Celeste and Kathie 12-23-13
Like everyone else I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. But I am not out buying presents and shopping. I am busy spending time with family and friends. Earlier this week I went for walk in the Tanque Verde Wash with Chris. This morning I met Celeste near a trailhead where we went on a horseback ride with Pantano Stables through Saguaro National Park! I did this on the same day last year with my daughter, Renée.
It was such fun to do it again this year with this dear friend. The day is warm and sunny and as we plod along on dusty trails through a forest of mesquite and Palo Verde trees interspersed with cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cactus. The typical desert birds call to us as they go about their desert business. I listen and look. I did not bring my camera or my binoculars. I just want to soak in the whole experience and remember how this feels.
A ladder-backed woodpecker clings to the tip of a mesquite tree and gives a warning call before flying off into the desert. Curve-billed thrashers sing “whit-WHEET” as we walk slowly by in a long snaky string of horses and riders. I hear a gilded woodpecker cry its sharp screech against the clear blue sky, and then a Gila woodpecker laughs as we go plodding past the tall saguaro it has its home in! All around us the Black-throated sparrows send their silver song with a sound like tinkling bells sailing over the desert. This is Christmas in the desert!
But my day was not yet over. In the evening I take my grandson to Pantano Stables for a ride on a horse drawn hay wagon through the desert that is decorated with Christmas lights. The draft horses have their harnesses fitted with jingle bells that tinkle gently as the horses plod along in companionable harmony before us. We sit on sweet bales of hay and gaze into the darkness. Around us Christmas lights illumine the desert while overhead the stars shine brightly in our desert sky. With a pony ride before the wagon ride and a visit with Santa afterwards to top it all off , I am making memories to keep!
The busy day and fresh air soon tire me out and I am in bed before 11 p.m., but I wake up around 2:30 a.m. thinking it is morning! I am so surprised to discover that night is only half spent! However, I can’t stop thinking of all the things I still need or want to do, so I put on my robe and go downstairs. I turn on the Christmas tree lights and load my CD player with Christmas music. I wrap a few presents and finally finish decorating the Christmas tree. Thanks to Celeste and my sister my tree is birdier than ever this year!
When I am all done I have the empty cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper as well as a few other recycles, and so I unlock the front door and trot them out to the recycle bin, since today is trash day in our neighborhood and the bins are already at the curb. As I am placing the items in the bin I suddenly hear a soft hooting drifting over the neighborhood. I cannot believe my ears! It is a pair of great horned owls! Last year when my all my children were home for Christmas one of my sons saw an owl on a rooftop in the backyard. But I was sleeping and never saw it. Earlier this month I finally heard the owls calling for the first time and was thrilled, but I still never saw them. This time I stand in the dark in my front yard and listen to their calls as the sound drifts over the tree tops. I notice the Christmas light that are still on in my neighborhood, and not far away on the main road I hear the sounds of traffic, louder and more frequent than usual for this time of the morning and I imagine the people who are still out shopping and running last minute Christmas errands. I think how lucky I am to be standing here in the dark listening to great horned owls instead! But the owls are still too far away to see. After soaking in the experience for a few moments, I go back inside and submit a record to eBird.
As I am sitting at the kitchen counter writing suddenly I hear the owls even louder and closer and even though I have the windows and doors all closed! I know they are in my backyard now, so I jump off the stool and slide open the door and walk back out into the dark mooring. It’s nearly 4:30 a.m. by now and though I can hear the owls so loud and clear I still cannot see them. I quickly hurry inside and upstairs where I enter my bedroom and open the door to the balcony. I quickly and quietly close the door behind me and search the moonlit darkness for the owls. I scan the nearby rooftops but cannot find them even though I can hear them so clearly! Finally I reposition myself where I can see through a gap in the trees to a rooftop beyond where one owl is perched on top of a vent pipe. I think it is the female for her hind end is elevated and she keeps lifting it up and looking down. Below her on the rooftop is the male. They are both calling to each other and I think that they have just mated, or are about to mate, but then the male flies over and lands on the vent pipe directly behind my house and though it is dark, I can still see the owl through my Eagle Ranger binoculars! I am just thrilled and I stand there in the cold dark morning practically holding my breath while my heart beats wildly in my chest. I cannot believe that this is all happening right here in my suburban backyard! In fact, when I think about it, I cannot believe most of the wildlife and birds that have visited this yard in the 18 months that I have lived here!
As I continue to watch and listen to the owls the male decides to fly off towards the Rincon Mountains to the east. Meanwhile the female continues her soft hooting from her perch on my neighbor’s roof. I wonder if I am the only one who hears them and knows what is going on. Overhead I glance up at the Big Dipper which is high in the sky and upside down as if it is spilling out Christmas magic into the night! Finally I start to feel chilled and I head back inside the house. I feel so privileged to have witnessed this. I feel like it is a gift from nature just for me and I am so thankful. Now I can let the festivities begin!
- A Gift From Nature on Christmas Eve-new poem