Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Courting of Roadrunners

Today’s excitement included an unusually close view of the roadrunners’ mating ritual and the discovery that an unfamiliar weed that’s been going crazy on our land since the rains started is an edible plant which, ground up, is one of the three ingredients in a Peruvian health food we sometimes eat.

Dael, as usual, discovered the roadrunners. She was out by the goat-pen, and so were they. They ignored her until she was quite close. She stood still as soon as she spotted them, and they moved toward her, curious, then went on with what they were doing. She called it "Roadrunner ballet, dancing about in the suddenly green meadow, waving their tails and cooing." When the male, standing on the goat-pen, cooed to his mate, he seemed to bow to her with each call. She said it was one of the most beautiful things she’d seen. (Neither of us had ever seen a bird do that when calling.)

She called me, and I wandered out to have a look.

The road-runner was on top of the old goat-pen, cooing and bowing to his mate, who was somewhere below and out of sight. Often he waved his tail, as well.

[NOTE: additional video of roadrunners courting dance will be inserted in the morning; and I'm sorry the video quality isn't better when viewed full-screen!  Quicktime versions are too big to upload here, MPEG-4's result in this questionable quality, and I need to find out the best way to upload video.]

I watched them for a long time. I moved as little as I could, except to move to a better vantage point. They cavorted in the fresh meadow the rains have made. Sometimes he leapt into an ocotillo and crooned to her from there. 

At times when, after a session of cooing, they moved behind bushes, it reminded me of the cowboy in the old cartoon films, taking off his huge hat and hiding himself and his lady from the camera as they kissed.

I didn’t want to intrude, somehow. (Well, I wouldn’t want someone running up close with a video camera while I was courting.)

It’s not that I mind shooting animal pornography – like these crickets we saw out back, late one afternoon last year,
or the curve-billed thrashers who kept chasing each other around while we sat talking with the neighbors a few months ago.

There was something about the roadrunners, though . . .

The day’s other delight was our amaranth crop.

Our usually sand-colored desert is green with various new plants, of which one seems particularly plentiful. 

Thinking about it this evening, it seems to me sufficiently magical that once the rain starts the sand and rock of the desert gives way to such a vibrant green. (As someone said the other day, there must be millions of seeds just lying out there, waiting, maybe sometimes for years, for a good rainfall.) That so much of the sudden greenery is not only edible but very good for us adds another layer of magic. Too, we learned that by chance. Our friend the nutrition expert had a birthday last night, and just outside Nopalito’s I spotted one of these plants and asked her what it was. Without her we might or might not have figured it out from books or Internet.

It’s called pigweed around here; but it’s actually a form of amaranth.  (It's called kiwicha in Perú, and is one of the three substances in the health food a Peruvian friend makes. (Having shot a poster for him as a favor, I should have recognized the stuff, but I’m not too bright.) Red rooted amaranth. The new leaves can be included in salads; larger leaves can be steamed like spinach; the seed pods can be steamed like broccoli. (There’s a variety that produces even more seeds, and some folks use the seeds to make flour.)
Kiwicha is said to be high in iron, vitamin C, and B-vitamins; and even high in protein, compared to rice and other grains.  (Plus it's free, and we're on a limited budget.)

As flour, it’s a mixed bag. Mesquite and amaranth don’t have gluten. That’s an advantage if someone with a gluten allergy is coming to dinner; but they don’t rise, and thus don’t make good bread if used alone. Someone said that cakes or cookies made using mesquite flour alone crumble if you look at them.
We learned a lot about mesquite flour. (Another blog entry will offer some detail.) For a while when we went up to the land in Sierra County we wandered around like idiots pulling mesquite pods off the trees.

But today was roadrunner mating and amaranth day.

Yet, like bookends, they were preceded by the coyotes whose particularly excited howling awakened us just before first light and followed by the black widow spider who seems to hang out just outside our front door every night. (I’ve told her we’ll have to move or kill her when the kids come to visit, but she says that’s not till November and she ain’t moving yet.)

Today even a visit to town was magical: in a certain old quarter of town, where the streets were still unpaved when I first lived here, we passed a corner store / café that was painted bright yellow. Dael had spotted an interesting-looking old lady inside, and I’d spotted some interesting writing on the wall, so we drove around the block so we could stop and each see what the other had seen. The writing, which surprised me in such a
location, was a quote from John Ruskin: "The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it."  The old lady, was playing Chinese checkers (which Dael had never played but which I recalled from my own childhood) and told us that she’d been born right in that building, second of ten children, and played Chinese checkers in childhood with one of her sisters. She had a beautiful smile. I wanted to rush back with the video camera and interview her about growing up on Mesquite Street very long ago.

As the sun dropped toward the horizon I remembered I wanted to go out and shoot some images of the amaranth to insert above. I did, and the setting sunlight kindly created nice sharp golden edges on the tops of the plants.

Of course, I couldn’t even do that and just come right back in. (Attention span of a nine year old.) A really sweet-sounding bird call drew me further and further into the cactus field, where I discovered a host of friendly dragonflies, their wings glowing gold in the late light.

I paused to say goodnight to the barrel cactus blossoms, all tucked in for the night already, and the light was so pleasant I couldn’t resist a shot of the locust tree we planted a couple of months ago.


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