Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nature Notes: Let the Games Begin

I knew it was too good to last.

A squirrel finally found the feeder. And what a squirrel. He sucks up seed faster than a Hoover upright and he is fearless.

He ignored my window pounding, arm waiving, hooting and hollering. It kept munching when I opened the door. He did not run when I approached the feeder to within six feet of him. That's about as close as I want to be to a critter that can crack hickory nuts with its teeth.

I retreated to the garage and armed myself with the pool strainer. It actually took a physical poke to the backside to dislodge the little pest from the deck railing, and he was back before I had finished stomping the snow off my shoes.

There was nothing for it but to move the feeder to a less convenient location, where at least his thievery is entertaining.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun

Hey, we made it! Somehow, all the holiday stuff got done AND the days are getting longer! Seed catalogs have replaced Christmas sale fliers in the mailbox, and just knowing that spring is on the way is enough to lift the spirits.

There's something about this point in the year, when the dark days are done, that rejuvenates me. Everything comes clear again and anything seems possible.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

From our house to yours: Happy holiday!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let It Snow

Mmmmmm. Friday. My day off, happiest day of the week. So I'm sitting here, NOT going out in the snow, NOT slipping and sliding my way to work, and NOT scraping ice off my windshield at midnight. (I work the last shift.)

NPR's Science Friday is on, a program I always enjoy. Today there is a segment on how to grow your own snowflake. Interesting, but not exactly useful, as we have plenty of 'em.

The snow stopped today and the sun is out, but ice is on the way for the weekend. Ice is so much worse.

It takes a while to recall how to drive in all this; how to steer out of it when you slide sideways, how to take a hill fast enough to avoid losing momentum but slow enough to avoid skidding off the road into a snowbank, what to do when you go sailing into an intersection on a red light because you just can't stop. But hey, what's a day without a little adrenalin?

So anyway, I'm doing as much Christmas shopping online as I can. It's amazing we can browse web pages, type in a credit card number now and then, and just sit back and wait for delivery. Technology is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snowy With a Chance of Horses

The neighbor's horses came strolling up the driveway this morning. They do that from time to time.

One of them, aptly named Houdini, is adept at undoing latches and opening gates, and he lets everyone else out while he's at it.

Knowing it would make his morning, I called down to The Hubby: "There are horses in the back yard, in case you're interested."

I could hear him scrambling into his Carharts. "Wanna help me round 'em up?"

Having just rolled out of bed and being still in my jammies, I declined. "No thanks. You go right ahead."

He really loves trying to catch the horses. Mind you, he's never actually brought in the herd, but he does get an A for effort.

This time, he set off at a jog around the far side of the pasture to head them off before they got to the woods. He succeeded in turning them around, and got hold of the one horse with a halter. Unfortunately, it was not the alpha horse and the others were undecided about whether to follow him home.

Things were going pretty well, though, until a deer hunter nearby fired a gunshot. With that, the horses were off and running. All The Hubby could do was to hike down to the neighbors and tell 'em that "They went thataway."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nature Notes: A Few Feathered Friends

Quick Get-Away

Have the birds at your feeders changed with the season? Mine have.

All summer, a pair of cardinals arrived every morning and landed as soon as I stepped far enough away. They obviously watched and waited for me, no doubt cursing my tendency to sleep in. Haven't seen them in weeks now, though I saw cardinals in the woods all last winter.

The daily traffic was mostly goldfinches, various native sparrows, and mourning doves. There are a few goldfinches still, but they are wearing their drab winter colors. House finches are still here, too.

The summer crowd has been replaced by juncos and chickadees, with a tufted titmouse or two jostling them aside. I love that the chickadees are so dainty and tame. They dart in and grab one seed while I'm sitting only a few feet away, and dart away again. The juncos travel in flocks, and they remind me of little chickens in tuxedos as they peck at fallen seed on the deck.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are new arrivals. The red-bellied woodpecker above is a daily visitor now, and just today a hairy woodpecker stopped by too. The red-bellied ones use their tails for stability while they feed, something I hadn't seen before. There are pileated peckers in the south woods, but they haven't ventured near the house yet.

Though they are beautiful, I'm not all that happy about woodpeckers because they're hell on the trees. You wouldn't believe the size of the holes they make.

Bluebird Hunting

For the last couple of weeks I had three eastern bluebirds swooping in daily to the birdbath around 10:00 AM. Oddly, they showed no interest in it when the weather was hot. I managed to grab my camera and snap a few shots the last time I saw them, and the pics might have been keepers had I not left the setting on monochrome.

White-Crowned Sparrow

The only sparrow I'm seeing now is my favorite, the white-crowned, and that one not often. I actually like sparrows as long as they're not the non-native English sparrows, which kill bluebirds.

Flocks of migrating starlings, literally a thousand strong, often alight in the woods or even on the lawn. It's loud, and it's amazing in an Alfred Hitchcock sort of way. Thankfully, they have never noticed the feeder.

I'm including a few recent photos, just to spice up the page. That tack-sharp thing still eludes me. Part of the problem is that, except for the chickadees, I have to shoot from an upstairs window that is much too far away from the edge of the deck for my modest little lens. The other issue is that I still haven't found quite the right combination of shutter speed/ISO/and picture and focus modes. I'm working on it.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nature Notes: Seasons Change

Seasons Change

What a difference a day makes. The shot above was early yesterday, with just the tops of the trees catching the light. I did not expect the snow, so these first flakes came as a delightful surprise.

Winter Dawn

By this morning, the bronze and gold shades had turned to silver, the treetops tipped in copper by the dawn.

People at the supermarket were either shaking their heads in dismay or cheerfully humming Christmas carols. Me, I have that Sleigh Ride song stuck in my head.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

About That Camera...


The last time I posted here, I had stumbled head first into the "gray market" rabbit hole, where some things are not what they seem.

I was freaking out because my new Canon Rebel T2i came without warranty cards in the box and Canon was telling me scary things about that. The company I bought if from, Central Digital, insisted I had nothing to worry about and wanted a ton of money plus my firstborn grandchild to return the kit.

This is where you, dear friends, came in. Your unanimous advice was to return the camera and run. So I packed it all up - luckily, I still had all the packaging and had not even tried to take a photo with it yet - and intended to send it off the next day.

Then The Hubby got involved. Ever the white knight, he saddled up and went to war with both Canon and Central. Under duress, Canon admitted that they would honor the manufacturer warranty wherever the camera was purchased, provided we had the receipt and registered the product. The serial numbers on the box matched the camera and lens, and everything that was supposed to be in the box was there. Central sent an extended warranty package for free (which may or may not be worth anything, but who knows). I was able to register the camera online at Canon, and it appears to be the US version.

So bottom line: I kept it. And it seems to be OK. As for the warranty, I guess we'll see. What with all the drama, I just haven't felt like using it until now and I still haven't much of a clue about how to use it.

When I ordered it, I had visions of tack-sharp telephoto action shots of birds and deer, and glorious fall landscapes. I have yet to take a bird shot that's even in focus, let alone tack sharp, though I have tried every combination of settings and focus options in the book. And the colors are odd on the landscapes.

However, the photo above is a severe crop from a shot taken with the telephoto in a dim hallway, using full auto everything and flash. It came out pretty well, I think, so I suspect the issue is with me and not the machine.

Thanks so much for all your comments in the previous post about this. I did take it to heart, and I do appreciate your taking the time to help.

P.S. - The Mother/Son road trip was awesome. Would have been better if I'd had a camera for all the fall scenery, but still a great time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Little Advice, Please?

I was hoping to try out my new camera today for Nature Notes, but it just wasn't to be. It arrived yesterday from an online camera company that looked OK to me and had the best price. But it came with no logos or return address on the box, no invoice or shipping inclusions, and - scariest of all - no warranty cards in the box. (P.S. That is, the shipping box was bare. The actual kit box and its contents look new, complete, and legit, but the warranty cards for the camera and lens are missing.)

Canon is telling me that the company may be a reseller or the camera was intended for foreign markets, in which case it has no warranty. And the accessories may not be Canon, in which case they could damage the camera.

The company insists Canon is giving me wrong information, and the camera is for US Markets, and the manufacturer warranty would be honored. My instinct here is to trust Canon, but there is a 15% restocking fee to return the thing. That's $120 plus certified shipping.

I spent hours on the phone this morning going back and forth between them. I'm taking a break at the moment to back off it and think.

What would you do?


After today I'll be AWOL until next week. I'm heading up to Ogdensburg, New York for a nephew's wedding. Everyone else has commitments, so it will be just my older son and I. Driving. From Indiana.

It's going to be an exhausting weekend, but I'm actually looking forward to spending the time with him. Once kids grow up, even having them stop by for a few hours is a big treat.

Funny how suddenly that seems to happen. For years your whole life revolves around them and their needs and schedules. And then, one day, it doesn't. They're off having lives of their own, and you're left trying to lure them over with promises of pot roast.

So yeah. Mother and Son Road Trip. Cool.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The Pond in Early October 2009


It is so quiet here today that I can hear the beat of my own heart.

There are no birds, not even at the feeder. The last hummingbird has gone. No one is mowing, no planes fly overhead. The pool pump has been silenced, shrouded in plastic for the winter. No breeze rustles in the leaves or tugs at the canvas of the gazebo. The leaves have begun to turn, and some are already showering down.

Thoughts take a melancholy turn in autumn. Bittersweet, with joy in the glorious colors and cool days, soft sweaters, hot tea ... and sadness in the certainty that all things must end.

We have lived here two years now, and two things are clear: We never want to leave. And one day we will.

Maintaining a house in the country involves a great deal of physical strength and handyman skills, things my dear husband possesses in abundance - for now. It also involves a lot of unforeseen expenses, which we can manage - for now. But time is a thief, and the day will come when we cannot stay.

This is the way of all things, a time to sow and a time to reap, to live and to die. There is nothing to be done but to cultivate the grace to accept it. I have had a charmed and sheltered life, and in the autumn of my days I have been granted the great gift of living in a place where there is silence sometimes and a forest of my own blazing gold and red; a place filled with wild creatures and moonlight, ringing with the laughter of family, lit from within by the love of a faithful and loving mate.

It is quiet here today. So quiet I can hear my own heart. It is storing up memories against the winter to come. And it is singing.

Click here to see more Nature Notes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I Heart 'Maters

There's a red river running through my kitchen these days. The Hubby likes cherry tomatoes, so he planted three varieties plus the Big Boys, and they've all fruited their little hearts out this year. The ones in the photo are romas, very meaty, mid-sized ones that will make great sauce.

Every few days I parboil, peel, and freeze them. I squeeze the fruit and strain the juice, and I save that too. It's easy but time consuming, and it involves a lot of pots. I'll be glad when we're done, but I'm sure I'll relish the taste of summer tomatoes in our winter soups and sauces.

The corn didn't do as well. We only got a few dozen ears. The peppers are finally ready, but again, we didn't get very many. And the "haricot" bush beans were a bust; delicious, but did not produce for long at all. Last year we had green beans all summer.

The cantaloupes, on the other hand, are completely out of control. We have packed them off with departing house guests, shipped them to relatives, and dropped them off at the neighbors, and we still have six in the fridge on any given day. They are amazingly sweet and juicy ones, but really. How many can anyone eat?

We've been very lucky, not needing to use any chemicals or pesticides at all. The bugs get their share of nibbles, and mice have hollowed out the occasional melon, but what's left for us has been perfectly healthy and clean.

It's a lot of work, but nothing beats the taste of organic food that's made of sunlight, rain, and the good earth of your own back yard.

Monday, September 6, 2010

August at a Glance

Wow. I can't believe I missed the whole month. Thanks so much to everyone who sent emails inquiring as to my whereabouts and well-being. It means a lot to me to know you care. Let's just say there were some health issues. And house guests.

But September is a new and better month. For one thing, I'm getting a new camera!

I've been eyeing SLRs for a while now. My younger son enrolled in a digital photography class this semester at Ball State, and he thought the school was providing cameras. That has proven not to be the case, so my Canon G9 is on its way to him and I am shopping for a new toy for myself.

I've settled on the Cannon Rebel T2i, which I think will serve my needs well. Until I find it and a telephoto lens bundled at a price I like, I'll be depending on my archives for blog posts. (Could be worse. Pack rat that I am, it's a ridiculously huge collection.)

I did take some photos in August, though, that I wish I'd been up to sharing. Here are a few I thought you'd like:

Bambi and Thumper plotting a raid on the veggie patch.

Bambi and Thumper

The Turkey Tribe Elders relaxing under the pussy willow tree.

Turkey Tribe

A turkey chick exploring the bird feeder.

Teenage Turkey

And the sorriest looking hummingbird on the planet. (I think it's molting.)

Really Bad Hair Day

Hope your summer was a good one!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nature Notes: Close Encounters

Mantis on the Prowl

When you look at a mantis, it looks back.

I mean, it really looks back, as aware of you as you are of it. Its body moves slowly, if at all, but its head swivels to follow you, intent, focused, with a fluid motion that matches your own.

When I held out my hand to this one, it did not flinch. It looked repeatedly from my eyes to my hand and back up again, calmly assessing my intentions. I felt as if I were in the presence of a perfectly alien intelligence. And I tell you, it took my breath away.

I first noticed the mantis on the porch. I took progressively closer shots while it tried to ignore me. Eventually, the camera got close enough to be annoying, and the creature began to rock side to side - and to my surprise, to move toward me.

It actually reached out and gently grasped the extended lens with its arms, so I set the camera down in front of it. (Had they been in focus, these would have been fabulous shots.)

I thought maybe it saw itself reflected in the glass, but no. It climbed over the camera and kept coming toward me. At which point I began to wonder how big a bite it could take out of my face and gave it some space.

I was working in the area and I was afraid I might step on the mantis, so I held out my shovel to it. It immediately climbed aboard and stayed there, doing a "king of the world" pose at the tip while I walked it over to the pussy willow, where it climbed off as soon as a branch was within reach of its long, clawed arms.

There it stayed, posing for just a few more closeups, watching me divide the lilies, and doing its daily Tai Chi:

Tai Chi Mantis

And then it was gone. Vanished completely, back to wherever aliens go.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Real Humdinger

I'm back! MISSED YOU ALL!!!

We finally dumped Crappy Internet Nonprovider and signed up for Hughes Net. We're paying more, and they bolted an ugly dish to my roof, but we can at least connect.

And now that I'm here, I can't figure out where to start. To follow up on the dodder issue in the last post, it's worse than we hoped. New sprigs have shown up where the first tangle was found, and The Hubby ran into some new areas in the woods at the opposite end of the property. He's fighting the good fight, digging and burning and burning and digging, but it looks like the stuff is here to stay. What're ya gonna do.

On a happier note, I have finally found the perfect hummingbird feeder. It's called The Jewel Box. It attaches to a window - and mine stayed stuck through a hellacious storm that reduced my canvas gazebo to tatters. The part that actually mounts is an ant moat. the center is a removable lidded box, easy to clean and fill, that offers an unobstructed view. It looks like this:

I started feeding hummers with a four-sided, plastic, window-mounted affair with a clear container at the top that snapped into a red base. The base's seams leaked constantly. Afraid that glue would hurt the birds, I spent a lot of time dripping hot wax onto the thing, which sort of worked and mostly didn't.

Plan B was a clear round saucer with an inverted red saucer on top that hung from a hook on the deck. It never hung straight, so one side had no liquid and the other leaked all over. It couldn't be mounted on the window, either. All of which became moot when the raccoons discovered it and chewed off all the little yellow flower-shaped ports. After that, the wasps took it over.

Plan C: Little plastic tubes with screw-on red bases that could be hung in places raccoons couldn't reach. Turns out raccoons can reach those places after all. So could ants, which was really, really gross.

I gave up at that point until The Hubby presented me with the little test-tube affair in the photo below.

It's cute, in a Rube Goldberg way, but it only holds about two hours worth of syrup.

It came with a separate, twisted wire thingy that slipped onto the tube and served as a perch. The perch was quickly commandeered by a particularly aggressive little fellow that chased away all the other birds. (We dubbed him Arnold, AKA "The Humminator".)

Hubby then showed me the catalog where he got the test tube feeder and pointed out The Jewel Box. It's pricey, but it's worth it. It even comes in a sturdy, attractive box, which will be nice for winter storage.

Don't you just love stuff that works?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Attack of the Vampires

Picture this: You're strolling around a peaceful little pond. Suddenly, you encounter mutant yellow spaghetti.

It has no leaves. It has no roots. It does have lots of inquisitive little tendrils.


A quick web search reveals the name of the beast: This is dodder, also known by such names as devil's guts, devil's hair, strangle weed, and hell bind. It is a parasite. It is fascinating. And it is a nightmare.

Dodder flowers, and when the dodder seed sprouts it has about a week to find a host plant before it dies. If it finds one, it sinks its fangs into the victim and starts sucking its blood. Then it starts spreading, growing at the rate of about six inches a day. Unchecked, it forms dense mats over everything in sight.

Here's the fascinating part: Dodder can smell its prey.

Scientists gave it a choice of nearby wheat, which it doesn't like, and tomatoes, which it does. The dodder exhibited a disturbingly animal-like ability to zero in on its target and to propel itself toward the goal.

"It's probably one of the creepiest plants I know," says professor Colin Purrington of Swarthmore College.

Here's a time lapse of the critter in action:

Once dodder attaches to a plant, there's no getting rid of it. Pull it off and it grows back from the broken part remaining inside the host. Break up the vines, and the pieces become new plants. (Wish I had known about that before I started poking at it.) And if it goes to seed, all is lost.

So what's a pond owner to do?

Clearly, this means war. And with this bloodsucker, a stake through the heart is useless.

Web suggestions for fighting back include toxic chemicals, acid, and flame throwers. Chemicals and acid are out because civilian casualties would include frogs, birds, turtles, and dragonflies. And nobody seems to want to rent me a flame thrower. (I may now be on a Homeland Security watch list.)

Time to haul out my secret weapon: The Hubby. Once briefed on the mission, The Hubby pulled up his Wellies, armed himself with a shovel, and waded into battle. He uprooted every doomed plant that had fallen to the enemy, and there were a lot of them. He burned what would burn and packed the rest into garbage bags. Mission accomplished ... maybe.

We caught the infestation early, and that patch seems to have been the only affected area, but I'm sure it's still in there somewhere. So my duties now include The Daily Dodder Patrol. It seems the price of freedom will be eternal vigilance.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nature Notes: For the Beauty

Thought I'd do something a little different. Though it's been a long time since I attended a church made of bricks and boards, I often find myself quietly singing this old hymn in the cathedral of the woods. Do you know it?


For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight,
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Click here to see more Nature Notes.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nature Notes: Nosy Neighbor

Peeking In

Sometimes you go looking for nature and sometimes it comes looking for you.

I was just sitting here considering what to post about for Nature Notes, when this little dragonfly floated up and peered in through the window. I had no time to change the camera settings, so it's in black and white. But then, so was the dragonfly, so nothing lost. Doesn't she look like she's shading her eyes for a better look?

We did lose power with the storm Wednesday, which means no pump to bring water from the well. No AC or lights, either, but the water is the real issue. I washed in the sink yesterday morning, using water I scooped out of the swimming pool in a bucket. We flushed toilets the same way, using pool water. I really hate the way that above ground pool looks, but I'm suddenly not so inclined to take it down.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

There's been a lot of heavy weather this week in northeast Indiana, taking out power and Internet for a lot of us. The rain is more or less welcome, though we're getting pretty floody in places, but the wind and lightning are a pain. If I disappear for a while again, you'll know why.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme


The "herb garden" has been scaled back this year, planted in pots along the the edge of the deck. It's for the best, really.

Last year I tried growing them in the veggie patch but, time and energy being limited, I eventually had to hunt through the weeds to find them. Besides, The Hubby is attacking the weed situation with a little tiller this time around, and he seems to have a hard time telling friend from foe in the herb section.

The only thing that survived from last year was the sage, now safely potted up and removed from harm's way. I have added rosemary, mint, globe basil, thyme, parsley, dill and catnip. I'll be salvaging some chives from my son's yard, too.

I keep them trimmed back and dry the clippings I'm not using in the kitchen right away, and it's working out quite well. I haven't tried herbal teas for medicinal uses yet, but that's on the agenda.

I roasted a turkey breast a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be fun to add parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in the gravy - turkey a la Simon and Garfunkle. It was absolutely delicious! (I thicken with cornstarch, so it's really more of a sauce.)

Rosemary is my favorite for cooking. It's easy to find at the garden center or sometimes in the produce section at the grocery store. I've included a simple recipe below that we love.

If you haven't tried growing herbs yet, I highly recommend it.

* Nice link for cooking: Culinary Herb Guide

Herb Chicken

Rinse and dry split chicken breasts with the skin on, as many as you need. From the thick end of the breasts, gently separate the skin from the meat to form a pocket. (Do not loosen all the way to the edges of the skin.)

Into the pocket, insert a generous layer of strong garlic butter, a thin lemon slice, and a sprig or two of rosemary. Smoke, roast on the grill, or roast in the oven at 325 degrees for about an hour, until brown and done (Depends on the size of the pieces.)

If roasted in the oven, discard all but about 2-3 teaspoons of the fat. Thicken drippings with cornstarch and chicken broth, plus a spoonful of granulated chicken bouillon and another sprig of rosemary to make a gravy.

I serve this with wild rice, peas, spring-greens salad, and watermelon.


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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nature Notes: Carpe Diem

The Latin phrase carpe diem—usually expressed in English as “seize the day” although its literal translation is “pluck the day” or “pick the day” as in gathering flowers—originates in the Odes of Horace (Book 1, No. 11):

carpe diem quam minimum credula postero
Seize the day and put no trust in the future


Salvage Yard

See all these lovely flowers? The photo was taken May 20, and already they are all gone. Which leads me to the story of why they are here.

My mother loved irises. She had a collection, so many colors and shapes, early bloomers to late. The blue and white ones here are descendants of a clump she gave me over twenty years ago, which I dug up and moved with us from state to state. I will always think of her when they bloom.

The sweet-scented purple and lavender ones came with our previous house and were the only pretty things in the yard. I spent weeks in the spring defending them from tricycles, baseballs, and games of tag.

So I was dismayed when my son announced he was digging them all up, along with the rest of my old perennials.

"Don't you remember how beautiful they are every spring?" I said.
"Yes, but for how long?" he replied. "Most of the time they're just leaves."

And so we spent a day last fall salvaging the unwanted plants and tucking them into this temporary home, a weedy, vacant plot beside the front porch. The fact that they have already taken hold and are blooming is a testament to their tenacity.

How could a child of mine so completely miss the point?

The essence of life is change. A garden grows, flowers, dies - and grows again in the next wave of bloom, the next season. The joy of it happens in the space between the coming and the going, the the bittersweet pleasure of loving all that is destined to die.

Lilac Time

O Gather Me the Rose

- William Ernest Henley (1874)

O, gather me the rose, the rose,
While yet in flower we find it,
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
And winter waits behind it!

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
The deed forborne for ever,
The worm, regret, will canker on,
And time will turn him never.

So well it were to love, my love,
And cheat of any laughter
The death beneath us and above,
The dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
The sunshine and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the wish that goes,
The memories that follow!

Mom's Iris

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nature Notes: Little Bird and Big Trouble

When the hummingbirds returned this year, they announced themselves by hovering outside the kitchen window and peering in, looking for the feeder that hung there last summer. What a marvel that they find their way back from the far south, not just to Indiana but to this exact window.

I wasted no time putting up the feeder, and they have been buzzing in and darting away happily ever since - until one day, when I noticed this little guy.

He just sat there on the feeder, unmoving, feathers puffed up, breathing hard. It was chilly, but other hummers were flying. They perched on the other side of the feeder, sipped a bit, and lingered a few seconds to consider their sickly friend. Maybe keeping him company. He did not stir when I took a close look at him, returning my gaze without any sign of alarm.

Twenty minutes later, he was still there. He clearly needed help from somebody who knew what they were doing, so I started looking for a rehabber.

I tried the Audubon Society, the Humane Society, the zoo, the botanical garden; I called the numbers they gave me. Of the few who picked up, nobody took hummers. I searched the web for avian vets, and they told me they could not treat wild birds by law. I called the numbers they gave me, too, with no luck. Eleven calls and an hour later, the cavalry was still not coming.

At that point, with the hummer still panting away on the feeder, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I consulted the Internet for instructions: Hummingbird First Aid.

The news wasn't encouraging. According to the site, very few hummers survive any kind of trauma. You have about four hours to start treatment, 24 before it's too late. Plus, there are heavy duty laws against keeping one in captivity.

Undeterred, I rounded up a shoe box and a soft cloth and headed back downstairs to attempt a rescue. Per the website, a pouffy hummingbird is a cold hummingbird in need of being warmed under a light bulb. That much I could do.

Then I heard a thudding sound downstairs from the general vicinity of the kitchen window. And when I got there the little bird was gone.

Did some predator notice him there and snatch him? Did Gatsby Cat pounce at him through the glass and scare him away? I'll never know.

But the next day, a somewhat puffy male hummer came and went at the feeder. He did not fly away when I peered closely at him, and looked me in the eye, unafraid, as he drank.

Was it the same bird? I hope it was, and that he's made it through to another season.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And Here We Go...

Well, yesterday was the last day of training. Today, I'm on my own. I'll be moving soon from the training facility to a little gray box of my very own. It's been an intense three months, but I think I'm going to be alright.

The beginners all start on the night shift, 3pm to 11pm, when things are a bit slower. That means I never see The Hubbie. He's in bed before I get home, and he leaves long before I get up. I'll get Friday and Saturday off, and he's been getting only Sundays. We've begun communicating by quick phone calls and by leaving little letters for each other, which is surprisingly fun and sweet. It makes us feel like we're back in college, separated by summer break.

I really love having the morning and early afternoon free. I can putter in the garden, run errands, make appointments. I get to have a leisurely breakfast, with time to fresh-grind good coffee. Sometimes, I just sleep in. I feel like I have a life again, something beyond just work-dinner-bedtime every day.

There's always a little anxiety, though, because I'm constantly checking the clock to avoid being late: How much time do I have? How much do I have now? And I have to be careful not to wear myself out before I leave for work. But I'm sure I'll settle into a routine, in time.

Life is hard. But life is good.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nature Notes: Nightmare on Elm Street

Some creatures are scarier than others. This one, hanging from the garage ceiling, sent my younger son sprinting into the house the moment he laid eyes on it.

Fortunately, that four-inch long "stinger" isn't a stinger at all.

This is a Giant Ichneumon Wasp, megarhyssa atrata lineata, and that formidable-looking appendage is a highly dexterous tool for boring into wood and laying eggs.

How the ovipositor can bore into wood is still not well understood, but in some species they actually have metal tips.

This parasitic wasp lays eggs inside the caterpillars of wood borers, primarily of horn tail wasps. The eggs hatch inside their hosts, feeding slowly from the inside out, killing the host only when they pupate.

The whole grisly process is said to have shaken Charles Darwin's faith in a benevolent Creator. You can pretty much see his point.

The adult ichneumon, on the other hand, doesn't eat at all. She's just a lean, mean, baby monster-making machine.

All in all, the wasp is considered a beneficial insect. Unless you're a caterpillar.

If you'd like to see one of these amazing creatures in action, here's a remarkable YouTube link for you. And for bigger, better still shots go here.

Click here to see more Nature Notes.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Nice Surprise

Look what landed on my feeder this morning: a rose-breasted grosbeak. I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid.

Actually, I may have been seeing the female and didn't know it. The photos I've turned up online show her as virtually indistinguishable from a sparrow, and I have lots of those.

The feeder has been a huge success. So much so that I had to move it off the front porch because of the mess. (See my bird list on the sidebar?)

I've been taking it in at night to keep the raccoons out of it, and filling it only halfway so that it's mostly empty by nightfall. I've has to shoo them away with a broom to get it sometimes.

And now Chuck the Woodchuck has gotten wind of the freebies. I ran him off the deck railing twice this morning, caught with his nose in the seeds. He retreats to the bottom of the steps, with just the top of his head and eyes showing, waiting for me to turn my back, and then sneaks slowly along the edge back toward the feeder. It's pretty funny, but annoying at the same time. I think my next step has to be a pole feeder with a baffle.