The chirp that refreshes

It’s summer in Seattle, so birds are even more than usual out and about and making their noises. I’ve been watching the crows because the crows have been watching me. They have been yelling at me as I walk one of my usual routes, moving from line to tree so that they can continue to shout at me as I stroll down the street. There must be babies nearby, and they are just making sure I mean them no harm. I don’t. I also noticed the one that often sits outside my window. He makes a sound very like a woodpecker–I am fascinated by his clicking.

On another path I heard a sweet cheeping. Stopping and listening, I finally located a small nest of starlings perched in a vine arbor on the side of a local building. They were small and sweet and I left them alone, but I was happy to have had the experience.

Later that day I was waiting for a bus and saw a male pigeon strutting his stuff to impress the ladies. He puffed out his chest and walked in circles. He fanned his tail feathers. The female pigeons were not at all impressed. I also saw a pigeon with an egg stuck to its underside up on the telephone wire. Apparently sometimes the eggs break and the sticky insides glue the egg to the birds. Poor thing! I wish I could have reached up to help.

I cannot tell you all about birds and their life cycles or recite all of their scientific names. I cannot identify all of their calls, but I have learned a lot by just watching them as they go about their daily lives. Birds remind me to look up and around me. There is a lot going on in the world that has nothing to do with people, and it’s fun to be a part of that. When I hear one of their calls I try to stand still and see if I can spy the bird that made the sound. Birds bring me back to the moment, to the here and now away from electronic screens and in the present. I take a deep breath and thank them.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
249. Be aware of the birds as you go about your daily business. What kinds of birdsong do you hear? What sorts of birds do you see? What times of the day do they make the most noise?


Finding the moments

I’ve started writing a daily haiku. It’s one of my commitments this year, and it wasn’t done for any specific reason, beyond the fact that my friend was doing it and I decided to accept the challenge. I passed it on so there are three of us. So far I’ve met my commitment and written a haiku every day, sometimes more. It’s been really good for me. Not only does the process allow me to work on writing for myself (as opposed to the paid work I do) but it also helps with my mindfulness. When I go out on my walks now, I am searching for my haiku. Travelling around, I look for them on bus seats and park benches. I found today’s in the middle of an exhausted fog–it was sitting right there, staring at me.

As a Zen girl, I believe in mindfulness. It’s good to look around you and be where you are. There are so many things you can miss if you are staring at a screen, making to-do lists in your head or all of the other myriad distractions of modern life. You might miss the wonders of the universe–so many little moments that can make or break a day. In rural areas you might miss the beauties of nature, and in more urban areas you might miss what I like to call our “urban wildlife.” This is not a good thing to do, because sometimes the urban wildlife is hostile. You need to be aware of your surroundings to keep yourself safe.

This isn’t to say that cities aren’t full of birds and other critters. One of my favorite sights is watching pigeons eating french fries. We have a burger joint on the hill that’s more like a drive-in, and people either eat in their cars or stand around in clumps consuming their deep-fried goodies. Pigeons and seagulls are happy to help with whatever is left.

I don’t want to miss out on these impromptu little goodies that nature provides me. I’m also really enjoying the haikus that my friends are writing. It’s good to get a glimpse into their daily lives, especially as these are friends that live too far away. Haiku brings them closer. That’s a lot of benefits for seventeen syllables.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

224. Go out looking for a haiku. When you find it, write it down. The standard format is three lines, with the first line being five syllables, the second seven syllables, and the final line five syllables. If you need examples, check out the links. If you are so inspired, I’d love to see your examples in the comments.

Links, should you desire them: 

My haiku blog is called Haiku Plate Special, and you can find it here:

My friend Gabrielle’s haiku blog is called Balsamic Pearls, and you can find it here:

Our other friend isn’t publishing his online, so I can’t share those, but they are as fabulous as he is.


May they soar

I love pigeons. I think I’ve established that. I spent a few relaxing minutes today watching one iridescent bird splash in an ornamental fountain. Although I love pigeons, I read a disturbing news story today about some other pigeon lovers. These people breed certain pigeons for sport, and they decided to protect their prize birds by killing off falcons, hawks, and other raptors.

I want to speak to them, tell them: “No, no, a thousand times, no!” I can understand why they love pigeons, but raptors are also glorious birds. I love to watch them coasting through the clouds, soaring on the thermals. It’s sad for us when they feast upon our feathered friends, but raptors were born to eat mice and other birds. It’s what they do. It’s the natural order of things, and as a people we don’t know enough about that order to try to intervene. If you doubt this, study the history of Australia and their intentional introduction of foreign species which have overrun the country. Study the verdant and ever-spreading kudzu plant. It’s originally from Asia, and with nothing to stop it here the plant swallows trees, fields and even buildings in the South.

I believe than balance and diversity are two of the essential components of joy. The pigeons thrive despite the raptors. Who knows how many pigeons there would be without these predators. Perhaps it would be too many. As much as I love pigeons, I would not want them crowding every square inch of the sidewalk, clogging traffic so that cars and busses couldn’t move, and perhaps becoming aggressive because they no longer had enough to eat. Everything is better in moderation, even pigeons. It’s better for them, too. Who knows what else would overbreed without the raptors—do we really want to risk a city overrun by rats? I hope the penalties are stiff for these particular pigeon lovers, and that they learn to appreciate everything in balance. Yay pigeons! Yay raptors!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

145. Is there some creature in your natural environment that you don’t like? Perhaps you dislike spiders or squirrels or something else. Do a little research to see what benefits that creature might have. Did it make you feel better to know these benefits?

They like birdseed best

Tomorrow is National Pigeon Day, a day created to honor the contributions that pigeons have made towards our society. Pigeons have contributed to our war efforts, they beautify our cities, and they make everyday life just a little bit more wonderful.

I’ve written about pigeons before, and if you didn’t see those discussions you must have at least guessed I like pigeons because of the name of my blog. If you happen to be in New York City tomorrow, you can go and join the big celebration that’s going to go on for National Pigeon Day. If you aren’t, I encourage you to take a moment to celebrate wherever you are.

This is the perfect opportunity to give thanks to pigeons for making our daily lives richer. People complain about pigeons all the time, but would you really want to live in a city completely devoid of wildlife? The carefully-manicured trees would harbor no birds. No squirrels would scamper through the parks, and seagulls would never stand sentinel on rooftops. We’d be left in the urban center all by ourselves, the only sounds the mechanical ones we created. That’s not a place I’d want to live in.

I find pigeons particularly pretty because they can vary so much from one another. Pigeons have been bred for their looks for so long that much of our urban flocks sport many different colors. Some are the traditional grey, while others are a light brown color, dappled with white. Sometimes I even see a snow white dove, and I think that it must have wandered off from a wedding release somewhere. Many variations on patterns exist, and I often think of pigeon flocks as a traveling art exhibit.

I plan to take some time tomorrow to feed the pigeons in honor of this holiday. Although they won’t know that I am celebrating a special day for them, I will know. When I set aside time to honor what’s important, it enriches my own life. I do not intend to take the pigeons for granted. Yay Pigeons!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

124. Think about celebrating National Pigeon Day and take a moment to be grateful for all the wildlife you encounter on a daily basis. How do they add to your experience of the world around you?


Links, should you desire them:

Information on the festivities in New York, and about pigeons themselves:

A previous blog post, about the good qualities of pigeons and their heroism:

What a glorious feeling

Everything is wet today. The sidewalks glisten, the leaves curl around mouthfuls of water. Damp pigeons fluff their feathers as I walk by. The city is renewing itself. I love the rain, and it’s a special treat to have it on the tail end of a miniature heat wave.

I woke up to a cool bedroom, the air crisp with the breeze brought by the showers. I made sure to go for a walk during lunch so that I could enjoy the nice weather. Other people stayed inside, not wishing to get wet. I’ve been told that I’m perfect for Seattle, because I love the native dampness. I moved here partly for that dampness, and I have not been disappointed.

I think it’s important to live in a place that suits you. I have a close friend who lives in Phoenix. I love to visit Arizona, but I cannot see myself battling the heat on a daily basis. I would miss the greenness of my environment, and I would never want to leave the cocoon of an air-conditioned nest. I don’t even like air-conditioning. On a similar note, I used to live in Minnesota. I loved the people there, and the culture was intriguing. It was a very friendly place by and large, and I enjoyed strolling around the many lakes. It was also cold—so cold a lot of the time that I felt like I was battling Mother Nature. Winter, which seemed to last most of the year, was an endurance test. I bonded with the natives there, because we were all survivors of an environmental endurance test. Who needs that kind of struggle?

Now that I live in Seattle I am much happier. I’ve tossed my snow shovel, and I don’t even carry an umbrella most of the time. There’s always going to be days that aren’t quite perfect, but I am happy in the knowledge that I’ll get to sit out in the rain on a regular basis. My city provides me with the puddles and downpours I crave, and I revel in them when they arrive. Mother Nature and I are friends again. She’s a pretty good ally to have.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

108. Does the place where you live suit you? Why or why not? Is there anything you can change to make your environment more accommodating?

All aboard

I spend my days being randomly delighted. A lot of these little joys happen while I am walking or riding the bus. This morning, waiting at my stop, I heard a homeless person urging one of his friends not to feed cheddar to the pigeons. “They don’t like cheese,” he said. “Gives ‘em gas.” Who knew? I’d never think to feed cheese to a pigeon, but next time I’m grilling up a Swiss on rye I’ll know not to share it with my feathered friends. Of course, he could be wrong, but I’m not taking any chances.

Walking during lunch I saw a cool acoustic guitar in a pawn shop window. It had inlaid silver stars on the frets, and the sides of the body were bright red. The front of the guitar had a picture of a man on a horse. The man was on a butte, and he was looking down at a Hispanic beauty in a flared skirt. I instantly got music in my head. “Down in the old Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl. . . .” The guitar was depicting a scene from a Marty Robbins song I’ve loved since I was a child. How marvelous. 

Nearby the pawn shop was the Showbox theater, a venue that gets all sorts of musical acts. A group called The Cult is playing there soon, which inspired the sign on the door: “The Cult is sold out.”  This cracks me up. It’s a surreal kind of sign. To me this says: “The end times are coming, but all the tickets on the space ship are reserved. If you would like to put your name on a waiting list for the next apocalypse, please sign here. We apologize for the inconvenience, but the rapture is very popular.” 

I suppose these little things delight me because of what my brain adds to them, and that’s part of how I write. I love this, because one vintage handbag or funky guitar could inspire a whole book of essays. Each writer brings his own baggage to the train. I’d love to look in that compartment, wouldn’t you? 

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

62. What interesting little tidbits did you overhear today? Did you see something nifty? Share these experiences with someone else. You can share them in all their raw glory, or use them as seeds for something else entirely.

In my beautiful balloon

I had one of those days. You know them—the I’ve just met my worst nightmare in the dark alley of my psyche and there’s no place to hide days. I won’t describe it to you, because you’ve been there, and I don’t want to bring you back. Most people don’t need help being more cynical, and I am not about to teach a master class. In fact, I’m not planning to stay in this mood myself.

How will I crawl out? I’ve got my plans, and I’ve already started putting them into play. I read my e-mail, I checked my messages, I watched some pigeons. I felt my friends around me even as they are scattered across the country, involved in their own daily routines. On a day full of frustration, it helps to remember how interconnected I am with magical people. Just thinking about my loved ones brings on a hug from the universe. I am hugging you all back.

This girl needed a treat, so I stopped and bought a few used CDs. I knew that some new music would help more than an ice cream sundae I would later regret. My selections amused the man at the counter, too, which made me smile. He told me it’s the first time he’d ever rung up Kenny Chesney and Laurie Anderson in the same sale. Considering that one is a country star with a big hat and the other is a darling of the avant garde, it may just be. What can I say? I’ve got eclectic taste.

Now I’m home, and I’ve just spent ten minutes lavishing attention on my loving feline housemate. He’s in a good mood, and I think I’ve caught a little bit of his enthusiasm. The power of an orange tabby in vibrate mode should not be underestimated. The hot shower and soft pajamas didn’t hurt, either. I’m actually looking forward to the rest of my evening. Mission accomplished!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

39. You have the power to change your own mood—you can either sink deeper into a bad one or put your fingers on the edge of the big black hole and climb towards the light. Next time you’re in a funk, try it. If you’re in a good mood, climb higher to a great one.