I begin each morning long before sunrise, a quick step out the bedroom door to the patio, coffee in hand. The city sleeps around me, too early for all but a few to be out and about, darkness still a heavy cloak upon the land. By rain or moonlight, in cold or hot, this begins my day no matter the weather.
The barred owls who sleep nearby often begin their conversations while I stand and listen, deep voices echoing across the lake, big words and small words drawing images in the darkness which I can only view but never understand. I try to imagine what they discuss each day, why the chat begins well before they arrive in that place where they will find the day’s rest. As I sip my coffee their voices draw near, each responding to the other, sometimes in long sentences and sometimes with a single word. Yet always the voices remain the same, the haunting and magical owl sound that none could confuse with any other creature.
Then a squirrel barks repeatedly and vehemently, the warning bark it gives in response to a predator. The rodent sounds as though it rests near one of the owls. Might it be responding to the arrival of this nocturnal raptor, this silent killer who stalks the night? Then a wren joins in, the mobbing, larger-than-life voice from a tiny body. It too seems near one of the owls.
A smile crosses my face, a comfortable smile, a knowing smile, for this drama plays out nearly every morning just as it has these past few years, just as it has since this owl pair took up residence in the treetops that line my western view. Soon a mockingbird will join in, perhaps a blue jay, sometimes even a crow wrested from its last few minutes of sleep by the growing cacophony.
But eventually the owls nestle into their favorite woods, their conversation becoming more intimate, the angry noises from other denizens falling silent as the threat passes. And for a while longer they will speak to each other, these two owls, the chat sometimes lasting only minutes and sometimes ending well after dawn. Finally, though, it does end as the need for sleep overtakes them, and they become quiet, and their voices stop creeping through the trees and over the water. Finally, in the cover of woodlands only a minute’s walk away, they drift off into a world of dreams.
Even as the owl voices become a memory, other voices fill the air. A change of shift has begun. Raccoons scamper back to comfortable places. Armadillos trot along toward hidden burrows. The bobcat slinks into the nearby trees where it rests so close to people yet unbeknownst to them. Coyotes vanish across the floodplain into the riparian habitat that gives them daytime cover. All the while, mockingbirds stretch their wings and lift up their voices, wrens and sparrows call into the morning, cardinals pierce the day with sharp choruses and jays offer up greetings to the sun that only now brightens the eastern horizon.
As if on cue, the plaintive call of a mourning dove drifts down from a nearby building, a lonely sound, a lament to my ears yet music to the doves. They rise to perches this time of day, as if to survey the world from upon high, as if to take one downward glance to ensure all is well.
And then a changing of the guard takes place: the first call from a hawk. It matters not whether it’s a Cooper’s or a red-tailed or a red-shouldered. One of them will speak into the light of dawn, one of these citizens of the lake will put their stamp on the day, one of these hunters will shout into the air that the raptors of the night have taken their leave and the raptors of the day have risen in their stead.
This ceremony, this repeatable and predictable wonder called morning… It stands as one of my favorite things, a marvel which can’t be captured in photos or words, a touch of splendor the universe offers to me as gift. Though the faces change just as the seasons change, the drama plays out on a stage that seems meant only for my eyes. So I take my front-row seat each morning, sitting in a silence unequaled by the world of the day, and I let the show unfold just as it has every day before, every year before. Then I walk away from it a better man than I was when I first climbed out of bed.
— — — — — — — — — —
Strange though it may seem, that somewhat rambling tale stands as introduction to a new picture series. In the last seven years I have taken 76,847 nature photos (everything before that has been lost due to technology problems coupled with my own shortsightedness). I realize that number might sound obsessive, but I’m passionate about nature in a way that no doubt borders on, or long ago surpassed, being an obsession. Having given up television many years ago, all the time I once wasted being a couch potato has translated into time outside, time walking, time sitting, time watching and listening, time enjoying the smell of spring flowers and the sound of buzzing insects… More succinctly, I have spent all that time letting nature hold my hand.
In my quest to share what marvels I see, I constantly find myself unable to provide more than a glimpse of a whole, something too vast to contain. So just as I began the “put on your faces” series to offer picture-centric posts that require little more thought than viewing an image or two, this new series, “A few of my favorite things,” will likewise be photo-centric and short on words. Some posts will be thematic whilst others focus on a singular moment. But each entry will be one of my favorite things, whether that be a species, an event, a scene, an experience, an encounter, or some of a million other ideas. Perhaps it will be as simple as mushrooms in morning light, as beautiful and double-edged as catching critters when they’re getting to know each other in the biblical sense, or as singular as this photo, one of my favorite things:
When a hawk, my medicine animal, acknowledges me with a glance as it swims the crystal river overhead.
[photo of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) taken at White Rock Lake]