Jenny Burman Jenny Burman
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from Echo Park

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Elderberries time*


The elderberries are ripe now, and don't the wild birds know it. Ripe time is bird time each spring/summer. All kinds of migrants and visitors -- tanagers, towhees, plenty of unidentifieds -- stop in the back for a treat. Except for this year. A predator or two -- or five? -- have been staking out my back yard for over a week. Staring at the chicken coop. Sitting on our roof and on the neighbors', sometimes while mocking birds poke it in the back in repeat attacks that eventually end in the winged beast moving, for a short while. It's not a red-tailed hawk. It looks like a falcon and so far has declined to pose for pictures. I hear the distinctive hawk-like squeal all day -- at this moment, even -- which makes me think that the big nest in my pepper tree could be theirs, though it's not as high as I would have guessed for a hawk/falcon. Every now and then there's the sound of wings flapping and then a shadow. Meanwhile, so many elderberries are going uneaten.

Regarding the elderberry tree -- which is either Sambucus caerulea or Sambucus mexicana -- it was a stump when we moved into the house in 1999. It had been cut down, presumably to allow for sun for the vegetable garden that was planted in the back. I removed the vegetable patch, and let the stump alone, ignoring it until it had sent out shoots that were eight or nine feet tall. I was planning to have the thing dug out at the root but discovered it was a native elderberry and that birds love its fruit. So I let it grow back and tried to shape it.

It won't be winning any sculptural beauty awards from the garden club. But it's now about 25 feet tall and loaded with fruit. It provides shade, bird food, and mystery, as two California cherry trees, another elderberry, and a walnut have grown up around it -- a tiny native woodland in the back yard.

I've been feeding the berries to my coop-bound chickens. They love them.

*Edited post.

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