Of Birds and War Games

There are unknown things popping up out of the ground. It’s February, you know. For me, February is when spring begins. I can tell because of the birds. They’re already establishing boundaries for family rearing. The male juncos haven’t started attacking their reflections in the truck’s side mirrors yet, but they soon will. Right now they’re too busy rucking up the compost in search of the ground cover seeds we’ve thrown out. Stocking up. Surviving.

The narcissus know it. They’re already poking their heads from the ground and some are even thickening with blooms. I can recognize the narcissus, but the clumps of tiny sprouts in the flower beds crawling up out of the compost—I have no idea what they are and am content to wait to see. Allium is stirring. Cilia is up. Buds pimple the forsythia branches.

Roses are pruned on Washington’s birthday. The original birthday, that is, February 22nd. Time to plant greens: arugula, mustards, chicory, radicchio, all small signs that winter is near is long, bleary end.

Behind our house is a small city park with a copse of oak, pines and cedars and a lawn on which people exercise their dogs. The ground beneath the copse is clear of blackberries, although some trees are beset by English ivy that I have pledged to hack if I can remember to bring my clippers with me. This wet winter I have amused my bored quarantined self by following the path through the copse to what we call “the swale”, a capacious depression in the land between the upland of where southwest Albany homes perch and the rail road bed.

Each winter the swale becomes a small lake or a large pond, depending on one’s perspective. Marsh grasses grow there along with teasel, wild strawberry and several of the native shrub whose name I can never remember (deciduous with pink pyramidal flowers in early summer that look like cotton candy). Oregon tree frogs congregate down there by January, their evening chorus loud and cheerful like crickets on steroids. Red-winged blackbirds, and soon, the odd great blue heron. Killdeer will arrive a bit later, parents chirping with alarm, dragging a wing to mimic injury to distract us predators.

By mid-summer the water will be gone, leaving a deep sediment of mud. Bull frogs cling to the remaining water for a time, croaking out love songs. The swale is marred by power poles. The local electric substation spreads its giant erector set along one border of the park. Those huge high intensity lines, held aloft by looming metal structures with arms that remind me of Wells’ The War of the Worlds fighting machines–only instead of striding through Oregon wielding heat-rays and deadly black smoke–stand in formation, conferencing with each other over miles of wires.

Indeed we’re not even supposed to be down at the swale, although all the neighborhood goes there with friends and dogs. No Trespassing signs are posted at intervals, but with only a tiny bit of concern we pass them and go down. A dirt road skirts the pond and winds over a dyke to the Calapooia River, where one can stand on the bank and look down at the rushing water, right below the railroad bridge. Beyond that is signed private farm land, fenced. We don’t venture there.

The power company has, nicely, heavily seeded the sides of the swale with native annuals: vetch, lupine, clovers. In spring and summer, varied thrushes nest in the long grasses.

Yesterday, I took my camera out to the swale; the March weather was a balmy 50 degrees with a light breeze. In the center of the copse—the trees are very all, standing together like freeway viaduct columns—three adults were gathered. They wore khaki earth shaded clothing and helmets. As I walked past, they were chatting; at first I thought it was three men, but one of them definitely sounded female.

After my brief sojourn to the edge of the pond—I took few photos as the light was not interesting—I climbed back up to the copse and saw the three adults at a game of war. They each held AR-15 style toy rifles, and were hiding behind threes, shooting air at each other.

I admit I stopped to watch, trying to figure out their motives. Was it just a game, or were they rehearsing for the Apocalypse? As I neared, one of them glanced at me and waved.

They, and me, were indulging in self-entertainment. I love to photograph and look for birds. They were playing war, and, it did look like fun.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Of Birds and War Games — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Jill, for a taste of coming spring. Are your great blue herons only seasonal? Ours stay all year. I was amused that you — like my husband Thor — carry clippers on your walks. Good for you! He trims the ever-invading blackberry vines from trails as we go along.

  2. We only seem to see the Heron there in early spring. Possibly it visits randomly, searching for the tree frogs.