This October afternoon the sun was mild enough that I could go out and soak it up, just lying on the deck, resting my head on the book I had brought along. Somewhere within earshot quail moved along in the golden-dry grasses, and I considered, in between dozing, whether their calls were more like “kee kee KEE” or “we’re here HERE”. When I looked up after an hour or so of moving crablike to keep in the light, I noticed how low the sun was already in the southern sky; it’s as if four months have skipped by me untasted, as I stayed in to avoid the heat, came out briefly to sit in the hot shade, ran in and out setting sprinklers to try to nurse the plants through the dry hot summer.

I was reminded of February in Portland (Oregon), where one can easily go a month in winter without seeing the sun through grey and misty skies. Portland is not all that rainy, measured in inches, but measured in sunny days from October to May it can feel like Scotland without the wind (though that’s a climate I’ve only read about). There are usually three or four days in early February when the sun appears, to encourage the world, and I remember going out then as I did today to turn my body to the sun, driven by hunger for its warmth, even though here it’s been blazing for months.

A flock of tiny birds–kinglets perhaps–swept through the trees and I heard their little sounds. When the late afternoon breeze came up and I roused myself to use eyes instead of only ears, it seemed the birds were moving from tree to tree to stay in the light and warmth. I filled up the mineral-encrusted pyrex pan that serves as a bird-waterer; there was some rain the past two days but the earth drank up the moisture, eager for it as I was for the sun. We all feel the dark coming on apace.

There is more sunlight in the back part of the yard and I follow it, wandering around. The dogs follow me, drawn in varying degrees by companionability, the responsibility of guarding me, and curiosity as to what the two-legged hunter may turn up. The back is dusty and rocky, spiky dry weeds divided by gopher-plowed patches. A pattern catches my eye; I stoop and find the carcass of a goldfinch as dry and fleshless as the weeds. He seems not the remains of a creature done with life, but a form ready to be filled: pour flesh and guts in through the gape in the breast where the sternum is revealed bare, perfect, curved; pop in that bit of a brain that sits behind the huge eyes–one can look through one side of the skull and see daylight out the other, so large are a bird’s eyes, far larger than the tiny part that shows–and then restore those marvelous eyes and nerves, preen the feathers straight, and off he might fly.

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