Monday, June 30, 2008

From Whiteface

The cloud cover at Whiteface Mountain cleared just enough for us today to enjoy some nice views... (please click on the pic!) I could see Lake Champlain from the summit, but not Montreal. This is a partial view of Lake Placid, btw. There'll be days of pics (yawn!) when I've recovered some and slept. There were singing Bicknell's and Swainson's today and a far-off view of a Bald Eagle from the very tip of Whiteface.


Happy to be home.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gipsy gold

"Gipsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark." ~attributed to the Claddaugh Gypsies of Galway

I'll leave you for a few days with an image from North Dakota that's captured my memory and a small part of my imagination.

Pasture horses. Not the usual pampered racing thoroughbreds I see everyday here in NJ. These were full of curiosity... alarming, almost, in the way they surrounded us when we came upon them. There's a story to tell, but I haven't exactly found the way, yet.

I love horses; it's irrational of me... I'm not some country girl, after all. I don't want a horse; I just want to be able to look at them. Seeing them makes me wish I knew how to work clay in my hands.

That first morning in North Dakota, I was awake before the sun came up. It was my birthday. I was outside in the near dark, barefoot in the wet grass, wondering at my good luck. The sky was so filled with stars... I could see the Milky Way and birds were waking up around me... strange sounds, but ones that would soon become familiar there... Clay-Colored Sparrow and Western Meadowlark and Common Snipe.

There were unseen horses closeby; I could hear their snorting and soft nickering in the dark.



Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heading to the High Peaks

I've hardly made it through half of what I want to tell you about my trip to the prairie and already I'm off to the mountains!


I'm leaving on Friday for a couple days in the Adirondacks; one of my most favorite places. It's a trip for birds, ostensibly anyway, but the fact is that I've already seen most of the specialty birds the area has to offer on past trips there. Except for Spruce Grouse and that's a long shot, as even the trip leaders admit. I have wonderful memories of Evening Grosbeaks, Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays, Winter Wrens, Lincoln's Sparrows, Ravens, and Black-backed Woodpeckers. I don't much care what birds I see this time. So long as I see some, of course!

I'm more looking forward to hearing the cry of a loon or seeing the spruce and tamaracks mirrored in a lonely pond. Standing at the summit of Whiteface Mountain with alpine plants at my feet and Lake Champlain and Quebec off in the distance, while Bicknell's Thrush sings somewhere below me. Waking to morning mist rising from the lake outside my door. Paddling that lake for an hour or two between birding and dinner. Watching the stars for a few quiet hours each night...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I've never been to Sea World...

so dolphins in the neighborhood are pretty exciting... life mammal!

They're not supposed to be here, certainly not in the river where they've been seen for the last week or so. Given the
odd geography of Sandy Hook Bay and this summer's early warm water temps, it's thought that they took a detour into the Shrewsbury River by mistake. Fish and Wildlife is concerned with the upcoming 4th of July holiday (and the 20,000 plus boats it brings to my neighborhood) that the dolphins may need to be ushered back into the bay so they can safely find their way back to the open ocean.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Do you believe in magic?

My dad was cremated with a dollar bill in his pocket; the same dollar he'd carried in his wallet for some thirty-five plus years. Being sure that dollar stayed with him, even then, was a meaningful act on the part of my brothers and I. A ritual we observed.

The dollar bill was something like a talisman to my dad. It had been given to him as a form of repayment by his first-born son, my brother Neil, sometime before he died as a child from aplastic anemia. My dad never was able to tell me what exactly Neil was repaying him for, without becoming tearful and angry, so that part of the story is lost to me. But I'd always understood the sentiment behind him carrying it in his wallet all those years.

I have a few such talismans myself; physical signs of relationships with people and places and experiences. Symbols of connection and reconnection, union and reunion with what is sacred to me. Carried in a pocket or wallet, worn around my neck or on a finger, secreted away in shoeboxes and drawers.

Parting with any of them would be difficult for me; each has its story, each is connected to some important event or place in my life. Each is the physical proof that I believe in magic; that I honor the ritual of rememberance.

To describe any of it or try explaining it would, perhaps, lessen the magic. Someday though, these keepsakes of mine will be found, and someone will wonder what they were about.

Think about the things you surround yourself with. Look on you and around you. Your closet, the jewelry box, your purse, your wrist, the desk where you spend hours each day. Much of what others might see as simple adornment or, heaven forbid, dust-collectors may really represent the power of love and rememberance. Tokens of an on-going connection, rituals of place and time and people.

I propose that we should choose one object from that treasure chest of memory and share it with someone else... best if it can be a person directly related to the keepsake. Dust it off and polish the memory... tell what it is that provokes your imagination so, tell why it has such power for you, tell what makes it magic.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Straight out of the field guide

"The ecstatic upland plover, hovering overhead, poured praises on something perfect: perhaps the eggs, perhaps the shadows, or perhaps the haze of pink phlox that lay on the prairie." --Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

God I love it when birds do what they're supposed to... and then pose for pix while at it!


We'd nearly missed this roadside Upland Sandpiper as we chased the tour bus along the prairie trail heading to
Chase Lake NWR, but a quick stop and then a very slow progression forward, all the while hoping the bird wouldn't fly off, let me have my fill of pix hanging out the sunroof of the car like a crazed photographer. I got lots of nice pics, but this one is today's favorite.

Not a life bird for me, but I couldn't have asked for any nicer looks at it. Can't you just imagine it soaring high in the blue skies of a North Dakota spring, its long, drawn out song drifting down over a sunny meadow...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Escaping along with everyone else

I almost didn't go to the Pine Barrens today when this was what greeted me at the entrance to the Parkway. Ughh... shore traffic. I was committed, at least until the next exit some five miles further south, but thankfully the standstill was due to an accident and the traffic cleared just when I could have made my exit.

An hour or so later this beetle caught my eye as it meandered through the sand and grass while I sat in the car eating my lunch. I stepped out for a pic, leaving the remainder of my sandwich unattended, and came back to find the sandwich gone. Had I mentioned that Luka was along for this adventure? Anyone care to save me the trouble of looking it up in a field guide? It reminds me of the beetle in the header at Mutual Casualty but I don't know that one either.

As often happens with a visit to the barrens, I happen upon something accidentally that I'd purposefully searched for at some prior visit. Today it was two wildflowers that I'd endured a sweaty deer-fly infested hike searching for early last summer. This one is Swamp Candle; a yellow loosestrife that can grow so abundantly in cranberry bogs that it gives a pretty yellowish haze to the bog. It's considered a nuisance in commercially operated bogs, but I was happy to find it today.

This one made me really happy - orange milkwort - showy and impossible to miss. On my knees taking pics I also found a blooming thread-leaved sundew and a few other tiny little wildflowers that I haven't made up an ID for yet.

The water in the bogs is controlled by dikes and in those places where it was fast flowing there were ebony jewelwings patrolling the margins. A beautiful damselfly, I think; very fluttery and nice.
My idea with bringing Luka along on this particular adventure was so that he could do some swimming at our favorite hidden spot along Cedar Creek. Turns out our secret swimming hole is better known than I'd realized - the place was packed with paddlers stopping for a swim, too. Some were kind enough to amuse Luka with a really big stick. Turns out he's a good swimmer since our last visit in the fall.

The cranberries are blooming now and I was surprised to see quite so many beehives along the dikes. Each field of 3 active bogs had a stack like this, busy with honeybees keeping Ocean Spray in business. Luka had a tussle with a bunch of them while I paying attention to something else - there was much fussing and rolling in the sand - but I don't think he was stung more than a couple times. Dopey dog!

Cranberry flowers are very tiny and the plants grow *wild* along the margins of most cedar streams in the barrens; a particular delight of paddling there in the fall is the chance to sample a couple. The same plant is cultivated commercially and then harvested just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. The flower is deeply lobed and curled back on itself to expose the stamens. Early settlers saw the neck, head and beak of a crane and so called it *crane-berry*.

Another beautiful day in one of my favorite places. Plus, Luka's tuckered out, finally.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Drama in the driveway

I'd thought there must be a cat prowling through the garden with all the fuss the robins and bluejays were making. I went outside, flip-flop in hand (they're excellent flung at neighborhood strays) and found that the fuss was due to a red-tail on our roof. Strange, I thought. It flew to the black locust in the neighbor's yard and I watched it for a while and cheered the robins for their bravery in dive-bombing it.

An hour or so later the DH whispered, "Come here, quick!" from beside the kitchen window. The red-tail was back, this time on the ground, high-stepping through the grass beside the driveway. Hawks look so out of their element on the ground, don't they?

Then I noticed the tiny wriggling baby bunnies on the driveway. Three in all, spread out beneath my car, one in the shadow of a tire.

Hmmm. What to do?

Dutifully, bunny-lover that I am, I stepped out the door and the red-tail flew off to the neighbor's roof.

The nest had been dug weeks ago and then abandoned. Too close, I'd thought, to Luka's run of the yard. Looking inside it now, I found two newborn kits in the middle of a hastily covered scrape. Following the trail of newborn bunnies under the car, I saw the mother rabbit crouched beneath the transmission.

I returned the babies to their nest and wondered what had happened. Was the mother interrupted in her birthing by the hawk - does that explain two in the nest and three others spread out in the driveway? Had the hawk discovered the nest and the momma bunny caught in the middle of moving them somewhere safe? Was the hawk on the ground after the babies or the mother? Odd the mysteries that play themselves out if we're paying attention, I think.

I wonder if they'll survive, if the mother will come back to nurse them as she should. I wonder, too, that the red-tail won't come back.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meme on Thursday

Feeling lazy... perfect time for a silly meme.

1. Over 21? Yes
2. Danced in front of your mirror naked? (Laugh)
3. Ever told a lie? Yes
4. Been arrested? No
5. Kissed a picture? Yes
6. Fallen asleep at work/school? Yes
7. Held an actual snake? No
8. Ever run a red light? Yes
9. Ever drink and drive? No
10. Been suspended from school? Yes
11. Ever been fired from a job? No
12. Totaled a car/motorbike in an accident? No
13. Sang karaoke? God, no
14. Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t? Yes
15. Laughed until something you were drinking came out your nose? Yes
16. Ever gone “under the knife?” No
17. Driven cross country? No
18. Caught a snowflake on your tongue? Yes
19. Kissed in the rain? Yes
20. Sang in the shower? No
21. Sat on a rooftop? Yes
22. Been to a foreign country in which you didn’t speak the language? No
23. Thought about your past with regret? Yes
24. Been pushed in the pool with your clothes on? Yes
25. Skinny dipped? No
26. Shaved your head? No
27. Blacked out from drinking? No
28. Had a gym membership? Yes
29. Been in a band? No
30. Fired a gun? No
31. Liked someone with nobody else knowing about it? Yes
32. Played strip poker? No
33. Been to a strip joint? No
34. Donated Blood? No
35. Liked someone you shouldn’t? Yes
36. Have a tattoo? No
37. Been to jail? No
38. Have or had any piercings? Yes
39. Made out with a complete stranger? No
40. Had a one night stand? No
41. Caught someone cheating on you? Yes
42. Felt like dying? Yes, when I had my wisdom teeth out
43. Regret any of your ex’s? Yes
44. Been to a rodeo? No
45. Been to a NASCAR race? God no
46. Been in love? Yes
47. Met a celebrity? No
48. Been on TV? No
49. Know how to cook? (Laugh)
50. Like motorcycles? No
51. Bungee jumped, skydived, based jumped, etc? No
52. Slept outdoors? Yes
53. Spent the night in a snow cave? No, sounds fun though
54. Thought you were going to drown? Yes
55. Play an instrument? Yes

Um... I think maybe
Susan needs something to do.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Indian paintbrush

Not the breathtaking scarlet, orange and yellow prairie flowers I was expecting, a rather more pallid view, but spring was slow in coming to North Dakota this year and the wildflowers were a few weeks behind schedule. A hint of color is just beginning to show on a few of the bracts in this pic and the leaves are shaped something like birds' feet.

Indian Paintbrush is sort of interesting in that it's partially parisitic - it derives some of its nutrients from other plants. Common hosts are little bluestem, blue-eyed grass and prairie smoke. There are at least 200 different species that are near impossible to separate from one another.

(End of geeky plant interlude)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An epiphany!

This will likely turn into a rant, so if you're not in the mood for that, just click away and try back tomorrow.


Today's my brother's birthday, btw. He lurks here and leaves snarky comments occasionally. Happy Birthday, Kev! In case you've forgotten, you're still older than me. Ha!

(That used to seem like a good thing, didn't it?)

I don't know why it is, but most of the people I've really hit it off with through the years were born in June,like me,and are Geminis. I sometimes think it's a wonder we can stand each other, but as they say: it takes one to know one.

One of my most favorite Geminis is Deb from work. We don't work together in the same unit anymore, unfortunately, but have lunch once in a while and generally try to distract each other from boring paperwork for a few minutes each week. We used to go to lunch together every single day at the same place and eat the same thing, but that's another story. We'd planned to have lunch last Friday for our birthdays, but she left me a message that morning to say that she had to cancel because she really had to get her nails and eyebrows done and that she was really sorry, but we'd have to reschedule. Priorities, you know. An hour or so later she left another message to say that she couldn't get an appointment and if I wasn't too pissed she'd like to go to lunch after all. Otherwise, she really needed to shop for a new bathing suit. Pfft! Great friend, huh?

(That all had nothing to do with the point of this post, sorry.)

So. We had lunch at her current every single day, eat the exact same thing place and it was lovely and we caught up with each other for the time being.

I walked out of the office kinda grumpy this afternoon and ran into Deb on her way out, too. She picked up on my mood pretty quickly and before we made it to the parking lot I was ranting at her about how I was tired of being yelled at by clients and landlords and pulled in a million directions at once. Tired, too, of screwing things up. Tired of having to ask someone how to do things. Tired of finding out, after, from someone different, that I'd been told to do it wrong. And made to feel foolish for it.

(Feeling foolish makes me grumpy, generally.)

Deb knows me. Knows my sore spots... and isn't afraid to pester them, either. Know what she said?

"Don't take yourself so seriously, Laura."

Huh? Me?

She wandered off to her car and I thanked her for the reminder and then stood in the parking lot like a dope for a minute or two... sort of amazed that it was that obvious to her, that easy to read...

She's absolutely right, though. I take myself way too seriously, usually. At work, especially. Foolish of me. I needed to hear that. Will probably need to hear it again, tomorrow.

Remind me, if she doesn't, before I get too full of myself.

(I got flowers today, btw. Not sure what in the world I did to deserve that.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

I know, I know... it's a Swainson's

I can be... um... slightly hard-headed at times. I want very badly for this to be a Ferruginous Hawk. Not that I think it necessarily looks like one, just that I want it to be one, you know?

I went all the way to North Dakota and deserve to have seen a Ferruginous, don't you think? I had my life Swainson's Hawk in Cape May years ago and a textbook-looking one that Bill of the Birds showed us on my birthday on the first day of the Potholes and Prairie Festival.

Then, we surprised this hawk the following day in the hills of the Coteau Region. Tell me what makes this a Swainson's... maybe I'll take your word for it.


As an aside: I'd thought separating Eastern hawks was difficult. Pfft!

The Swainson's has 3 age classes and is polymorphic (whatever the heck that means!) The Ferruginous has 2 ages classes and is also polymorphic. (I think!)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A portrait of memory

"There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself." ~John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, 1994

Somewhere around here is a photo of my dad and I together on a regular day, not Christmas or Easter or anybody’s wedding day, but one of those normal days when nothing much of interest took place. It’s not a photo you’d ever be inclined to put into an album; we’re probably not dressed well or my dad hadn’t shaved that day. Maybe that explains why I can’t put my hands on it… it may not even exist, really, at least not as anything more than my imagination.

In this photo of my dad and I, you’d see a certain amount of ambivalence between us, but we clearly love each other. There’s a similar expression of bemusement in our eyes and an easy comfort together, but no obvious signs of warmth, at least not if the photo was taken after I turned 11 or so. Before then I might be seated on his knee or reaching a hand up to meet his as we walked together somewhere, maybe back to the car after ice-cream.

Mostly we stand awkwardly together, not sure what to do with our arms or our affection. It was always that way. Other than the customary goodnight kiss or the kiss on saying hello or goodbye, our family was very reserved with any outward display of feelings. Somewhere in life both of my brothers have become huggers, but that’s not anything we’d learned at home. Their hugs surprise me still, but I’m learning to like them. Maybe for them the hugs communicate some of what we’ve always been too embarrassed to really say to one another. It’s that way between brothers and their little sister, I guess. When I was a kid it was the “affectionate” flicks on the ear or the “friendly” swats on the back of the legs with a wet towel; now it’s hugs so strong they force the air out of my lungs. They still seem to take some perverse sort of pleasure in causing me pain, I think.

In a more recent photo of my dad and I, you’d see that our relationship had changed and grown into something else. In the time between when I’d moved out of his house and he moved into mine a few months before he died, we’d found something like a mutual deference to each other. Deference isn’t really the proper word for it; I would always be a bratty kid as far as he was concerned, but my dad and I discovered a way around his old-fashioned ideas about how kids should behave with their parents and which totally confounded my brothers, who thought I got away with the world. There’s something Garrison Keillor said to explain that once, but I can’t exactly remember it. Something about a father being a hostage to his daughter, like a pat of butter in a frying pan when she asks for his counsel.

I see that in my brothers now, with their daughters, and it’s a cause for joy... maybe now they’ll understand and will stop teasing me for being spoiled. I also see their easy affection with my nieces and I’m happy for those little girls growing up with dads who aren’t too formal or too preoccupied to love their daughters openly and affectionately.

There weren’t any photos of my dad and I from that time just before he died. I’m glad for that, glad there’s nothing to challenge my memories of him. I still see him self-important and angry at some injustice done to me. He’s still strong and ready to slay the monsters under my bed, still competent and able to rescue me or my brothers from some mistake of our own making. The mistrust and worry that had wrinkled his face with every adventure or new friend are gone as he stands proudly aside to watch us discover who we’ve become.

This photo in my memory is of us passing the hours together at the kitchen table, talking long into the night, the coffee pot on. Those gab sessions made up for our lack of touchy-feely-ness somehow. We talked about everything under the sun, at least twice. I see us there, smiling uncertainly at each other, not sure what to talk about next.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Memory is part make-believe anyway, isn’t it? We use what we remember and combine it with what we believe to be true, embellish it with what we wish for and what we need, and then stitch it all together into something that comforts us when a loved one is gone.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Everything you can imagine is real. I believe that.

Happy Father's Day.

Other Father's Day posts here and here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


The Juneberries are ready for picking...

The robins and their babies are happy.

Juneberry Pie

3 ½ c juneberries
¾ c sugar
2 T flour

2-crust pie shell:
2 c flour
¾ c Crisco
dash salt
5 T cold water

Mix flour, Crisco and salt in mixing bowl. Add cold water one tablespoon at a time, and do not overmix. Split dough into 2 pieces. Roll out first crust dough onto floured surface and place into pie pan. Mix filling in a mixing bowl and place into pie pan. Roll out your second crust and place on top of pie filling. Fold over crust edges, press with fork, and poke fork holes on top to allow pie to breathe. Sprinkle top with a bit of sugar and bake for one hour in preheated 400° oven. Cool for 2 hours and serve.

No pie for me this year; my juneberries have that rust... is it cedar-apple rust or juniper rust? Whatever... most of them look just awful. Birds are happy though.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dakota Driving

I think the people behind Birding Drives Dakota must be pretty smart: they understand that those of us from more heavily trafficked parts of the world are awed and befuddled by the emptiness of the prairie pothole region. It's as if they anticipate that we'll bliss out with the scenery and forget that we might just need directions to find all those prairie specialties.

They've conveniently created a couple maps and a glossy brochure to lead the directionally-challenged (like me!) to the best birding spots. I'd imagine it easy for more left-brained folks to navigate the right-angle distances, but I found myself constantly distracted by something... a group of pelicans kettling overhead... a jackrabbit running through a farm field... a pleasing look at cattle at the roadside... you name it! North Dakota was made for daydreamers like me, I think.

That being said, I was glad for the maps detailing the more than 600 miles of birding possibilities in the Jamestown/Carrington area alone. They make it easy to wander at will at your own pace and on your own schedule, which is the way I prefer to bird. I can handle only so much time spent in a bus with strangers peering out through dirty windows. Sure, I did some of the planned events with the
festival, but there was also lots of time spent exploring in solitude, wondering what might be found at the next "X" on the map.

I wonder about the rest of you that've had the opportunity to attend a birding festival or two: would you rather have every minute of your trip planned and scheduled for you or, like me, do you appreciate the chance to be a little more adventurous?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Love in a pothole

Western Grebes were the first *western* birds found on the adventure that was getting to North Dakota. A makeshift dinner beside a lake somewhere in Minnesota was accompanied by their whistling between dives for fish. They're really striking birds - click on the pic for a better look at those red eyes!

Try as we might, we never picked out a Clark's among the Western's that populated the larger lakes and potholes. Nor was there much of their famous courtship display; they're said to rise up and run across the water's surface - might've been nice to see that! I like the suggestion of a heart in the space between their graceful long necks in this pic; maybe they were just beginning to think of love in that moment.

The breeding ducks were the biggest draw to the region, I think. There'd been more than a cold winter's day or two spent searching the small local ponds and inlets in NJ for wintering ducks - to see
Ruddies again; now with their ridiculously bright blue bills or a pair of Blue-winged Teal in every puddle and Canvasbacks and Shovelers and more Redheads than I'd really imagined possible - I'd felt lucky to find a single pair this winter - and now here they were, again, for our finding. The only real miss, in the breeding duck department, were Hoodies. I'm sure they were out there, we just didn't find the right pothole.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Faking it

What's that ahead in the road? That bird looks like it might be broken...

Have you ever seen a killdeer do its distraction display? To a car speeding along a dirt road in the middle of Nowhere, North Dakota?


The abundant killdeer taught an early lesson in exploring the prairie: slow down... look around... tread gently...

You never know what treasures you may find if you look closely enough.

For you non-bird folks: Killdeer and some other birds perform distraction or broken-wing displays to lure predators away from their nest or chicks. The adult bird fans its tail and drags a droopy wing along the ground so that you or I or a fox will think it an easy meal to catch. Soon enough, once the young are out of danger or forgotten, the parent flies off thumbing its nose for having faked you out. A great trick!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why North Dakota?

I've always imagined the place we grow up to sink into our bones and set the course for where we feel most comfortable in life. For me, that's meant the shore and the scent of a salt marsh at low tide... traffic and malls and lots of people. Something, though, has tugged at me to see a place where all the oceans are equally far away; a place where long stretches of land flow for miles unfettered by anything but my imagination.

Other places I've traveled to make the world feel small by comparison: the sky hemmed in by mountains or trees or buildings. The prairie is different. The landscape doesn't shout out its beauty here, but entices you in small ways... the winnowing of snipe overhead, the soft huff of horses grazing in the predawn light, the starkness and loneliness of it, a velvet bowl of ink black sky so full of stars it makes you wonder what it might feel like to count so many, clouds that stumble across an unbelievably big sky, the long soft blur of sunset shadows that cross a patchwork of farm fields and prairie: where a few trees and a grain elevator are the only comfort for the eye in all that emptiness.

Maybe I like the challenge of finding beauty where others would see none... the black backbone of road and the faint lines of light at the horizon that mean there's a town off the interstate, the nothing between me and a three wire barbed fence and a pasture of horses or bison, the wind that carries the grace notes of a meadowlark or a bobolink. This, this middle in the middle of nowhere, is a place of quiet where birdsong and the gentle whistle of wind are the only music and me the lonely audience.

There's something here in the intersection of land and light, sky and the ever-present wind, the dark earth and the cerulean water in each and every pothole with its breeding ducks that communicates the language of this place; words of solitude translated by a yellow-headed blackbird hanging from cattails in a slough beside the road or the sight of ancient purple lilacs watching over deserted dooryards. There's all of this and yet, sometimes, you need to bend close to the ground and pull the soft dusty green sage through your fingers or catch sight of prairie smoke bloom
ing among the short grasses, with kingbirds squabbling on the fencerow behind you, to know that emptiness looks like this and that the place that one calls home need not be the only place a heart resides.

(Written mostly as a response to the cross-eyed glances of friends who wondered why I wouldn't choose Hawaii as a vacation destination instead of the frozen land of North Dakota.)


More to come...

Monday, June 09, 2008


Can you guess which I think is cuter?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Loveliness on Sunday

"Look for a lovely thing
and you will find it.
It is not far -
It never will be far."


Yes... I'm still stuck on those peonies.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

The skinny on rabbit poop (revisited)

Most housebunny owners are somewhat obsessive about bunny-poop. People surfing the internet looking for pictures of rabbit poop bring a lot of traffic by this blog. So I thought I'd repost this one from a coupe years ago.

Unless a rabbit has a physical problem, oftentimes the cause of less-than-perfect-pooties is a lack of fiber in the diet or too much starch. Rabbits need huge amounts of hay and very little of the other stuff that people like to feed bunnies. If there is a problem, you'll notice your bunnies' pooties getting smaller and smaller. It's all about knowing what's *normal* for a particular bunny. The photo at left shows a sample from the bunnies that live here. The pooties on the right are from the Flemmies and are marble-sized. All the way on the left are the pooties of a bunny that isn't a good hay eater and it shows in her poops. A rabbit that eats a lot of very high-fiber hay, like oat hay, will have beautiful, light-colored flakey pooties. (Oh gosh, listen to me! - I am not obsessive!)

Many people who haven't encountered a rabbit, outside of a backyard hutch rabbit, are surprised to learn that they can be litter-trained. In fact, most rabbits will train themselves to use a box, so long as you put the box where they want it. My bunny Dora was difficult in this regard, because she refused to use the litterboxes that were in her cage. She "held it" overnight and darted out of her cage to the corner litterbox first thing in the morning. She did the same thing while I was at work. Why she had this peculiar habit I don't know, but she was proof positive that rabbits are "clean" animals. It's the way that most people keep them that makes many think otherwise.

An important part of training a rabbit to use a litterbox is to set up the box in such a way that a bunny will like to go there. It has to be cleaned regularly. I set mine up with a pelleted-wood product for litter and fill it to the brim with hay. The bunnies will munch hay and poop at the same time. Most bunnies here also seem to find their box to be a convenient place for a nap or a snuggle-session. You can see Boomer and Cricket in one of their boxes with barely an inch to spare!

If you're really interested in learning more about bunny poop, a good article (with photos!) is available here.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Gardening rules

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.

Any of your own to add?


Thursday, June 05, 2008

38 by 39

Today's my birthday. People always say that time seems to pass more quickly as you get older... do you find that to be true, also?

Anyway... I'm borrowing this idea I saw somewhere out there... to come up with a list of goals... dreams... intentions... things I've been putting off... to accomplish before my next birthday.

In no particular order:

1 Organize the songs on my iPod into playlists that are useful

2 Go iceskating

3 Get Luka into doggy-day-care at least one day a week to save our sanity

4 Read one book from the *to be read* pile at least every other month

5 Buy no new books until I'm commited to #4

6 Stay up all night to watch the sunrise. Stay in bed the rest of the day. Do not feel guilty.

7 Take a photography class

8 Buy a bicycle. Maybe one like

9 Get together with The Flock for a birding weekend

10 Get the nerve up to submit something to

11 Find a cafe that makes a nice coconut cream pie

12 Replace a bad habit with a good one

13 Finally tackle shorebirds

14 Buy a thesaurus

15 Make something handmade for a friend

16 See ten new birds

17 Volunteer for a local environmental project

18 Try a new fruit - maybe

19 Invite my brothers and their families to go camping for a weekend

20 See the

21 Go maple-syruping

22 Finally learn how to make a nice spaghetti sauce

23 Organize (and back-up!) my photo collection

24 Write a letter to an old friend that's been out of touch for too long

25 Fly a kite at the beach

26 Sleep outside under the stars

27 Find an old person to teach me how to play

28 Donate some things I don't use anymore to the thrift shop at the
local homeless shelter

29 Drink more water and less coffee

30 Learn how to wolf-whistle

31 Spend a day exploring the sugar-sand roads of the Pine Barrens

32 Buy a good map before attempting #31

33 Accept hugs more eagerly

34 Learn the names of 5 constellations in the winter sky

35 Read a novel in Spanish

36 Catch love in the moonlight

37 Do that one thing I've been putting off

38 Refer to this list often

Wish me luck! I wonder how many of these I will have accomplished by this time tomorrow...


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What's that song again?

I hear much better than I can see, especially when it comes to finding birds. Because I have trouble spotting the movement of birds, I've come to rely on my ears more than my eyes and have tried over the years to develop my knowledge of bird songs. It's a handy skill to have and a good way to impress non-birding friends!

I'm reposting this poem cause it's a good one and some of you may have missed it when I first shared it here.


Wouldst thou know the lark?
Then hark!
Each natural bird
Must be seen and heard.
The lark's "Tee-ee" is a tinkling entreaty.
But it's not always "Tee-ee" -
Sometimes it's "Tee-titi."
So watch yourself.

Birds have their love-and-mating song,
Their warning cry, their hating song;
Some have a night song, some a day song,
A lilt, a tilt, a come-what-may song;
Birds have their careless bough and teeter song
And, of course, their Roger Tory Peter song.

The studious ovenbird (pale pinkish legs)
Calls, "Teacher, teacher, teacher!"
The chestnut-sided warbler begs
To see Miss Beecher.
"I wish to see Miss Beecher."
(Sometimes interpreted as "Please please please ta

The redwing (frequents swamps and marshes)
Gurgles, "Konk-la-ree,"
Eliciting from the wood duck
The exclamation "Jeeee!"
(But that's the male wood duck, remember.
If it's his wife you seek,
Wait till you hear a distressed "Whoo-eek!")

Nothing is simpler than telling a barn owl from a veery:
One says, "Kschh!" in a voice that is eerie,
The other says, "Vee-ur" in a manner that is breezy.
(I told you it was easy.)
On the other hand, distinguishing between the veery
And the olive-backed thrush
Is another matter. It couldn't be worse.
The thrush's song is similar to the veery's,
Only it's in reverse.

Let us suppose you hear a bird say, "Fitz-bew,"
The things you can be sure of are two:
First, the bird is an alder flycatcher (Empidonax traillii
Second, you are standing in Ohio - or as some people
call it, O-hee-o-
Because, although it may come as a surprise to you,
The alder flycatcher, in New York or New England,
does not say, "Fitz-bew,"
It says, "Wee-be-o."

"Chu-chu-chu" is the note of the harrier,
Copied of course, from our common carrier.
The osprey, thanks to a lucky fluke,
Avoids "Chu-chu" and cries, "Chewk, chewk!"
So there's no difficulty there.

The chickadee likes to pronounce his name;
It's extremely helpful and adds to his fame.
But in spring you can get the heebie-jeebies
Untangling chickadees from phoebes.
The chickadee, when he's all afire,
Whistles, "Fee-bee," to express his desire.
He should be arrested and thrown in jail
For impersonating another male.
(There's a way you can tell which bird is which,
But just the same, it's a nasty switch.)
Our gay deceiver may fancy-free be
But he never does fool a female phoebe.

Oh, sweet the random sounds of birds!
The old-squaw, practising his thirds;
The distant bittern, driving stakes,
The lonely loon on haunted lakes;
The white-throat's pure and tenuous thread-
They go to my heart, they go to my head.
How hard it is to find the words
With which to sing the praise of birds!
Yet birds, when they get singing praises,
Don't lack for words - they know some daisies:
"Onk-a-lik, ow-owdle-ow,"
"Cheedle, cheedle chew,"
And dozens of other inspired phrases.

Now go back and read it again out loud!


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Here birdy-birdy

I struggled for years to get goldfinches at my feeders, but once I finally attracted them, they've been regular customers. I don't see much of them in the wintertime, but come spring they're back in the neighborhood and looking for me to fill their thistle feeder. I've never had the huge numbers that most people tend to get, but I suspect that may change as a neighbor who also offered thistle has sold their house and moved away. No more competition!

A bird I would really like to get at my feeders is the baltimore oriole. I hear them in the neighborhood singing invisibly from the treetops - how can a bright orange bird be invisible? - but my offerings of halved oranges or grape jelly have been ignored by everyone but the ants and the squirrels.

Is there any common bird that you'd like to see at your feeders, that you can't seem to attract the eye of? Mostly I'm amazed with the feeder birds I see on other's blogs - especially
Jayne's - and wonder what you all do to attract such beauties that I'm not doing. Do tell!

Monday, June 02, 2008

From the circle of time into the circle of love

Missy 6/2001 - 6/2/2008

Pass to thy Rendezvous of Light,
Pangless except for us--
Who slowly ford the Mystery
Which thou hast leaped across!

-Emily Dickinson

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A cleansing post ;-)

Hey! Need something scrubbed?

I got a new pool to wet stuff in... where's the soap?

I'll scrub away your sad face if only you'll play with me...

that, or I'll just eat the handle off this nice brush of yours!