Tag Archives: birds

Poem: Starfish

This is a wonderful prose poem about life. It’s a good day to run it.

The birds are a series I did that I like. There is no link between the poem and the illustration. Just two innocent pieces for a day where innocence counts.

Poem: “Starfish”
Eleanor Lerman, from Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds.

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.


Image: Paper mosaic. “Unrelated birds, talking”. Pitt Pen, Inktense watercolor pencils on Arches Text Wove. Quinn McDonald, © 2012. All rights reserved.

Nature, Text Messaging

When the phone rang at 6:30 this morning, I already had the headset on. When you are a creativity coach, you leave at least one morning for early calls and one evening for late calls. Not every client wants to call from work, so you plan to do the coaching early or late. After the coaching calls were over, I prepared for a client meeting. It is a lovely May day, and I decided to leave the studio window open.

On my way out of the studio, I heard the text message beep that signaled an incoming message. I smiled. One of my clients loves to text me. I love this client’s ability to summarize problems; he drew me into learning how to spell with my thumbs 9 years ago, and now I love the brief exchanges of ideas.

We’d talked early, and I was surprised to get a text message. I put my purse containing the phone on the kitchen chair when the beep sounded faintly again. “I need breakfast first,” I said to the purse, poured a cup of coffee, and reached for the granola. Another beep. I gave in. This many messages sounded serious. Before I poured milk on the granola, I pulled the phone from the briefcase. No messages. I checked again. Nope, no messages. I shook my head. I could have sworn I heard it. I dropped the phone back into the purse.

I sprinkled blueberries on my granola and poured milk over it. The beep again. But this time, it seemed to be coming from the window in front of me. I pushed open the window and heard another incoming message. But this time I saw the message-sender. The mockingbird sat in the fig tree next to the kitchen window. He’s heard the beep often enough to repeat it. He already mimics my alarm clock and now he’s got the text message notification down perfectly.

When mockingbirds learned to mimic sounds, it must have been for a better reason than echoing technological tools. But I have to admit, he’s useful. I’m a sound sleeper, but what the alarm clock can’t do–the mockingbird can. I can’t turn him off.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, writer and art journaler.

Migration: Birds in Trees

The Sonoran desert doesn’t seem a likely migratory path. After all, the desert is hot and bare, doesn’t seem like a food source, much less a water source. That was true before the Valley became a resort area and we built so many golf courses that, from the air, we must look like the land of 1,000 water traps.

And birds do migrate through the Sonoran. In the fall, there are seed pods, insects, small mammals for food. Last night I heard a Great Horned Owl. They are year-round residents, but there seem to be more of them in the fall.

Snowy egrets, photograph by Betty Heim, © 2009

Snowy egrets, photograph by Betty Heim, © 2009

My friend Betty lives next to the Aqua Fria River, not too far from the Gila River. Both of the water ways are often dusty rather than wet, but there are ponds that dot around them. The Gila River is the main waterway that egrets use to migrate from Northern states to Mexico.

Before Betty knew that, she saw proof. She came out of her house to see about a dozen or so sitting in her tall trees. When she sent me the photograph, I had to laugh. I think of long-legged birds stalking around water, not sitting in trees. Yet there they were–big, tall, long-legged–and sitting in the tree tops.

In the next few weeks, she’ll see a lot more–sandhill cranes travel through Tucson, hummingbirds travel in such numbers that you often hear the metallic whir of their wings before you see them. Small, colorful seed eaters, big swooping hawks all appear, use the bird bath, and continue on. Many birds fly at night, so while we are dreaming, they are overhead, honking. Yep, Canada geese (not Canadian geese, please, we aren’t taking citizenship), those big noisy birds with the chin-strap marking, fly at night, at heights that keep pilots in jetliners awake and worried.

It’s fall in Arizona, and the very mark of autumn that I thought I left back East–bird migration–is here, too. I’m happy watching the birds I don’t recognize travel through.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer an naturalist who lives in Phoenix.

Figs, I Want Figs!

How do you know your figs are ripe? Well, about a week before they get to the point where you enjoy eating them, right before perfection, exactly at the point where the juice and sugar content soar, the birds will descend on the tree and eat holes in all of them. Figs are ripe when the fruit stops hanging out from the branch and droops downward. I’ll never see it happen if these birds continue with their voracious habits.

Almost-ripe figs

Almost-ripe figs

Now I wouldn’t mind if they ate half the figs, and left me half. Birds aren’t like that. Birds will drill holes in all of the figs. I’m amazed at how tiny finches, barely out of the nest, are bold enough to ignore my cats, ignore me, in fact, even when I’m wielding a broom. These birds, with brains the size of a shelled pea, outsmart me with ease. They stay three inches beyond the reach of my broom, pooping with abandon, and creating a huge mess on my walkway.

There is no rubber snake, pinwheel, pieces of mylar that scares these birds. Huge, aggressive grackles, tiny finches, spotty starlings, rattling doves, curved-beak thrashers and yes, busy hummingbirds, all snack on the figs.

Netting is not the answer, either. The tree is 15-feet high, and between the side of the house and the

Two still-untouched figs

Two still-untouched figs

block fence. Part of the tree hangs over into the neighbors yard. It’s overhung by a palo verde and shares space with a grapefruit. To cover the tree with a net, I’d need a lot of netting, a very tall ladder, another person and the ability to affix the next like a hairnet around the whole tree top.

I’ve seen nets in trees and I’ve seen birds fly under them with ease. The trouble is you then have a bird that can’t easily find its way out from under the net. I don’t want broken-winged birds, and I don’t want panicky birds. Panicky birds are destructive, and I’m losing enough figs.

Quinn McDonald is a nature lover who loves fresh fig preserves. She may not get them this season. Quinn has two websites: one for professional training at QuinnCreative.com and her art journaling site at raw-art-journals.com


Sun is sinking, the sky no longer blue.
Ragged Vs of geese come in honking, tired
Skidding into the lakes, bumping the water,
searching the grass for dinner.
They look like kitchen appliances,
plugged in by those long black necks.
Startling, suddenly, like a handful of pepper across the sky
come smaller birds in a scatter of speed
and behind them fast, sleek, hungry hawks.

Image: borderland-tours.com
(c) Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

migrating hawks