Roseate spoonbills at High Island in spring

High Island is a near sacred place for birders.Located nearer Port Arthur than Galveston, just a few miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, its bird-attracting features are clumps of woods, most prominently ancient, wind-shaped live oaks whose looming crowns sweep upward from the coastline. It’s not an island, but a prominence that sits a couple of hundred feet above the coastal lands near it, making it a beacon and natural refuge for migrating spring songbirds in the thousands. But the spoonbills I describe here are here to nest, and are hidden among the low lying flowering bushes along ponds in the Boy Scouts’ Woods natural wildlife preserve there.

Jeff Hensley


Puffs of pink feathers

— like cotton candy with wings —

roost in the bushes.

Circling ribbons of life

This is a simple and short one, but watching the five scissor-tailed flycatchers circle the crown of a huge oak gave the very much — real and live — visual equivalent of Jaq and Gus watching as the small birds circled one another carrying ribbon ends in their beaks, putting final touches on Cinderella’s dress.

Jeff Hensley

Five scissortails float,

swirling and twirling into

the crown of a tree.



Flight of a great blue floating dream

Funny, I wrote this 11 years ago, but just yesterday, as I was driving along a street that carries upwards of 20,000 cars a day, a great blue heron drifted across the lanes of traffic and just above the branches of the trees behind the houses beside the road, dreamily, slowly — in just the same manner as I’ve described here.

Jeff Hensley


Just above the cars,

in the shadows of the night,

the heron lifts and flies,


his great wings moving

like frames in a slow motion,

low-light nature film.



I found it so easily, by stepping just off the trail, I’ve assumed such sites are commonplace

Only a few hours after I found the remains of a point-making workshop scattered on a flat spot, cleared of grasses and eight to ten feet across, I was lost on a poorly marked trail that circled back on itself.

I ended up spending an unplanned night on a four-foot wide trail that dropped off twenty feet to the treetops below. I had drunk from a clear pool near the 15-foot-deep limestone rim that circled this canyon area, the caprock that that gives Caprock Canyons its name. In my wanderings, I had crossed one long gap in the trail, a gap where the treetops were twenty or thirty feet below my dangling feet, by pulling myself from one handful of green grapevine to the next, until I reached firm footing. Adrenaline is an amazing thing.

I wandered for hours before deciding I could go no further in the darkness and needed to bed down on the narrow trail. I discovered I had deep aches in places I didn’t even know I had muscles. I slept fitfully, intermittently watching the Milky Way slowly waltz its way across the clear Panhandle skies.

Next morning I took up the trail that circled back on itself and found my way out of the back side of the state park onto a farm to market road. A rancher responded to my waving at roadside and took me into his John Deere dealership in Silverton, just a few miles down the road. His hospitality extended to breakfast at a local diner and a ride back to the trailhead.

God acts through the kindness of strangers.

Jeff Hensley


Before I got lost

in the Caprock Canyons,

I found a workshop.


Circle cleared of grass

by native workers’ actions

in this rocky field.


Half-finished small tools

lay about its flat surface,

work interrupted.


Spear points, arrowheads,

their shapes emerging from chert,

the flakers scattered.


If a tree falls in the forest … it dies

I guess I’ve never experienced the drama of an unseen, falling tree in quite this way. It grabbed my attention and lent itself to visualization: the root ball holding onto the earth it was anchored in with desperation to maintain the tree’s footing, but losing the battle, somewhere just beyond my field of view. And so, quite naturally, the answer to the standard formulation of the conundrum. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound? I now know the answer…

Jeff Hensley






the tree fights

to keep its feet

and fails,

just out of eyeshot,

but not of ear.


This tree fell in the forest,

and its sound was heard.




One time learning on the freeway

Sometimes you wish you had a tad more detail for a story like this. Given their ages, the Jaguar driver could well have been the son of the Cadillac driver; it could have been a drug deal gone bad; or angry businessmen, ticked off because of a deal in which one or the other or both felt cheated (legitimate businessmen or otherwise). But the details of the chase scene and my quick throw into reverse still make for a good story, even without the details.

Jeff Hensley


New Jag, new Caddy

playing cat and mouse on freeway

— 3,000 pound cars.


Young guy drives the Jag,

cutting off his white-haired foe,

time and time again,


skidding to full stop

45° angle

blocking the Caddy.


A half-mile of cars

backs up on I-30 West,

unwilling witnesses.


I, in a hurry,

move past the stalled line of cars

using road’s shoulder.


At head of the line

I look down barrel of gun

pointed from Jaguar;


throw it in reverse;

resolve to be more patient.

It’s one-time learning.




Red (white-tailed) deer

The small herd of deer were gathered to my west, 150 yards or so beyond the west boundary fence of Mineral Wells State Park, grazing in the deep front yards of the houses there. It was one of those surreal, frozen in time moments that seem to take on a life of their own. The deer standing there, literally glowing in the sun’s final rays, aware that they were beyond the reach of fear and my approach, content simply to stand and stare – as was I.

Jeff Hensley

Red (white-tailed) deer

Seven back-lit deer,

bathed in the setting sun’s light,

suffused red glow.


As I move toward them

deer come to taut attention,

all ears turned my way.



N’Orleans jazz puzzle

First, my home Internet has been out for about a week now, and so, no posts for that time. I’ll make up for it by posting a few pieces today instead of one. Since you’re one of the select few reading this, I just thought you ought to know…

The reason for the differences between the two groups of jazz musicians in the haiku series below can probably be explained simply: The old guys were getting to pay jazz together, whereas the younger guys were having to play jazz together.

A similar difference shows up in both volunteer organizations and workplaces. Folks who want to be a part of a project – paid or unpaid – come equipped with a much higher degree of motivation than those who are assigned either against their wills or without being consulted.

Seems pretty obvious, but it’s always a little amazing when supervisors in the workplace and leaders in organizations don’t seem to get the idea.

True volunteers just make making music together so much more fun!

 Jeff Hensley

 N’Orleans jazz puzzle

The jazz trio

composed of old men past prime

played with soul and smiles,


though it was muggy

there in French Quarter Market,

that hot summer day.


And just down the way,

same weather and same day,

another group played.


Sour, dour, tired.

Each note dredged up from within.

Young guys. Go figure.



Great blue heron and belted kingfisher on snowy creek in winter

Here are nine takes on the same five seconds along a snowy creek bed. If you’ve read multiple versions of poetry translations (sometimes by the same translator and sometimes by multiple translators), it feels a bit like this. After a time, you imagine they cannot have been working from the same set of words. Here, the amazement comes in thinking that each of these is, in its way, an accurate rendition of five seconds of action. And we wonder why people’s renditions of the same events, witnessed by each of them, differ so substantially. It’s no real wonder at all. Reality is wonderfully complex.

By the way, today will be our third 90 degree plus day in May here in Fort Worth (and it’s only May 5). Hot even for us, so a bit of snow remembered, is a pleasant thought all by itself. Add in birds, and it’s better, of course, but — aaaahhh, coolness.

Jeff Hensley


Belted kingfisher

sprays creek bed with his chatter.

Heron lifts from snow.


Great blue heron flies

from his spot on snowy bank;

kingfisher swoops past.


Kingfisher ratchets

past snowy bank as heron

lifts his wings, takes flight.


As kingfisher passes,

snowy bank pushes heron

aloft to warm feet.


Kingfisher’s flight path,

a straight but slow arrow, flung

past great blue heron.


Two flight paths converge:

as heron lifts from snow bank,

kingfisher passes.


In a snowy wood

flight of belted kingfisher

sends heron aloft.


Machine gun chatter

and kingfisher’s straight line of flight;

heron’s graceful wings.


Gracefully heron

lifts its great blue wings and flies.

Kingfisher passes.



The clock is ticking

Our own mortality is definitely something we don’t want to keep in our minds’ foregrounds. Obsessing about it would be as unhealthy as denying it, perhaps more so. The ancient image of the monk at his writing desk, quill pen in one hand and a human skull perched on the top book of a short stack of books at his side as a reminder of his mortality, always springs to mind. With a view to mortality representing only death of the body, the Christian can afford to take a lighter view of the unscheduled but certain event. And, of course, like love of God and neighbor as means to achieving that carefree approach, the figurative skull can add a motivational boost to living a virtuous life…

Jeff Hensley


We all have a date

with mortality’s deadline;

no rescheduling;


no calendar check;

no “Oh, something else came up;”

“I forgot about…”,


“Too busy right now.”

As one of my friends put it,

“I’d always known that


my time too would come,

but somehow I always thought

‘not in my lifetime.’”