I use the kitchen table as a work center, but spend a lot of time not working. That is because from the big dusty windowseat, through the spiderwebs that catch sunlight in the corners of the glass I watch a fairytale of animals. Song sparrows with their formal stripes and classy single black breast spot hop along the uneven flagstone walkway. The walkway, recently weeded, is again being compromised by sprouts. The small pond wears a heavy scarf of peppermint along its north side, and a mixture of fescues and waterplants around the south. A waterlily bravely floats pads on the still water after having been drastically thinned last month. A calla lily opens partially white, partially green.
Below the window in a dish of seed set low for ground feeders are house finches, the males’ proud red fading like the leaves of the Japanese maple behind the green bench. Lesser goldfinches skeletonize the leaves of sunflowers that have sprouted from birdseed; a nuthatch and a mountain chickadee take turns on the hanging suet feeder, both noisy and reminding me of pine forests. A pair of crows who have lived near this garden for years, but who have been about other business during the summer, are reunited on the telephone line. She grooms his feathers and he leans into her. I’ll have to put treats out for them, to keep on their good side. A Nutall’s woodpecker looks like a childhood toy by hopping straight up the big pine. I grin a welcome to a couple of white crowned sparrows, the forefront of the migratory flock. These spirited and chatty birds shuffle leaves onto my walkway every morning, and I quite happily sweep the leaves back for the next round. It is a ritual just between us. A young scrub jay swoops in with much show, seeing how big a reaction he can get from startling the smaller birds clustering at the feeders or taking warm dirtbaths. He lands on a small trellis and pecks out seeds from a sunflower I propped up after its yellow glory faded. Finches visit when he leaves and take their share of this high protein food.
The outside water is turned off; I should be on my knees in mud down by the chicken coop right now fixing a break in the pipe but I am held here by the autumnal light. Even in the morning it slants at a kinder angle, bringing out the gold in the leaves. Later when the water resumes the dripper on the bird bath will start and sparrows, finches, towhees and random visitors will sip drinks and take cleansing baths. One of my favorite sights is watching a group of finches taking turns in the bath, daring each other to stay longer and become wetter. Their splashing sends a cascade of drops into the sunlight. They give Finch Frolic its name. Now the only visitors are honeybees taking water to hydrate their honey. I emphathize with these bees. Only the older females do the pollen gathering, carrying heavy loads in their leg sacks back to the hive until they die in flight. A useful life, but a strenuous and unimaginative one.
Perhaps today there will also be a house sparrow, or a common yellowthroat or a disagreeable California towhee, what everyone knows as a ’round headed brown bird’. Or maybe the mockingbird will revisit the pyracantha berries, staking them out as his territory while finches steal them behind his back. I hear the wrentit’s bouncey-ball call, but as they can throw their voices I usually don’t spot them. Annas hummingbirds spend all their energy guarding the feeders, stopping to peer into the window to see if I’m a threat. My black cat Rosie O’Grady stares back, slowly hunching, mouth twitching with a soft kecking sound as if she could hunt through a window. I see that the hanging tray of grape jelly needs to be taken in and washed because the orioles have all migrated. Rosie is given up by the hummingbird and instead she watches cat TV as the birds shuffle in the Mexican primrose below the window.
I don’t see either of the bunnies this morning, Primrose or Clover. They live under the rosemary bush, and perhaps in the large pile of compost in the corner of the yard. I’ve watched them nibble the invasive Bermuda grass, and pull down stalks of weedy sow thistle and eat the flowers and seeds. They do no harm here, and are helping with the weeding; I love watching them lope around the pathways living in cautious peace.
Unseen by me by where I sit, mosquito fish, aquatic snails, dragonfly larvae, strange worms and small Pacific chorus frogs hang out in the pond and under the overhanging lips of flagstone I placed there just for them. Under the plants are Western fence lizards big and small awaiting warmth from the sun to heat up the rocks so they may climb the highest stone in their territory and posture while the heat quickens their blood. A mouse scurries between plants, capturing bits of birdseed scattered by the messy sparrows. The soil is good here, full of worms and microbes and fungus. Everything is full of life, if you only know how to look for it. You can smell it. You can feel it.
Now comes the spotted towhee, black headed with white patterns on his wings and reddish sides. Once called the rufous-sided towhee, he is bold and handsome, his call a long brash too-weeet. He sassily zig-zags down the narrow flagstone pathway looking for bugs.
I haven’t seen the rat family for a few days. The four youngsters invade the hanging feeders, tossing each other off and being juvenile delinquents. At night I hear the screech of a barn owl, which might be my answer.
The oxblood lilies – always a surprise during the dry and the heat of September, have almost all faded, but sprouts of paper white narcissus are beginning to break ground. They are Fall flowers here, usually done by Thanksgiving.
It is Fall. Finally. The world of my garden is tired and ready for a rest from the heat, the mating, the child rearing, the dryness, the search for diminishing food, the hiding so as not to become food. Although the days here are still in the high 80’s the evenings bring coolness and a much-needed dampness. Rain won’t come until November or later. But we wait for it, the animals, the plants and I. And time passes as I sit at the table and watch. I know of no better way to spend an autumn morning.