The Quail Diaries Cuarto–three


Hope is

This little bird in my hand is a juvenile female

the thing with

She and her possible siblings gave distress calls when I caught them–4 juveniles and one adult.


The adult is the female that I mentioned yesterday–with the male-like feathers.  I banded her last year, trapped her yesterday then trapped her again today.  I also trapped a juvenile male banded yesterday again today.


All those birds, even after I’d seen the rear end of the bobcat disappearing into the brush–the quail were not happy at its movement across their range.  They gave their sharp little pits to consolidate their groups and then sat still.

But a bobcat is not a cooper’s hawk and they soon re-emerged, in what appear to be the same three groups (communal families?) that I have seen the past two days.

And did I mention–yesterday we saw a coyote and a roadrunner–so sweet.


May every just hope be satisfied

Embarking upon this The Quail Diaries, I’d originally hoped to do a sort of real time exploration of my re-entry into my field work with this population of quail.  Then came the fire, the notebook and my collection of detritus–objects left behind.  Now I am moving into an exploration of California itself.  It is part of this big piece I’m making–you may or may not bear with me.

There are more insane in this state, by far, in proportion to the whole population, than any other state in the union.

The issues of indigency, the border, and, perhaps most importantly to me, the wildlands of California are, as far as I can tell, as they stand, the natural offshoot of the origins of this as a state of the United States.

Which of us…did not at some level share in the shameful but entrenched conviction that to be weak or bothersome was to warrant abandonment?

Perhaps  I am far too swayed by the arguments of Joan Didion.

Were not such abandonments the very heart and soul of the crossing story

My great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth J. Senger crossed from Pennsylvania to California when she was !6.  This is what I know of her today.

Jettison weight?

This and the fact that she hid in a cupboard from the Indians.

Keep moving?

What does this have to do with quail–It has to do what I see when I look out over their island of a habitat.  Everything broken up by roads and houses and strip malls.  And they are here in this little piece of land, constrained with the bobcat I saw today.  And the roadrunner and the coyote.

I am complicit in this vision and am tortured by it.  If I could step into Elizabeth, who lived to be ninety and had three husbands, perhaps I could see this state with different eyes and maybe I’d feel better (or worse).

Bury the dead in the trail and run the wagons over it?

And of course, what is the state bird of California, and the creature for whom roads and apartments are named, shopping centers and wines–all those places where the bird has, at least partially, been displaced by that very thing that has stolen its name.

the thing with feathers

Anyway…I know…none of this fits.  But it is.

One thing we would enjoin particularly, get up early when on the route; start your cattle up to feed as early as 3 o’clock–start on your journey at 4–travel till the sun gets high–camp till the heat is over.  Then start again and travel till dark–do most of your heavy cooking at the noon camp.  Never travel on the Sabbath; we will guarantee that if you lay by on the Sabbath, and rest yourselves and teams , that you will get to California 20 days sooner than those who travel seven days in the week.


Quotes are from Emily Dickinson, Ware’s 1949 Emigrant’s Guide, William H. Brewer’s Journal Up and Down California, and Joan Didion.


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