Winged Chatter

I try to find a new way to wander across the rolling hills of scrub and pine and stretches of grass, each time the dogs and I go walking; and so every day, I get to see familiar things in a different sort of way.

Sometimes this leads to new treasures like old, sun-bleached bones for my growing bone collection, a newly dug den with earth so freshly excavated it’s still moist and brown; or an ancient juniper at the top of a ridge, rounded like a giant, perfect mushroom cap, where generations of cattle resting and rubbing in its shade, helped give it its flat-bottomed, fairyland shape.

But mostly, it’s not knowing where the dogs and I are going, except out.

To explore this small patch of hilly land near our home where Mingus Mountain rises behind Chino Valley to the east, Table Top Mesa and Granite Mountain command the views to the south and scattered homes along long, dirt roads in the near distance remind us we’re never alone.

As does the jackrabbit springing from shrub to shrub, with its skyscraper ears that quickly disappear; or a flock of quails lifting noisily from an impenetrable cluster of apache plume in near perpetual bloom at the side of the wash.

Which, like my path, is always changing.



Exposing many tunnels dug feet below the surface (which look like sunken eyes, sunk deep in deep, dark sockets); and hardened roots of Pinyon pines clutch eroding walls, refusing to fall, to succumb to the changes. Clinging green on so few of its branches.

Yet clinging.

And fruiting and feeding the creatures who live here. Here in the washes and brushes and hollowed out trees. In the boulders and burrows and fields, where me and the dogs keep wandering, because every day it keeps changing.

Each bloom, each moon, each orbital click.

While the dogs keep on sniffing and sniffing and sniffing, and finding their own unique way, which these days is through a grassy stretch of fleeting monsoon green that tickles my knees and their noses.

Past Prickly Pears with their thorny pads, crowned with green, pink and purple fruit, growing darker and bigger and bolder and sweeter. Across the patch where the air is fair and the land is electric with tiny, winged voices that buzz here and there. Humming strange, chatty words in my ear. While modest patches of yellow, white, orange and purple wildflowers barely boast that they’re there.

But they are.

Bringing color and grace to a rough, rugged place, where mettle must rule every moment. Where you need to be swift like the pronghorn and strong like the mule deer – built wide and low – whose tracks I’ve tracked across a still-damp wash to the bottom of a vertical embankment, where I looked up the 10 ft. wall and saw a single hoof print – half-way up.

And wondered whether danger prompted such a vault, or was it simple daring because it could be simply done? Like the rattlesnake, who with a shake, might let you know they’re near. But then again, it all depends on whether you’re his next meal.

We surprised a small, skinny coyote looking for hers the other day, when we appeared from the wash and the scrub about thirty feet from where she was rising from a small ravine. She saw us first and was trying to make a quiet retreat into the Pinyon and Juniper up ahead, when I spotted her out of the corner of my eye.

Holding tight to the leashes, I stopped and turned and greeted the startled creature who, instead of fleeing, paused as well. As the dogs strained their leads, I smiled at the brazen thing who just stood there staring, Then, suggesting it best the four of us part company, turned from our chance meeting.

The scraggly coyote followed, moving in a similar direction, stopping one final time between a gap in the growth, to stare at our constrained trio before her shabby, honey-colored hide slunk over the next ridge and disappeared.

And the dogs and I, ignoring my instinct to go home, turned left instead.