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Red Willow Spirit: A Dance for Summer Winds and Waters

It is at last warm today, albeit not, perhaps, for long: The heavy damp air of morning is fast being driven out by a rising breeze. We can only hope that it remains something less than a wind, enough to ensure that the warmth remains throughout the day.

Walking up the drive toward the gate this morning, the effects of the recent rains were clearly visible in the north field — grass hay tall and swaying gently, tiny white butterfly spirits floating aside smaller stands of wild plants and flowers. Here at Red Willow, pollination proceeds apace, and so do birth and growth: a dance for summer winds and waters, one that normally repeats itself each year.

Last year taught us that we can no longer depend on “normal.”

And so, oddities of rain patterns and unseasonable chills notwithstanding, we celebrate each sign of summer as it appears. Today, it is the tiny whites among the wildflowers, wings aflutter in the breeze; a day or two ago, it was a solitary mourning cloak spiraling on the wind. Every day it is that chattering sound of the youthful piñon jays still clamoring to be fed, and on rarer occasions, despite the chill, the buzz of dragonfly and hummingbird wings.

This is the mating season, for butterflies and dragonflies and birds and bees, of lush lands and fertile flowers, of birth and rebirth and fruition.

We have no monarchs in evidence yet; they usually appear toward the end of August, already en route along their migratory path. For now, they way is being paved for such wingéd royalty by courtiers, the painted ladies and other, smaller creatures who wear robes of less luminous black and gold.

The dragonflies and damselflies remain scarce, too; after all there is no water in the pond, the monsoonal forecast of a fortnight ago having come mostly to nothing. It will likely be some time yet before the water makes its way down these particular ditches, and so for now we are unlikely to witness much in the way of the mating rituals of miniature dragons. Their love, or at least attraction, may form hearts, but the mechanics of their reproduction requires the presence of water, pooled and sufficiently deep to protect their young.

And while the jays’ offspring are nearly grown now, the other birds are still nesting, laying, nurturing eggs or, as in the case of one nest in the piñon tree, babies still too young to do much more than yawn. That nest belongs to a magpie family, and while the adults hunt regularly for food, they are still mostly in pure protective mode right now. The constant search for sustenance will come soon enough, a point at which the parents hardly rest.

The more colorful birds, for the most part, have not arrived yet; the chill is still too much for them, apparently. We seem to have no more than one hummingbird, a tiny black-chin; three or four goldfinches who show themselves intermittently and a like number of western tanagers, none of whom have been seen since the weather turned cold again last week; and one blue grosbeak pair that occasionally alights upon the east feeder. The orioles have not shown themselves at all, and as we rise with the light toward the solstice mark, it appears that the woven orb nests in the north aspens may go unoccupied for another year.

Still, the blue grosbeaks are a gift; they have not visited in the past. So, too, are the jays, who in the pat have declined to live, much less birth and raise a whole clan, this close to human habitation. The siskins are here months early, joining their tiny goldfinch counterparts in lighting the pre-summer air with flashes of bright golden yellow.

Our small world here has changed drastically from what it used to be only a few short years ago. Summer itself seems, at times, in jeopardy: If there is warmth, there is no water; if there is rain, the cold pervades. We can no longer predict based upon previous patterns; we are learning to adapt as we go, virtually daily. But for the moment, it seems clear that we will get at least one good cut of hay, and that we will have a new cohort of summer visitors along with a few old familiar friends. If we are lucky, we will have the waters; we will certainly have the winds.

And, like the butterflies, like the dragonflies and damselflies, like the bees and the birds of all sizes, we will have plenty of reason to dance.

~ Aji








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