Voice of the Angel

Just because my hip doesn’t need surgery doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It’s frustrating but the good thing is walking makes it feel better. SO…Bear and I managed our escape alone together yesterday before the rain started. Clouds were coming at us from three directions so things were looking good. The deer flies have mostly gone, and we were greeted by a little mayfly who landed on my glasses. Dragonflies everywhere. As we neared the cottonwood trees (there are only a few) a hawk took flight from one of them. We stopped. He flew back and up where he had been. I am not sure but I think he had food up there. I took a few more steps hoping to see him in the tree, but he was dedicated to maintaining his privacy and flew off across the field. I saw he was a Red Tail Hawk and saluted him.

I heard thunder rumbling and we turned around. It was pretty far away but still. The clouds were very dark. It was promising a gulley washer somewhere. We would hit it on our way home, and Bella would get a good wash.

I saw a Refuge trucks parked by one of the information signs they have for bird tourists, the one that introduces them to the yellow-headed blackbird. I’m always hesitant to pass people because they might have a hidden dog or agenda, but I didn’t need to be. A guy was working on the sign. We said “Hi!” and I asked if he’d like to meet my dog. He wanted to so we crossed the road. Bear liked him. He looked to be a guy who might’ve been tossed hard by a large animal at some point. That’s a common possibility down here where kids start to rodeo at a young age. He had bright blue eyes, tanned skin, creased from working outside. I opened with, “Looks like the crowds are gone.” I meant the birders clamoring to see the Yellow Rail. He was putting up a new barrier to keep birds from pooping on the sign, an exercise he thought was both funny and futile.

“It was crazy here for a week or so. The cranes will be here soon. A month?”

“About,” I said. “I’ll be glad to see them.”

“They can be very annoying.”

I thought about how if I worked out there I might find them annoying, too. They’re big. They poop. They make a LOT of noise. He told me a story about how 40 cranes died in a sudden gust of wind, tangled in electrical wires. “They’re serious about that. It was out on the 7 mile.” (I live where the streets have no names) “The sheriff and everyone, Parks and Wildlife, everyone was out there counting, them, GPSing them, making sure they’d got them all. They’re serious about this.”

I didn’t know what I would do if I saw a dead crane. My love for those birds is a little crazy, but I arrived in 2014 at the same time the cranes did in October. I feel a kind of connection to their flight. BUT — mainly they’ve been a “gateway drug” to the Refuge, the Valley landscape, mobility, birds I never knew and a lot more. We talked about crane tourists.

“Bear likes them. She likes saying hello.”

“Yeah, people go crazy for those cranes. They come from all over the world. England, France…

“China!” I thought about the amazing coincidence of meeting being from Beijing the day before I was going to read from my China book at the museum.

“They used to have the bus tours, but now I guess people drive to a parking lot and the biologist speaks. You ever notice how they all drive Subarus?”

They do. Most of them drive Subarus. I laughed. “I liked the buses. They were great. It’s fun to see what happens to a bunch of adults on a school bus.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, “of course if they can get up the steps.” I laughed inside at that, not sure that either of us could get up the steps of the school bus. “I think they’re going to have the kid’s crane festival this year. I love that. They have us mow that section there,” and he pointed. “They set things up so the kids find nests and all kinds of stuff. I love that.”

People out here talk in stories and that is how I grew up. I learned that’s not how everyone holds a conversation and that many people expect stories to GO somewhere. My stories don’t always go somewhere and neither do the stories of the people around me now. I think it’s something about the rural west (and maybe other rural places?) where people have time and less interpersonal contact than in crowded cities. Stories ARE what we share. Often pointless stories that exist for their own sake.

As we talked, I watched an osprey and a Harris Hawk and thought, “The good times are on their way,” meaning fall and winter.

“Do you know Terry Something?” he asked

“No,” I say. Everyone here of a certain age knows the people his his/her generation. My town has one elementary, one middle, and one high school.

“Well, I was out here cleaning brush from this trail. ‘Course it’s pretty overgrown now, the chico…” “Chico” is the local word for greasewood. He was describing Bear’s and Teddy’s favorite trail — a short loop called the Meadowlark Trail. “It was so overgrown, couldn’t hardly find the trail. I got to the picnic table. I didn’t even know there was a picnic table! It was broken down, a mess. Well, Terry went door-to-door to raise money for materials and he built a new one.”

“I know him. I didn’t know his name. I met him and his wife out here. They were having lunch, and they told me about the table.” I thought for a minute, “You know people in the Valley aren’t that good at introducing themselves. I’m Martha Kennedy.” We shook hands. “I’ve seen him and his wife out here a lot. Really nice people.”

We talked a bit about the last Crane Festival which didn’t really happen and how the Refuge didn’t even have a display. “Terry was out there, though,” said my new friend. “With his wood working and carvings. He’s a good whittler.”

“They’re great people,” I said. “They have a dog who’s not dog friendly, and neither is Bear. We’ve talked about it and now if they see us heading toward my car, they wait until I get my dogs in the car before they keep going. It’s amazing.” I didn’t mention that their dog rides untethered in the back of their pick-up and we are ALL afraid he’ll jump out when he sees my dogs. That doesn’t diminish their consideration of me.

“I didn’t know that. I hope he’s OK. I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“I think the last time I saw them was May. I’m out here almost every day.”

“I know. I’ve seen you.”

I kind of laughed. “Well, you know.” I stopped. “For a while I was feeling sorry for myself. I used to run trails in the mountains but now, I can’t. But it’s OK. Now I can come here to hike and I see so much. If this is hiking.”

“It’s hiking. You’re here and you’re walking.”

The angel had spoken.

Featured photo: The yellow band is a barley field. The bright yellow is sunflowers growing around and in the field. That’s pizazz!


20 thoughts on “Voice of the Angel

  1. “It’s hiking. You’re here and you’re walking.”–sounds good to me. I’m glad you don’t need surgery, but sorry it continues to hurt.

  2. Glad you don’t need surgery and as long as it isn’t hurting while you walk, why not walk??? Sounds like you and Bear had an enjoyable walk yesterday.

    • I’m a stranger here and always will be but it’s getting better. 💚 This kind of “visit” was common in Montana, something I realized when I moved here. I’d missed it. People in San Diego didn’t do it at all. Suddenly here I was in a place where people “visited.” I loved it from the first.

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