Sanctuary Idylls I. Tortoise Dreaming

A butterfly wakes up

in my dream

winter dawn

– Chenou Liu

It is now December. The Tortoises are deep in their Nevada winter slumber. Hibernation is a yearly ritual. When summer’s flowers and grass have fortified their tender bodies and the air’s first frisson of dreamful autumn arrives, Tortoises embark upon an inward journey. From November to March, they burrow. What do these domed ancients dream for so many days and nights? Does hibernation provide the oracle to guide life in the new year?


Meanwhile, we wait in Oregon. Je t’attendrai (I will wait for you), the Tortoises new hibernation quarters, is being readied for the next winter. Snow blankets the Sanctuary. Winter’s first snowflakes took Wild Turkey yearlings by surprise. Just after dawn, when they flew down from pine top perches, instead of browns and golds, their feet were greeted with fluffy white.


The flock stays close, never straying too far from the patriarch. He is a proud and canny veteran of three years. The young Turkey faces show none of his aplomb. They are uncertain. But after a while, confidence returns and they set out to explore the new world.


Shiawase no machiiru

gotoku hatsugoyomi.

As if happiness

is waiting ahead

the new calendar.

– Teiko


The flock threads through the open field. They pause every so often, their beaks drill beneath soft snow to grass and seeds. Some of the young drink snowflakes from the Oregon grape leaves. Their long feathered necks stretch high to reach pockets of scented snow. A few chase after each other leaving a scattered patchwork of tri-cornered prints. Always, they are followed by a procession of matriarchs who remain ever mindful, ever watchful of the grey skies. Vigilance paid off.


The morning’s quiet suddenly exploded into a mass of black arcs and piercing caws. Faster than any corvid, a low flying hawk whizzed by, holding the still moving body of a crow gripped in his claws. Stellar’s Jays joined the protest, and the the Raven pair, usually intolerant of their crow cousins, broke into their own yells of outrage. They have their own security system. While one busily forages, the other guards with eye fixed up, head tilting this way and that scanning for the shadow of the Golden Eagles and Red-Tailed Hawks.


The screams of shock lasted for more than twenty minutes. News spread from tree to tree, first to the hill behind the creek, then across to the rows of cedars. Turkeys stood poised and alert. For this moment, the community annealed into one.


Mazu iwae

ume o kokoro

no fuyu-gomori

Anyway celebrate I will

This winter hibernation

With apricot blossoms

in my heart.

– Matsuo Basho

The Rabbits are having their own lagomorphic dreams. RoseMarie is the first to venture out into the Habitat bright. Her thick furred feet hold off the cold long enough for an afternoon romp. Stately Sophia Bess follows and graces us with several binkies. It’s a little like watching Queen Elizabeth kick up her heels in a Scottish reel. Then comes Coco and Rafe who are quite at home in the snow. Coco makes his usual rounds nibbling on what are now only stubs of once full and thriving lavender cut short by keen Rabbit teeth.


Despite the hard cold that challenges the delicate constitution of juncos and sparrows, the winter scene is beautiful. At dusk, it is as if we step into a Bergman film. The black is evergreen dark against white and the evening cold lays down a solemn hand of silence. Pine roots press deeper and deeper as the trees pull snowy blankets around their base and retire for the season, dreaming.


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