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Jeepers! Honey Creepers

Leaving the present, and terrible, international situation for a bit. Thinking of more pleasant things….

Red-Legged Honey Creeper
Howler Monkey

For us, going to the tropics has been out of the question for the past two years-like a lot of people, I guess. Darn pandemic! We’ve certainly missed those evening breezes coming off the Caribbean, and the smells of Latin-American food being cooked down the beach somewhere. One night, in desperation, we even watched that Jeff Bridges movie from the 80’s, the one shot at Isla Mujeres and Tulum. We ordered in Mexican food, drank a few bottles of Sol, and had fun picking holes in the plot. Still, it’s not quite the same.

At least, I can rummage through my pictures of tropical birds. These are from Costa Rica, from the Cloud Forest at Monte Verde. The more observant reader might notice that not all images are of birds. Well, any port in a mountaintop storm.

Turquoise-browed Motmot

On that trip, V and I spent a few nights at a lodge near the Cloud Forest Reserve. Our driver, on his first run ever, checked google maps, and picked what was likely the worst road in the region to get us there. When we arrived an hour or so after the regular van, we were as well-shaken as a protein drink. Later on, we took a (guided) jungle walk at night, which came complete with tarantulas, little rivers of Leaf-cutter Ants, a ghostly Olingo high in the trees, and sleeping Trogons.

The next night was so windy that we thought the roof of our bungalow was going to blow off. At dinnertime, we huddled in our puffer jackets eating pasta and drinking Red Tapir Ale, thinking fondly of the beach we’d left behind at Playa Hermosa. Our birding tour of the Cloud Forest almost didn’t happen-the guide being afraid that jungle trees might fall on us. In spite of rain and wind, however,we ventured out and ‘got’ our ‘target birds – the Resplendent Quetzal and one of the loudest birds in the world, the Three-Wattled Bellbird (hard to see, but easy to hear).

Violet-eared Emerald
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
Yellowish Flycatcher
Resplendent Quetzal
Blue-gray Tanager
Three-wattled Bellbird
Red Tapir Ale
Cloud Forest Day

Cloud Forest Night

Memories of Oaxaca

Crested Caracara

The Dancing Men

****************

They have faded into the valleys,

Those Kings who sipped

the thin mountain air

like gods.

Only we, the

Dancing Men remain in the high city,

waiting, waiting

for our own Gods to release us.

Prisoners still, we linger

on these misty pathways above the clouds.

MC 2001/2022

*The Dancing Men are 300 or so stone carvings of captives at the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban. Most look contorted, as if tortured and mutilated, and are thought to represent captives, most likely of high rank. Unfortunately, I can’t find the pictures I took of them.

Finally!

I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the Glaucous Gull. This Arctic visitor shows up on the west coast semi-regularly, but I just could never seem to, as Owen Wilson says in The Big Year “nail that sucker.” And I’ve really tried, really tried. I’ve gone to windswept Oregon beaches in January, landfills in March, Goldstream River with its spawned-out salmon lots of times. I followed up every report, within reason. I even spent the better part of a day at a sewage lagoon in Duncan, afraid to leave, but punished for staying, if you know what I mean. My reference picture might have been part of the problem–it’s possible.

Glaucous Gull (reference)

In any case, I finally caught up with the culprit at Goldstream, the place where I had tried so many times before. indeed, the first bird I saw when I pulled up to park was the Glaucous Gull! The river was very high, drowning the more recent remains of spent Chum and Coho, and keeping all gulls close to the picnic area. My young bird was tugging hopefully at an almost bare fish skull, and getting very little sustenance from it, or so it appeared.

I must say that the bird didn’t closely resemble my reference pic except, maybe, for the beak, so I couldn’t really be faulted. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway!

Finding my bird, after so many failed attempts, had a curious effect. The marvellous sense of birding adventure that consumed me when, six of seven years ago, I rejoined the hobby had suddenly returned. I even posted a picture of the subject on my bulletin board! So, although it took awhile – “thanks Pal!”

Glaucous Gull (the real thing)

Garafraxa

Garafraxa

exhales dolomite,

the dusk-deepening, stone breaths

of this steel-hard species of limestone,

where

Hart’s Tongue and rare orchids

survive in the cracks and crevices

of coral reefs marooned,

ages and ages past.

Of pre-things left behind

Now,

dampened under northern light,

and broken by northern ice.

I’ve seen limestone in other places,

hotter places,

where the rock

blazes white beneath the sun.

Pharaohs used to plate their tombs with limestone

pyramids made white-bright with limestone

you could go blind from that limestone;

no one ever went blind from dolomite.


The Garafraxa Road loops over the old reefs,

a ragged ridge of tomb-grey skeletons,

once swarming stuff

that hated winter and hated ice

waiting, without patience, until the poles move

little by little,

hoping,

perhaps, that

when all of us are gone,

the warm oceans will return

to drown these fields

where, for a hundred years,

farmers’ children stooped a thousand, million times

to fill stone boats,

to build stone fences,

around their Garafraxa farms.


I had a friend once, killed by dolomite.

He fell, and a great squared tower stone

fell after him, and crushed him.

In those casual days

such things happened more often,


Towers built by forgotten men

to burn rock

into lime,

abandoned,

square towers made of blocks

of dolomite,

all loosened through age,

standing like castles.

Richard, climbing there in the evening, alone.


His father tied him to a wide plank, I heard,

and, harnessed to it, dragged his son home

desperate against death, long ago.


Afterwards,

stonemasons took those towers down

to save other boys from falling

the fatal blocks cut up and used,

no doubt,

for tombstones,

in the cemeteries,

along the Garafraxa Road.

MC 2021

Avenida Quinta

The window sashes, once eggshell white,

have faded to cracked and curdled cream.

Memories of Moorish Spain

sleep in the peaks and arches of these windows,

now softened by time and the Caribbean salt air.

Likewise, the stuccoed walls,

tagged with graffiti,

assaulted by lianas and ficus,

have crumbled in places.

The gate of sapote wood gleams darkly solid

In the bright Mexican morning,

while an aggressive sun bleaches the lesser wood to spectral gray.

Not long for this world, this old queen of the avenue

Succubi of broken masonry and twisted rebar surround her,

ravenous building lots, chewing up the old ways

and disgorging money.

She waits her turn, a still substantial ghost,

one of the walking dead, so to speak,

half-hidden by those walls

 with their cascades of bougainvillea—

scarlet, foam-white, shocking pink.

The polished gate still protects one sanctuary,

a vain hope,

like the studded door to an tenth-century English abbey

surrounded by Vikings.

Then, from within, an antique lock clashes,

the massive gate trembles and opens.

Two Maya women in embroidered huipils exit and open their parasols

The elder, her hair wound in a tight bun,

wears a heavy gold necklace and pendant earrings.

A shawl of watered olive silk loops under her right arm

and across her left shoulder.

A heavy jade bracelet flashes green on the arm of her daughter-companion,

Reminders of an earlier time,

these two,

Like nobility, taking in the morning air, on their way

to church, perhaps,

towards the clanging bell.

While,

elsewhere along the avenue,

bars and cafes rattle open,

and construction workers

buy their breakfast from bicycle carts.

MC, 2001

Coba

Remember

when the lightning

sent you down

the Great Pyramid at Cobá,

and a hard tropical rain obliterated

everything, even the jungle.

A real tempest, that one.

Thunder loud enough to crack stone,

Lightning too,

flashing through the black nimbus

like a semaphore

opening and closing,

light under dark, light under dark

We ran shivering

from the old VW

into a café

with too much window

and too much draft,

Remember

Night Swimming at Sauble

NIGHT SWIMMING AT SAUBLE

To the east,

the trailing light of shooting stars

and the pale rind of the beach

we can scarcely see each other,

talking philosophy, or some nonsense

enjoying the last of the day’s heat,

up to our necks in the lake

above us, spirits of spangled water

and deeply-rifted space,

one softly dark entity

keeping pace with the Summer Triangle.

With Vega, Altair, Deneb

Only here,

this planet, this place

In all the universe.

Right Now.

Gosh, the things you think about

Swimming at night, beneath the stars,

At Sauble

MC July 22, 2021

The Other Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens is famous, and it’s one of Victoria’s premier attractions. But I knew of the Butcharts long before I came west. The Butchart mansion on 5th Avenue in Owen Sound, Ontario, was a block away from my boyhood home. It had, maybe still has, an indoor swimming pool. I remember once tramping through the snow to the front door in the hopes that I might sell a subscription to the Toronto Telegram.

Even after many, many years, I can still remember smelling chlorine through the half-open door. I probably wondered what living in a real mansion would be like. To be able to take a swim at home rather in the the minuscule YMCA pool – that would be something! Of course, it probably wouldn’t have worked very well in our 2 bedroom apartment behind the factory, but I would have been up for a try. Incidentally, I don’t believe I sold a subscription. Nor did I ever see the inside of the grand house. The Butchards, I think, were long gone anyway.

The Butchard Mansion

Even then though, I knew about the Butchard Gardens, later called The Martins. They were a few miles out of town at Balmy Beach. It was a long bike ride for a 12 year old so I never got there. I hadn’t yet heard of the west coast version. No reason I should.

A few years ago, I finally visited The Martins. It was May. I was birding along the cobbley Georgian Bay shoreline and then, almost accidentally, I was there, walking among the ruins of a grand idea from another time. Half of the real estate had been stripped way by winter ice and freak high water, the there was more recent damage. Winter storms on the Great Lakes can be fierce.

Winter’s Fallout – The Martins, Georgian Bay

About the Butcharts. The brothers, Robert and David, were born in Owen Sound in the 19th century. They ran a hardware store on what is now Main Street (2nd Avenue East), and ranked among the town’s “contemporary and go-ahead merchants”. Solid, likely Presbyterian, moderately well-off. Then they found that marl from a nearby lake bed could be converted into cement, a product in great demand in Canada’s developing industrial heartland. The discovery was huge. Soon, the Owen Sound Portland Cement Company was making some of the best cement in the country. They also shipped the product in bags rather than barrels. This innovation made the Butchards wealthy.

Marly, no longer industrial, Shallow Lake

Rich now, Robert built the mansion with indoor swimming pool on 5th Avenue and lived there until he and Jennie left for the west in 1904. His brother David stayed in Owen Sound and built something grand too. I’m not sure which of the imposing west side Owen Sound houses was his. Jennie, of course, created the Gardens at Tod Inlet near Victoria, BC, but David also created a Butchart Gardens at Balmy Beach on Georgian Bay. I wonder about this family obsession with ‘Gardens’, and where the idea came from.

The Martins

In any case, the Owen Sound establishment, with its Italian Garden, Sunken Garden, tennis courts, swimming pool, and many other features, was an important tourist attraction until, one winter, unusually heavy lake ice carved away a big chunk of the property. After Hurricane Hazel destroyed much of the rest, the Gardens were finished.

It rained while I was there. Forlorn, a strange, almost haunted legacy of what was once one of the country’s largest cement fortunes, it seemed the last glimmer of the Jazz Age world of the 1920’s. I suspect the property has now been developed; it certainly looked ‘ripe for the picking’. I’ll check on it next time I’m ‘home’. Since this blog is about birds, well, I saw only one on the property, a Common Merganser. The sun flashed out for a millisecond and lit him up, and then it started to pour.

Perseverance

Zeilin3Apr520

Spirit – after a month of digging

This time my post isn’t about birds. It’s a people story. It begins with a storm, a real doozy. Many of the boats in our bay dragged anchor, and moved. Of course, if your cable broke, there was only one way to go — onto the beach. Surviving that night would be tricky. In the morning, however, when the winds finally subsided and the tide ebbed, only 2 boats lay high and dry.

The little ‘Portuguese fishing boat’ was up near the curve of the seawall. Beautiful lines, high prow, white with blue trim. Eye candy out there, on calm evenings. A problem now for the owner. It turns out there is one, which is not always the case. Half of the boats are probably abandoned. The Portuguese boat was riding at anchor in a few days. Lovely. Back where she belongs.

The yellow boat I’ll call Spirit was not so fortunate. Keel high and dry, and pointing in the wrong direction, the boat is too far from the waterline. No way it’s going to float again. Out in the bay, it made for a splash of bright canary and gave the scene ‘pop’. Up close, well.

Zeiln2Ap520

I’d seen a guy taking a 5 gallon bottle of drinking water to Spirit the night before the storm. If he’d stayed aboard through that, the experience must have been horrendous. Nothing happened to Spirit for a few days, but then the 5 gallon guy came back. He placed the figure of a seated Buddha near the bow, and got to work. He had a spade, a log fulcrum, some driftwood levers and ‘moving gear’– and a damaged wrist. He refused help. The pandemic was on, and he didn’t want anyone touching the boat.

BoatholeAp520

Boathole2Apr520

Boat Hole

For a long time, not much happened. A month, or more, of digging every day, of watching the tides, of prying and bumping, resulted in a bigger hole. He was creating a slipway. He had to move, what, a ton and a half of boat. One guy. Impossible.

Then, one morning after a good tide, a miracle. Spirit did move and flipped her keel. Now, with a very high tide, she might get to the sea. And, a week later, she actually floated. Another week and she was off the beach. Not quite in deep water yet, but getting there.

ZeilinAp1420

I spend a month and a half rooting for the digger. I admire his spirit. He persevered to save his home. I’ve never seen someone work so hard, fight such ridiculous odds, under ridiculous circumstances. I guess it happens more often that I know. Perseverance is what humans are good at. It defines us. I always liked the Stan Rogers song, ‘The Mary Ellen Carter’. It tells a tale a bit like this one, about people getting on with it. Doing what they have to do. The song cheers us on when we face adversity — And Like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again…rise again. Good luck to you 5 gallon!

Zeilin6

Spirit – well and truly ‘off the beach’