In a Mirror, Dimly

If it hadn’t been for the osprey, I might have missed the hawks. Earthbound, irritable after weeks of intense heat and drought, trapped in what seemed an interminable summer, I was raising my eyes less and less often to the unchanging, unbearably blue skies.

Despite my inattention, the world had business to attend to. The seasons continued to turn and the great migrations, the mysterious movements we describe so well but comprehend so poorly, began anew.

As always, the mallards and blackbirds were the early arrivals, but it was the osprey I was longing for. Their first call is an affirmation of autumn, their return an occasion for joy. Wheeling in on the thermals, their liquid arpeggios falling like leaves to the earth, they compel admiration and awe. Yesterday, as their unexpected and welcome call swelled my heart and pulled my eyes upward, I noticed another movement in the sky, higher even the ospreys and certainly more impressive.Flying above the ospreys were hawks – more than dozens, perhaps even hundreds. They might have been redtails or sharp-shinned, but I suspect they were broad winged, “kettling” their way among the building cumulus, spinning upward into the sky, silently stitching winged patterns between the clouds.

Despite the funny name, “kettles” are an important part of migration.  When hawks find a thermal updraft, a column of warm, rising air, they stretch their wings to rise with it.  Seeing the kettle form, other hawks join in, and the kettle grows. As each hawk reaches altitude at the top of the thermal, he sets his wings and glides away, losing altitude until he finds another thermal and repeats the process.  It’s clearly an energy saver, and perhaps even a pre-migration form of communication. In some places around the country, such as Hawk Mountain in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, kettles composed of thousands of raptors can be seen.

In Texas, broad-winged hawks as well as other hawks, falcons and kites arrive from breeding grounds in the eastern half of the country. Following the Mississippi Valley down to the Louisiana coast, they turn westward toward Texas, following the coastline to Galveston Bay. Preferring to avoid the bay itself, the hawks cross Houston and head to Corpus Christi, where they catch the thermals over the Nueces River and continue on to Central and South America.

This year, the birds seem to be on schedule for their appearance at the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch, where the height of the migration will be celebrated September 23-25. The Corpus Christi hawk watch is the largest in the nation.  In 2004, the total count exceeded one million migrating raptors, and it’s not uncommon for 100,000 hawks to be seen in a single day.

Although bird watching with friends is fun, it isn’t always necessary to get your spotting scope and a lawn chair to witness the vastness of migration. Just last year a Weather Underground blogger with a penchant for radar-watching called something to our attention.  He’d picked up the hawk migration on radar, a tool commonly used by birders like Woodcreeper to track our avian friends.

Over the next months, I began doing a little radar-watching myself, just to see what I could see. What I saw on Labor Day weekend was so unusual it made me pause. From a point northeast of Bastrop, Texas, the radar showed a streaming, expanding area of return. It looked for all the world like smoke, rather than rain, and when I did a Twitter search for “Bastrop”, that’s exactly what I found – the beginning of the terribly destructive Bastop Complex fire.

Radar is one thing, of course. Reality is another. Over the next weeks, as the fires spread throughout Texas, Forest Service maps and weather radars helped entire communities track new fires and smoke, even as postings to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook helped to communicate the massive scale of unfolding events.

As the fires began to be contained, I continued to keep an eye on the radars, and one night I was certain I’d spotted another explosive fire outside San Antonio. Doing a quick check to see if anyone else had noticed it, I discovered a storm chaser from Dallas who was querying his Twitter followers, asking if anyone could confirm a fire. After a few minutes, we had a different sort of confirmation. It wasn’t a fire at all. The large, explosive return that began as a single point between Garden Ridge and Schertz was, in fact, bats.

Yes, bats. The radar had picked up the emergence of millions of bats from the Bracken Bat cave, summer home of the world’s largest bat colony. As many as 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats live in the cave from March to October, and you easily can pick up their nightly emergence from the cave on sites such as this. It is possible to visit the Bracken cave, but membership and reservations are required to do so. It’s one way that the cave has been preserved for its residents, keeping them safe from overly-curious tourists and real estate developers alike.  

A true bat afficionado could have quite a weekend in season, taking in the Bracken cave and the Congress Street Bridge in Austin on the same trip. I’ll not be able to make the trip this fall, but next spring, when the bats return, I’ll be eager to see for myself the spectacles recorded on these videos.

Radars are amazing tools, as useful and convenient as the laptops, desktops, smart phones and iPads that bring them to us. Still, desk-and-device-bound as we are, it’s worth reminding ourselves now and then of the world beyond our screens, a world far larger, far more intriguing, more complex and even more mysterious than the images and ciphers flickering before us.

Watching a thunderstorm blossom on radar before making its way across the countryside is marvelous, but it’s no substitute for the smell of rain on the wind or the taste of a sudden spring raindrop.  Watching a fire ignite and spread across a monitor never will be as heart-wrenching or frightening as a sudden whiff of smoke.That we can track the swift, graceful movements of migration by means of technology is nothing short of astonishing. Still, who would give up the sound of rushing wings or the sight of spiraling life, tumbling and soaring beyond the limits of our sight as it disappears into the sunlit heavens like a prayer?

In the end, even the most useful gadget provides no more than a poor reflection of the wonders surrounding us, like a mirror unsilvered by age. There is a time for gazing into our dim mirrors, but there are other times when it’s best to get up, go out, look up and seek out all the wonders that surround us.  The world, after all, doesn’t have a Facebook page. She’d rather meet us face to face.

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Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 3:50 am  Comments (71)  
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71 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You are truly an amazing writer – I look forward to every post, and so proud you’re in Texas!

    • Texasjune,

      That’s really very kind of you – thank you for such complimentary words.

      I must say, I enjoy writing about many things, but there’s enough in Texas to keep anyone busy writing for a while. Aren’t we lucky we’re here?

      Linda

  2. “Into the sunlit heavens like a prayer.” Beautiful post. Just beautiful.

    • I would like to second this. More than that, I’d like to leave a comment worthy of this post, but . . . “wow” is pretty much where my brain stops right now. Wow.

      • Deborah,

        You know it’s enough to stop by, wave, and leave! ;-)

        Anytime!

        Linda

    • Teresa Evangeline,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for telling me about that line that caught your attention. One of the intriguing things about blogging is seeing how differently people respond to the same post.

      I suppose the reason’s as simple as this wonderful quotation from Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

      Linda

  3. Point taken. But just now it is very dark and raining steadily.So here’s a bit of recorded reality.

    I figured you might be busy over here.

    • Ken,

      “Amazing” can be an overused word, but I can’t think of anything else to say. The best part is the expression on the creature’s face. I don’t think he’s pleased! Thanks for bringing that by – not being a photographer or videographer, there’s a lot out there I don’t know about.

      Linda

      • “there’s a lot out there I don’t know about.”
        Well, that’s why I always read what you post, I guess. You select and create interesting images and so do many people who comment here. Sort of a filter on the river of information.
        I check out any blog and some are very good but this one “Takes the Cake”

        • Ken,

          Well now, I swear. That’s just as sweet as that cake you mentioned.

          I always figure that if something seems interesting to me, it might be interesting to someone else. And I’ve learned an important lesson these past years – if it’s interesting but I don’t know what to do with it, I just keep it. It’ll be useful some day. ;-)

          Linda

  4. Fantastic post. I had no idea migrations could be spotted on radar, but I do find it encouraging that we do still have some populations of animals large enough to show up in a medium like that. It would’ve been a hell of a thing to see a radar picture back when we had clouds of passenger pigeons flying around.

    • Mackenzie,

      I didn’t really know anything about passenger pigeons – at least the wild ones – until I wrote this post and was reading about migrations. They would have been a sight to see, no doubt.

      Years ago I stopped at Carlsbad, New Mexico, to see the bats there. It was an astonishing sight when they emerged from the cave – I’m glad to know I can enjoy the same experience a little closer to home.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. You’re welcome any time. And by the way – I’ll be sharing your wonderful “bald-headed” entry with a friend who’s having chemo. I suspect she’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

      Linda

  5. Isn’t it amazing that two of the ugliest of birds are among the most graceful? There’s the buzzard/vulture that soars into the heavens on the thermals. Sometimes, sitting out on the front porch looking down onto the Pacific Ocean in the distance, I can see literally dozens of them, their five- and six-foot wingspans stretching out soaring in great circles looking for a feast thousands of feet below. I used to think my eyesight was great as 20/10 but how would you measure theirs?

    And then there’s the pelican. First of all you wonder how a bird that heavy can even fly and yet to watch them gracefully glide along parallel to the waves on outstretched wings inches above the water. Rising over the crests of one wave and down into the trough as it makes its way to shore.

    What a wonderful bird is the pelican.
    His beak can hold more than his belly can,
    But I don’t know how the hell he can.

    • Richard,

      And don’t forget the frigate bird – not as large, but fully as amazing in its ability to soar.

      We don’t seem to have many vultures here. I’m sure they’re around, but the animal control people get to the roadkill so fast the poor birds don’t have a chance. Out in the hill country, though, you’ll see them making those lazy circles – anyone for a chorus of “Oklahoma”? ;-)

      I’m with you on the pelicans. We have both brown and white, and just now I’m working right alongside a channel where they like to fish. The precision of their flight is amazing, and with those wingtips just at the surface of the water? Wonderful.

      That old verse is one of the first I learned – except our version ended like this: “I don’t know how the hellican, but then, he is the pelican!”

      Linda

  6. I’ve always marveled at the great bird migrations. I’ve lived in two of the major “flyways” in my time. Growing up on Cape Cod we used to get huge flocks of Canadian geese headed south each fall along the Atlantic flyway. I remember evenings sitting at the kitchen table of my classmate Pam Collins’s house in Eastham just across from the body of water known as the Town Cove. Even with the doors and windows closed against the chill of the night as we studied, hopelessly, for an upcoming French test, you could hear the honking of the geese out on the water.

    And then Louisiana, at the end of the great Mississippi flyway. I was stunned by the huge, uncountable numbers of ducks and geese that gathered there each fall and winter. I spent two years running a crew boat out in the Kerr-McGee production field in Breton Sound. If the weather was mild when the first shots from the hunters rang out over the marsh the ducks would leave the sheltered ponds up in the marshes and gather in unbelievable numbers out in the sound. The flocks were so huge that you could run your boat through the middle of the flock and they’d rise up and blacken the sky just like in the nature shows. And the flocks were so huge that the ones on the outer edges wouldn’t take wing.

    Want to talk about geese? Out around the REAL Cajun country, Crowley and Eunice, where the rice fields are, the Canadian geese would congregate in flocks you couldn’t comprehend. You could drive for miles and miles and off on the edges of the fields would be unbroken lines of geese literally, in the millions. Well at least in the hundreds of thousands. It really was awe inspiring..

    • Richard,

      I think I know some folks who’d be willing to discuss where the “real” Cajun country is! I guess it’s like cypress – you’ve got swamp cypress and dry cypress, and they’ve both got their claim to the cypress name. No question that some of the best food and music’s rooted in that Eunice/Opelousas area. I just like the swamp. ;-)

      But – I take your point about that rice-growing area. West of Houston, it used to be the same out on the Katy prairie. Flocks of geese would stretch out to the horizon. It was an amazing sight, and we’d often drive out there just to look at the geese. Farther down the coast there’s an area where the sandhill cranes would gather. I hear they’re still there, but the numbers have diminshed as other crops have replaced the rice.

      One of the things I didn’t know is that Panama is a primary destination for the broadwing hawks. If you do a search you can find some great information, especially about how the routes were discovered. The article I linked said back in 1998 (?), about 1.7 million hawks cruised through Veracruz. I just can’t imagine.

      Linda

  7. Wow. Thank you.

    • ds,

      There are some amazing things in the world, no? Sometimes I think heaven is heaven and earth is earth, and we’re all Horatio, standing around twisting our toe into the ground while we philosophize. Bird migrations are a good antidote to that sort of thing!

      Thank you for stopping by!

      Linda

  8. I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours. I love the way you’ve connected things together here.

    And I wonder what life would be like if we focused on the world around us as much as we focus on the digital world just in front of us.

    • Becca,

      One of the things I’m coming to believe is that the connections exist – our only task is to discover them.

      As for that little issue of competing worlds – you know something of how I’m trying to deal with that. I’m not sure what the world will be like as I refocus, but I’m willing to try to find out.

      Who knows? One of these days I may hang a sign on my place that says “Walden West”. But I’m keeping my computer. ;-)

      Linda

  9. I really like the way you write. My uncle sent me some incredible photos from the fires near Bastrop. I recognized some of the places and I can’t believe how big the flames were.

    Birds…I recall one time that it sounded like someone was chopping down a tree in our backyard in Houston. We went outside and were surprised to see a woodpecker that seemed to be about 3 feet from head to tail with a giant wingspan. As it turns out, it was a giant Red Headed Woodpecker usually found in the Piney Woods and had no business being in Houston…but there it was. So keep your eyes peeled. Hope this finds you well.

    • symonsez,

      Gosh, it’s good to see you. Everything’s just fine here, especially now that the heat has broken. It was getting to be a bit much, even without the fires. I’m heading up to Iowa for Mom’s burial in a couple of weeks, and I’m really looking forward to some midwestern autumn.

      Those fires were terrible. There were large fires north of Houston, too – Montgomery and Waller counties – and plenty of people got displaced for a while, although the damage wasn’t anything like that around Bastrop. It just broke my heart to see the state park destroyed – and most of the habitat of the Houston toad. It liked to live in loblolly pine forests, and those are completely or nearly gone, as I understand.

      Aren’t those woodpeckers great? A friend inside the loop had one who lived in his pines – or at least visited a good bit. That bird sounded like a jackhammer. We couldn’t figure out if he was after food or building a nest – or just amusing himself. It was fun for us, anyhow.

      I’m glad you stopped by. Don’t be a stranger!

      Linda

  10. Honestly, I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you start in one spot — a fascinating spot — share tons of intriguing information that leaves me on a search for your links. Then you twist us down a slightly different road, and even more, twist our hearts with the reminders of the horrors that your beautiful state is experiencing this year. And then you connect it back with all the gadgets and remind us that as useful as a gadget can be, in terms of experiences, it is hollow.

    I often think about this on a different level. Yesterday at an office lunch, our extraordinarily remarkable and wonderful team manager, whom I admire tremendously, had her phone on the table and now and then it might beep and she’d glance at it. I know she has responsibilities at a time when it’s important to be connected, and I’ve come to think of phone reliance not as rudeness but simply a part of life that I don’t like.

    Nothing massive happened at lunch that went missed by the phone, but when those gadgets go everywhere with you, can you really enjoy a walk on a flawless day, the soaring of those bats you mentioned or the arrival of the birds? Can you give your full attention to the conversations around your or the beauty that exists? I don’t know. I know I couldn’t.

    • jeanie,

      I’m smiling. You’ve skirted around the “how do I do it?” issue before, and trust me – I can be as amazed as you at what emerges. For example, the Facebook reference – such a perfect ending, so fitting, so much a reflection of my beliefs – but it didn’t come to me until the very end. As Flannery O’Connor says, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Yes.

      I do have a post in my files that addresses the issue more directly. I think I’ll re-post it while I’m traveling in October. I wrote it three years ago! But, re-reading it in the light of all this writing, it still makes sense to me. Thanks for reminding me of it!

      As for the gizmos and gadgets, I know that life sometimes dictates the need for connectivity. That’s a given. Still, some people are beginning to resist. A certain executive has eliminated his voice mail box. If you need to get a message to him, you can call his assistant.

      Another business woman I know has set limits for family time. Call her in the evening, and you get this message: “This is XXXX. I am with my family, or otherwise engaged. Feel free to leave a message. I’ll contact you after 8 a.m. tomorrow.” She has a private number for family members and close friends, and says none of her customers have complained. In fact, many have said they appreciate knowing when to expect her call.

      But the issue isn’t primarily the business use of phones and such. The issue is the constant texting, IM-ing, twittering and facebooking. You may have heard the “I prefer texting to talking” stats that came out this week. We are changing our world, and diminishing our humanity, I fear. I sound like my parents lamenting Elvis Presley, but there you are. Pretty soon I’ll be an official geezer.

      No, I’m with you. As Thornton Wilder asks in “Our Town”, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?” Of course the answer is “no”. But we can try.

      Linda

  11. How amazing it must be to see kettling hawks or huge flocks of bats. You’re so right, too, so much better to be out in nature, enjoying her wonders first hand.

    • Juliet,

      You’re one of the luckiest I know in that regard – being out in nature. Every time I read one of your posts and see your marvelous walk-abouts recorded, I think how wonderful it must be to live in such a place. That’s one reason so many of us are longing for rain and cooler temperatures – we’re tired of huddling indoors!

      Linda

  12. A great conclusion: “The world, after all, doesn’t have a Facebook page. She’d rather meet us face to face.”

    Steve Schwartzman (also in Texas)

    • Steve,

      From your blogs – especially from your wonderful wildflower photography – it’s clear you know a thing or two about meeting the world face to face.

      Our poor Texas world is a little drought-dimmed just now, but there are some lovely (if silghtly weird) bright spots, like the stands of amaryllis I found today.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. I’m rather fond of that line myself. I’m glad you liked it.

      Linda

  13. Your last paragraph really sums it all up, Linda. So true, if we could only step out of our virtual world and go into the real, natural world…

    Thanks for an informative and detailed piece of nature writing. So much to learn and to see here. That eery picture of bats looks like a movie still from Hitchcock’s The Birds. And the fire, I remember your tweets, transmitting the urgency of the situation. May I ask an ignorant question, when is ‘rain season’ in Texas? I hope all the best for your State in the fall and the coming winter months. But then again, you probably don’t get any winter (?)

    • Arti,

      First, we do get a “winter” of sorts. We often have freezes, and though snow isn’t common, it does appear, setting the entire city into a frenzy. We’re more likely to get ice, and sometimes we’ll have wonderful sea fog. Personally, I love the winters.

      There really isn’t a “rainy season” here, but we have different kinds of rain. Spring and fall, as the cold fronts move down from the north and collide with tropical moisture, we have thunderstorms. In the wintertime, we can be very wet, as “overrunning” takes place and we can go for weeks with gray, cloudy skies and rain. In summer, there are “homegrown” thunderstorms that build up in the heat of the afternoon and bring sometimes torrential downpours. And of course, there are the tropical storms and hurricanes that bring inches and inches of rain, all at once.

      Except since last fall, there’s been none of that. We had a warm, dry winter, and a drier spring, and a horrid summer. Now, they are predicting another warm, dry winter. Some say we’ll have to wait until next spring for any rain. Or maybe next summer. It’s rather weird to have an entire state praying for a tropical storm. ;)

      To put things into some kind of perspective, Houston got 1.5 inches over a three-month period last spring. That would be on a par with the Sahara desert. And Houston’s yearly average is 50 inches, give or take. To date, SE Texas has received 15-20 inches. If you’re interested, here’s the latest drought information statement from the National Weather Service.

      As for your initial comment – “if we could only step out of our virtual world and go into the real, natural world…” – you’ve proved by your current post that we’re perfectly able to do that. Nothing is keeping us from it, but ourselves. I’m so glad that you’re one who’s able to balance the two worlds!

      Linda

  14. You know me well enough by now, Linda, to know face-to-face always beats the monitor screen. So I’m definitely with you on that count.

    However, all these technological wonders of tracking storms and fires and bats from this post alone are enough to boggle my mind. Seeing the bat stream from the second video took my breath away. I had seen it before but had forgotten. How can one forget that!

    From osprey to hawks to bats…and with all the weather in-between…you sure know how to grab our attention. :)

    • Ginnie,

      On my “about” page, I’ve made the difference between “either/or” and “both/and” one of the basic life choices. It certainly applies here. Experiencing the natural world is wonderful – you do it all the time. But being able to share it with people around the world is equally wonderful, and you do that, beautifully.

      In the same way, it was radar returns on a computer screen that caught my interest, but they were only a beginning, a starting point for explorations into the natural world.

      It’s Paulo Freire’s action/reflection model again, isn’t it? Well, that and the world tapping us on the shoulder, saying, “Hey! Get over here and look at this!”

      Linda

  15. I remember when I was first married to my ex, who is continually glued to the TV watching sports. I think it was the Olympics and Arnold Schwarzenegger was a commentator who told people to get up off the couch and go exercise. This is how I remember the event; it was so long ago I may have the details blurred. But, probably unlike the corporate sponsors of the Olympics, I still admire his guts for saying “Stop watching—start doing.”

    • Claudia,

      I don’t remember Arnold showing up in my living room, but there came a point where “stop watching – start doing” became more important to me. That probably was the point where I began watching less television myself. Now, with the tv gone, some of that time has been taken up by the computer – obviously. Still, there’s a lot more “activity” involved with the computer than there ever was with passive television watching.

      Of course, “watching” can be enormously satisfying, too, as in the case of a good film. But that implies two things – that we’ve learned how to watch, to be actively engaged in watching, and that we have something worth watching!

      Linda

  16. This is a stunningly beautiful post, from beginning to end. It is wonderful to know there are still places where hawks and other birds, and bats, can be seen in such abundance. The wildfires, on the other hand, are frightening and destructive, as you note.

    Your last line is exquisitely put, and a good reminder to us all: The world, after all, doesn’t have a Facebook page. She’d rather meet us face to face.

    • Susan,

      The great migrations are beautiful and compelling – not to mention mysterious. I once witnessed a butterfly migration that lasted for three days. The stream of butterflies was so large, albeit compact, that walking into the middle of it was like walking into a river. The butterflies would divide around me as though I were a rock – which to them, I suppose, I was.

      Arguing against received wisdom can be difficult. “You must be on Facebook,” I’m told. Really? I think about that a good bit. This was one result.

      Linda

  17. Just want to add: I like your title… as an allusion to the great Biblical passage, and for me, to the classic Ingmar Bergman film. ;)

    • Arti,

      I always can count on you. Of course the title is an allusion to the wonderful passage from I Corinthians. As a matter of fact, once I got into it, the entire post from title to last words was written as a kind of modern meditation on verse 12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…”

      As you can imagine, I rather enjoyed it. ;-)

      Linda

  18. There is a time for gazing into our dim mirrors, but there are other times when it’s best to get up, go out, look up and seek out all the wonders that surround us. The world, after all, doesn’t have a Facebook page. She’d rather meet us face to face.

    Lovely. Something I’ve been trying to tell my friends lately.

    • Damyanti,

      Well, as others are saying more and more often, those who choose to use Facebook aren’t its customers, they’re its product – sold in various ways to app developers and so on.

      If I were on Facebook, that would give me pause. But I’m not, having made the decision to de-clutter my time, just as I have my house. It’s a work in progress, of course, but I’m sure I’ve made the right decision.

      Everyone’s free to make their own decision, of course. But I’m willing to give a little nudge now and then!

      Linda

  19. Have you been listening in on my conversations with friends and family? :-)

    Seriously though, knowing life only through representation is not enough, is it? Reading books, watching films, even taking photographs can be used as a substitute for really living. So often I need to remind myself to just put the camera away.

    Thinking of radar this way is spot on. I also think it’s easy to get overwhelmed by too much virtually learned information, maybe because we are aware of too much living elsewhere that we don’t live ourselves.

    • Ruth,

      I think there are a lot of those conversations taking place today. ;-)

      Because (as I mentioned to Arti, above) I was writing this within the context of Paul’s passage about “seeing dimly”, I ended up thinking a good bit about icons. While an icon represents reality in a particular way, it’s not enough to only admire its surface. Its intention is for the viewer to go beneath the surface, to “see through” to the underlying reality. Being more mindful of that, seeing even radar images as “iconic” in that particular sense, could be helpful.

      As for putting the camera away… I surely have mentioned this before, but it’s always worth pulling out again. Annie Dillard explores the “two ways of seeing” in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”, and ends by saying:

      “[One way of seeing involves analyzing and prying.] But there is another way of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way, I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut.”

      The woman is a genius.

      Linda

  20. ‘The world doesn’t have a facebook page…’ So true.

    This was a wonderfully written post.

    Being a fellow Texan, I too, am aware of the fires in Bastrop. Even where we are cotton pickers have burned down in the field; cotton modules have taken to smolder and to flame. Crazy heat.

    Fingers crossed we might get a scatter of showers end of the week.

    Again, I really enjoyed this post. ;-)

    • farmer*swife,

      That’s right – it doesn’t take a forest filled with pine trees for their to be fire, and for it to do a good bit of damage. There’s just as much grief in watching cotton burn as selling off cattle, too. One of these days things will turn, and we’ll all smile.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It always warms my heart when a fellow Texan shows up, too. Steve Schwartzman, who posted above, is from the Austin area. If you have a minute, you might enjoy looking at his blog – wonderful photos of our flowers!

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your showers – Temple’s getting some tonight.

      Linda,

  21. I am not able to tolerate forest fires or fires of any kind. It is a poor way to die and suffocation is horrible. I have had one lung collapse twice and that is suffocation at its most terrible. Fires starve the air of oxygen so suffocation comes or smoke kills. Either way the forest is dead and will, if allowed, regenerate itself but the wildlife will not come back and are gone in crisp black clumps where they fell. Sad.

    • Abraham Lincoln,

      I’ve been blessed with good lungs and good luck – I’ve never had the kind of experience you describe. Still, there were two days in particular during these last fires when the winds were right (or wrong) and smoke from fires to our west and north came in. It was terribly uncomfortable, and quite a reminder of what the firefighters and evacuees were facing.

      Some of the most poignant Forest Service photos included some of wildlife – still living, but certainly confused and dispossesed. At least some of those areas have received a bit of rain – small comfort, I suppose, but comfort nonetheless.

      Linda

  22. Beautiful post – an amazing sense of time and place. Thank you!

    • deborah,

      So glad you enjoyed it! When you get right down to it, time and place are about all we have – it’s up to us to make of them what we will, in writing and in life.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Linda

  23. An evocative memoir…a bonny description of the birds that arrive in autumn, bearing its dark, golden sunlight on their backs!

    Boyfriend lives near an artificial lake – many birds have adopted it as their home. When the sky turns cold, he begins to see gray geese, flying in vast symmetrical formation, arriving to end end their migration at this most fortunate lake.

    And yes – whether you are aware or not, the sky always beckons!

    • aubrey,

      And isn’t it interesting, the different migration patterns? I don’t think the geese, cranes, ibis and such kettle, but their vees are a signature image of fall – as are the calls of the geese. I’ve always loved hearing them on a moonlit night – the very essence of natural rhythm and a beckoning sky.

      Lucky boyfriend, yours! There’s nothing better than having an extra portion of natural beauty show up on your doorstep!

      Linda

  24. Hello Linda,

    I did not realize the last few of your “blog header” stories were posted here alsoo. I’ve been waiting for your blog header to have a new link! LOL

    You know I enjoy your stories and the gentle message from each of them. There is nothing better than getting out and viewing nature first handed at every opportunity.

    Thank you for another great story.

    Patti

    • Patti,

      I’ve done that more often the past couple of months, just because I’ve been so busy with all the details of closing Mom’s estate, catching up at work, and so on. Once October’s over – it promises to be every busier, if possible! – I’ll be back on track. ;-)

      You of all people know about getting out, seeing and doing. Those photos of Nolan were more than precious. They are a record of a little boy who’s going to end up just like Rylee – in love with the world around her and not afraid of it one bit. What greater gift could we give to the next generation?

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Linda

  25. Great post Linda. Impressive how you wrote about the serious fires in your state (very scary), and turned the article around to include the massive migrations of hawks falcons and kites, and bats that will be flying through your State (very thrilling). Can’t imagine seeing 100,000 hawks flying overhead in just one day.

    re the three day butterfly migration you described in the comments: WOW!

    • dearrosie,

      The butterfly migration was stunning. After a while, you just start laughing, thinking, “Where have all these creatures BEEN?” Well, and where are they going?

      The fact is that everything is connected. Migratory species depend on finding food and water. Fire can upset that balance. Endangered species depend on particular habitats. Fire or flood can affect that.

      The issues are complex – and that means real thought is necessary to deal with the problems. Unfortunately, we can be a species not given to much thought, ourselves!

      Linda

  26. Hi there, Linda.

    To start off, I must say that as a “non-writer”, I’m fascinated by your skills at starting off at one point and arriving at your conclusion with what I might almost call a “punch line”, and most notably, the intricate course you navigate during this journey.

    Your writing about the bats reminded me of an experience many years ago in Queensland, Australia, where we saw a huge portion of the sky blackened by migrating bats. What an unbelievable sight that was!

    Your thoughts on the use of technology made me think of a favourite cartoon of mine by the Australian, Michael Leunig, where a father is pointing to the sun rising on television, while the real thing is occurring right outside their window. I’ve found it on a blog, and the post also includes another cartoon with an updated take on the same theme.

    • Andrew,

      It always delights me to hear stories like yours, about the Queensland bats. Such a good reminder of the liveliness of the world, and the interrelatedness of our separate “worlds”.

      I thoroughly enjoyed not just the cartoons but the entire post you linked. There’s always something comforting in knowing we’re not alone in our perspectives!

      I’m heading off on a trip to the midwest tomorrow (more about that later). Several people have suggested I need a GPS, in order to ensure a safe and hassle-free trip. I have nothing against GPS – they’re marvelous for every sort of purpose. But they tend to encourage point-to-point navigation, which has very little to do with the kind of travel I enjoy.

      I’ll be stopping at several places where my ancestors lived in the late 1800s. I just was thinking about them last night – and their travels from West Virginia to Texas to Iowa and points in between with no GPS! I have friends who are nervous about going to a new restaurant without their gizmos. It’s the way of the world now, I suppose. But I think I’ll pass.

      Linda

      • Oh please, Linda, reconsider. We live 1100 to 1300 miles from some relatives that we see every year. Until this year, we disregarded GPS as nothing more than a luxury toy. This year, we wanted to prevent some hassles we’ve had before. The little $100 ‘toy’ has already saved us more than that in wasted time and gasoline. It’s perfect even for when you want total freedom of where you wander far and wide, because it shows you exactly where you are! Cuts traveling stress significantly! No matter where you are, it feels comforting to be able to press “Go Home!” Have a wonderful tour!

        • Texasjune,

          I had a little discussion about this with another friend, and in the process became aware of the fact that most of my “serious” travelilng was in the pre-GPS days. Sailing from Hawaii to Alaska, across Europe twice, overland through West and North Africa – no GPS! I was trying to remember – I’m sure I had a watch, but that was about it. So, I became accustomed to being without, and just never have experienced the need. Travel stress isn’t one of my maladies!

          On the other hand – I’m in Iowa now, and do have a GPS with me. I’ve used it once, and learned a couple of things. The good news is it can show you the exact location of a Kansas ghost town. The bad news? It sometimes forgets to mention things like “there’s no bridge up there on that road you’re supposed to take”!

          Linda

  27. Love this! Hope your weather has cooled down a bit. . . we are just entering summer here and I am in love with heat and sunshine for now. Five months time and I’ll probably be wanting winter again!

    • Jeannine,

      Glad you enjoyed it. It won’t be long now until you’ll be watching your own migration – the tourists down to the water. Needless to say, they have their own strange behaviors. ;-)

      We’ve cooled down enough for the Cape Honeysuckles to begin blooming again – if we can just get some rain, it might be a lovely fall. We’ll see.

      I thought about you the other day. I was looking through a couple of my mom’s grade school autograph albums (a lovely custom) and discovered that her school colors were – green and pink! It’s a bit of a curious combo for school colors, but nice. I think it was oh! who’d set her table with pink and green, or redecorated? At least with summer coming, you’ll have plenty of pink and green around you!

      Linda

  28. We constantly hear about our shrinking world, Linda, and sitting at our computers it’s so easy to forget just how enormous and complex the planet is. Your blog is always a wonderful, beautifully-worded reminder of that fact. Membership in a bat cave? Who knew?

    • bronxboy,

      Just back from my trip north with Mom, for her internment. Those ten days only reinforced what you say – our world is enormous, complex and beautiful.

      It’s also filled with decent, honest, hard-working people who see that complexity and beauty with clear eyes. Let the New York and LA folks sneer about “flyover country”. The longer the cynics, pessimists and snobs keep flying over the great Midwestern heart of America, the happier some of those midwesterners will be!

      And isn’t that bit about the bat cave membership especially wonderful? It’s a way of saying, in the clearest way possible, “This is special, and worthy of being preserved – not just for our sakes, but for theirs.” I think in the old days we called that stewardship. ;-)

      Linda

  29. You are so awesome.

    • Bayou Woman,

      Glad you think so, cher, but here’s the real truth: the world is awesome. We’re just the ones who’ve been given the opportunity to spread the word! Bayou or bat cave – it’s all good!

      Linda

  30. Just an addendum. Last night Oklahoma experienced their strongest earthquake ever. The National Weather Service radar out of Norman picked up an image of birds and bugs taking flight because of the quake. You can see an animation here.

  31. Evokes memories of past experiences:

    In a glider excursion we were towed to 2000 ft and released. Several steeply banked thermal climbs later delivered us to 12000 ft. The silence and views were truly amazing. Our scheduled 45 minute flight stretched to nearly 2 hours, but the whole experience seemed to last only a few minutes. I guess I ‘kettled’.

    You may be saddened by the forest lost by fire, but it is often nature’s way of rejuvenation. The forest does return through its natural evolutionary process in its own time schedule.
    I am more saddened by forests lost through invasion of non-indigenous insects or blights; they kill trees while leaving the skeleton standing, which inhibits rejuvenation.

    I can still picture the magnificent elm trees of eastern Ontario, all long gone by Dutch Elm disease, or the plight of western pine trees decimated by pine borers. (On a bright note I found an example of use for this wood by the Nk’Mip Cultural Centre in BC, where I also was introduced to ram-wall construction.)

    Migrations are always amazing: I still find it hard to believe that the Monarch butterfly manages to travel from Ontario to Mexico and back again.

    Rick

    • Rick,

      The expansion and contraction of time intrigues me. In your flight, you eperienced its contraction. When I was in a serious auto accident, time expanded to such a degree that events which lasted only a minute or two seemed to take forever.

      I remember the scourge of Dutch Elm disease running through the midwest. Later, there was oak wilt in Texas, and the dreaded pine bark beetle. In many instances, fire is preferable. But the fires in Texas this past year were something other than the normal cycle of fire. The intensity of the interminable drought turned everything into tinder, and the loss of so many acres of timber, not to mention the loss of thousands and thousands of urban trees, certainly felt “unnatural”.

      The entire ecosystem has been badly damaged. Burning the prairies and preserves to encourage growth is a normal part of life here. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see a full recovery from the drought.

      Linda

  32. Seeing the smoke on radar was amazing, and seeing the puff of bats was —- eeeeeeeeeks, spooky! Of course I know that they are beneficials and catch many insects, etc, but the vampire bats are a different animal for sure! I liked bats before, and I am much better now then i was after my first few bites!

    Scorpions aren’t fun; the sting hurts like crazy but usually goes away faster than a bee sting. I was often popped in Costa Rica and became allergic to them… Now i am very cautious and look thrice!

    • Lisa,

      It was a first lesson in Texas country living – check your shoes or boots before putting them on. And from my little catalog of life experiences, there’s one more – if you’re going to drink sweet drinks like Coke outdoors (even diet), buy a bottle and keep the lid on it. Cans are dangerous. Bees have been known to go inside, and drinking a bee’s no fun! (Thank goodness the thought, “Furry? Coke?” got through to me before I swallowed!

      Linda

      • Ja! In the early ’90’s, my family and friends went to Toledo Bend for a week of bass fishing. I always get enough of a crowd and bow out one day and do something quiet by myself. I went to Hodges Gardens and painted the azaleas. Returning to the lodge, I was working on the painting when everyone returned from fishing. Sipping cold beer from longnecks (you know where this is going, don’t you?) we were swapping stories, and every so often I would look at my painting to silently critique it. I picked up my cervesa, and a yellow jacket popped me on my bottom lip. I probably broke the world record for how far one can spit beer, which hit the painting and dribbled down and left streaks. For the rest of the week, my bottom lip was swollen to mammoth proportions, and a fever blister was the crowning touch! I never repaired the painting – it was a reminder not to ever do that again!

        Just yesterday with the tour group, I poured most of my cervesa in a glass and then firmly wrapped a napkin over the top of the bottle!

        • Been there, suffered that! It’s a shame that so many life lessons have to be so painful, but at least we learn. You wrap your cervesa, and I’m never without Benadryl!


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