City Birds

There is a swooping cacophony in the trees above the sidewalk.

Who’s to say when the blue jays leave town, but their return cannot be missed. They’ve spent their vacation sipping umbrella drinks, oiling their feathers to a fine sheen. Returning home they find the neighborhood in disarray. They careen from peak of roof to tip of branch scolding and bossing us slackers back into shape. The crows, hardly willing to be outdone, add their outraged caw-caw to the rat-a-tat harangue of the jays.

Below the noisy trees, there’s an early 20th century apartment building that was a handsome hotel in its day. No matter the weather, there are windows left open to release the steam from the rattle and bang radiators. On the ledge of an ever-open window on the second floor, a cage of canaries chirps a fervent melody from behind a camellia. It’s my last sound of nature before the bus tires screech, I step in, and the doors swoosh shut.

I’m transported to the office where, for the rest of the day, I peek around corners to see a bit of sky. Streaming internet birdsong, I contemplate the canaries.


World Abuzz

In the kitchen, I make a grocery list.

Windows flung open,

cats bake in the sun outside.

The air  around me hums.

Cats run in,

bones in my head vibrate

in circles.

A hummingbird is in the house.

Whirring overhead, beak clicking

into glass, whirring, clicking.


I crawl to the door, open it


Zipping out, it perches atop the maple next door.


Wind chimes hang at the corner

of our mustard house and catch

every breeze. Storms create

a symphony.


At sunset the church up the street

plays an hour’s worth of bell tones,

carols at Christmas,

patriotism on the 4th.


The cats and I sit on our

patch of grass, listening for

birdsong between the

chiming bells.

Moments of Wonder

One of the best things about working in Downtown Oakland, in my humble opinion, is being close to Lake Merritt. I was surprised to learn the lake was North America’s first Wildlife Refuge (in 1870). Prior to that, it had been used as a large natural sewer. The horror! Then-mayor, Dr. Samuel Merritt, who happened to own land on the lake’s shore, took a special interest in the lake. Regardless of self-interest, his action has served all of Oakland in the intervening years.

Walking around the lake at noon, one sees an amazing cross section of the Oakland citizenry. These are just a few of the characters I’ve seen: Mayor Quan having her portrait taken; Sr. Rosemary Delaney, Sister of the Holy Names, who is in her 70s and runs around the lake three times for her daily work out; David, a lawyer I recently met at a Marin Crab Boil (!) who works in my building and who circles the lake in suit and athletic shoes. At least once a month I see a movie or a music video being filmed—look for me in the background! It’s also a great way to find out who the lunch partners of your colleagues are. There is no shortage of interesting human behavior to witness.

The Lake is also home or resting place to an amazing variety of wild birds. The picture above features a couple snowy egrets who stole my heart. I love birds. I find them endlessly interesting and entertaining. For example, when ducks dive under the water for lunch & their butts are in the air—they crack me up. Who knows why?

For the longest time, I kept seeing these grayish birds, about 12 to 18” high when perching. Having no idea what kind of bird they were, I called them my “No Neck Friends.” Thanks to fellow bird lover Sue Stephens, I came to understand that the rest of the world knows them as “midnight herons.”

The bird world inspires a sense of wonder in me. They are so different one species from the next and yet live in relative harmony here in the middle of Oakland. Despite my fondness for birds generally, sea gulls have never seemed very interesting. There has never been much mystery with that squawky, bossy, hungry bunch. But just when you think you know a bird…

I recently saw a sea gull dancing a jig. You know those Irish cloggers? The kick-up-your-heels-and-dance people? I saw a seagull who thought he was trying out for River Dance.

The dancing sea gull stopped me in my tracks. Fortunately I had my iPhone with me at the time. If you want to see this dancing marvel, please visit my Facebook page. I can’t add the actual video here. And if you are interested, I’ll even tell you how the jig ends. 😉