Wednesday, December 31, 2008


We've always done a funny thing in my family at midnight on New Year's Eve. Some people shoot off fireworks; we go out on the stoop and bang pots!

Anyone else do that?

I wonder if it isn't a city thing that my parents brought with them when they moved down here to the shore. Growing up, I remember a few other families in the neighborhood that did it, but I've not met anyone since that looks for the biggest pot and the klankiest utensil as midnight approaches.


I think if I were to do it in the neighborhood where I live now, there'd be police at my doorstep within minutes. But if I get together with my brothers on New Year's Eve, there's sure to be pots.

And Brian playing the trumpet to add to the racket out there on the stoop.

Listening to him tonight, playing first Auld Lang Syne and then
Reveille, I felt that sense of melancholy that seems almost inevitable on this night; another year done. Reveille tends to turn that around pretty quick tho.


I wonder Kev... did Dad play his horn on New Year's Eve too, or am I imagining that memory?

Hope it was a happy and safe night for all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The kissing wolves

How quickly a kiss can turn...

into something not so sweet.


There was surprisingly little outward agression within the packs, but like any happy family, each member knows their place. Mostly they seemed to communicate with their bodies; their posture, their eyes, the subtle showing of teeth.

Sort of like any of us before coffee in the morning.

I've read that this *kissing* among wolves is a left-over submissive behavior, a relic of their puppy days begging to be fed. A behavior that we witness in our couch-potato dogs, still. These two were siblings, if I remember correctly, and both seemed to relish the mouth to mouth contact.

Monday, December 29, 2008

4, 5

I wish that I could report better than minor progress at #4 and 5 on this list, but the fact is that I'm just manipulating my own silly rules.

So while I don't recall buying any new books lately, there were a couple Christmas gifts.

And I've been making liberal use of the local library.

Gone are the days when I could immerse myself in one book at a time. I'm not sure why, but I can't seem to find the time to concentrate fully enough. So I've been reading light or hopscotching from book to book, mixing up plots and characters. Adds to the fun, maybe.

In the last couple days I finished:

Letters to Sam: A Grandfather's Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life by Daniel Gottlieb
Gift of the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Living on the Edge of the World: NJ Writers Take on the Garden State

I'm partway through these:

Twelve Moons of the Year by Hal Borland
A Book of Days by Hal Borland
Seasons by Hal Borland
The Gate House by Nelson DeMille
Stiff by Mary Roach
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Duma Key by Stephen King
Plant Seed, Pull Weed: Nurturing the Garden of Your Life by Geri Larkin
Doodles and Daydreams: Your Passport for Becoming an Escape Artist by Bill Zimmerman - a Christmas gift to myself!
The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks - another Christmas gift to me!
The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser - I've been reading this one since early June, I think, trying to make the fun last.

I won't mention the books that remain untouched on the *to be read* pile. But it is getting smaller - honest!

So... what have you read lately that's any good? Want to add to one of my lists?


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hummingbird plants

With each new seed catalog in the mailbox my dreams get grander and less likely to ever happen.

I love pouring over the new varieties and planning where each might fit in my garden, but actually choosing anything new over my old favorites seems an impossibility. Mostly I plant for butterflies and hummingbirds and think everyone needs to lure them into our gardens for the simple pleasure and laughter they can bring.

Hummingbirds love bell-shaped flowers and will zoom and hover from one to the next to the delight of anyone who stops long enough to notice.

My short list of easy-to grow plants for hummers includes:

Agastache - not bell-shaped, but hummers seek it out together with all manner of bees and insects.

Bee-balm - again not bell-shaped, but it smells great and a red variety has rooted itself along the border of my little pond and is a hummer magnet.

Crocosmia - only half-hardy for me, but a stunner.

Salvia - A personal favorite of mine that the hummers also seem to love in any color.

I can't remember the name of the plant in this photo - maybe scarlet cypress vine? For years my MIL started the seeds for me and I grew it along the fence that surrounds our pond. Now it grows from any little nook and cranny. This summer it sprouted from between a couple pavers in the driveway and twined its way up the gutters of the house! Beautiful, but it blooms way too late for the hummers to enjoy before they migrate. Anyone else have that issue with this plant?

Any other good hummingbird plants you've had success with?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A chorus

It began low and melodious, a sorrowful song carried on the wind from somewhere out of sight. Whatever signal started it was lost to me, though I'd been hoping I'd be lucky enough to hear a sing-along among the wolves while I was there visiting.

I first remember hearing a raven cronking overhead and laughing in delight at the novelty of that sound as I stood among a group of wolves. There are places where that occurs naturally, but NJ isn't one of those places. Quickly the sorrowful sound of one wolf became a haunting and surreal song, something like being inside a fire horn or a train whistle, as the urge to join the chorus traveled from one wolf to the
next. The sound surrounded me and gave me goosebumps!

This particular wolf, Black Star was his name, I think, was the most wolfish-looking of them all - always very wild and fierce - except when he began to howl, then he looked comical as he contorted his mouth to suit his trademark song. His voice was the loudest and most dissonant... his song rising and falling as part of the symphony.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

So this is Christmas

Wow. I'm pooped.

Last year I remember being exhausted with having two days worth of relatives here at home...

This year it was the running from one house to the next that has me beat...

It was a fun day that started with our tradition (lately) of breakfast with my brothers. We started this a couple years ago so that we could spend some time together and still be able to meet other family obligations (in-laws) without being away from home for the whole day. It works pretty well, as we rotate houses each year and no one gets stuck with the chore of fixing breakfast year after year. This year it was
TheReluctantChickenFarmer's turn (my brother Kevin) and as is typical of most everything in our family, we got started about two hours behind schedule.

First we had to all play with the kid's new toys from Santa... here's Kev boxing with his daughter's new Wii game. What fun!

Then, the little boys (my 48 and 46 year old brothers!) had to play with the train set under the tree...


Kevin borrowed our upside-down tree this year to see how they liked it - my madness is spreading!

I finally got the kids to settle down and pose for a pic with me. This is Kev's daughter Elyse on the left and Bri's daughter Julia on the right. (Freckles run rampant in our family.)

Eventually, we sat down to breakfast around 1 o'clock. There were crepes and pancakes and spiked eggnog and lots of good stories and laughter.

All that eggnog made the girls really, really silly...


We were late for dinner with the in-laws by about 2 hours... just in time for dessert, in other words. Sometimes I worry that everyone knows I do that on purpose.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The quiet before

I love the stillness that finally comes on Christmas Eve and I'm up way past midnight enjoying the quiet of my living room lit only by the tree and the soft sounds the bunnies make in the dark as they nibble hay in the next room.

I had to work today for the first time in many years and wasn't very happy about it, really. Christmas Eve feels to me like the most solemn of days, yet I think being at work today let me see how the people I work with and the agency I work for can really shine in the lives of people in need. All week there's been bundles of donated clothes and toys hauled out to god-knows-where and the quiet phone calls we social workers sometimes make to appeal directlty to charities on behalf of the families we work with so there'll be toys or breakfast or heat on Christmas morning.

I was off early enough to enjoy some last-minute shopping, final touches to the tree - these sweet, glittery fabric butterflies that are wired to the branches - and the chance to visit with a couple friends and neighbors in the midst of their own Christmas Eve craziness.

The quiet now is complete until morning when another sort of craziness starts. I anticipate that, not nearly as much as I did when I was a child, but I still do. The stillness now is wonderful, though. I hope you find a moment of it yourself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The larger darkness of night

I want to be enchanted by the season, by its dreams and starry ideas, by the quiet solitude of snowfall.

The things that fill the larger darkness of night, the things we so deliberately weave into our days in this season of diminished light...

What are your rituals, like the coming together with family, that let you treasure this season? Not the glitter, not the wrapping paper, but the true meaning beneath the things we do for the sake of vanity?

Maybe it's the occasion to extend a hand to someone who's been without or...


I'm so lost in the glitter and the busyness that I hardly have time to hope for more.

Oh! Heather from Pa. sent me something I'm to pass along to other members of the flock. Probably I'll send it to
Susan first, for her to send on to the flocker of her choice. So be looking for something. Thanks, Heather!

Monday, December 22, 2008

One sweet shot

The Lakota Wolf Preserve offers twice daily "wolf watches" for groups to observe the four packs that reside there. I avoided that whole song and dance routine and instead had a private photography session, where for a fee, you get to go inside the fenced-in walkways that surround each enclosure to take photos. There are chest height portals in the fencing that can be opened to allow photos unobstructed by the fencing.


I really had no idea what to expect from the whole experience and was a bit intimidated by the thought of passing myself off as a *serious* photographer.


So long as you're willing to pay for that distinction, well... I guess someone's obligated to believe it at least.

So... I went with it and brought extra flash cards and extra batteries and every lens I own. Turns out I didn't need any of it and used only my regular 28-200 mm lens. Most often the wolves were too close and I had to mind the sleeves of my coat pushed up against those openings in the fence. The wolves are acclimated to people to a degree and are happy to mug for dog biscuits tossed over the fencing for the benefit of paying photographers. They're also not beyond nudging the wayward elbows of said photographers.


I took so many pics in that two hours, hunched in an uncomfortable position in the freezing cold, that I had cramps in my back and right arm and fingers. From a photography standpoint, I would have preferred some variation in the height of the fence portals, mainly some lower ones because I like to shoot up at animals, for whatever reason, rather than shooting down. I don't guess that's really practical considering that the wolves didn't hesitate to reach up to the openings and a person might lose a pantleg were they any lower.

The snowy background was a dream, but again I think a visit in fall might be nice for a better variety of shots. The guide did his best to keep each pack active and close enough for nice shots, but I found my attention, as is typical, wandering. Most often it was to that pack in the next enclosure that wasn't performing for us and instead doing what wolves in captivity do, I guess. Laying about napping, chasing one another in play, arguing over who gets to sit on the highest rock.

I had to remind myself a number of times to stop just watching and take pics, darn it! It was so neat to see interactions that look so everyday and familiar to me as a dog owner and frequenter of dog parks.

Any idea that wolves are just like dogs, but in thicker coats, was dispelled pretty quickly. There's something very *other* about them, even these captive ones, none of whom have probably ever lived in the wild. Physically, there's the obvious differences... the thin long snout, the heavily furred ears, the superlong front legs, their loping gait and funny posture. Mostly though, it's something in their eyes, I think, should the weight of their gaze ever fall on you. It feels nothing like that sweet puppy curled beside you on the couch.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The paparazzi bore me

Wolves yawn and get sleepy at midday, did you know that?

And they curl up on the snow with their noses tucked into their tails just like their domestic cousins do on your couch.

Can you imagine that?

Ever wonder what it feels like to hear a couple dozen of them sing an impromptu concert in response to a raven cronking overhead?

Really, really cool and goose-bump inspiring, actually.

I got to spend a couple hours this afternoon at the
Lakota Wolf Preserve taking pics and freezing my butt off in the snow.

Oh! You know those little hand-warmer packets they sell? They're worth it and feel really really good inside your shoes.


More tomorrow.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lukamoose and favorite Xmas songs

Yes, he's a ham for the camera!

Can you imagine the torture I'd inflict on a child?

He's not knocked down the tree or lifted his leg on it. Yet. Stealing ornaments is another matter altogether.


I'm playing along with a holiday meme I saw over at
Liza's and elsewhere to list 10 favorite Christmas songs. My favorites are mostly traditional carols...

1. O Holy Night - this is my absolute favorite carol, I think.

Please Come Home for Christmas by the Eagles

3. Carol of the Bells

4. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby

Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg - I won't admit to liking anything else by him, but this one makes me cry every single time I hear it.

Earth Abides by Philip Aaberg - a nicely quiet piano piece

Fairytale of NY by The Pogues - not one you'd ever hear on the radio, but an old favorite I was reminded of by reading other responses to this meme. Be warned... The Pogues are something of an acquired taste!

8. Silent Night - this one is all about the setting... I love hearing it on Christmas Eve, at midnight, holding a small candle in front of me at church with hot wax dripping onto my fingers.

9. Wexford Carol

Peace by Norah Jones

Why not share a few of your favorites?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sparkle and shine

One of my favorite ways to avoid actually shopping at Christmastime is to wander around stores, pretending to be shopping, but instead just enjoying the sparkly displays.

Most are way too over the top and garish for me to do anything but gape in a sort of childlike wonder. Bubble lights! Penguins! Glittery stuff! Fake snow!

My tastes for home are much simpler, but by God I've got tons of decorations! Each year a different bunch of boxes is hauled down from the attic and I feel as if I've never seen most of it before because it's been so many years since I last used whatever is in that particular box.

I have a particular weakness for glass ornaments and try very hard to avert my eyes and avoid displays like this one! A store around the corner from me has a wall solid with nothing but glass tree ornaments in every conceivable shape and size... animals, lighthouses, flowers, birds, insects...

I only looked long enough to find a sweet little shorebird; a group that is poorly represtented among the bird ornaments on my tree. That was my excuse for buying it at least.


Today wasn't entirely wasted on ogling; I did manage to buy a few gifts. Not many, but it's a start at least.

How many shopping days left?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On being productive

Some of my clients make it really difficult to be compassionate, but I try to remind myself that I may be the one person they can expect it from with any sort of consistency.

My coworkers would likely say that it isn't necessarily in my job description and that oftentimes, compassion makes my job more difficult than it need be and our stated goal of self-sufficiency for our clients less likely.

I guess, maybe, they believe that being nice gets in the way of helping people.

My idea is that helping takes many forms... some social workers do it best by being curt and all-business and never showing a bit of their own humanity with clients. That doesn't work so well for me, as I'm not such a good pretender.

Anyway... I often feel as if I spend an inordinate amount of my workday talking to people.

Okay... that's probably an outright lie.


My internal editor stops me, sometimes, to remind me that there are a few people who read this blog who actually know me and who'll recognize a lie that I try to pass along to all of you invisible internet friends.


I spend a lot of time listening to people. I don't generally have the chance to say very much at all. Clients like to yell at me a lot. I don't so much like that; in fact it makes me really uncomfortable and trembly with pent-up smart aleck responses to their hostility. But still I try to really listen to them. Listen to whatever it is that is at the root of their anger or their hurt or their fear. They're not upset with me, usually, directly, but instead it's their way of venting with someone who they imagine can change things for them, help them, maybe make things better.

It's my job, somedays, just to let them yell.

They're not all like this, thank heavens. Some clients are just looking for reassurance, or support, or someone to share their hard-won victories with. I listen to those clients, too, and celebrate with them.

This really isn't productive though, right? It does nothing to reduce the piles of paper that always threaten to engulf me. There's no visible product to present to my boss at the end of the day.

I guess for me a productive day looks much the same as any other. I wake up happy and I accomplish something, hopefully. But I can't ever feel really satisfied unless there's a sense that I've contributed in some small way to someone else's welfare. I feel most grateful when given the opportunity to share a moment with someone - to listen in a way someone hasn't been listened to before or to tell a story that gets someone thinking differently. Then I feel productive and as if the day's been worth living.

That moment came for me today, after being screamed at by various others, from a client with mental health issues. He's taken to calling me every couple days to check in and usually I just "yes" my way through any conversation with him in order to get back to the important paperwork in front of me. Today, though, I stopped to really listen and to appreciate the blessing of a client who wanted nothing from me, had no complaint or pressing need, but instead just wanted to say hello and to tell me about his day.

I think we all need help at one time or another and need to be able to depend on compassion from others, be it frazzled social workers or strangers, even. Compassion feels good, helps us, and makes the world a nicer place, somehow.

Even when it gives me a headache and makes me want to put my head in the oven.


These pics, from a less *productive* moment during my day in the field yesterday; from in and around the delapidated casino on the boardwalk at Asbury Park.

Picture-taking is another productive thing I do for myself most days; a chance to see and feel without much thought or concern for the end product.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December views

There's no stories today, no new birds or epiphanies; just this slightly snowy scene from the garden center down the street.

I was at the beach in short-sleeves just yesterday!

The snow didn't stick, as I imagine the cold won't. It doesn't seem to get and stay cold until February anymore. Weird.

I'm thinking of giving everyone I love flowers for Christmas this year. You know those impossibly beautiful things that just exude sunshine and happy thoughts? The ones that I always appreciate so much but then forget to take care of?


Monday, December 15, 2008

Keeping Christmas

Just passing this along today:

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas Day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing...

To forget what you have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for you;

To ignore what the world owes you and to think what you owe the world;

To put your rights in the background, your duties in the middle distance and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

To see that men and women are just as real as you are and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

To own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;

To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing...

To stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;

To remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;

To stop asking how much your friends love you and ask yourself whether you love them enough;

To bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;

To try to understand what your loved ones really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

To trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;

To make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open.

Are you willing...

To believe that love is the strongest thing in the world;
stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death;

And that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone.

--Henry Van Dyke

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Days like this

A great horned owl is demanding answers outside my window and the stars lean close enough to touch; everything says dark December, but my heart. There the sun is warm and the skies are blue. There might even be happy swallows chattering somewhere off in the distance.


Was your weekend anywhere near as nice as mine?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

North shore ducks

We did a mini-tour of the coastal ponds of the northern part of my county today for ducks. All the usuals were around, but they seem to have changed ponds since last week. It's funny how the pond that last week held so many wigeon and coot, this week had mostly hoodies. I still haven't found any canvasbacks or redheads - maybe it's still too early or I'm not looking in the best spots.

I'm sharing just this one pic... wigeon are a favorite, mostly for their silly little call.

Tomorrow I hope to find some salt water ducks - mergansers and bufflehead and long-tailed ducks. Maybe that snowy owl finally, too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Portrait day

Somebody had too much time on their hands today (me!) and well, you know how it is with animals...

Half the fun of pets is the chance to dress them up funny and embarrass them. Luka is pretty good at this all by himself and doesn't need the little Santa hat to be a goof...

The wheekers were the most cooperative of the lot which is strange considering I hardly ever handle them. There's something odd about the texture of their fur that gives me the willies...

I know you hardly ever see their photos here, but Xmas is a special occasion, I guess. Note how suspiciously they're looking at me...

Freckles was just plain pissed off. Silly rabbit! She figures she's old enough and shouldn't have to put up with my foolishness any longer. If looks could kill...

Sunshine wasn't very happy either. What's with these rabbits? Where's the Xmas cheer?

Boomer wouldn't even look at me... poor embarrassed bunny.

Peeper the ferocious tried to disappear into the carpet. She's bitten me for much lesser offenses than a red hat.

I'm not sure there's any winners here... anyone have a favorite?


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another meme

Stolen from Lynne. Things I've done are in bold.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain (actually hiked up a mountain)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang/played a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Made a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Gotten a speeding ticket

Can anyone say sheltered?


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Geese police

Most of the coastal ponds I visit for ducks are in the middle of residential neighborhoods... prime neighborhoods within sight of the ocean. I always get a laugh at the canada geese, brant, and coot feeding on those perfectly manicured lawns that sit opposite the most productive ponds. Boy it must really piss those people off to have all that goose crap on their grass and sidewalks!

There's a price to pay for that nice water view, I guess.

Nevermind the birders wandering around all the time.

Last week I watched this guy from one these houses patrolling his yard with a stick. Back and forth he walked, waving his big stick along the sidewalk, to keep the geese away.

And I think I have too much time on my hands...

This bit of drivel, btw, is my 1000th post. Hm. Think maybe it's time for me to finally shut up?


Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Sometimes it feels as if the entire space he carved out in the world has simply closed over.

A coworker the other day noticed the faraway look in my eyes and asked what I was thinking about. "I'm trying to find something in my mind," I told her. I have this penchant for losing track of stuff and then becoming obsessed with finding whatever it is. Often this necessitates tearing the house or my desk apart.

A couple weeks ago the search was for a handwritten note from my dad; one he'd written years ago to accompany the return of some money I'd loaned him. It wasn't some thank-you note, mind you, but instead a sort of brief family history. The theme of that history was money, specifically loaned money, and detailed my father's firmly held belief that what goes around, in terms of generosity, comes around.

Anyway... the deta
ils of the note and our family's financial history are probably too personal to share here, but suffice it to say that I really wanted to find that note and feel the connection to my dad that it represents. I don't have much else tangible to remember him with. When I first came across the note a couple years ago, I'd probably put it aside for safekeeping and now it's lost forever.


The other day at work I somehow started thinking about the small gold cross my dad gave me as a little girl. I'd worn it exclusively for years, on a necklace that had been my mom's. I have even fewer tangible thngs to remember her with, save that necklace and a pair of earrings and her wedding band. I'd been obsessively hunting for that necklace and cross the last couple days and wasn't able to put my hands on it. I found every other piece of jewerly I own, mind you, but not that simple cross my dad had given me so many years ago.

This put me in a bit of a funk, you know? Granted, my foul mood wasn't only about that, but oftentimes some seemingly inconsequential thing is the trigger for major crankiness.

The people closest to me must be used to this part of me by now, the part that hangs the *do not disturb* sign on the door and disappears from them without any warning. Those with more open hearts don't often understand the need of some to draw inward, in self-preservation, when life gets to be too much.

I've learned how to take my space when it presses in too closely, even when I can't physically wander away. Plenty of people don't understand that about me, don't understand the secret hiding places I can curl myself into, that you can't win anything by force with me, that there is no prying me out of my muteness.

I recognize it straight-away when I meet with this trait in others. Often it's a child, but there's plenty of people who've grown to adulthood processing the world in the same instinctual way I do, people who live everything from a place very deep inside. We recognize each other, somehow, and meet somewhere in the open between backing off and standing by. That's a sweet spot, I think. A place of acceptance. A place where the things we hold onto and the lengths we hold on is understood and trusted.

(Oh and I finally found
my necklace. All is right with the world again.)


Monday, December 08, 2008


I am watching the white gannets
blaze down into the water
with the power of blunt spears
and a stunning accuracy--
even though the sea is riled and boiling
and gray with fog
and the fish are nowhere to be seen,
they fall, they explode into the water
like white gloves,
then they vanish,
then they climb out again,
from the cliff of the wave,
like white flowers--

from Gannets by Mary Oliver

A glimpse over the sea wall at a huge group of gannets feeding close to shore brought me back onto the beach at Sea Bright yesterday. It was a good thing that my camera battery gave out from the cold, or I might've stood there watching long enough to turn into a popsicle stick.

Even the fishermen were complaining of the bitter wind!

Gannets are a treat to see and there's some mystery of weather I don't understand that brings them close to shore. Whatever it is, fishermen react to the same call of wind and tide or whatever and were out in numbers yesterday too.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Searching for a Snowy

No I didn't find the owl, but the searching is half the fun, see? Today was my volunteer day at Sandy Hook Bird Observatory and one benefit of sitting there by myself most days is that I get to take calls about good birds people are seeing in the area.

A park ranger showed up today to report a Snowy Owl! Now... I've seen Snowy Owls a couple times, and it was pretty cold and the wind was at gale-level on the bay almost, but I couldn't resist having a look for it. The directions I got were responsibly vague and there's a lot of dune edge to search through at Gunnison Beach.

I decided to walk north following what I assumed were the ranger's tire tracks in the sand. She hadn't found the owl on foot in the ridiculous cold today, but in her warm four-wheel drive truck. Pfft. Of course, this also meant walking into the biting wind that was blowing sand in my eyes and mouth.

Good birders have something like a search image in their minds when recognizing birds, right? With snowy owls it's pretty simple - big and whitish. The problem comes in when you're all excited and feverish with the hunt and your lips and fingers are numb with the cold and your eyes are full of sand from the wind... well, you start to see things.

Every bit of white in the dunes calls your attention and you imagine everything to be that Snowy Owl you're searching for. Of course you also want to be responsible and not get too close, but that only adds to the tricks that your eyes and mind play on you.

This particular white blob looked very promising and had me imagining my victorious phone call to a friend; I could even hear myself mumbling through numb lips, "I found it! I found it!"

Crawling closer on hands and knees, peeking over the top of the dune from a different angle revealed the truth... the rare and elusive white plastic jug owl. That as opposed to the usual white plastic bag owl that is most frequently mistaken for a snowy.

I did, however, find a little flock of Snow Buntings. I wonder what they find to eat in the sand? Someone reported a flock of 200-300 the day before yesterday. I know you're thinking they look like plain old sparrows, but trust me! I didn't imagine them, I don't think.

The return walk to my car had the wind at my back, finally, and this nice view of Sandy Hook Light. The shoreline has changed enough over the years that the lighthouse is at least a mile inland now.

Back on the bayside, the setting sun was putting on a nice show for my drive home, as was this line of gulls kiting in the wind over the breaking waves. Not sure what that was about. I hardly made it off Sandy Hook before I was sidetracked back onto the beach and into the cold again. I'll save those pics for another day when I've thawed out some.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Count the night herons

night herons
It was getting late and I'd been frustrated with all the pretty ducks on the far shore of the pond avoiding my camera when another birder casually mentioned a Eurasian Wigeon on the other side of the little island in front of me.

I made my may to the opposite shore and sorted through the wigeon - not finding the eurasian - and looked up to see a sleepy-eyed night heron stepping among the sleepy-eyed mallards at the edge of the island. Widening my glance I saw the above panorama which included at least fifteen others amid the tangles of bittersweet. Even more were deeper in the scrubby bushes! Most were immatures, but if you count the things that look like pale footballs with legs, you'll get the idea.

I stitched the pics together, but the file is too large for Blogger. The pic links to photobucket where maybe you can enlarge it. I wonder how many times I've driven past this daytime roost and missed these birds entirely.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Gratuitous green-winged teal

Such sweet little ducks, and like most of the really handsome, very shy. The group of teal took to wing almost as soon as I spotted them. As did the ring-necks at another pond. The mallards and their mottled kin, however, were anything but shy and mugged for the camera. I'll share those rare photos another day.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Are you my mother?

Who am I?

Why am I here?

Are you my mother?

Imagine my surprise to have found these little ducklings on a December morning... none of the adult ducks seemed ready to claim them and they were more than willing to follow me around peeping. They started my day of hunting the local ponds for ducks with lots of giggles. Aren't they sweet?