I’m At Home in the Dark

At Home in the Dark: Western Screech Owl Fledgling Courtesy and Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Western Screech Owl Fledgling
Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
All year I wait for the summer evenings. All year I long for the oddity of ‘warm and dark,’ of trilling owls flickering from treetop to treetop, and for the scent of hot baked earth cooling as on a sill. Summer evenings evoke in me joy in being out of doors, living within the intact Eden which lies just below our own preconceptions, and deepening my appetite for life. Summer evenings, those dark arid cradles of Utah’s providence, have other benefits, too.

It’s in the dark that you can live in the footsteps of local literatos. We can heed the words of Utah’s Ed Abbey, that: “There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision, though limited, has no sharp or definite boundary.”

It is also in the dark that we can allow our eyes a rest from glowing rectangles, and for the rest of our navigational senses to pick up slack. Our ears listen for how sound meanders in the landscape, detecting the clitter clatter of dogs on the deck, or chickens working their scratch. Our nose picks up the scent of a neighbor’s firepit to the east, and when the wind shifts the humidity from another neighbor’s evening watering to the west.

It is in the dark that we can also learn to see that we share spaces with corpuscularities and nocturalites. Those trilling owls, Western Screech Owls to be exact, who emerge from their deadstand cavities and prowl for rodenta. When one spots a human watching it, it watches back, then dances a shimmy-rumba-polka. I imagine that it’s waiting for us to communicate, too.

The dark also brings the insects galore which fill the nights making good on their pollination out of the heat of the day, playing odds with the primroses and their opening hours, and some finding the blood meal they need from undeeted legs, arms, head, feet, and neck. Friends will tell you when there’s a mosquito on your face. Good friends will smack your face for you.

Lastly, the dark gives us our stars. I often need to remind myself that it isn’t that they are out at night, but that they are just no longer obscured by the light of day. The stars are always there, but in day they are dimmed into the blue sky void, and in our city nights given mute by our love of lights which would make Lycurgus roll over in his simple, unmarked grave. That said, they are still there for us to see as we have for as long as life has existed on this earth, but only if we choose to see them. Long ago, looking up and wondering was our choice, and luckily it still is today.

So as your summer progresses and perhaps you find yourself in need of a sigh of relief from woe, I’d invite you to leave your flashlights, glowing rectangles, and worries inside. Step out of doors at dusk and stay into the evening. Hear the music and laughter of a party down the block. Smell the tapestry of worlds that is held in the wind. Feel the mosquitos live because you live. Choose to look up and see infinity in the stars. Know that the dark is not a scary place to be if you learn to see it for what it is and can be.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. Touchstone (January 15, 1990) http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886

Western Screech Owl, Overview, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/overview

Western Screech Owl, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm
Featured Article by Eric Huish: http://www.utahbirds.org/featarts/2004/OwlBox/OwlBox1.htm
Gallery Pictures: http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm



Hi there, I’m a monster

Yellow Garden Spider Argiope aurantia Courtesy US FWS, Willliam Powell, Photographer
Yellow Garden Spider
Argiope aurantia
Courtesy US FWS, Willliam Powell, Photographer

Daring Jumping Spider Phidippus audaxdaring Courtesy US FWS, Laurie Sheppard, Photographer Daring Jumping Spider
Phidippus audaxdaring
Courtesy US FWS, Laurie Sheppard, Photographer

I have a new spider roommate that I’ve decided to let stay. This is a bit of a development for me, though, since I’ve never been too keen on spiders, primarily because they’re spiders. They’re those strange land-lobsters that fall from the shower curtains, or appear behind a shelf; those horrid hairy hands that hole up in the bathroom sink to greet you in the groggy morning. “Hi there! I’m a monster!” they yell with delight. “Gahh! You sure are!” I yell back without it.

When I was growing up, I dealt with spiders according to the ‘all are bad’ fallacy. I was a spider killer I’m ashamed to say. I’d grab a wad of toilet paper, or a shoe, and send their bodies to the sewer or dump. As I grew older and learned more about them, however, I switched camps. I learned that they are just wee wolves who wait. They are not malicious or evil, even if some still take a deep breath to see. I then graduated to spider rehabilitator, and it’s where I am still rooted. I have a specific mason jar and slip of cardboard that I’ll catch the spider in, and then send them to the Oregon grapes beside my house. I find rehabilitation easier to cope with than believing that they are still all bad. I never liked killing. Once released, I know that they are actually happier back in their native habitat where they have an abundance of food and opportunity for spider hunting and other activities which behoove them. Maybe they’ll even get to eat or be eaten by an old flame.

But back to my new roommate. Our story begins a few weeks ago: I was brushing my teeth for the evening when I spotted them near the floor in the corner where my bathroom sink meets the wall. They were suspended in a wee web just living their life. About a quarter the size of a raisin, this little one was no threat I figured: they weren’t large enough to be seen as a scare, and, upon brief inspection, weren’t venomous. I decided to pass on an immediate capture and do it the next day or something. In their corner they stayed.

The next evening as I was again brushing my teeth, I was reminded that I would catch them as I saw them again. But today, this itsy spider was not alone: they had caught a hornet in their web and was gleefully doing with it that which spiders do. It surprised me though, that this small hunter in their own right was able to catch and turn a hornet at least ten times its size into leftovers. “Huh,” I thought, “Perhaps I’ll let you stay.” I like hornets less than spiders, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Since then, the bitsy spider in my bathroom has caught even more, and is really doing me a favor. They have snared another hornet, several flies, mosquitos, and other unidentified organisms which I only recognize as tiny Tutankhamuns. My spider roommate has helped me straddle my rehabilitation camp with a new one: teamwork.

Now, while I still do catch other spiders and critters which find their way into my house, I’m allowing the roommate to stay, at least for now. I know there will be a day when my fiancé finally notices them and asks for them to go, but that day is not yet. Until then, I’ll continue to marvel at how my roommate, this eight-legged ecology major, takes on challenges that to us would seem plain mad. If you saw a hornet the size of a Kodiak brown bear, would you even contemplate catching it let alone eating it? That takes some gumption to not back down. I can admire that. So for now, we’ll keep working together, at least until hornet season is over. Then it’ll likely be to the Oregon grapes with you to find that old flame.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US FWS, images.fws.gov
Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Spiders North America (Spider Identification), InsectIdentification.org, https://www.insectidentification.org/spiders.php

My Full Moon Serenades

Swainson's Thrush & Western Meadowlark Courtesy US NPS Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush) Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark) Combined by Patrick Kelly
Swainson’s Thrush & Western Meadowlark
Courtesy US NPS
Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush)
Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark)
Combined by Patrick Kelly
The serenades around where I live begin early. Today it was during the full moon at 3am, in a break from the blessed rain. The chorus is mostly of robins, but one voice sticks out as new; a call I do not know; a love letter to curiosity of who could make such a call. I have hope that I’ll be able to find who sings like a Geddy Lee who has found Xanadu. It isn’t the first mystery bird I’ve encountered though.

I do remember my first, how can one not, that first call which bamboozled and hypnotized me years ago, both awakening and soothing that inside of me which makes me human. I used to live in a small cabin in the middle of Alaska, and during the eternal summers I’d hear this bird’s haunting call lull me to sleep. It was a Weddell seal of the woods. A UAP that sang.

At first, I didn’t want to know who it was filling the woods with quicksilver honeydew, drop by drop. I somehow felt that the magic would be lost, that by knowing the source I would ruin the spring. But then one day, the music maker appeareth. He was brown, squat, with a small thin beak, just sitting on a spruce branch at my eye level. When he sang, I found I was not disappointed. The Eden of unknowing bliss was not left behind. Instead, where once I saw an it, now I saw a thou. He was singing. The noble, sylvan Swainson’s Thrush.

This trend continued on for me, and once I moved to Utah, I found even more new strange songs. I learned to let the choir sing from their perches, and wait for them to show themselves. The newest singer I discovered was last summer, out in the last intact meadows which border the Bonneville Shoreline trail in Cache Valley, fast disappearing to the grind of half-acre plots and four-car garages which confuse godliness with gaudiness. In their loss, also deplete becomes their song.

Once I heard this new serenader, an avian Van Halen, I began repeating the trail just to hear his song. Like the thrush, which at this point was many years prior, his song seemed to have no source, it simply emanated from the golden grasses and muted sage which, pressed by wind, created a woven mat of gestalt terroir and echoed off the small crevices which led to the mountainsides.

So days and weeks went by as I hiked with my dogs. I’d keep an ear to the pastures and when I heard him, or his premonition upon the wind, I’d freeze and bend in. And sure enough, a certain day came where on this hike I listened, heard, and then saw him. Speckled brown back, golden chest with a black chevron, perched atop a scrubby little juniper calling into the wind. A Western Meadowlark at work.

So if this summer you hear a new sound in the full moon morning and don’t know who makes it, don’t shy, ignore, nor give up. The best thing you can do is to keep listening and keep waiting, be it your first or just most recent. Eventually the caller will pull the curtain back of their own accord and be revealed. So here’s my wish of good luck to you, that you will find what you’re listening for out in the world.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy US National Park Service(NPS) Robbie Hannawacker, Photographer (thrush) & Albert Myran, Photographer (meadowlark)
Audio: Courtesy US NPS Media / David Betchkal (thrush) & US NPS & MSU Acoustic Atlas/Jennifer Jerrett (meadowlark)
Additional Audio Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin.
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Logan Canyon Hiking, Bridgerland Audubon & Cache Hikers, site per Sarah Ohms, https://logancanyonhiking.com/bonneville.htm

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Cache Hikers, http://www.cachehikers.org/Descriptions/BonnevilleShorelineTrail.html

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Official Site(2016), http://www.bonnevilleshorelinetrail.org/

Swainson’s Thrush, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swainsons_Thrush/overview

Swainson’s Thrush, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/bird/swainsons-thrush/

Swainson’s Thrush, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/SwainsonsThrush.htm

Western Meadowlark, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Meadowlark

See Western Meadowlark in Sagebrush Communities in the Intermountain West, Bird Habitat Guide, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/SagebrushGuide.pdf

Western Meadowlark, UtahBirds.org, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternMeadowlark.htm

Dandelion Power

Dandelions Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly
Dandelions
Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly
Morning for the spring dandelion is gentle and calm
The world is no longer a struggle but instead a serendipitous balm
Your yellow buds open upon you, sneaking between others some pink, some white
More colors even still in the waxing new day’s light
 
There is no better time for the dandelion than when spring has sprung
The leaves are fresh green and so is the fresh dung
Birds do sing high up in the stretching yawning trees
Staking their turf, edges, and new nesting eaves
 
Spring when sprung well sizzles with waking signs
Of kin abloom drawn with straight growing lines
One end towards sun, the other down towards the deep
Until some roots build taps, and others go on the creep
 
The days are now joyous choruses of neighbor raucous crocuses
Avian acrobats whirling spinning diving like ferocious locusts
Shades of toothed green batten down the laden earth
Soaking and drinking and filling to fullest milky girth
 
And as the sun sets on each new spring day
I am reminded of the new presence by the heat that stays
Radiating, glowing, even after the moon has shown
Continuing the journey of growth and what has grown
 
It is amazing to think that each year the world mends
Its browns in all hues to life in all bends
From sails to seeds to germ and blossom
Dandelion life is both humble and awesome
 
So this spring when sprung look out your window or door
Remember that life gives always life more and more
If in doubt, don’t wait: be like the dandelion flower
Thriving in cracks and interrupting silly lawns with unrelenting blissful dandelion power
 
I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org/

Brain McCann, Roslynn, Dandelion, Friend or Foe?, Wild About Utah, Apr 4, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/dandelion-friend-foe/

Greene, Jack, Pioneer Day Edible Native Plants 2016, Wild About Utah, Jul 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/pioneer-day-edible-native-plants-2016/