Recuperating from surgery and radiation treatment for cancer, I have limited energy and cannot yet take the long walks in the woods that I so love and need, and so I spend a great deal of time sitting on the front porch observing what wildlife I can from a folding plastic chair.
Although the rosemary by the porch stopped blooming weeks ago, bumblebees still drop by every day, perhaps feeling a little nostalgic for the blue abundance they found there in spring. From the rosemary they fly up to the jasmine, still with plenty of asterisk-like white blossoms where they can load up with nectar to take back to the hive. Fortunately, I have had only a couple of passing encounters with yellow jackets, aggressive little miscreants for whom I have no affection. There are fat black bees like tiny, buzzing bears, and an occasional very handsome long-legged wasp that likes to land on a leaf of the princess flower by the steps. White cabbage butterflies flit about the front yard garden staying nowhere for long, and once in a while a large yellow and black swallowtail breezes through like a celebrity on a press tour.
Above the wooded hillside across the street are crows flying hither and thither and complaining about everything. There are soaring turkey vultures doing reconnaissance to locate their next meal. And far above them, red-tailed hawks are wheeling upwards on afternoon thermals and uttering their high-pitched, keening cries which always make me think of endless prairies and steel guitars. I like to watch the crows and even-smaller birds dive-bomb the vultures and the hawks that cross territorial boundaries and pose a real or imagined threat. I admire their pluck as well as their maneuverability as they swoop down on the larger birds from above and stay well out of the way of the talons. Sometimes attackers become the attacked when the smaller birds go after trespassing crows in the same way. I appreciate the swagger of crows but don’t mind seeing the tables turned as they get run out of town by a fierce jay who knows that any crow would just as soon tear it to pieces as to say howdy, (I once passed under a small oak tree and noticed blue feathers drifting down. I looked up to see a crow perched on a branch nonchalantly plucking and dismembering and dining on an unfortunate jay.)
There are busking finches performing shiny little arias all over the neighborhood – sometimes, when I am lucky, perched on the power lines across the street — also mourning doves that I hear more frequently than see, their soft crooning the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer afternoon of convalescence. While all this is going on I do not fail to notice the people passing by — individuals out for a power walk, families strolling to and from downtown, bikers headed to the mountain or returning, clutches of teenagers in vigorous conversation with each other and their cell phones.
But it is witnessing our shared life expressing itself in the earnest toiling of bees, the cantankerous discourse of crows, the majestic gyring of hawks and vultures, the indescribable intricacies of butterfly choreography, that most heartens me and urges me onward as I sit healing on my front porch.
Buff Whitman-Bradley’s poetry has appeared in many print and online journals, including Atlanta Review, Bryant Literary Review, Concho River Review, Crannog, december, Front Range Review, Hawai’i Review, Pinyon, Rockhurst Review, Solstice, Third Wednesday, Watershed Review, and others. He has published several collections of poems, most recently, To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World. His interviews with soldiers who refused to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan became the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. He lives in northern California with his wife Cynthia.
Photo by Vitaliy Mateha