QUAIL MUTTERINGS #45. To Each and Every One (February 2017)

The creeks are running, wildflowers are beginning to bloom, frogs perform their nightly symphony, and the birds are already courting. The essence of spring is hovering all around, teasing us, as another big rainstorm threatens. Nature is a powerful force, one which is most beneficial to all when we work with it rather than against it.

We are so fortunate for all the caring individuals who’ve continued to spend so much of their time and effort to ensure that large swaths of our natural environment are set aside for preservation. Without the forests we couldn’t breathe. When a species goes extinct there’s no getting it back and we shouldn’t pretend to know the consequences of that. Everything on earth is interconnected in ways that our poor, miniscule brains cannot even fathom. And to pretend to know what we cannot possibly understand can create catastrophic and torturous results. Life is too precious to let short-sightedness guide us.

I was fortunate, last summer, to visit Costa Rica and stay for a week in my cousin’s house. In order to get there we had to put the car in four-wheel-drive to make it up the side of the mountain on their two mile long dirt road. Howler monkeys screamed all around us and toucans perched in nearby trees. The surrounding jungle had its own fantastic and unfamiliar sounds. We kayaked through muddy waters and watched spider monkeys clamor out on the branches above us. Sloths were difficult to spot since they slept high in the trees, remaining very still. Iguanas crawled everywhere and brightly colored, poisonous lizards attempted to camouflage themselves on leaves and rocks. As protected habitat, much of this natural world remains.

Having the freedom to travel to other countries is indeed important. It allows us to experience how others live. Otherwise, we can lead ourselves to believe that our own perspective is the one true vision. What feels like fact actually turns out to be opinion. But we can be so easily swayed by someone who sounds more sure of himself than we are. I was substituting at the local high school last week and overheard a group of boys talking about our changing immigration policies. One of them said, “Only the bad ones are being deported, not the good ones. It’ll be alright.”

I was horrified. But, being a lowly sub and having the charge of thirty or so boisterous teenagers, I didn’t step in. Maintaining some form of control and having a list of things to accomplish that hour, didn’t give me much time to spare. I now wonder what I could have said that would have made a difference. I might have asked, “So, who makes the decision regarding the good ones versus bad ones? You? Me?” Our opinions might vastly differ.

I’ve already noticed a shift in how some people view us women. We have come a long way in regards to personal freedoms including the right to vote, own land, wear pants, and make our own decisions about reproducing. Can’t we all, as a caring and supposedly big-brained species, take a step back and look at the broad view? I think we must in order to stop pointing fingers and getting into the “us versus them” mentality. It’s a no-win situation.

We all want a choice. What to eat, how to live, who to marry or not, how to raise our children… We are all created equal. We’re all immigrants in one way or another. We all want our civil liberties and social justices. Let’s take care of one another and not judge someone just because they may seem different. Instead of contributing to the polarization of people, why not embrace each other and work together in order to help our entire planet survive in as healthy a state as possible – for our children and grandchildren, ad infinitum? I think it’s a worthy goal. Don’t you?


Peace is elusive

Flitting as moths to the light

Searching to find

Chasing to catch

It will certainly escape us

Unless we just be it.


Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com

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QUAIL MUTTERINGS #44. The Digital Age (January 2017)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #44. The Digital Age (January 2017)

We all have our strong suits. For me, it’s definitely NOT technology. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been born into the wrong era. I like Model-As. The engine design is straightforward and strictly mechanical. If something fails it does not have to be hooked up to a computer for analysis. Usually, the repairs could be made with what the owner had stashed in the shed: baling wire, nuts and bolts, gasoline for cleaning parts. I also prefer windows that open to air conditioning; book research as opposed to surfing the web; and not being available 24/7 for countless, often unnecessary interruptions.

I prefer to live my life as real experiences, things I can sink my teeth into, rather than vicariously participating in random, unchosen forays. I realize in my wording of this that my biases come through, and it’s a little sad. Sometimes I feel like I’m left farther and farther behind in a culture that spends so much time transfixed to a device.

“Hello! Is there anybody REALLY out there?” At times it’s a little lonely.

Unfortunately, for folks like me, writing in this day and age absolutely requires an online presence. I’m alright spending “some” of my time on a device making that happen, but not as much as necessary to reach an audience. My computer skills are gradually improving, as is increasingly mandatory, but not adequately. I’m realizing that my happiness diminishes the more time I spend attempting to promote myself online. Therefore, I have decided to invest a little money to have someone else help out. The younger generation doesn’t seem to mind these tasks as much as I do and they possess a faster learning curve in this field than me. It was a long time in coming, but it feels like the right decision for me.

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In the short time she’s been involved, Mercy has rebuilt my website, created a business Facebook page, and coached me, tiny step by tiny step, dragging me kicking and screaming, into the modern age. I’m in over my head, concerning the technical details of “existing online.” Being such a troglodyte, I’m not even fully aware of everything she’s doing on my behalf. That is partly the beauty of it. I learn this stuff on an “as needed” basis. Perhaps, as intended, I can now spend more of my quality time actually writing instead of telling everybody about my writing and tweeting about myself. Moving on…

I sit here today in an elementary school library at a table with three children who are typing vigorously into their Chromebooks and two who are working independently on worksheets. They will tell me when they need help on their work that they’ve been sent out of their classroom to do. I’m finishing up a half-day substitute job, staying for my required number of hours, supervising their independent study time. So I write, modeling constructive behavior while making it clear that I am available to them.

These kids have been born into a new age where they must be willing and able to spend their life-blood researching, reporting, and staying connected on their digital devices. I’m glad that my time began earlier, in the last century. A lot of my writing begins free-hand, pen on paper, sitting outside or in the car waiting or here at school in-between tutoring sessions. Sometimes, I now type my ideas directly into the computer. I’ve learned to do it both ways. I have at least three or four literary projects going at a time which keeps my interest alive. But now, it’s nearing the end of my sub-job day and I can’t wait to go home and take a hike. Time to go outside and play!



Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #10. My Front Yard (August 6, 2011)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #10. My Front Yard (August 6, 2011)


It’s August 6th, and I’m still listening to and watching the young Cooper’s Hawks. Almost any time of day you can hear their sharp, raspy whistles coming from various areas around our front yard. Most hawks have similar sounding calls, but the volume and timber seem to vary with the species. Lately, I’m hearing both the Cooper’s loud, urgent calls as well as their descending whistles which they can do during flight. The canyon is filled with hawk sounds from daybreak to dusk which I find exhilarating.

These Accipiters careen through the canopy zooming like fighter jets between bushes and expertly threading through tree foliage. They quickly clip around rocks and tree trunks reminding me of a cutting horse skillfully maneuvering around barrels or cattle, except they are much faster and more agile. Sometimes when I’m sitting out on the front porch I feel like I’m observing an air show of F-14’s minus the deafening explosions created when the sound barrier is broken. The Red-tails spend more time up in the sky whereas these guys tend to hang lower, right in our line of sight.

During more calm periods of their day they seem to find respite in the bird bath out front. Now, these are no small birds, mind you. They are quite large, fourteen to twenty-one inches tall with a wingspan of up to three feet. Mostly I see small wrens and Black Phoebes enjoying the shallow layer of water spanning the top of the cement disk. They like to sit on the edge, then hop into the wetness and splash around, and go back to the side to shake off and preen themselves.

But it’s a whole different activity to witness these practically full-grown hawks do the same thing in this small amount of water. It’s during these times when you can notice the dark, broad bands on their tail feathers. Usually, one at a time will fly down and perch on the split-rail fence before hopping over to the bird bath to play in the water and flap around. When he’s had enough bath time he’ll crow-hop over the split-rail fence to the plow handle beyond for a perch. Sometimes they even fly up to the house to sit on the porch railings. I guess I don’t pose too much of a threat to them.

I’m wondering now how much longer these Accipiters will call our front yard their home. I suppose that they too, like my Red-tail friends, will grow up and move on. At least to a larger territory than just my view from the front porch. We leave in a week to take our son up to Chico State University and will be gone for ten days. Will my feathered family still be here when I get back? Or will I miss them too at the end of summer?

Chance feels ready, for the most part, to embark on his new college adventure and I realize, at least in my head, that it’s time for my youngest to spread his wings and leave the nest. But my heart is probably going to have a rough time of it. We’ll both, he and I, embark on a new chapter in our lives. Each of us will practice letting go while at the same time, inevitably, grasp for something new to hold onto. He’ll have his x-country running and engineering classes to focus on, along with a whole host of new college experiences, no doubt. I wish him well and hope he’s ready.

But what about me? Am I ready? Is a mother ever ready either to raise a child, with all those unforeseen situations; or to step back, just enough, when it’s time for them to be on their own? When there are younger ones to continue to care for when the older one leaves, the brunt of the loss is probably not as much. But when it’s my youngest, and the last one, how will it feel?

I remember my mom going through a tough patch when both my sister and I were in college. We just thought she ought to “adopt another kid.” What did we know? Ultimately, she found her way by focusing on her job, but also allowing herself more time to explore her interests. Taking classes, volunteering, working, and caring for her many animals filled the time so that the space in her heart could slowly fill with other things, or at least different proportions of the same things.

Now, as the parents of the young Cooper’s Hawks allow their young more responsibilities to care for themselves, they, the adults, can fly farther away and for longer periods of time. In their world, it’s the adults that leave the children when the time comes. For us, it seems, it’s the other way around.