Monday, October 26, 2009

Garage Ecology

I've been cleaning the garage in preparation of the annual walnut harvest. I found an old radio in there. It probably belonged to Paul Ortega, the ranch caretaker who lived in this house for decades. On top of the old radio, I keep a pair of muddy glasses which I found in the dirt behind the barn last winter. Every time it rains, something shows up in the farmyard. The glasses remind me that we all grind down to dust one day, except for the junk we lose in the yard.

I assume these glasses were Paul's along with the muddy tools which keep showing up. I put the rusty tools in a bin in the garage with the mental label "Paul". The broken plates and glassware, I pile in a pot full of herbs with the mental note "Lola" (Paul's wife). I browse through Paul's bin now and then when I am thinking about what life used to be like on the ranch. Lola seems to be a constant pink presence in the yard. I am hesitant to clean the radio or the glasses because Paul touched them. I really don't know these things, but I make up stories about found items in an attempt to understand the past and to fit in with the time I sense flowing through this land.

--- Bucks and does gathering at the courting oak within earshot of the garage. ---

Farmyard deposition goes something like this: Paul loses tools in the farmyard while working, they get covered up with mud, more rain uncovers them decades later when Cindy finds them, Cindy puts them in the garage with all the other stuff that collects dust and requires annual cleaning, Cindy loses her stuff in the yard, somebody else finds them later, and so on. Be careful of what you lose in the yard because that will be your legacy.

--- Bucks passing calmly today. ---

Somehow this radio manages to tune in only AM talk shows from the 50s and 60s. An investment program ("Buy this book and you will be a millionaire.") and a Christian station ("Shameful dancers on the sidelines of football games") got me through cleaning up a lot of mouse poop.

--- Does resting on the other side of the hill. --

Meanwhile, through the open garage door, I could see the deer gathering under the courting oak. I kept an eye on the bucks, but today they repeatedly passed each other with no signs of aggression. The does were disappearing over the hill behind the courting oak, so I took a break from sorting nails to climb its back side and spy on them - the does were resting and the bucks were hanging out. Later, I noticed that the 4 x 4 buck was gone and the 2 x 2 buck was scent-tracking the does with outstretched neck. Below the house in a meadow, I could see a small male fawn attempting the same thing. The does just keep moving and grazing and ignoring the attention. I guess something happens eventually since there are new fawns every year.

--- Bucks don't seem to eat or rest much during the rutting season. ---

--- 2 x 2 buck steadfastly following a doe. ---

When dusk arrived, I turned off the radio in the hopes of hearing owls. I'd just gotten back from an animated talk by Garth Harwood to the South Skyline Association on Owls in Your Neighborhood. Within minutes, a big chunky owl landed on the utility pole in the orchard. I prepared my ears for detecting what species of owl it might be. Probably a great horned owl because of its large size, but possibly a long-eared owl which Garth says occasionally visits the Santa Cruz Mountains. And also to see if I could distinguish the higher pitched call of a female great-horned owl during the male-female duet. There's nothing like applying newly gained nature knowledge in your own backyard while cleaning the garage. Garth said the great-horned owls are starting their pair-bonding activities this time of year prior to breeding which consists of repeated calls back and forth. This explains the loud hooting from the maple trees next to my bedroom which have woken me up several times in the last few weeks. The owl gleaned his feathers, ignored my unsuccessful attempts to photograph him in the dark, hunted in the grasslands, but didn't bother to call.

--- Blurry large owl with ear tufts. ---

Later while sweeping the garage floor, I heard a loud crunching noise in the backyard near the two smaller walnut trees. As I walked in that direction, I heard the familiar sound of a deer trotting off. The deer are visiting the yard regularly, especially at night, to snack on the fallen walnuts. While I got distracted by star-gazing, the crunching started up again. Curious, I went inside to get a flashlight and waited. When the loud sound started again, I shined the light and was surprised to find a coyote under the walnut trees. He slipped away but at the spot he was standing, I found walnuts cracked open. I looked around and found more cracked shells with the nut meat missing.

--- To be tested for coyote saliva. ---

The Silva family used to own this land. The Silva girls told me their uncle planted the walnut trees behind the barn in the 60s and the nuts were a special heart shape and extremely tasty. They inquire how the walnut trees are doing, and I take the hint and walk across the country road with a big grocery bag of walnuts every year.

This is garage ecology:
The Silva uncle planted the walnut trees, Paul Ortega took care of them, now I harvest the walnuts and give many away, and every year the deer, woodpeckers, jays, crows, mice and coyotes visit the trees for an autumnal feast. While the fundamentalists pray on the radio, the deer court openly, the owls don't give a hoot, and generations of coyotes walk over buried tools and plates to crack open walnuts.


  1. DANG you are an excellent writer. Not a compliment I give lightly.

    I have sent you a mystery sound to your email! I hope it goes through and that you can hear it and that it is a mystery!

    When we first moved to Davis, we heard it frequently. I called it the 'shopping cart bird' since it sounds like nothing so much as a shopping cart with one squeeky wheel. We also wondered whether it may be a bat. It took us quite a bit of time and google to figure out what it is.

    Do you know?

  2. Cindy
    You make me smile. David

  3. My guess is that the shopping cart bird is a mockingbird because they are great imitators and within their population are individuals who obsess (if you can say that about a bird) on the most peculiar sounds. If you were in Montana, it might be a cat bird.

  4. Goddess that was good. Thanks, Cindy.

  5. No! Yay, I grin fiercely that you do not know what the bird is! I shall give you hints! We would hear the bird at night, mostly twilight-ish, not usually 4 AM (the time I am writing now). It would be going very very fast from one direction to another. Then it would stop and vanish (the sound). Sometimes it would come back from another direction and go somewhere else. We would usually only hear it for 5-10 seconds at most. More guesses?

  6. Every time you write about yourself, what you think and do, I find fascinating.

  7. OK ok, I give up, since nobody is playing anyway.

    Barn owls are the original twitterers, and they may possibly have facebook accounts as well. I've seen the twitter sound exaplined as a courtship call, distress signal, and the sound made while traveling and carrying food, so I am not sure which is correct. Click 'twitter' on this page to hear the shopping cart bird unveiled!

    Good descriptions of the barn owls many sounds are at:

  8. Miri: you're just too fast for me. Although I will agree that barn owls have freaky calls.


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