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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn DuHamel


Updated: Jul 14, 2020

Alpen type glow on Santa Cruz Mountain ridge from home in Ben Lomond

I’m bundled up on my deck as I drink dark smoky tea, contentedly tracking the activity of juncos, chickadees and warblers visiting the hanging birdfeeder. This is my morning ritual. That is, until my gaze is abruptly redirected as four distant ponderosa pines transform before my eyes into golden sculptures. Though half a mile away, each curved branch and pinecone is vivid - a glow seems to emanate from within the limbs.

What is causing this alchemy? I look over my shoulder. Ah, there’s a small break in the heavy clouds, and it's funneling the sun's rays. Though closely surrounded by their forest companions, for these brief moments the four trees capture all attention, as if a spotlight has suddenly shifted to a group of figures interacting on a theater stage. Everything else becomes background.

Storm clouds and blue sky showing through

As the clouds reconfigure, these four trees morph from gold to green, absorbed back into the forest fold, no longer distinguished. But up the hill, the sunrays converge on new individuals; these burnished trees now highlighted. For half an hour, I watch these whimsical interchanges as the sun's focal point moves across the hillsides, until the clouds fully merge, closing the sun’s aperture.

Thoroughly entertained, but chilled, I go inside and settle in with my new book, Erosion, by Terry Tempest Williams. I have noticed, when I read, that certain sentences rise to the foreground from the forest of paragraphs, as if illuminated like the radiant trees. In a forest, every tree has value, but sometimes you come across one that stops you in your tracks, as if it matches an internal template. I have the same experience with words.

This morning, these sentences from Erosion rise to greet me, validating my morning ritual: We are writers and have made our lives about watching shadows and light. In the desert, some call it a pastime. For those of us in Castle Valley, it is our morning and evening occupation. I am not alone.

From the corner of my eye, I catch something moving just out my window. Is someone looking in at me? My eyes focus with alarm, then widen in delight. Wild turkeys! One, two, no three, oh four; sauntering by on my walkway, heads bobbing.One peers into my living room, while the other three leap, aided by their flapping wings, to elevate their heavy bodies up on the railing. Perched ten feet away, I get an eye level view of their strong legs and impressive talons. They could scratch more than seeds with these claws.

Wild turkeys perched on fence railing outside large windows

Sunrays, never at rest, activate the iridescent shimmer of feathers on the turkeys’ backs and shines through their throat waddles, creating a ruby glow. Their bare heads remind me of a vulture, their necks suggest a colorful, exotic snake. A friend recently dismissed these birds as ugly. Through whose eyes?

Close up of wild turkey showing red wattle and feather patterns

Another friend recently gave me an array of feathers discarded by resident wild turkeys on his land. Now I’m seeing firsthand where each type of feather emerges from the body - tail, wing and breast feathers so dramatically different from each other in color, shape and strength.

I glance over at my bird feeder. Two juncos seem nonplussed by these feathered dinosaurs just a few feet away. The juncos look so tiny as my gaze shifts from one species to the other. The four large companions stick around for another five minutes, preening on the railing, until something draws them and one by one they half drop, half fly to the ground below. Similar to the golden pine trees being absorbed back into the forest, it’s now just the bird feeder, the next paragraph and me.

Like a raspy blue jay landing on the pine out my window, a persistent thought appears. In these times of climate disruption, species extinction and habitat loss, can I justify simply describing small wonders; focusing, like the sun, my attention on what delights me? I could rationalize that, like an anthropologist, I am honoring these lives as I document what is here before it may vanish.

Given animals, plants and landscapes have no public voice and little visibility as humans make decisions that drastically affect their wellbeing, it is vital to preserve and protect whatever we can for the future, through our creative endeavors and our political actions. Yet can’t it be enough, sometimes, just to have a flirtation, smitten with golden boughs, ruby wattles and iridescent feathers?

I hear my words echo and answer my own question. It is enough, but really, it’s so much more than a flirtation. This close attending is an occupation. And a committed love affair. This does matter - there’s no force more powerful than love. The phrase that came to me when I first started this blogging endeavor keeps echoing: What we love we will not turn away from.

Close up of head of wild turkey with mountains in background

All photos taken by author from her deck or window.


If you want to get an even closer view into wild turkeys, I suggest watching the free-to-view documentary, "My Life as a Turkey," featuring Joe Hutto, a naturalist, who spends eighteen months with no human contact; instead living with a brood of wild turkeys. You will never think about turkeys the same after watching this film. Simply google the title to find viewing options.

And if . . .

you enjoyed this essay, you might also like "Small Wild," "Ghost," and "Migrations." If you know of friends who might appreciate this particular blog, you can provide them this link, which will take them straight to "Illumination."

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Marian Sandmaier
Mar 02, 2020

Wow! Your evocative descriptions of backyard wildlife--fauna and flora--make me want to jump on a plane and sit beside you on your deck, cup of smoky tea in hand. When I saw the photograph of the four turkeys, I actually gasped. You so beautifully captured their radiant goofiness! And you posed such a thought-provoking question at the end--can we just sit back and enjoy these creatures when they are so threatened? What is the way forward?


Deb DuHamel
Mar 01, 2020

I feel I just got bathed in luscious beauty. Thank you Marilyn. And the photos are truly special. I have seen plenty of wild turkey amidst nature but never able to witness them this up close in stillness. They are an exquisite bird. How did one, let alone four Wild Turkeys end up on your porch railing? I think the word is out amidst the wild creatures in Santa Cruz Mountains, that is your home is a nature sanctuary.


Judy Roy
Feb 29, 2020

You do know that these are copyrighted. No one else can use these without your permission. You write beautifully. Wish I could put into words my thoughts so well.


Lauren Mari Navarroo
Feb 29, 2020

Such exquisite storytelling inspired by a world just beyond your window! I love seeing and feeling through your eyes. And through your words I'm helped to imagine I can see through the eyes of those creatures you describe and admire so attentively. Thank you!


Andrea van de Loo
Andrea van de Loo
Feb 29, 2020

another luminous piece of you expressing your exquisite observations. you are teaching me to love more deeply. thank you!

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