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Pinyon Smoke

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My domain's been down all day. Sorry if you haven't been able to access the blog. I've had lots of Internet gremlins working overtime to make life interesting lately. Blaaa.

Here's a picture for you. A little blog ant, tucked into her Ohio studio on a cold gray winter day. Over her head on the wall hangs a barbed-wire heart, fashioned by her husband in Magdalena, just a year ago. She's lit a piece of pinyon incense and is immediately transported back to the wild open spaces of New Mexico, carried on the wings of nostalgia for a time only a few weeks past. She's thinking about pinyon jays.

Pinyon jays are one of those species that grabbed my imagination as an eight-year-old and never let go. I just couldn't fathom a large jay that was entirely, unequivocally blue. All the jays I'd ever seen had white and black on them. Mountain bluebirds did the same thing for me. All blue, all over. I dreamt of one day seeing them. Twenty-six years would pass before I'd lay eyes on either. They were worth the wait. For you, a tired male mountain bluebird, just arrived from Montana, maybe, in the agricultural fields along Rt. 1 south of Socorro, New Mexico, resting on a sun-warmed rail.
Look at the length of the wing and tail--the small-headed, big-chested, streamlined grace of this bird, in contrast to the chunky Eastern bluebird. These are long-distance migrants, making their way from the Canadian prairies all the way to Texas for the winter. They are built for open spaces, able to hover and forage where there may be few or no perches. They're built for flight. And their heavenly cerulean is theirs alone--not found on any other bluebird.

Another blue bird: Pinyon jays are closely tied to the pine that shares their name, feeding on the meaty seeds that they extract from cones with their long needlenose plier bills. Little blue crows, they are.Like most birds that feed on an abundant but patchily-distributed resource, pinyon jays travel in flocks, looking for the next bonanza. They are very happy to exploit feeders, though, taking great gullets-full of sunflower seeds and peanuts to cache and enjoy later. They come in a dull-blue blizzard, all at once, with nasal, querulous cries, nyak nyak! and leaving just as suddenly, flooooof!
They swarm over every surface, happily ingesting seeds--not eating just yet, just squatting and gobbling, building up a store of food to cache elsewhere. You' ve probably banged on the window at a blue jay doing the same thing at your feeder. Greedy? Nope. Just planning ahead, one of the hallmarks of intelligent life. maybe a little bit like a blog ant...tee hee all you bloggin' grasshoppers
There comes a point where the bird must tip its head back to get that last seed tossed back into the expandable gular pouch. I love the background color here. New Mexico is colorific.
My friends Paul and Barb Tebbel fed the pinyon jays for a couple of weeks before I arrived to spend the night at their wonderful place outside Espanola, New Mexico. They wanted to be sure the jays would appear on cue when I woke up. Now those are good friends. I crept out their side door and flattened myself against the house to get the sun at my back. It was a crisp cold morning, and the air smelt of pinyon smoke, just as it does here in my studio, and I waited motionless for the jays to return, grabbing images as greedily as they took seeds.
Thank you, Paul and Barb, and thank you, beautiful dream-jays. Your feathers match the mountains of Arroyo Seco, I notice, but you already knew that.
The aptly-named Pinyon Road in Arroyo Seco. Who designed this state, whose colors harmonize so beautifully with her birds and animals? Whoever it was, sure wuz intelligent.


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