The Quail Diaries, El Segundo, 7

a fierce little wren was singing loud, and high
while his eyes, insisting on their own life,
gave legs to the lie
that there was world, and time

We are approaching the end of “El Segundo.”  I have been back nearly a week and am still suffering the ravages of poison oak.  The Tecnu is helping with the itching…and likely slowing its spread, but it’s been a long while since I’ve actually experienced the joy of a full on reaction to the oil produced by poison oak, urushiol

And there are, nicely enough, wrens in the garden

But at my back I always hear

The quail, by the way, are back.  My mother saw them on a slightly different portion of the site as I was talking to her on the phone.  They do that to tease me.

And yonder all before us lie

Actually, I do know that they don’t.  They aren’t teasing me.  I suspect I form no real part of their cognitive world.  I like it that way.  Surely, their experience in the trap, as well as their experience being handled by me, is lodged somewhere neurologically–some synaptic connections, perhaps, have been modified by that experience.  But…unlike the captive birds one might study, these quail do not have me as a constant in their world.  They exist outside of me and I truly do not matter to them.  That feels so very nice.

(Except, of course, when it doesn’t

It is unfortunate that my mom did not get band combinations, so I’m not sure who is doing what.  But, at least they are around, down there, in what is presumably the sun. (I, on the other hand, itch but don’t scratch, discuss star wars, fractions, the growth of plants and the wizard of oz, prepare my PCR reactions, feed my children, cats, birds, rats, fresh water creatures and wild Seattle birds, and deal with a friend’s calamity, all in the dark of the Seattle winter.  I feel worlds away.  And by the way…about my own captive parrots more later–).

Thy beauty shall no more be found

I am not sure when I will go back down.  I have a lot of things to do up here, including be with my family and work, and the quail are, of course, a side project.  I hope to get back there soon.

thy willing soul transpires

When I first started working with the quail, I sat in the spot pictured above while the trap just below was set.  I could take observations when not trapping and stay close when I was trapping.  I visited this spot every morning, and, after a week or so, I started finding coyote scat in exactly where I had sat the day before.  Day after day the coyote apparently tried, in vain I might add, to tell me something (I assume, to warn me off…but I am not sure).  It was like a discussion that we were having, except I did not know what the words really meant.

into ashes all my

Coyote scat was preferable, of course, to the human feces that littered another portion of the site.  This was when the hills were full of migrant workers, living in the brush and working on farms.  The scent of feces mingled with eucalyptus in these makeshift privies.

No longer.

The migrant workers were cleared from the hills when the site was developed, incidentally coinciding with the crackdown on immigration at the Mexican-American border, and now the only folk who camp there do not appear to be laborers, but rather drifters.

Deserts of vast eternity.

The fire revealed the camps, and what was left behind.  Which objects are from the laborers, which from the drifters, and which are just dumped is sometimes hard to know.  I collected quite a number of objects to send home–artifacts for the notebook project (a fool’s quest, I suppose).


Knife hilt

I think, in packing up the objects, I might have contracted the poison oak.  When I was in the field, I was careful upon my return to wash with Tecnu–but not after packing up the objects.  I apparently did not think clearly.  The objects were in the ravine where the poison oak was coming up en masse, many had been washed down the hill, perhaps brushing up against the plant and  collecting urushiol on their exterior.  I should have recognized the likelihood of at least one thing being covered with the oil…but no….


Perhaps I should be glad of the oil–a keepsake, or memento of the field.  I’ll try to think of it that way and not feel irritated about it.  I’ll try not to feel irritated about a lot of things, nor feel time rushing past…I am nearly one year older and feel myself tilting down the decline, rather than the incline, of life.   And all those critters I so love…

though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


quotes are from Shearwater and Andrew Marvell


One Response to “The Quail Diaries, El Segundo, 7”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Hey, Jen. Love this post. I love the mix of things from the knife hilt to the urushiol, the coyote scat and the human, the scientist and the quail. My favorite part is the conversation you are having without knowing the words. It’s like a lot of life, no? All mixed together, not always understood. So well said. It puts a lot of things in context for me.

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