Bluebird Nesting at Sunburst, part 2

Bluebird Nesting at Sunburst, part 2

By Al King

In my previous blog entry, I described the Sunburst western bluebird program. At that time I had just repaired and cleaned the nest boxes. Next, I put up one more box making a total of nine nest boxes.

Spring is a very busy time for me here at the Sanctuary. In previous years I had not managed to monitor all the boxes. This year I did look into four of them during the nesting season. One of these was near my house, so I made the time to take some photographs inside that box.

On May fourth there were five eggs in the nest. Checking the box again on May 17th, I found the eggs had hatched—probably a week or so before— and the young birds were growing feathers. The birds were larger and more developed each time I looked in (May 20 and May 24). On May 28th I saw one of the babies looking out the door of the box. It was only a few more days until the nest box was empty. We are now seeing more bluebirds in our neighborhood.

It’s wonderful to see all the insect-eating bluebirds here at the Sanctuary. Of the four boxes I checked during nesting time this year, they all had babies. Three of these were the bluebirds that we had put the nest boxes out for. The last one I checked was another species of insect-eating bird. Keep an eye out for my next blog post with the description and photos of the unexpected parents and babies.

Discovering Life’s Many Magical Moments at Sunburst

Discovering Life’s Many Magical Moments at Sunburst

By Ischa Lea

The morning dawned with an air of excitement permeating the Sanctuary grounds. Adults and children alike anxiously awaited the beginning of a family friendly Regenerating Earth and Spirit event that would encompass three different components. And what a day it proved to be!

A brief introduction to highlight the planned activities by Sunburst’s permaculture expert, Sean Fennell, and Shakti Ranch’s Natalie Riggs further fanned the fires of anticipation of what the day might bring. And rare gifts it did. Natalie’s incredible ability to help each person connect with the resident Sunburst horses on a deep inner level of mutual exchange was phenomenal! Even folks who normally experienced trepidation around horses were happily and gratefully moved by Natalie’s ability to gently guide them to connect from their heart centers to the horses and the horses’ ability to “know” just what each person needed. What a transformative experience for all!

Natalie Riggs of Shakti Ranch at Sunburst Sanctuary
If Natalie proved to be an amazing horse whisperer, then Sean Fennell proved to be an equally amazing soil whisperer! His ability to tenderly weave the spiritual and material into a beautiful synchronistic interplay of permaculture principles, ethics and hands-on practices were greatly appreciated by everyone who accompanied him to the gardens to witness firsthand Spirit and Nature working seamlessly together as they helped plant vegetables, put up a small hoop house, and proceed to the orchard to plant apple trees.

Is there anything more fun than a hayride? What a thrill it was to join the kids as we all enjoyed a hayride to and from the compost area where Sean explained the logistics of making fine compost as well as noting the intricacies of Nature’s own way of ensuring that there’s no waste. Her ingenuity in designing natural systems of cohesive cooperation between life forms both above and below the soil is inspiring.

Alfred King’s expertise on grafting was yet another amazing highlight of an incredibly fulfilling day as many of us listened intently to the history and methodologies of certain grafting techniques. More exciting, however, was the opportunity for each of us to perform an actual graft on a tree to take home with us.

It reminded me of a sweet experience as a child of helping to make cupcakes, and the thrill of being surprisingly gifted with quite a few to take home! How proud I was to announce that I had helped make those lovely cupcakes. How equally thrilled each of us adults were, now that we’d done our first grafts!

And the magic moments at Sunburst continued as a few weeks later a new group of adventurous souls embarked upon a Nature hunt on the Sanctuary hills. The event? A Paleontology Workshop headed by Sunburst’s own science teacher, Moksha Badarayan, and Sunburst docent, Craig Hanson, who would lead eager trekkers up the hillsides to hunt for ancient clam shells and shark’s teeth. And boy did we find some beauties! The Earth Mother’s energy seemed so palpable that we adults could not help but morph into the innocence and excitement of childhood once again as we each hunted for the perfect petrified clam.

I had never witnessed such huge clams or imagined they could exist! Two young ladies repurposed a child’s wagon into a clam wagon to haul our large clam shells down the hill, stashed momentarily. Now the youngest trekkers joined the rest of us in the hunt for sharks teeth up Shark Tooth Hill.

Beautiful warm weather, blue skies, adventurous spirits, and loving company graced both events. As rewarding as it can be journeying inwardly to connect with Spirit in the quiet of our souls, thrilled at the prospect of a direct personal encounter with Spirit, it can also be rewarding to journey outwardly with kindred souls, discovering Spirit’s presence, beauty, and myriad gifts in Nature.


A Journey Into Mindfulness

A Journey Into Mindfulness

by Ischa Beharry

In the silence of my soul, words, sounds, scents, impressions, thoughts and feelings seemed greatly amplified, yet with a gentleness and sweetness almost indescribable. And as I walked slowly and mindfully through the Sanctuary gardens with friends old and new, joy swept over my being in such gentle waves that my only reaction was exactly what our teacher, Sharon Ray, hoped it would be – a taste of what the Silent Retreat should evoke: A journey into the Path of SMILES and a deeper connection to Divine Spirit through silence and mindfulness.

A dedicated practitioner of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, Sharon has embodied the concept of mindfulness in her daily life and needs not verbally extol its incredible effects on her quality of life, spiritual awareness or demeanor—it expresses itself naturally and gracefully in the truths and virtues that are her life’s guideposts, and in her very demeanor, speech and interaction with others.

Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s at the railway station or supermarket, we are walking on the Earth and, therefore, upon a holy ground. To walk with reverence everywhere is to find nourishment and solidity with each step. Each mindful step brings us back to the here and now, reminding us that we are alive on this beautiful planet. It propels us into present moment awareness. Ultimately, all of us are looking for our solid ground, our true home. The Earth, and the Present, is our true home. We can’t be grounded in our body if our mind is elsewhere.

Following the Path of SMILES, we are guided by the meaning of this wonderful acronym:

S is for Smile – uplifting my vibration
M is for Mantra – expressing my heart’s desire
I is for Inhale and exhale – aware of my breath
L is for Letting go – of my name and game
E is for Ears listening, Eyes watching – I come to my senses
S is for Sensing – the Presence of the Divine in and around me

Experience being the greatest teacher, I have to humbly agree that for the two days I practiced mindful walking and the Path of SMILES, the beauty and wonder of the Earth and its creatures around me was greatly amplified. Being in the moment was joy unbounded! There was no room in my mind for anything worrisome; my mind was totally absorbed in the moment, whether I was mindfully eating, looking at the beautiful pond and gardens, walking the labyrinth, listening to the birds, or perusing the roadways looking for tiny pieces of quartz crystals amidst the gravel.

As the Master Hahn himself says:
No one has lived in the past or the future, only the now. The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. While you are walking, smile and be in the here and now, and you will transform that place into paradise.

Yes! I do enjoy the beautiful sanctuary where I happen to live; however, during every Silent Retreat its beauty, peace, tranquility, and divine resonance is, for me, amplified a hundred-fold! Ah, the power of many together!

Thank you, Sharon Ray, for bringing this priceless gift to Sunburst as a prelude to an approaching beautiful spring when the subsiding rains and entrancing green hillsides beckon us into mindful walking. And thank you, Thich Nhat Hanh, for reminding us that the very ground we stand on anywhere and everywhere is still Sacred Earth, and has the power to connect and ground us if we are mindful and receptive!

Flute Circle – Gathering of the Clans

Flute Circle – Gathering of the Clans

What a joy to attend the event held at the Sunburst Lodge on Saturday afternoon, March 2. I was there just to find out what this was all about. Turns out, I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was so interesting!

“Fluties” as they call themselves, and other musicians came from so many different places—many from as far away as Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties—just to join with one another and have a good time playing music together.

Some of the musicians performed alone. Others asked for accompaniment which included varying drums, other interesting percussion, keyboard, guitar, and/or other flutes. Every performer contributed something very different from the others. Much of the music was “jamming, making it up as you go.” Yet, it was wonderful. Every performer was so respectful of what each other offered.

Most of the flutes were of wood or bamboo, but there were other kinds, too. Joanne Lazzaro from Pasadena played a variety of very unusual flutes. One of them, made of clay, had three different chambers, and was carved to look like a rattlesnake. Another was a double-chambered flute about five feet long. She also played a “shakalute,” a traditional-looking European silver flute, but with a wooden mouthpiece on the top. It was held pointing downwards, and sounded like a Japanese flute. Then she brought out a Hawaiian nose flute! Yes, it’s blown by the nose. Hawaiians say the nose never lies.

A talented performer who has only been playing the flute for a few years had also brought an “effects” foot pedal. It produces different kinds of accompanying harmonies and sounds. The other musicians were delighted to try playing with this.

With his family, Nash Tavewa came up from Orange County. He displayed some of the wooden and clay flutes he creates. When Nash performed his young son kept time on a large Native American drum. Gill Velasquez and Jadon Smith also offered a wonderful array of their beautiful flutes.

I so enjoyed being there in the Lodge with the pictures of Brother Norm, Paramahansa Yogananda, Jesus, and the Native American art all around, hearing the music that all of these accomplished musicians had traveled so far for the opportunity to share with one another. From the potluck that started off the day with good fellowship, until the last note was played and the last farewell said, it was such a fulfilling experience.


Sunburst Western Bluebird Program

Sunburst Western Bluebird Program

By Al King

One of the situations that seems to be part of agricultural ventures, is crop damage due to insects. Those of us who are attempting to use more natural agricultural systems are always looking for natural ways to reduce crop loss. Some species of birds have diets that consist almost entirely of insects and spiders. The question then becomes how to attract the insect eating birds to our agricultural areas.

Western Bluebirds are one of the species of birds whose diets are primarily insects and spiders. They are cavity nesters, using a hollow in a tree for example. In order to increase the numbers of bluebirds, one can increase the opportunities for nesting by providing more cavities for them to nest in. This can be accomplished by providing nest boxes. Those who have studied bluebird nesting have come up with specific dimensions, entrance hole size, and recommendations for placement and orientation of the nest boxes. Nest boxes that conform to these recommendations, optimize the chance of the birds using them and successfully rearing young birds.

Some years ago, I was approached by a gentleman who wanted to place bluebird nest boxes around our agricultural fields. He felt passionate about the fact that increasing the bluebird population would reduce the insect populations, and consequently reduce the need for other insect control measures.

We welcomed his offer and he placed a number of nest boxes, which he had made. He monitored the success of the blue bird nesting and subsequent maturation of the young birds. He later moved away, but left the nest boxes. I saw this program as beneficial to the property as well as an opportunity to experience this wonderful aspect of the natural world, so I took over the annual cleaning and maintenance of the nest boxes.

At present, we have eight active nest boxes at the sanctuary. They are cleaned and repaired each March. In April and May the bluebirds are courting, scouting for nesting opportunities, laying eggs, brooding and caring for their young. Observing these beautiful birds throughout the year is a joy. Knowing that I have had a hand in increasing their nesting opportunities is also a joy.


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