The View From My Yard
Goodbye juncos...
by Alice Drogan
Mar 16, 2017 | 1234 views | 0 0 comments | 171 171 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Apricot trees show blooms, enticed by early warm weather.                                                 Photo by Alice Drogin
Apricot trees show blooms, enticed by early warm weather. Photo by Alice Drogin
The juncos wait, along with house finches and the occasional goldfinch, in the shelter of the shrubs bordering the front yard. They know that along with the first rays of sun over the La Sals comes breakfast. The next half hour is a feeding frenzy: bird wings flapping, black oil sunflower seeds flying, lively skirmishes over position — these birds seem almost human — as the morning sun paints birds and the cliffs beyond in glowing light. These are the birds of winter and I’m going to miss them. Along with the landscapes of winter: frost diamonds in the grass, frozen tracks in the mud, and then the mud itself, richly oozing up around the feet, thick, ready and willing to swallow the UPS truck. Crystal cold nights of stars so bright they hurt the eyes but still you can’t go in, can’t stop looking. It’s a landscape of waiting and resting and dreaming: what will the next year bring?

It’s all about to change.

The juncos will return to the mountains. The days grow softer, tempting us out into the yard to yank up dead stalks. So satisfying. Then there’s the deep-breath smell of things growing. The sun is our friend. Things are fine.

Now the wind starts blowing. Blowing like we’re going to Kansas. Blowing like it’ll take the roof off. Moaning and whining across the desert with a terrible, electric energy. Stay out in that and you could get polished like a piece of wood under sandpaper. It’s been gusting for days, sometimes chill, sometimes downright balmy — right now with a whisper of rain. Trees bend, their bony fingers rattle and reach. Tumbleweeds roll like an advancing army across the field. A fresh spurt of green as new leaves of daffodils and tulips are pushing up through the dirt (can anything be more hopeful?) and fresh cheatgrass lays a verdant fuzz on the contours of the yard. Spring!

Buds on the fruit trees are swelling. The apricots, so easily seduced by the early warmth of spring’s longer days, flirt with full-on unfurling. “Don’t get tricked again,” you want to tell them. “Save your blossoms for April!” But they answer to their own siren call.

Seed packets arrive in the mail — mini Christmas! — and soon, in the greenhouse, we have liftoff, with cold weather crops like lettuce, chard and collards muscling their way to the light. The incredible power of life is visible in these tiny kernels — each holding an instruction packet directing them to their destiny. Each morning a new delight, as I tally the freshly germinated. “Get ready, you guys,” I tell them, “Get strong, because soon you’ll be out in the weather.” And not just any weather or any yard, but my yard here in Castle Valley where the survival of the fittest takes on new meaning and every day is an adventure.

Because I know, balmy as today feels, the Coyote Wind could easily deliver a morning surprise of snow. And then the mud again, just when I thought we were done, waiting with predatory patience in the places where I need to stand, like under the clothesline. My footprints sink inches deep the first time, then, days later as the mud stiffens, get shallower. My first footprints fill with the wind’s offerings: dust, leaves, seeds, random threads from the laundry (once a button), an inventory of the yard. Then the mud turns to concrete, seemingly capable of breaking my shovel’s blade, yielding only to the powerful thrust, later, of bindweed. There it is again, the power of life busting through.

Hibernating critters are waking up, eager to start families and create havoc in the garden.

It’s all about change. Goodbye juncos. Hello wind, skunks, flip-flops and lizards.

Alice and Ken Drogin own and operate Canyon Nursery in Castle Valley, where the flowers are brighter, the lizards are faster and the magpies speak in tongues. More information about Canyon Nursery is available online at:

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