QUAIL MUTTERINGS #4. Birds of a Feather – March 30, 2010
I opened my bedroom window the other morning and heard a quail calling from up the hill. Looking out the sliding glass door I could see a whole covey of them scuttling over the rocks, one at a time. As soon as one would disappear into the bush another would cross the rock. There must have been a dozen of them. Even after they all seemed to have passed by I could still hear their muted mutterings as they scurried through the underbrush on their way to wherever they were going.
The scene inspired a memory about a similar experience that I shared with my father shortly after the Cedar Fire.
“Come on, Chi,” my dad encouraged. “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 of age. We toodled on down the dirt road going five miles-per-hour turning northward at the T, halfway to Mussey Grade. At the top of the hill we stopped and shut off the engine. Dad pointed out landmarks in the adjacent valley which used to be the nudist camp, Samagatuma. Now it was a sea of trailers, mobile homes and vehicles known as MG Village.
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. Dad and I both 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. My dad and I kept very still, breathing lightly, so as not to disturb the family’s journey. I felt lucky to be there, so close to them.
There is a tall eucalyptus tree over near where my grandmother’s house used to be. This tall warrior survived the Cedar Fire as did many other eucalyptus trees in the Ramona area. I can remember, as a kid, before this tree existed. Then later, as a teenager, I could see this emerging giant from my bedroom window, looking down toward the opening of the canyon. It steadily grew into my line of sight. A few years ago we heard massive branches breaking and crashing down from it, but the main trunk survived and sent out new growth. I’ve always had a kind of affinity with this tree. I somehow felt a sense of peace whenever I looked at it.
For a while now, there has been a large, dark-looking blob high up in the top branches. I hadn’t taken the time to go look at it up close and assumed it was either parts of branches that didn’t fall all the way down or an old nest that was coming apart. This morning while sitting outside looking across the creek at the tree, I saw a large Red tail Hawk fly over to it. A minute later it flew away. Wow, it is a nest. I’ll have to go check it out, I thought.
Later, about dusk, I grabbed my binoculars and headed across the creek. My husband, daughter, and two-and-a-half year old grandson joined me. Once we got over there it was difficult to make out any details of the massive nest, even though we were much closer. That eucalyptus tree is so tall and looking upward from down below wasn’t making it much easier to assess. We trekked over some poison oak on our way to the uphill side of it. This provided a slightly better vantage point, but we could still only gaze upward toward the bottom of the nest.
A few acorn woodpeckers flew amongst the branches flashing their single white splotches on each wing. Their distinctive, raspy chatter is unmistakable. It’s fun to watch these pranksters. They’re the birds that gather acorns and rat-hole them into indentations they’ve pecked into power poles and large trees.
Little Ian decided it was dinner time so he and his mom went back. Kent and I took turns with the binoculars, staring up into the towering canopy, getting a sneak peek into that active environment. Meandering back down the trail, we stopped to look at the place where my grandmother’s cabin used to be. You’d never know, now, that there was ever a house there. The old burned Ingleman oaks have fallen down on top of the remaining foundation and sumac bushes push up between them. Perhaps someday we’ll rebuild. But I wonder.