Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
Day of the Dead in the garden
November 2, 2005
I learned my love of daytripping from my parents. Deborahs family took daytrips often as well. No wonder we like to wander about, enjoying our home bioregion. This fall has been a time of change for me, and a time of lessons that came realized with difficulty. I feel reborn.
On October 31st, I took a day off, and in the morning sat at a window facing the sun. The Manuel Rosales CD, "Herencia y tradicion," initiated the memories of my parents. As I listened and thought of my parents, a Coopers Hawk chased a White-Winged Dove into the Giant Turks Cap just to the east of our Boudoir Garden. The dove had been teetering on the wrought iron trellis next to a birdbath with a mosaic basin. Leaning this way and that, it calculated how to descend ten inches to lip of the bath. As it made the decision to jump, the hawk struck, a half-second too late.
The hawk struck the wrought iron with closed talons and swooped into the Chinaberry, where it sat, shaking its wings and flipping its tail, glaring this way and that. Hyper frustration and anger made it jittery. The dove did not move from its hiding place until long after the hawk had gone on.
It walked with typical dove timidity, pecking at gravel for its crop. It entered the flower bed, and after fluffing its feathers, hid under the protection of the velvety red Salvia grahamii, and walled in by ice blue Abilene aster, the bird found a pool of sunlight to bask in and closed its eyes.
It has been five years since my parents died. I miss them. During the Sibley Nature Centers living history event "Viva El Llano Estacado" several people chatted with me about them. One gentleman said he wished he had a camera as he pointed out their names on a sign on the backstop of the baseball field across the street from the 1860s baseball game the buffalo soldiers from Fort Concho were playing. He remembered my fathers 35 years of coaching youth baseball and my mothers many years of scorekeeping for the Tournament of Champions.
The sunlight came and went. A cold north wind brought series after series of low puffy clouds scudding in frothy waves. The bright red berries of the Hawthorne were unattended by the Mockingbird whod been defended the berries in Sundays warmth. The Bewicks Wren that has been inspecting the gardens recently came to the protected corner, and perched on the head of a Virgin of the Guadalupe statue. It too, fluffed its feathers, and like the dove, basked in the sun.
My mother taught me about ecology. My father taught me about regional history. Both taught me appreciation of cultural diversity. I spent thousands of hours with her in the pastures of west Texas. I traveled thousands and thousands of miles criss-crossing the southwestern U.S. with both parents as they roamed about looking for endemic birds of the sky island mountains and riparian bosques and listening to Harold read about the places we were visiting.
As I sat lost in a memory of a trip to Mile-High Ranch in Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, a hummingbird (the first I had seen in a week) zipped up to the bottommost flower of the Grahams Sage. Most hummers have gone south for the year. The whir of its wings disturbed a dove feather nestled in the snake herb and prairie zinnia the hawk had hit the dove after all! The bill of the hummer was yellow. I had no idea of its species it was green and beige, which made it an immature or female. I later verified the bird as a Broad Billed Hummer, only the fourth ever record for Midland County.
I like the tradition of building a display in the memory of passed loved ones. To celebrate the Day of the Dead is a good thing. To value what that person or persons taught you, to display a few items that most help you remember their personality, their joys, and their successes is truly good for the soul.
This year I selected a photograph of their youth. They are perched in a U.S. Army jeep at Williams Ranch just west of El Capitan in the Guadalupe Mountains, as they participated in a geological field trip during World War II. 40 mile an hour winds fill the air with dust from the salt flats to the west. My dads curly thick hair stands up in a Mohawk. My mother is in pants, as always, and is the only woman on the field trip.
I also have one of their trip journals with the picture. It is opened to the following lines written by my father; "At 3 a.m. we were awakened by 4 young men. Parking for the night along a remote dirt road in a camper supposedly could result in encounters that could end badly, but they only asked if they could borrow our toolbox. They took it and 3 hours later, as the sun began cresting the Sangre de Christo mountains far to the east, returned with the tools and chorizo breakfast burritos they had cooked after fixing their sheep-shearing truck. They were descendants of one of de Onates original settling families in 1598."
As I chatted with the young men, Frances found a Williamsons Sapsucker on its breeding territory in an isolated motte of aspen. These high Canjillon meadows are beautifully green. The valleys are still muddy from recently melted winter snow. We talked of horses for a few minutes after their discovering my ranching heritage."
As I sat with my parents journals and old black-and-white photograph albums, flipping through pages, the humming bird returned again and again to the branches of the Hawthorne. A Queen butterfly came to the Abilene asters, staying for thirty minutes with a few side sorties here and there. The clouds thinned until the sun was out three times as much as before.
Yes, I miss Harold and Frances Williams. My life is their gift to me not only my existence, but what I love. Thank you, dear parents, and thank you for sending the broad-billed hummingbird!
Related Essay: Frances Williams