In a more perfect world

the rains would come back

and the oxalis wouldn’t


Now that the junco list serve has gotten the word, more show up, both on the feeder and rummaging through the plants below.   A ruffle of wings, a white flash, they will flee if I open the door. Junco: Bird number One.

The banquet attracts a crasher. The squirrel that did everything short of setting up a ladder to get at the sunflower seeds in the old feeder (including wrecking the feeder) climbs up the variegated pieris. Too low. He hops up the steps, onto the banister from where he leapt and landed impossibly on the narrow perch of the old feeder. Too far now. So up the apple tree he goes and tries for a vertical descent. I’ve put the feeder farther from the lowest branch. Does the squirrel know we’re having a war? The way he stares back at me leads me to believe, he knows. He’s gone now, probably to build a catapult. He’s fighting the long war, whereas I’m a skirmisher.

Bird number two would be a great ally. In the ranger station over the desk is a model, wings outstretched. Notice the white markings on the undersides. Their location is one of the ways you distinguish them from turkey vultures. Noted.

Up the path we go, up into the pinnacles. I sit on a sunny perch, binoculars at hand, and sure enough, a pair swoop overhead. Through the binoculars I see an empty patch of sky. Over there, then over there. In the binocs another vacant patch of blue. My birding skills are somewhat lacking. The birds are gone. I wait. Soon, by the birder’s watch, more glide the canyons of the extinct volcano. Closer. Close enough I don’t need the binocs. I try to convince myself, just like the hikers who said they were just around the corner, they are not turkey vultures. But they are turkey vultures. The sunlight saturating the feathers reveals the white markings at the tips of the feathers. A pair glide in and roost in some grass tucked in a crevasse. I can see the red head with its wattle. Oh well. I’ll rationalize. Maybe lie.

I continue on the trail circling the high peaks, forgoing the bird watch for wildflower appreciation. Much to appreciate. Gold fields, larkspur, wallflower, penstemon, shooting stars…and suddenly overhead a comet shoots past, wings outspread, white on the upper wing and this time, no doubt, a score.

Numero Dos: el condor.

see here now

see here now

look carefully, whitish object in boulder niche

look carefully, whitish object in boulder niche



In today’s Sunday Review section of the Times is an op-ed piece entitled “The Feel-Good Gene.” The happy gene is described as a variant, or mutation, of the gene that produces an enzyme called FAAH. FAAH deactivates anandamide, the “major naturally occurring cannabinoid in our brain.” Ananda, as all you possums know, means bliss is Sanskrit. Anandamide is the “bliss molecule,” and is closely related to THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. If you’re Yoruban, you have a 45% chance of having this “advantageous molecule.”   Poor white guys comme moi have only a 21% chance. Bummer.

Studies show “humanized mice that got the variant gene were less anxious, as evidenced by their spending more time in the open section of a maze.” Anxious mice “prefer the safety of the enclosed arms of the maze.”

Sunday morning. I love Sunday mornings, the city quiet and calm. Believe I’ll do a few puffs, a half hour of meditation, a little Yoruba drumming and dancing, and nose out some space in the maze with fellow humanized mice.



Eventually I may forego the illusion that the ripping up of San Francisco streets is a temporary thing, that in six months or so they (whoever they are) will get finished. Cesar Chavez has a lane closed, as does Guerrero. The slow movement of Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin scores the crawl. There are the usual double parked delivery trucks and Moms dropping off their little beloveds who are forbidden to walk on the streets.   Up ahead, somewhere around 16th Street, I see the intermittent flash of an emergency vehicle.   Traffic is backed up to 20th. While I’m deciding whether to turn off at 18th, a maneuver that might take a few green lights and further bollox traffic, the presto movement kicks in, with its latent promise that we’ll get moving again. More than that, it is a testament that in all this mechanical bustle, this too-much-with-us world, there is incorruptible beauty, breaking the heart and making it whole, again or for the first time.

At 16th there has been an accident. A near head-on. A gray car and a red pickup. Someone was going fast. The gray car’s hood is crumpled. Lanes are closed in three directions. Two cops direct traffic, at first at cross purposes. Even majestic Bach can’t keep my impatience from bubbling into something like rage.

How about some gratitude. It wasn’t me in the gray car. My gray pickup is now rolling right along. And, let’s have a dose of perspective. If I had to do a single commute like Rita does most days in Nigeria from her house to the Centre, I wouldn’t have a feather of sanity remaining. Yes, rolling along now. Bach’s music is an oiled machine producing the sublime.

Crossing Market Street we’re back in the tar pits. On Buchanan where a massive development is rising a platform trailer truck is parked. Now we’re down to one lane and it’s every maniac for himself. I breathe. It occurs to me that a mindfulness practice is just fine when everything is going fairly well but when things get really sticky, I dive into anger and frustration. Is there really any need to hurry? I ask my swim students, can you slow that down? I ask myself, can you slow that down?

Fast, faster, moving to the music. The stitch of arboreal shadows dances through sunlight. We’re getting somewhere.



There it was, the first guest at the birdfeeder, perched on one of the tiny posts adjacent to the feeding hole. The feeder had been hanging full for three days and no customers. I was starting to wonder. The little thing is twisting its little neck to peck the grains. I get my binoculars. It has a dark hood, and non-descript brown elsewhere. It’s probably a dirt common bird but since it’s not a hummingbird, a seagull, pigeon or robin, I don’t know what it is. Not a finch, I’m pretty sure. No red or yellow breast. You can bet it’s not something intriguing like a grand tit or a dickcissel. Make that great tit.

Nondescript, I say lamely. I could take a picture if I had a camera with a lens and let the digerati twitter info. It’s cute, with its black hood, like a little Franciscan. Does that help?

Now there are seven of them them pecking through the mat of last year’s leaves for the seeds I broadcast according to the advice on the paper inside the feeder. It was good advice and I’m proud of myself that I read it and took it. Now none of the birds are using the feeder. If I were a nondescript ounce of feathers I’d prefer grubbing in the soft leaves and soil. Who knows, might be some protein in there. (Why did I buy the feeder?)

Maybe the bird is a vegan. There’s so much (everything) I don’t know about birds and I have an enormous urge to say, oh forget it. When I take down the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, I look at the pictures when instead I might read the section, “How to Identify Birds.”

Is it among the VAGRANTS or STRAYS FROM ASIA? Nope. Is it an ACCIDENTAL WARBLER FROM MEXICO? Nope. Does it chitter or chirp? Can’t hear a thing.

But maybe…yes, maybe, there, a junco. A lucky find. Good fortune is on the wing.

What shape of wing?



“It’s a do or die election for democracy in Nigeria,” Rita says. The election was postponed from February 14 to the end of March to give the incumbent more time to sway voters. He shows sudden interest in the conflict in the Northeast that has killed thousands and displaced over a million more. Trucks with his party’s insignia drive through villages and money get tossed from the truck bed. The villages are wallpapered with posters, villages that have no electricity. “The money spent on posters could have bought four transformers,” Rita says.

The incumbent’s allies hire protestors to demonstrate in London where his rival gives a speech. The organizer of the protest tells an inquiring journalist that she can summon a protest in favor of whatever he might want and whenever. How about a protest for the incumbent’s rival? Sure, no problem. Just pony up.

Meanwhile, back in the US, this Sunday morning headline: G.O.P. Race Starts in the Haunts of Rich Donors


I am starting to worry about the driftiness of the rain goddess. She shows up, leaves, forgets the way back. We importune, we cajole, we flatter, we dance and beat drums and she sleeps in. Yawns, and goes back to sleep. Another sunny day, absolutely perfect, rolls down the conveyer belt.

I put up a bird feeder, fill it with thistle seed. If a butterfly flapping its wings over Mount Kinabalu can affect the weather, will a flock of finches flush away the high pressure ridge?

Since rain incantations have lost their powers, how about this, from the Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik:


Fine Weather

This weather has finished me off.

In this weather I quit my job

at the Bureau of Public Works.

I started smoking in this weather.

In this weather I forgot to bring home

the bread and salt.

I forgot I had this writing disease

and it flared up again.

This weather had finished me off.