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A Murmuration of Starlings

 I have two videos I can hardly wait for you to watch.  Wildlife cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter made the first one as he was sailing around the U.K. in an 18-foot boat; and the video shows a murmuration of starlings.  In case you’ve never heard of a murmuration, as I had not, it’s the starlings’ personal noun for “flock.”  Just as crows come together in murders and owls in parliaments, starlings gather in murmurations usually right before dusk and search for their evening roost.
The flock of starlings in this video is thrilling because there are thousands of them — darting, bobbing, swooping, rising, and zigzagging like a perfectly choreographed dance troupe.  One at a time, birds take turns leading, and the others follow.  The miracle – and mystery – is that the starlings never bump into each other even though they change direction in less than 100 milliseconds and they’re flying at 20 miles an hour.

A Grizzly and a Penguin

Several years ago on an assignment for Reader’s Digest, I followed a grizzly in Montana for a week.  Her name was Lacy, and wildlife biologists were training her to stay away from people, garbage cans, and orchards. If she’d continued marauding around Kalispel and not learned her lesson, she’d have had to be killed.  But her manners became impeccable.  I fell in love with her.

So you can imagine my horror when she lumbered out of her den the following spring and a hunter shot her in the back and killed her. She’d been running from him just as she’d been taught. Though my article still appeared in the magazine, I was beside myself. And the same kind of loss hit me last week.

Continue reading ‘A Grizzly and a Penguin’

The Rufus Towhee

Three times this spring I planted my snow-pea patch. Three times! That’s 90 seeds that went into the ground, and I couldn’t understand why not a single one sprouted.

Until I looked outside one day and saw a rufus towhee standing on the barren soil with a look of triumph about her. Then I understood that she’d been eating each seedling just as it raised its delicious green head from the soil. I couldn’t help but resent her.

Continue reading ‘The Rufus Towhee’

Sick Dogs

       Even peaceable kingdoms have challenging times. In the last two weeks both of my beloved dogs have had major surgery, and for too many days I’ve feared they might die. It’s been a time of gritted teeth, wrung hands, and tension. And important lessons. Continue reading ‘Sick Dogs’


A few weeks ago sleet was falling, and the sky was as gray as lead.  I’m tired of this blasted cold, I thought and wished a magic carpet would spirit me away to the Caribbean.

When my friend David called, I grumbled that our ferocious winter had destroyed my garden.  In the snow, my roses and fruit trees had shed their leaves, as usual, but my lavender and evergreen hebes had browned – and maybe died.  My daylilies had seemed to give up and melt into the earth, and all that was left of my dahlias were bare stalks and desolation.  Just looking out the window made me shrink back, discouraged. Continue reading ‘Hope’

Rescuing Coyotes

Meet Mr. Yote, a coyote rescued at Washington’s West Sound Wildlife Shelter, where I love to volunteer:

On the left, you can see him as a pup just after he’d been found, desperate and alone on the side of a road.  His sad face beside his teddy bear tells you how scared he was and how much he must have missed his mother.  But on the right, about six months later, Mr. Yote has become a sleek and handsome fellow, testimony to the Shelter staff’s care. You’d never know from looking at him that he has severe eye problems, discovered when he could only find his food by sniffing to the bowl. If he were returned to the wild, he’d surely have died. So he was sent to a sanctuary, where he’s now living happily among his own kind.

Continue reading ‘Rescuing Coyotes’

The Loyalty of Dogs

I want to show you a beautiful (but very sad) photograph, taken recently in Teresopolis, Brazil, just northeast of Rio:

If you look in the lower left corner beside the cross, you will see Leao, a blonde Lab sort of mutt. He is lying beside the grave of his person, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who was recently killed in the 900 square miles of floods and landslides that ravaged the area. The mass graves in the picture only hint at the loss of life. At last count, 207 people were missing, and 741 had died.

Leao must have witnessed more terror and destruction than many of us have ever seen. He’s surely frightened, and flashing through his mind must be haunting memories of suffering, loss, and grief. And yet there he is, a symbol of grace under pressure. His loyalty shines through and shouts to us that beauty can cling to the underbelly of suffering. Continue reading ‘The Loyalty of Dogs’

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