Leaning Back, Looking Up

Yesterday I realized that the pair of birds I thought were hawks were last year’s eaglets, much bigger now but still immature of plumage, as well as in behavior. They rollicked through the sky, screeching away and making quite a racket as they tried out several trees and a telephone pole for height, view, or whatever it is that eagles like best in a perch.

juvie eagle


They sure weren’t going to sneak up on any critters, but they seemed to be taking great joy in life. Was it joy, or was that me projecting my feelings about being able to fly like that, over pine trees, river, housetops, patchworks of roads, gardens, woods? Adult eagles don’t cavort; come to think of it, adult deer don’t cavort either, but fawns do. Cavorting is the province of the young. I resolve to cavort, as a protest against unfair ageism.

In the late afternoon they were joined in the sky by a number of vultures and a few crows. This was convenient for studying the differences between them; also, there were wonderful clouds. I leaned back and watched this busy sky, and thought about the names for groups of things. Vultures, for instance, are a kettle when they’re flying, a committee when they roost together in a tree, and a wake when they’re feeding. This is one of the best sets of group names: in flight, vultures swirl around as though being stirred in a great, invisible pot; bunched together in a tree they look exactly like a committee meeting you’d try hard to get out of; and of course when they’re feeding it’s a feast in honor of something that died. Makes a murder of crows seem lame. I had to look up the word for a group of eagles: convocation. I’ve personally never seen enough eagles together in one place to qualify. The pair I was watching were definitely a Joy of Eagles.

Alas, Poor Blueberries

Last week we had some freakishly hard, heavy rain. The first of these storms knocked lots of nearly-ripe blueberries off their bushes, whch was very sad, but that’s the way it goes with gardening.

A few days later there was an even heavier rainfall. In Chile they call this kind of downpour “lluvia mata pajaritos,” rain that kills baby birds. I didn’t find any nests on the ground aftwerward – I found an entire tree. There was no wind; the damage was from the weight of all that water on an ash tree that had been attacked by emerald ash borers, an accidentally imported species against which native trees have no defenses. There are so few ash trees left in Ann Arbor, I didn’t notice that we had one back there behind the garden, until it fell. Then it was obvious.

I didn’t hear it fall because the rain was making such a racket. I wouldn’t have seen it go even if I’d been looking out the right window, because visibility was about six feet. I had been working in the garden in the morning before the rain started, came in when the clouds got alarmingly thick, worked on a poem for a couple of hours until the rain stopped again, and only looked out the appropriate window by chance as I fixed a cup of tea.


From the house all I saw was a leafy mass. I put down the teacup and went out to find one of my wonderful blueberry-net cages bashed in and one section of fence reduced to half height, but – miraculously – the blueberry bush inside the ruined cage survived, and no tomato plants were destroyed, though a couple were somewhat dented. The tree lying across the fence looked suspiciously like a ramp for the woodchuck. I wonder if she has any little beaver friends in the nearby creek.

Stacking Things Up

Having spent much of my time recently writing poems and weeding the garden, I have now drawn up this comparison chart:

item                                                                               poems         weeding

makes order out of chaos:                                       yes               yes
work is never done:                                                    yes               yes
efforts greeted with enthusiasm by others:       no                no
urge to persevere nonetheless:                             yes               yes
results in tomatoes:                                                    no                yes
can do on rainy days:                                                 yes               no

I think it’s a wash.

Fourth of July

On our walk this morning, a neighbor coming the other way with her poodle paused and gave us a significant look. “The eagle,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper, perhaps so the poodle wouldn’t hear, “is sitting about four feet above the nest. Easy to see his white head.”

This slowed our walk down considerably, trying to remember where the nest was that we hadn’t seen since last summer. But then we heard that screamy call, so like a seagull’s; and then we saw the white head against the sky, and the white tail flicking like a sunglint in shadows.

Happy Fourth of July, national emblem. How’s it going? We still have a country, dire predictions to the contrary notwithstanding. Are we all resilient enough to make it through this era of incivility together? I put American flags out in the yard, red-white-and-blue bunting and garlands hanging from rails and flowerpots. It’s everybody’s country, and it’s everybody’s flag. E pluribus unum.

I’m decorating because we’re having a barbecue. We’ll grill burgers and set out lemonade and iced tea and beer, and in fine Midwestern fashion the guests will all bring contributions to the meal. There will be amazing salads and excessively delicious desserts, and cultural traditions from all over the world will be appropriated. I approve.

And then there will be sparklers. We won’t wait until dark because there will be rapidly-tiring children, and in Michigan on the 4th of July the sun sets at 9:15 and twilight lasts till ten o’clock. Sparklers are bright enough to shine in the late light,Version 2 dancing and twirling across the lawn in hands of all ages.

Then the guests will leave, the sparklers will be replaced by fireflies, and neighbors who go in for noisy fireworks will set them off. I wonder if the eagles are secure enough in their own nests to sleep through it.