Friday, January 29, 2021
The trail begins at a sharp corner of the Mansion Loop road. There’s a place to park on wood chips. Then a narrow path leads between two mansion. The one on the south has a tiered fountain, multiple columns, a tennis court, a pond in the back with bronze statues of children playing and a wrought iron fence along the trail that transitions to chain link after one passes the 8 raised garden beds, currently laying dormant. The house might be called “Faux Italian” and seems grossly out of place here. With its multiple stories the owner must have a monstrous heating and cooling bill each month. Up until November, their yard proudly displayed all Republican campaign signs.
On the north, there is a buck-and-rail-type fence with two-inch, rectangular chicken wire along it’s length, to keep the new tenant’s dogs inside. This mansion has recently changed ownership to a couple from Vermont. There is a thin forest of pines and other trees between the trail and a huge lawn. The lawn spreads peacefully around a large cottonwood accommodating a rope swing from one of it’s branches. A small step-over bridge crosses a side acequia (canal) on the north side of the lawn. A long driveway takes residents and visitors to a sprawling adobe, ranch-style home. This home is more in keeping with the character of the southwest, and is certainly less intrusive than the Faux Italian. This lawn displayed a Democratic candidate sign just to “off-set” his neighbors.
I am grateful to finally leave this disparity of human habitation. The entry trail joins the Acequia Madre trail at a right angle. Sometimes there are Mallards or Wood Ducks nibbling along the edges of the water under the bushes here. Not today. I make every effort to walk as quietly as I can in my hiking boots. The quieter I am, the more likely I am to see one of the many treasures Nature has to offer.
Turning north, the trail remains several feet above the water in the acequia. There are a variety of shrubs and trees along this trail. The trail allows a person to view the wildlife, without being too intrusive. It is uneven on occasion, with the roots of large cottonwood trees and the invasive Siberian elms.
Today, it’s about 3pm in the afternoon. This is not usually a good time to see wildlife here, but there are always surprises, no matter what time of day it is. I’m alert to the opportunities, and have my camera ready.
For the first twenty minutes or so, there are no little rustles in the dry leaves. There are no little flutters of feathers in the bushes, nor whistling or low murmurings along the water’s edge. The only sound is the gurgling of the water over rocks or low hanging, water soddened branches. The descending sunlight catches the ripples, and turns the water golden. I’m drawn to the water’s edge.
Light catches the edges of the ripples and makes delicate patterns, like Irish lace, or my grandmother’s tatting along the edge of a handkerchief. Algae undulates in lazy, rocking motions back and forth, back and forth. The water calms. It mesmerizes. It washes away thoughts of political disparity.
This time of year, the animals are mostly quiet, if they are present at all. The food sources are limited so most of the migratory birds are feeding in grassy yards and plowed fields along Rio Grande Blvd. this time of day. They need to get enough calories and build fat to make their long journey back to Alaska and the Arctic. There the business of reproduction will occupy their spring and summer.
Occasionally, groups of Sandhill Cranes or Canadian Geese fly overhead in an undulating V of enthusiastic calls and communications. Their friends on the ground often answer or support their excitement with calls of their own. Then all is quiet once again.
Just when the silence becomes complete, a number of little twittering noises erupts from the shrubs along the trail. Little grey balls of fluff flutter from branch, to fence top, back to branch, then up the trunk of a tree. There is a constant twittering. These are Bushtits. They are no bigger than a small field mouse. One stops long enough to have peek at me. I am quiet and move slowly so he is not frightened. I snap a few photos. My camera makes more noise than I do. The nature of a Bushtit is to keep moving and keep in communication with the others in their flock. It is a means of survival, and kinship in my mind.
Just as I click one last photograph, I hear a cow bell. It’s a cyclist. I step aside. He says, “sorry” for interrupting my photography. I shrug. In the past, others have waited until I was finished. This was a cyclist in a hurry. It is not a day to be irritated since I’m not on any schedule. I am merely taking opportunities as they come, or go.
Oregon Juncos come along in a wave of flutters after the Bushtits. They are too fast for me to photograph. A little further up, I spot a porcupine I’ve been seeing for the past several visits. He is curled up in a ball, about ten trees further north than the last time I was hear.
Our southwestern porcupines are mostly nocturnal, quiet creatures. They are easy to miss if you’re riding a bicycle. Walking allows the flexibility of looking closely at the branches in order to recognize the difference between a snag, a cluster of mistletoe and the “treasure find” of a porcupine. I’m grateful the porcupines like the Siberian Elm over the local Cottonwood bark for their winter sustenance.
It’s time for me to turn around and head back to the Mansion Loop. I will share my findings with Isaac and hear about his experiences. But the trail has one more treasure for me to find. There is a Cooper’s Hawk that has a specific area he calls “his.” It covers a strip along the acequia that is about 4 to 5 mansion properties long. I’ve spotted him several times in recent weeks, in this same area. He is not stressed by the presence of humans, although he wisely keeps his distance. He demonstrates his aerial agility by swinging gracefully from under bushes, and between the dense branches of trees lining the acequia, to land on a branch just high enough to be seen, but not bothered.
He fluffs and preens. He keeps a sharp eye out around him. He spots me with my camera and seems unimpressed. He preens his wing, looks at me, fluffs a bit more. I shoot a number of photographs, but my batteries are diminishing by now. Many turn out blurry. I settle for two that seem to show our regard for each other.
I arrive back on the road just as Isaac is returning from his loop to the south. I meet him on the road, in the center of the Republican’s property. We share our experiences.
Isaac has enjoyed several flyovers of geese. He’s watched them feeding on the lawns and made an effort to walk as rigorously as he could with his walker. He feels well exercised today.
As he relates his experiences, he tells me he can see our old dog, Bella, walking between us, in the peripheral area his mismanaged glaucoma has destroyed. It seems this area of vision is reserved for that world between worlds. He says one day, he hopes to be with Bella and our old cat, Squeaky, once again. He realizes now, he loved them both more than he knew at the time they were with us.
Today has taken care of itself with many treasures. Tomorrow will unfold it’s own treasures, or losses as it will.