Saturday, January 5, 2008
Don't Fence Me In
A warm gray day awaits me this morning. “The warm before the storm” as the saying goes. While the yard is full of birds, the burrowing owl is nowhere to be seen. We hurry through our morning preparations and head for Saguaro National Park East; I with my new binoculars and Gus with his new Nikon D80 SLR. We soon discover we are beset by what I’ve decided to call the three W’s: Warm Winter Weekend. That means the parks are full of winter weekenders drawn out by the warm weather. The parking lots are full, the streets are full, the trails are full, and the birds are all hiding! We only saw 12 species at Saguaro East, so we left and decided to try Agua Caliente Park.
Agua Caliente is a true desert Oasis on the northeast side of Tucson. Due to the year-round spring, palm trees grow in profusion and the birds there are a mixture of the typical desert species and various waterfowl. We were able to see Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens and a roadrunner in the same place as a blue heron, American Widgeons, ring-necked ducks and Northern pintails. But Agua Caliente is full of people, kids, and dogs. We take a few shots but decide to leave. I’ve recorded 19 species here.
We spend the afternoon at home, then take a walk just before sunset. There is still no sign of the owl. Perhaps he has moved on. Still, I was hoping I would see him for more than just a day, and I was really hoping that Gus would be able to take a photograph of him. Instead, I convince Gus to come to the desert and see the wash with me. We cross the street and pass between the houses. I am getting excited, for Gus has never come out to the wash with me. I am eager to show it to him. This is where Liz and I picked all the prickly pears for our jelly last summer. This is where I saw the Gila monster I tell him. And then I stop dumbfounded. Stretching across the trail that leads to the wash is a brand new barbed wire fence!
I don’t know what to think. My heart fills with many emotions. I’m disappointed and angry. “NO!” I cry. “NO! They can’t do this! When did they do this!” My mind races as if this is incomprehensible. How can there be a fence here?
I know I don’t own this land, but easy access to the desert and the wash is one of the reasons I like living here. It never occurred to me that I would be fenced out of it. I felt like this was my special place where I could flee civilization and be alone with the birds, the bugs and the lizards. Now what will I do?
Gus and I head for the upper trail along the backs of the houses. Here we can see into everyone’s backyards and they can see us. Some yards have dogs that bark furiously at us—not a peaceful walk by any means and certainly not conducive to wildlife watching. Finally we are past the houses at the end of the cul-de-sac and I am pleased to see that so far there is not a fence here. But I fear it will come one day. For now I will have to access the wash from this location and it will require some scrambling down the steep bank.
Gus and I head up a trail along the top of the wash. By now the sun is setting and the sky is aflame with color. The thin blanket of clouds reflects the sinking fire. It seems every 10 seconds the colors change. In the west it is as if the Golden Fleece has been hung in the sky. Then, as the sun sinks lower, it throws color and light across the sky till we are surrounded with shades of pink, lavender, gold, and blue. Mt. Fagan catches a bit of the rosy hue and blushes with warmth. Saguaros appear as sentinels silhouetted against the sky. Looking through the branches of a creosote bush towards the west looks like a black filigree screen in front of a blazing fire. It is a burning bush in the desert and God is speaking in the wind.
All around us the soft voice of the desert whispers. Here we are past the fences and human habitation. Here the desert is open and inviting. Here it is calling us to wildness and freedom. I need this wildness, this open space, not only for my feet, but for my heart and mind also. I don’t like barriers. I can’t be contained. I must fling my soul into the sky and see where it lands. Perhaps that is one reason why I like birds so much. To a bird, a fence is but another thing to fly over or perch on. A bird is not contained by a fence or a block wall and I want to plead with the universe, “Don’t fence me in! Give my heart wings and let my spirit soar.”