QUAIL MUTTERINGS #25. Origins of Quail Mutterings (December 13, 2013)
I have been fascinated and intrigued by quail my whole life. As a young child one of my first memories was of the quail living around us. I remember hearing them rustling under the bushes talking to each other and watching them glide over the rocks in single file. They were always part of ‘Being Home’ for me. A sense of ‘All is well with the world’ fills me still when I hear their distinctive call echoing through the canyon. When a flock of them takes flight amongst the sage brush the sound of their wing-beat is unique. One can tell without seeing that it’s quail. I think their muted, staccato-like voices sound like they’re muttering to each other as they peck around on the ground under the buckwheat. They don’t sound insistent or particularly forceful in their opinions – just having an open dialogue. So I coined Quail Mutterings for my essays since I mostly just ramble about my experiences meandering through the canyon. Perhaps similar to the way the quail communicate. I only hope my mutterings provide a little entertainment.
I remember a ‘little happy,’ as I like to call them, that I shared with my dad. It was during the year following the fire that he motioned for me and said, “Come on, Chi. Get on the back here and let’s go for a ride.”
More for him than for me, I climbed onto the back of his quad and we putted down the dirt lane. Usually I’d much rather walk than drive a noisy, smelly, gas-guzzling machine, but that wasn’t an option for him at eighty-three years old. We toodled on down the dirt road going five miles-per-hour, turning northward at the T, halfway to the main road. At the top of the hill we stopped and shut off the engine. He pointed out landmarks in the adjacent valley.
Dad straddled the seat on the quad while I leaned against the rack on the back enjoying the warm spring evening. Suddenly, a male quail, with his beautiful top feather, walked over the small boulder we were parked beside and jumped off the edge into the bushes. A plump, gray female followed, over the rock and then jumped into the brush. And then a baby quail, with its quick little running steps, ran across the granite. Both of us held our breath wondering what might happen when it got to the edge. It jumped off the end! Then it scurried through the leaves below, catching up with the parents. We smiled at each other as another wee one appeared on the rock and did just what the first had done. And then another and another and another. We kept very still, breathing lightly, so as not to disturb the family’s journey. I felt lucky to be there, so close to them and to my dad.
Just this week we broke ground, beginning my grandmother’s (Bamoo’s) rebuild, ten years after the Cedar Fire. Designating corners and marking boundaries for the new house – a simple rectangle built into the hill, only three-square-feet larger than what was previously here, is exciting and at the same time a little scary. Building small, just over nine-hundred square-feet, enables us to have the potential to make this project financially feasible. I sure hope this proves to be the case.
Our two old horses, which normally get to roam free in the canyon, have been unhappily corralled more often, in order to protect them from the open trenches and stretched-string boundaries on the house site. Our feed bill goes up too since they usually supplement their diet on the various grasses growing in the creekbed and up toward the saddle. For every action there is a reaction, as we learned in physics. Even though we are only replacing what was already here before, it will be different. And also, time has passed and things (wildlife and plants…) have changed. But then again, even if we don’t consciously change anything, nothing ever really stays the same. Change is inevitable.
Sometimes I find this extremely sad, like when I can’t help dwelling on how things used to be when my parents were still around. I miss them both terribly. I know that things will never be the same again. At this point, if I’m lucky, I start to live in the present. Be grateful for what is. Right now. Because that too will be gone shortly. So I’m trying to remember to stop and smell the flowers.
As the holidays approach let’s take the time to appreciate each other and fill those memory banks with good, quality experiences. I have so many fond memories of growing up here. These are probably the main reasons I’ve chosen to stay and embrace this lifestyle. There’s a timeless peace that permeates the canyon which works for the quail and for me. Rebuilding and preserving a legacy that my family began generations ago feels right and fulfilling to me. So, may each of us find that inner compass that helps steer us not due north, but allows us to meander just enough to happen upon those ‘little happies,’ wherever and whenever they might present themselves. Let’s just make sure that we’re awake enough to recognize them when they appear.
Chi Varnado is the author of two books. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire; and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail, are both available from www.amazon.com. Chi directs The Ramona Dance Centre: www.ramonadancecentre.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.