Murmuration

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.
He knew that he heard it,
A bird’s cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind
The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.
It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep’s faded papier mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside.
That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,
Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

—Wallace Stevens Not Ideas about the Thing, but the Thing Itself

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Ol’ Uncle Walt Disney gave us TRUE Life Adventures starting in the mid-fifties. Remember?  The Living Desert?  The epic battle between the wasp and the tarantula, two tortoises battling for domination by turning each other over. The desert blooming after a raging thunderstorm, etc. etc. Flowers unfurling in slow motion. We had Marlin Perkins every Sunday night drawing analogies between Darwinian survival and the benefits of Mutual of Omaha Life insurance as lions and tigers and bears played across the old Zenith. Since then, David Attenborough is the gold medal champ of nature films, he’s ably carried the torch, bringing us vivid heartbreaking films of the natural world and creatures alive and fascinating. We are taken to the ocean depths with voyeuristic keyhole glimpses of the mating rituals of the Stickleback. We’ve seen Birds of Paradise on their well-tended dancing grounds doing dances that would put a Bolshoi Prima to shame. And the costumes!!! We are so grateful to the filmmakers crouching for endless hours in stifling tropical blinds and frostbite huddles who bring us those wondrous pictures of the world’s phantasmagoria. We are grateful for the artistry and are in gracious receipt as we watch on our glimmering flat-screens. But…to be in the very air where things are taking place; to be in the same air as events unfold does a thing to our brains that can’t be duplicated by any filmmaker, visionary or quotidian.

So, when word of the murmuration came to us, that it was the E-Ticket to an experience not to be duplicated, our son Eli gathered us to meet to watch the spectacle. Us was 2 of our kids, their wives and 5 grand kids, gathered in the parking lot of the Northgate Mall. 10,000 Starlings swooping and pattering against a crepuscular sky was a must. Did we have to drag ourselves across Namibian wastes? Did we have to suffer the squeezing cramps from bad foreign water? No. There were about 300 souls amiably chatting across the parking lot of the Northgate Cineplex and since it was New Year’s Eve some amount of champagne was poured out into paper cups. Folks were in huddles with scopes and tripods. As the sky leaned into dusky pastel, sun still peaking above the hill crest, it started with with a few plumes of what looked like smoke drifting in from the North resolving into a lozenge of flittering birds in tightly ordered moving cloud. “Just wait,” said grandson Jude (age 6). Living close by he’d seen the spectacle a couple of days before, now feeling like a grizzled veteran. Then from the north a whole airy mountain of birds flittered out of the sky, some flashing bright orange as they went high enough to catch a sunbeam. Then it started back, and forth rising and subsiding in shapes like breath, hundreds of birds knowing just how to move in a tight unison. Was it the few falcons Peregrine or maybe Merlins? (hard to see without good field glasses) that were harrying the Starlings? Seems so as flocking in motion like that is a good strategy for not getting eaten.The predator birds were the conductors of this music.

So, to see a natural spectacle in what some have called our dying burning world, gives hope on this New Year’s Eve for the everlasting thrill of seeing Nature glorious and heart stirring, and seeing this in the same air as you and the birds are breathing, gives a true life adventure to the spectacle. 

Good Fortunes for 2021

Fortune Playa IMG_6723 copy

For Burning Man 2000, at the crack of dawn
 we headed out on our bicycles
 with baskets full of fortune cookies,
 handing them out to worn out revelers,
 as they shuffled their way back to camp
after a wild night on the playa.
As a palliative to the grand debauchery, 
our messages on a thin slips of paper 
offered a thought for the day.

Even your nights are measured by the sun.

Fortune Bowl Amelia

2000 BM Fortunes1

Thanksgiving 2020

DEAR All Y’all, friends and family, 

We miss you, our favorite people, at our favorite celebration. To keep the poetry tradition alive we’ve prepared this video so you can simply hit repeat, OY! Maybe not, but in lieu of the weeping-rendition, we offer this dry-eye version, complete with a picture of the famous Michelangelo cuff-links of God and Adam.


Stay sheltered.
Stay safe.
We will see you on the other side of this.

With love and gratitude,
R&J

Hummers

Let’s take a page from the etiology of Hummingbird behavior. While widely known as “jewels of the forest,” in spring and summer they are fighting the Darwinian “survival of the fittest”— you have to put out several feeders or they ‘bout beat their brains out protecting their spigot. Nature’s pruning process begets more delicious fruit and more robust creatures. The Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli is a hummingbird—“fast as lightning, everywhere at once.” But, migrating, as they do each winter, visiting our feeders in great numbers, they are highly cooperative, making room for each other, enhancing the survival of their little tribe as a whole. We have two distinct species, the Allens and the Annas who will share and share alike in the winter… “to each according to their needs, to each according to their means.” So let’s stop disparaging “give-away socialism”, let’s stop disparaging “corporate capitalism” and realize there is a time and a place for everyone at the spigot and a time and a place when dominance enhances the gene pool and cooperation makes a robust, healthy society. We can do it!

If you need something to help you sleep: Watch Hummer Lullaby https://youtu.be/fWVWo9D34pM

If you need help sorting the political dilemma: Watch Hummer Socialism https://youtu.be/pcievfY_00o

Spaghetti Western

Yep, it’s Election Day and we got the spilches, a big Oy Veh !!! But here is the latest from J&R Productions—hope it soothes.

Spaghetti Western

Little Gray invented it himself! Genius, I tell ya, genius! Training the hamster was the hard part…

Just listen…

October 1, 2020. Judith writes:

Just when we thought the human news could not get any worst: this week it did.

Do we really need to make a list to remind how bad it has gotten? The vitriol and ranting during the presidential debates set a new low. Fears are being stoked about the intersection of the flu season and the ongoing Covid epidemic. There is rampant unemployment with uncertainty roiling the financial markets. Fires are burning throughout the West. The air is a thick mix of fog and smoke, laden, claustrophobic. Even wearing a mask, rather than a being about taking care of yourself, and others has been politicized.

It’s hard to not feel depressed. Amidst the gloom of these sad and challenging times we need to find ways to heal from the psychopathic politicians and greedy corporations.

Last evening, the birds did it. The Golden-Crowned Sparrows were right on time. At dusk we heard that familiar trill, whistled notes descending in tone, announcing “hey, honey, I’m back.” Back from their summer trip to Alaska, three thousand miles back to here to winter over; their arrival is so reassuring, reminding that even if the human world is in trouble, birds will continue to sing out. Just listen…

October 1, 2020. Richard writes:

After cycling through a series of calamities—death of parents, surgery, house fire, car wreck, adolescent children, remnants of a divorce, all of which left me an insomniac turning in sweaty sheets. To palliate the anxiety, I began memorizing poetry. With over 100 poems in my noggin, I began a series of public performances dressed in a getup that would remind you of an old Wurlitzer. I thought I was done with the performing and tossed the thing into the cleansing fire of Burning Man. Turns out I was not done. Three weeks later, having written scant little, I wrote my first poem: The Golden Crowned Sparrow Returns October First


As a side note, my sister-in-law sent the poem off to a poetry contest. I won 3rd prize and a bronze medal appeared in my mailbox. Yay! the medal was followed by daily emails asking me why I wasn’t forthcoming with $149.95 to buy the Claret Cup with my name engraved. Then a plea wondering why I wasn’t buying the leather-bound volume including my poem complete with a CD recording of my poem intoned by none other than William Shatner. Oh, Fame you fickle mistress….I did go on to win a couple of cash awards and an invitation to read at the Bolinas Museum. An outdoor venue in the courtyard, where on a branch above my head 3 Golden-Crowned Sparrows appeared as though scripted into the event.


The Golden-Crowned Sparrow Returns October First

Up at dawn.
Dawdling in bed on the phone talking with a birder friend.
The window’s open to the sky opalescent pink and soft green.
I say to my birder friend,
“I’m getting a little impatient for the return of the golden crowned sparrow song” such a syrupy liquid sound
in the October mornings around these parts
a three note slightly off key Three Blind Mice.
They come all the way from their summer of love,
an Alaskan tundra vacation.
All this way to me on a few feathers.
“Gee, I’m taking this personally.”
This sweet,
descent of three notes is a real intimation of the slow coast toward
winter damp, dark, as an uplifting
souvenir of my first morning in this house,
an October 1st landing spot in 1992,
home again after a couple of years
of my own unsettled migrations.

Kidding around with my birder buddy I say
“They have until October 1st or they’ll be trouble, I’ll file a report.”
That song is their bird language
melancholy and a token of life’s renewal.
A trophy for me.
But really their song is for them alone
nothing in it for me
nothing of longing
nothing of heartsickness at mortality
and finally nothing for me but for the fact
that they really did show up October first.

In 2012 Richard wrote Ming’s Return. Amelia returned and once again, so did the Golden-Crowned Sparrows.

So here we are on October 1, 2020 and those little puff balls of zeal showed up.

The Song of Notchie.

WARNING: PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED

(BTW Just how is it you become a parent?)


The singular certainty of art and what I am most interested in sharing is the long genetic march that installed me at this point of poetical understanding…How does anyone wind up where they belong? And, we do feel like we’ve landed “right”, as in the old Shaker song, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come down where we ought to be…til turning turning we come round right.” That’s the philosophical question of the hour. Is right an expansive affirmation or a limiting box?

Notchie and her “Old Man” on the stairway to heaven. Sing it Fred Astaire, “There maybe trouble ahead, but while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance.”

So the deer broke in again, (not exactly, I left the gate open for about an hour), and they shouted in their silent way, “We’re in! We’re in!” …Stealthing their way along on little pointy double toes. What do they go to first? Ignoring cabbages, and beans, tomatoes and corn to smorgasbord—it’s the roses! You have to admire their taste in the licking up the rose blossoms. How can you not linger on the thought of the deer we call Notchie because she has a divot chunked out of an ear by some blind-panic move through the tough oak brush. It’s Noctchie who for seven years birthed her twin fawns, all spotty and springing, right at the top of the driveway next to Judith’s car, a Matrix Wagon, it happens. It’s where Notchie feels maybe a larger sense of confidence, for every once in a while a coyote or a bobcat will drag off one of the little darlings. Can you see the Matrix, a great metal wall, standing between the fawns and devouring death?

So here it is, the mystery of Art in a nutshell: Spotty Fawns, a driveway, nibbled roses add up to a wash of imagination spilling through you, to float through your mind to land, to make good on the promise that some things cannot be explained but simply exist in a vivid way as true as outside your window.

We’ve been jotting down stories of Notchie since we returned from our African sojourn and saw her as a creature of wonder, not the casual look we give say, a blue jay or a crow or as one of the other ubiquitous deer—as any wild creature. Now, we look at animals and plants with a different sort of lens, the reverent lens of a naturalist and not the casual off-hand glance. Back from Africa, we found a deer, its throat gnawed on, lying still under a redwood. Feeling a longing for the deeply entertaining show of life-in-action we saw on our trip, we dragged the deer carcas out into the field where we could watch from our perch on the “sundowner deck,” Where we watched the clean-up crew have at that bounty of meat. BTW, this obviously was not our Notchie but maybe a second cousin thrice removed.

Just like in Africa, the buzzards entered with their razor-billed heads thrust out on naked necks, (built just for this purpose), right through the anus. Easy access through the softest part. Ravens, blue jays, crows all had a turn, until in five days time, it was pretty much clean of meat, but stinking to high heaven. The stink, the kind you want out of your nose like you want an itch scratched, was wafting in on the prevailing west wind. It was time for interment under the dirt. “Let’s put her behind the shed so we can maybe dig up the cleaned-off bones in a couple of months.” A couple of months turned into 8 years, when grandsons Jude and Aloysius, playing at junior paleontologists, wanted to dig something up. They love digging—maybe a tunnel to China? Why don’t you guys try behind the shed? We had spun a yarn about Smudegy the cat who had died of panic in the Loma Prieta Quake in ’89— discovered dead under the dining table and buried behind that same shed, and rediscovered when we dug a footing for a new foundation under that same shed, disassembled for its new location at our new house in Forest Knolls. Same shed, new location. I know, it’s complicated but here’s the unearthed Smudegy.

Smudgey who caught mice and paraded around with the tails hanging out of her mouth.

I showed the boys Smugey’s skull, “Maybe you’ll get lucky” (…I know we put out a deer behind the shed, but, the shifting tides of grasses and leaves, who knows???)

Aloysius and Jude digging to China

The boys poked around, digging and delving—getting bored and rekindling enthusiasm until first, out came a rib, then a vertebra or two, pelvis bones and finally, in a grand moment of triumph, the prize of the skull. The whole of the deer was unearthed with future plans to bleach the bones for reassembly as a sculpture in the garden. Should we call her Lucy? As a side note, we should mention that Don Johanson, the discoverer of the real Australopithecene “Lucy” in Africa, was a client at our printshop getting some reproductions of his NatGeo images, told us the story of her name. It turns out Lucy in the Sky was playing on the radio when they made the discovery.

So back to the song we were singing: the whole drama of the big buck chasing the doe around the property in a walking waltz, up and back and around our place. The little tease. This dance has been playing for over a week. Then as if the bell sounded for the end of recess, Ole’ Notch stops and squats spreading a bit of uric pherenome, making instinct a reality, “Come on big boy, let’s get this party started…”