April 7, 2009
From the quarterdeck of the H.M.S. Surprise, as I like to refer to the loose assemblage of planks outside the back door, you can see clear across the alluvial plain that is the Heber Valley. Unless you’re socked in, of course, and if that’s the case, you just turn your back to the freshening breeze and contemplate your grog ration.
Not exactly a "deck" of the normal sort, this one flaunts no rails and functions more as a raft upon the seas lapping the shores of ol’ Hebertown. On a given spring morning it might support anything from a sparkling glaze of frost to six-inches of frozen translucent hexagonal ice crystals.
These days if you can stand still long enough so as not to disturb ongoing rituals, there is much of interest playing out up here in the foothills. The other morning for example, before the last storm blew through, the show featured a brazen bunch of black-billed Magpies conducting mating rituals.
Although I once ran a herd of Magpies out Woodland way, I had never seen such a thing. Notwithstanding the fact that I understood their place in the ecosystem as a whole, my main function in those days was "riding drag" and shooing them away from the dog food. They used to irritate a Newfoundland named Nikos no end.
But this latest incursion provided my first glimpse of a male of the species wooing a cute young thing by flapping his extended wings like a Sand Hill Crane. A brilliantly beautiful color scheme, usually only afforded with a view from above during flight, gripped me right out of the chute I was dumbstruck!
Something cool about a Magpie? I couldn’t fathom such a state of affairs. Previously they had been nothing more than an elongated squawk with feathers. Plus they never did much to attract other birdlife. One even tried to abscond with a walleye right off the grill. He never knew how close he came to being the backend of a fish and fowl entrée.
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But, the other day, I couldn’t get enough of the spread-out wing configuration and the subtle shades of blue that smoothed the stark contrast between the black and white of the prancing male. The female, of course, had seen it all before and, as is so often the case in these gender games, played him like a matador.
Ah, yes, springtime in the Rockies, when an old man’s thoughts turn to birds, not to mention baseball, golf and horseracing. That’s right, on a clear day you can also see Dodger Stadium, Augusta National Golf Club, and Churchill Downs from the poop deck of the H.M.S. Surprise.
With opening day of major-league baseball having now come and gone, the Masters golf tournament getting underway tomorrow, and 3-year old thoroughbred racehorses champing at the bit to run a mile-and-a-quarter for the first time, harbingers of spring dot the landscape.
Next year has arrived for my L.A. Bums once again and, as is most always the case in the pure fantasy of my mind’s eye, this could well be our year. Who needs a "long reliever" or a "left-handed set-up man" to get us from the questionable "starters" to the unproven "closer?" So what? Who needs solid, consistent pitching to win a pennant? It’s an old wives’ tale, probably started by a Mrs. Drysdale and a Mrs. Koufax.
Lucky for us, however, baseball is much closer than Chavez Ravine. The Salt Lake Bees home opener takes place beneath one of the sports more classic backdrops tomorrow evening down at Franklin Covey Field. The Pacific Coast League Triple-A affiliate of the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" has set its opening day roster and is, as they say, chompin’ at the bat to get their season under way.
And down along Erskine Caldwell’s "Tobacco Road," about a driver-and-a-long iron outside Augusta, Georgia and a lob wedge over the Magnolias to the clubhouse, reposes Bobby Jone’s famed Augusta National, home of the annual "Master’s" golf tournament, which, as mentioned, tees-off tomorrow. Tiger Woods is back! Enough said!
And that brings us to the age old question: "Whose turn is it to whip up the next batch of Mint Juleps for the Kentucky Derby? Certainly not Jay’s! He manages to bugger up the "muddling" of the mints each and every year. Quantitatively, he seems to have a decent handle on the Bourbon portioning, however.
Ah spring! When, from the foredeck of the H.M.S. Surprise, you can see magpies make overtures and play hard-to-get, clean-up hitters take two and hit to right, the final twosome battle stroke-for-stroke through the back nine on Sunday, and a long-shot come from well off-the-pace to close in a rush and nip the favorite by a nose at the wire. Bring it on!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.