A hard-edged bolt fires against the gray velvet of cloudburst, followed by multiple bolts crooked as rivers running through open plains of sky.
This is what the Navajos call male rain.