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Wild Delicate Seconds

29 Wildlife Encounters

Charles Finn

Publication Year: 2012

In twenty-nine micro-essays that are almost prose poems, Charles Finn captures chance encounters with the everyday—and not so everyday—animals, birds, and insects of North America.

There is no adrenaline here, there are no maulings or fantastic escapes—only stillness and attentiveness to beauty. With profundity, humor, grace, simplicity and compassion, Finn pays homage to the creatures that share our world—from black bears to bumble bees, mountain lions to muskrats—and, in doing so, touches on what it means to be human.

Wild Delicate Seconds will appeal to wildlife observers and naturalists, as well as to readers of American nature writers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Annie Dillard, and Mary Oliver.

Published by: Oregon State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 9-10

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pp. 11-12

What follow are twenty-nine nonfiction micro-essays, each one a description of a chance encounter I had with a member (or members) of the fraternity of wildlife that call the Pacific Northwest home. Over the last fifteen...

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Black Bear

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pp. 13-14

Bear. It’s a big word. Say it in casual conversation and people halfway across the room will stop and cock an ear, setting their drink down or halting a fork in mid-air. Everyone wants to talk about them and everyone wants to see...

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pp. 15-17

The cougar in my yard is twenty paces away paused in mid-stride, its right foreleg stuck out in front. I am standing in my cabin, sun shining, when its tawny shape passes outside my window...

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Bumble Bees

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pp. 19-20

In a series of ragged white orbs, each a stadium of upturned petals, curved and gently bent into a ball, clover covers the lawn. The flowers rest atop vitreous stems, faces tilted toward the sun, their centers...

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pp. 21-23

I hear the ravens before I see them, their wide corvid wings cuffing the still winter air. They sweep out from behind a spruce tree, turning like black tatters of night against the diesel blue sky. They fly one behind...

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Red Fox

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pp. 25-27

With cloud and cloud shadow, sun and then no sun, wind and then no wind, over soft pebbly sand and then quickly in front of the green background of river, the fox came towards me. It drifted, drooping its tail...

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Water Ouzel

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pp. 29-31

I come down to the river. A ribbon of dark green unspools through the low countryside. Gray corpses of trees collect along the banks, their root masses thrust into the air. Nothing much happens here...

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pp. 33-35

Coming up over a small rise, daydreaming, I was stunned. I stopped the truck and leaned with both forearms on the steering wheel, a long breath, jagged as a saw, escaping in a misty vulgarity against the...

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Red-shafted Flicker

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pp. 37-39

There is a calmness birds bring to people, a steadiness they impart to even the most frenzied of lives. After a long winter their cheery voices are like a tonic we drink with our ears, and the soft flutter of their wings...

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Sandhill Cranes

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pp. 41-43

All afternoon I watched the land. When I came to a small rise on a gravel road between nowhere and nowhere, I slowed to a stop and lowered the windows. I sat there like I might be sitting a horse...

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Snowy Owls

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pp. 45-47

One by one as the afternoon shadows stretched across the winter fields the parliament of snowy owls flew up to sit on the neighboring fence posts. Along the dirt road circling the field, cars were pulled...

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Western Toad

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pp. 49-51

Who loves the ugly things of this world? Who loves the cuttlefish? The tree slug? Who loves the toad? I mean, this toad, crossing the midnight road. It has eyes cowled like headlights, Popeye forearms...

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Great Horned Owl

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pp. 53-54

Saturday afternoon and six ravens dive bomb a fir tree. They turn, wheeling against the green and azure. Angry screams fill the forest and I hurry along a deer trail, ducking stray branches. When I come out into...

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pp. 55

Where the river curves in a gentle oxbow a cottonwood log extends out over the slow-moving current, cantilevered five feet above the reflected images of mountains and clouds. I sit straddling the log...

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Painted Turtles

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pp. 57-59

They are the size of dinner plates, poker chips, catcher’s mitts stacked up in the sun. You see them on hot summer evenings crossing the road, or bobbing in a pond just under the water’s surface, their leathery heads...

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pp. 61-63

Sunday morning and thirteen elk stand fifty paces away, each its own private and distinct mountain range. They stand motionless, cropping the field grasses at the edge of the forest, milk chocolate shoulders...

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pp. 65-67

A black-capped chickadee is two tablespoons of pluck and vigor in a tent of white and gray feathers, a matching chinstrap and skullcap of black. It is early morning, ten below, and a chickadee moves...

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pp. 69-71

Deer. I see them every day. Their tall white tails disappearing into the woods, their sleek brown coats matching the dry grass from last fall. Every morning they come to the field behind my cabin...

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Flying Squirrels

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pp. 73-75

It was as great an act of faith as I will ever see. It was late summer, late afternoon, the sun already down and I sat on my front steps eating dinner. Looking up, I was just in time to see a family of four flying...

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Pygmy Owl

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pp. 77-79

Imagine the sharp stab of the talons to the back of the head. Think what it must be like, stolen, lifted from the fields at dawn. Imagine the mythologies that must belong to the mice, stories of these...

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Two Fawns

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pp. 81-82

Both this morning and yesterday evening, while I was sitting outside eating my meals, in the exact quiet and soft light of those hours, a lone deer and two spotted fawns wandered into my yard. Such innocent...

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Red-tailed Hawk

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pp. 83-84

It is a gray December day and snow blows sideways. A red-tailed hawk perches high in the branches of a ponderosa, the hard-eyed raptor huddled close to the trunk, scanning the snow-covered fields...

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Three-toed Woodpecker

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pp. 85-87

Three inches off the ground, clipped to the side of a fir tree, chiseling out a hole the size of a dime, a male three-toed woodpecker jackhammers a Morse code through the forest. It is February, ten below...

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Western Tiger Swallowtail

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pp. 89-91

They are the epitome of bobbing and weaving. They fly as if in the throes of a drunken fit. They are living pieces of tissue paper, flying pieces of stained glass, gaudily colored crepe-paper creatures...

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pp. 93-95

It is a good day–a great day. Seventy degrees and a robin’s egg sky, the first buds of the cottonwoods appearing and, on the way here, tulips, gaudy as can be, painting the air with their primary colors...

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Mountain Goats

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pp. 97-99

It is easy to lose heart in the valleys. There is solace and strength you can gain from high places. It is the last week of September and I’ve climbed away from the rivers, away from the sheltering shades of the trees...

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Trumpeter Swans

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pp. 101-102

January 1st and two dozen trumpeter swans sit on their own reflections: preening, resting, dunking their faces into the glass-still water. I watch from a well-hidden blind, the swans passing back and forth in slow...

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Golden Eagle

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pp. 103-104

It seemed an act of unfaithfulness, to trick those birds out of the sky, teasing them down from their rivers of wind. We looked like disgruntled birds of prey ourselves, fingertips balancing binoculars...

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Canada Geese

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pp. 105-107

It is mid-December and a loose flotilla of nearly a hundred geese gather at a bend in the river, boating back and forth, lazily upending themselves to pluck weeds from the river bottom. All...

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Great Blue Heron

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pp. 109-111

The heron is in the world and I am in the world. It is early morning, mist moves across the open fields of the slough. Above me gray clouds form a blowing, shifting ceiling, while at my feet a dirt path...


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pp. 112

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716560
E-ISBN-10: 0870716565
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716553
Print-ISBN-10: 0870716557

Publication Year: 2012