We are seated at one of the tiny wrought iron table and chair sets that always can be found in front of any Starbucks, drinking lattes and eating scones and coffee cake. Next to us is a huge cement flower box overflowing with color. There are dozens of little birds flitting among the plants, hopping down onto the wide cement edge of the box and then down to the cobblestone patio. They are obviously used to people, since they flutter underneath tables the instant someone stands, looking for crumbs.
A few of them stay near us, eying our food with curiosity. They are sleek black, or dull brown, with sharp little beaks and feathers that ruffle slightly on the back of their neck. I want to reach over and smooth that ruffled part down. One has a bit of white string wrapped around its foot, frayed and tangled. It hops closer, watching, until with a laugh I spear a tiny bit of my coffee cake and toss it onto the cement edging of the flower box. The crumbs are instantly swarmed. The little brown bird with the white thread furiously defends its prize, although there is plenty to share.
Holding back, a bit away from the crowd is another bird, this one black with one foot tucked up beneath its tiny body. When it walks, it does so hesitantly and as the foot comes down I see purple string tangled around the leg. One of the toes is already missing. I cannot see whether the string is the cause. They are so tame, so bold around people that I think for a brief moment I could simply reach out and catch the little bird and carefully unwind it. I move my hand slightly and they all dash away, into the safety of the bushes and flowers in the planter, coming out moments later to start the dance once more from the beginning.
********We are headed down the curved mountain roads back toward the ranch. "Slow down," I say urgently. "Slow down." Richard slows, and I look out across the valley of farms and vineyards and hills and trees. A pair of gentle hills is covered with a latticework of grape vines in a perfect pattern of rows.
********We sit in cushioned deck chairs in a large wooden gazebo near the lodge, feet propped up, each of us with a book and a bottle of something to drink. It is night, and beside the gazebo there is a fire burning in an open barrel, tended by several vigilant adults. There are children's voices and laughter, and then one child joins us in the gazebo, climbing into a chair, her entire attention focused on what she has in her hands. Her face is sticky already - this is not the first marshmallow she has toasted, obviously. She bites into the graham cracker and marshmallow with a look of utter bliss. Her blond hair hangs in her face and I watch her until she notices me and I quickly pretend to be focusing on my book. She disappears back to the fire, returning this time with a friend. This one is blond as well, her hair up in a ponytail. She still has her marshmallow on the stick and sits in the chair, legs swinging as she carefully pulls the toasted shell from the sweet and tilts her head back to drop it into her mouth.