Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Once at the corral, we explored it, and climbed the weathered boards to see the land that rolled off behind it. Both times we've visited this spot before, mountain bluebirds have mysteriously appeared, as if to greet us. This time they were nowhere in sight. Bill immediately set off on a mission to find some for me, because mountain bluebirds go with the magic gate, and that's that. He is a most chivalrous birding companion. Marilyn and Mary--just a couple of cowgirls, looking for the blues.

The juniper-studded hillsides seemed to go on forever--huge in scale, their size only apparent when you went to hike them. Distant specks resolved into celestial blue, like little bits of sky fallen toward earth. A flock of perhaps 40 mountain bluebirds sifted across the junipers, pausing to hover and pluck the fleshy juniper cones. One bush had twenty or more birds in it, fluttering and hovering. They were too busy to come find us, so we found them. Is there a more beautiful bird than a male mountain bluebird?Perhaps a female?How perfectly they fit into the landscape of indigo mountains and weathered wood.

Wayne Peterson surveys the flock. He's dwarfed by the scale of this country. There's nowhere in Ohio that I can think of where I could get a picture of a person looking so tiny in the vastness.Where have all the cowboys gone? I know where there's one. Having found mountain bluebirds for me, Bill of the Birds turned to Wayne, who was trying to figure out how to silence the annoying sound effects that are inexplicably produced by his Olympus C-730. This was my first digital camera, and I hated the loud Zhrooom! it emitted on being turned on, and the Kschlopp! it makes when it takes a picture. There's no reason for a camera to announce itself that loudly. So, in the middle of all this natural beauty, and over Wayne's protests, Bill took the time to wrestle the camera's menu to the ground, the ludicrousness (and perfection) of the moment completely lost on him.I just laughed, because it was such a classic Bill Thompson thing to do. I think I've mentioned that this long, tall helpful cowboy is a mighty good papa, too.
On our way back to the house, we passed this billboard along NM 107.It sent my cowgirl dreams spinnning off into the ether. Just another thing you'd never see in Ohio. I don't know if I've been granted enough years on the planet to earn enough money to buy a piece of New Mexico, but I can still dream. A little boy should know in his bones what open spaces are.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

At the Old Corral

We traveled NM 107, a plume of dust behind us like a pheasant's tail. We were looking for The Gate, where Bill and I put our Polaroid on a tripod and took our picture in November, 1992, before we were married, before Phoebe and Liam, before almost anything had happened in our young lives. If anything, the pull of that old corral and gate and the mountains all around it is even stronger today, and I started crying quietly as soon as we left Evett's Cafe, in anticipation and joy and sheer rapture of being in this sacred spot once again.
Soon the primitive fenceposts we were looking for hove into view.
We made our way to The Gate, and Wayne kindly took our picture. Liam is trying to make me stop crying. He has a little trouble with happy tears. I guess most men do.
We also posed for a recreation of the original Polaroid, complete with bad color (my camera was set two stops too light).
And another with the family. Liam has wrapped himself all around us, bald baby-suddenly-turned-supermodel Phoebe is squeezing me, Bill's strong arms enfolding us all, the new Navajo bling he just got me is hanging from my neck... At this point I'm really losing it. Life is so good.
Bill found the bottlecap he put in the old post last year to mark the spot.
Phoebe and Liam against the light. Now this is their sacred spot, too. We've only been here once more than they have. I hope that when they're pushing 50, they'll come here and stick a bottlecap in the post, too.
Tomorrow early, we head for Pennsylvania for my Big Weekend. I'll probably be out of touch until Monday, but you can be sure I'll have pictures of the gala event. I'm so looking forward to it, and trying not to dither too much. I'm so happy to have my little nuclear family, and even my brother and sister-in-law coming to the show! Life is good!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Road to Magdalena

I can't think of another place on the planet that has the pull on my heart that Magdalena, New Mexico does. It's the perfect storm of landform, wildlife, vastness, beauty and memory, and it takes me apart. Saturday afternoon was to be the only time we'd have to sneak off from the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR to visit our sacred spot. This time, we took not only the kids but a few friends: Paul Baicich, Wayne Peterson, and Marilyn and Mary, who we met at the festival. It was different, but lots of fun to take other people along and share this magical place with them. Please note that I am showing a modicum of style, including full-length trousers.Since we'd been fieldtripping all morning, we'd need something to eat other than Clementines and Corn-nuts, a snack which I'm quite sure will cost me thousands in dental repair someday. We made our way straight to Magdalena, passing a sentinel cow along the way.
I wouldn't say that Evett's is going to make a Zagat rating any time soon, but we weren't picky, and, it being Saturday, we missed the Magdalena Cafe by 20 minutes. I hear it has a killer pecan pie. I love Evett's for the old bank it's in, its atmosphere and funky signage, as well as the clientele. Here's ornithologist and conservationist Wayne Peterson with a Baxter Black lookalike. These cowboys had some serious cookie dusters, the Yosemite Sam look. Check out the patina on that hat!
Paul Baicich is probably the nation's greatest proponent of the Federal Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp, more popularly known as the Duck Stamp. If every nature lover and bird watcher would just buy a $15 Duck Stamp every year, what wonders in habitat acquisition could be accomplished! Here, Paul tries to get a sanitary stamp for his collection. I love those relics from the 40's and 50's, when everything was touted as "sanitary" or "hygeinic." Bill and I did a bit of prosyletizing on the Duck Stamp's behalf, displaying ours prominently on our binoculars, and talking it up to other birdwatchers. An alarming number of them were completely unaware that people other than duck hunters could (or should) buy Duck Stamps, and what the $16 cost goes to (habitat acquisition). A Duck Stamp will get you in free to any national wildlife refuge in the country, and ours paid for themselves in one weekend. Paste one on your binoculars for the ultimate in cool birdwatcher bling. Then, all you have to do is wear your binocs to get into any national wildlife refuge, free of charge. You'd be wearing them anyway, right?

While we fooled around and waited for our tacos, Bill, Mary, the kids and I walked up the street to this shop. I had a fever for some turquoise, and we thought it would be fitting and cool if we could find some in Magdalena. The little Trading Post called to me, and I answered.
We found a necklace that will be just the thing to top off my Coldwater Creek outfit for my show opening in Pennsylvania the weekend of Nov. 29, and it was about half what it would have cost in Taos (but then, what isn't?) Sweet William bought it for me, and he got some hand-beaded earrings for Phoebe, too. Liam was satisfied with a stretchy snake from the gum machine. Little boys rock, and they're cheap to maintain, too.
A curious kitty watched us from a nearby porch. She'd have to wait to see my turquoise necklace, and you will, too. There are just too many images for one post. More Magdalena tomorrow!

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, November 26, 2007

Chet Baker Had a Baby

Chet Baker had a baby, a little stuffed Boston terrier I bought as a puppy placebo for the kids before Chet was weaned and ready to move to Ohio. He had it for several months, which is much, much longer, by months, days and minutes, than he usually keeps a toy. Give Baker a stuffed dog toy and you can count down the seconds before it is reduced to strewn Hollofil, extracted squeaker, and a limp gutless skin on the Berber rug.

But Chet's babeh was different, and it was a testament to his visual nature that he seemed to believe it was somehow real. He treated it like a puppy, sniffing its ears and endlessly licking its face and checking under its tail for any hint of scent that might confirm his belief in its realtude. Of course, the more he loved it the more real it smelled to him. It was his Velveteen Rabbit.

I didn't like to leave Baker alone with his babeh, because he would lick and lick and then nibble and then kind of chew...and I'd take it away and put it on a high shelf, where he'd stare at it for minutes on end, a worried expression on his sweet face. He managed to get one of its eyes out, and then about a week later he done blinded that babeh altogether. I still kept it away from him, even after that, because once the eyes are gone the stuffin' ain't far behind.

But we got distracted by packing for New Mexico, and Baker got ahold of his babeh, and in a few blinding seconds, an orgy of excess, he kilt it. An Otherness crept into his eyes. He done got crazy and kilt it, and he didn't seem to feel in the least bad about it, either. A switch got flipped in my sweet little doggeh and he turned into a babykiller.
You were the one who called it my babeh. It was just a toy, and it was delicious.
Hollofil ball. Gaaak!
Chet's baby, Chet's schmabeh. You cannot make me feel guilty. Boston terriers were born to kill stuffed toys.Having said that, it would be nice to have a real real babeh again...Sometimes I hate myself for the things I do. I am helpless to resist a torn seam. I did not tear that seam. It happened when I kissed his eyeball out. It is not my fault.Ohh, Mether. What have I done?
This is all your fault, for giving me a babeh in the first place. Now I am lonely and I bet you will not buy me another babeh, ever ever ever. You are so mean, and you chuckle at my pain, which is real.I will go to sleep now, my head pillowed on the corpse of what used to be my real real babeh, and dream about a new babeh with eyes and stuffing, waiting for me under the Christmas tree.

Phoebe points out that there is another babeh in the Land of Misfit Toys in our basement. Little Chet's sugarplum dreams may just come true.

Chet Baker will be accompanying us to my show opening at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Millersburg, PA, this coming weekend, Nov. 29-Dec. 1. We'll be at the Center all day Friday and Saturday, and Baker will, too. The 70 works of art will continue to hang at the center through mid-February, 2008.It's a full-blown Zick retrospective. Hope to see you there!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Smiles of Water Canyon

One of the magic birds of the West is the bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus. It's in its own family, the Aegithalidae, and is sort of allied with verdins and kinglets. I think all those micro-birdies were just kind of thrown together; bushtits aren't much like anything else. They travel in big flocks, zipping from tree to shrub to bush to tree, and they do everything together. They're incredibly difficult to get a good look at, much less a decent picture, but some kind of scale insect held their attention long enough for me to fire off a couple of hazy shots.
The southwestern form has kind of a masked look, and the females have pale yellow eyes, like this one. This is a 4 1/2" bird, a minibird. When they're all done feeding, they give lisping calls and explode from the tree in unison, flitting and dipping in lightning-fast flight, only to disappear into the foliage and twigs of the next. I would hate to do a study of social relationships in bushtits. Just getting a look at one is an event, much less reading color bands!

Water Canyon wasn't just about birds. I scored a life mammal in this cliff chipmunk, Tamias dorsalis. It's more modestly colored than our gaudy eastern chipmunk, but a charmer nonetheless. Western chipmunks are many, and maddeningly hard to separate, but this animal showed no dorsal striping, ruling out Colorado chipmunk as a contender. I'd love to hear from anyone who disagrees with my ID. The range maps in my Kaufman mammal guide show neither species occurring in Water Canyon, but it was a chipmunk and it was there, and those are the two species whose range is closest to SW New Mexico in my book. Don't miss his shadow!

The cliff chipmunk was scurrying around in the company of a juvenile rock squirrel, Spermophilus variegatus.
These husky squirrels look like bulked up tree-squirrels, and they flow over rocks and logs like water, being most comfortable near the ground. We'd seen them on the boulders along Monterey Bay, and in the tumbled rocks of the Chiricahuas in Arizona. They live in colonies, in burrows in the ground. Odd animals, ones for which I have no mental template: my favorite kinds!
Phoebe and Liam loved Water Canyon, and happily escorted our field trips on Saturday and Sunday. Liam made his own fun, fooling around with rocks and sticks and slidy slopes, hanging out with Phoebe and talking her ear off. They are such good traveling companions, turning to each other for fun and solace, hanging together like twin fawns behind their wandering mother and father.We made sure both kids got good scope looks at the birds and animals, including an Abert's squirrel--a fabulous huge tree squirrel with a silver tail, dark charcoal body and heavily tufted ears that make it look like a bunny with a fashion tail extension. I'll give you a pirated picture from New Hampshire Public Television's NatureWorks site, since ours was so distant:Looks like a boy. Got some squirrel junk. Ours was, too, I think, judging from the giant ear tufts. What a cutie!

Once we'd seen the Abert's squirrel, it was farther up the canyon to look for Williamson's sapsucker. This beautiful bird has such marked sexual dimorphism that for a long time the two sexes were thought to be distinct species! The female is coal-gray and yellowish, while the male is simply splendid. I wish I had a simply splendid picture for you, but the quiet little bird hunkered down in the armpit of a ponderosa pine and sat there for an hour or so--both days we sought him out! He had a sap well there and thought he was well-hidden, but the scope gave everyone breathtaking looks, shadows or not. I had to pump this one all the way up in brightness to get any markings on it at all; it was a silhouette in the original. Dig those crazy face stripes. He's got a ruby chin, too, and a bright yellow belly. Sigh. What a bird. I've not done him justice, but at least you can get the idea.
I was so proud of Bill of the Birds, patiently seeking this elusive bird, then sitting for at least an hour, waiting for it to come back around the side of the tree where he could line eager birders up on it. He shines in those situations--he's persistent and patient and most of all just wants others to see the bird. It was a lifer for many of our group, and he orchestrated a Life Bird Wiggle for the camera.
BOTB's hands stick up farther than anyone else's here. I'm snuggled into his side with a hat and tons of dorky gear hanging off me. Phoebe and Liam are on the ground, lower right. They thoroughly enjoy going on field trips with us, since birders are so kind to them (and pleasantly surprised when they prove to be troopers who hike willingly and stay quiet when they need to). Liam keeps hearts light with his antics and hilarious commentary. He can get dirtier than any little boy I know, faster. He seems to sit down in everything. I deserve him, since my mother despaired of keeping the seat of my pants clean. The difference is that it doesn't bother me in the least. That's what playclothes are for.

Before long, we turned back down the road out of Water Canyon. The road to Magdalena beckoned. Time to go to our favorite place on the planet. Ahhh, the magical vastness of the true American West. It's every bit as romantic and mysterious as the paperbacks and films make it out to be. Cloudshadows race across the land, chiaroscuro moods right behind them. Just back, and I miss it already.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, November 23, 2007

November Butterflies

In 1992, when Bill and I first explored Bosque del Apache, we met a woman named Cathie Sandell. She "got" us and knew where to send us to watch birds, take in the New Mexico scenery, and get our heads cleared out. "Go up NM 107 to Magdalena," she said. "If you have time, check out Water Canyon." We did, and it was one of the most magical days of our lives. We've run into Cathie since while speaking in New York for the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs, when Liam was an infant, and it was a pleasure to see her again at Bosque. What a gift she gave us with that one suggestion.

So it was with great pleasure that we agreed to lead two field trips to Water Canyon, which we remembered as one of the quietest places we'd ever been. The weather this trip was magnificent, warm and sunny, and Water Canyon where the sun warmed its lower reaches was birdy, birdy, birdy. We joined renowned local naturalist Mary Alice Root and 30 eager birdwatchers to explore its natural history. It's usually difficult to bird with such a huge group, unless you're on a paved road, and then it's a blast. We were brought up short by an acorn woodpecker perched on an exposed snag, pulled our car caravan over, and pretty much stayed there at the base of the canyon, watching bird TV, for the rest of the morning. It was a showcase of NM winter residents: scrub jays, mountain chickadees, western bluebirds, bushtits, acorn woodpeckers, red-naped sapsuckers, common ravens, canyon towhees, chipping and white-crowned sparrows, gray-headed juncos, Cassin's and house finches and the like. They were all coming in to drink at a watering trough in a rustic corral, so we parked ourselves and enjoyed the show. First rule of birding with a big group: When you find birds, stay with them!
This is a mountain chickadee. I'm proud of this shot, since they're a bit tough to catch at rest. Love those head stripes! They're cute and confiding little birds, and they tend to forage quite low, making them ideal subjects for amateurs. It is such fun to see the Western variations on the chickadee theme.

Because Bill and I were as busy as a couple of long-tailed cats in a roomful of rocking chairs, we spent most of our time pointing out birds and didn't get to shoot too many bird pictures. Butterflies are easier to approach, so I contented myself documenting the amazing array still flying in late November. Our local guides were incredulous to see so many butterflies at this late date, and we speculated about the realities of global warming even as we enjoyed them.
Here's a red admiral, one of my favorite feisty butterflies. I've had red admirals hit me in the chest or forehead, defending a favorite sunspot.
We often get buckeyes, a hardy migrant, in October in Ohio, but here they were in November in New Mexico! Go buckeyes! (That was for Kathi, who knows what a hopelessly lame sportsfan I really am).
Clouded sulfurs were common even on frosty mornings, and I was delighted to add a new butterfly to my life list, the dainty sulfur, Nathalis iole. This multiple-brooded cutie, our smallest sulfur, flies almost year-round in the Southwest. I had to hang on to this picture of it and key it out in my Kaufman guide when I got home. Just another reason to love digital cameras!
For sexy, though, it's hard to beat the California (Arizona) sister, Adelpha bredowii. It loves oak canyons, and acts a bit like the related red-spotted purple of the east, feeding on fermenting fruit and droppins, and basking in the sun. I was clinging to a slidy rocky slope, trying to get a better angle on its beauty, but had to be satisfied with this shot.We're home, after leaving Arroyo Seco at 6 AM Thanksgiving day. We got in at about 9 PM after wrestling with a taxi and a dead van battery (booring) to a verra happy, kennelstinky Chet Baker. He immediately gremlined under Phoebe's bed and roo-rooed at us. He's had his morning bath just now and is lying like a puddle of India ink on the sunny living room carpet, smelling of shea butter baby shampoo. The washing machine is churning away in the basement and clothes are flapping in the cold November sun. It's good to be home.

So much happened on our Water Canyon field trips that I'm going to save the rest for a second post. Stay tuned for bushtits!

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Harrier Heaven

In my last post, I told about some of the excellent work being done for New Mexican wildlife by The Wildlife Center, in Espanola. I met its founder, a dynamic veterinarian everyone knows as Doc, who told me about the bears, bobcats and mountain lions she houses at her farm. Listening to her, I had to keep closing my mouth, thinking about the level of commitment and knowledge it takes to care for animals like that.

Paul Tebbel told me a story about some young raptors that were brought in this past summer. Someone called and said they had a box full of four baby great horned owls that had fallen from their nest in a tree. When the small, fluffy white chicks arrived, it was immediately clear that they were not owls at all, but hawks. Young downy hawks all look very similar, and the best guess, given that they had apparently fallen from a tree nest, was that they were the common Cooper's hawk.
The chicks were old enough to serve themselves, which was a good thing, since the adult Cooper's hawk that usually fosters young Coops at the Wildlife Center refused to feed them. So the Wildlife Center staff provided food and let them grow. It wasn't too long before they were feathering out. Barb Tebbel looked hard at them. "Paul," she called one day. "Will you come look at these purported 'Cooper's hawks?'" Paul stared. "Those aren't Coops," he said. "Those are northern harriers!" A young male harrier chases an immature female. Are they two from The Wildlife Center?

Their hearts sank in unison, as they realized that these babies had never been in a tree nest. Rather, they'd been taken by well-meaning people from an active harrier nest--on the ground, where harrier nests are supposed to be. Too late to fix that.
Would they be releasable? Live mice let loose in their enclosure were rapidly dropped upon and dispatched. There was hope. They spar and tangle, flipping over on their sides and backs in flight.

When the time came, the birds were transported to Bosque del Apache NWR, and released in perfect harrier habitat. I'd like to think that some of the many immature harriers we saw on our visit were from that rare batch of great horned owls, no, Cooper's hawks, no, northern harriers! fostered at TWC. Long may they fly, and long may The Wildlife Center do its good work.
Cinnamon underparts distinguish immature northern harriers.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thankful that there are places like The Wildlife Center, where Barb and Paul will be barbequeing a free-range turkey for the staff who will be working there today, as they do 365 days a year, holiday or not. I wish we had a Wildlife Center in southeast Ohio.
We're flying home today, lugging our mountains of gear through nearly-empty airports. I cooked a turkey the week before we left, and we got at least six meals out of it: the gravy dinner, then two pot pies and a batch of turkey vegetable soup. Didn't want to pine for turkey while gnoshing on Corn Nuts and horrible airport sandwiches. But I'm sure we will. Chet Baker will be wiggling and waiting for us at home, thanks to Bill's folks, who picked him up at puppy prison yesterday. That's something to be thankful for, too. Have a wonderful holiday. Now get off the computer and help set that table, you geeks!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Release the Falcon

Liam was melting down, out of patience with his bird-focused mama, when I suggested that he show some of his dozens of drawings to his old friend Paul. The tide immediately turned. Liam commented, "Ned is the perfect person for me." (My kids think he looks more like a Ned than a Paul, so that's what they call him.)

One of my favorite people on the planet is Paul Tebbel. Formerly director of the Rowe Sanctuary along the Platte River in Nebraska, Paul and his wife Barbara decided they'd like to enact their dream to live and retire in New Mexico. Retirement's a really long way off. But Paul took a position as Director of The Wildlife Center in Espanola, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe. Barb works tirelessly, an expert wildlife rehabilitator who has taken her years of experience in Nebraska to bear on New Mexico's needy wildlife.

Paul has a remarkable ability to manage both wildlife and people. Wildlife rehabilitation (especially when paired with public education) is an intense, high-pressure and demanding field. The Wildlife Center handles around 1,500 animals and birds each year. Imagine the work and the heartbreak of dealing with that many broken and orphaned birds and animals. Each one has a story, each one has someone who found it and brought it in to be helped. Each person who brings an animal to TWC receives an education and an enhanced appreciation of the importance of individual creatures, just seeing how much the TWC staff and volunteers care.

I was lucky enough to be present for the release of an adult peregrine falcon which had been found down not once but twice, and brought to TWC for help. The first time, it had a nasty wing break. After surgery and a lengthy recovery, it was released. Two years from when it was first found, it was found again, emaciated, but with nothing broken. Because it had not been banded, the Wildlife Center staff recognized it by a suture over its eyebrow! Back into rehab it went. After flight conditioning, it was finally deemed ready for release, and brought to Bosque del Apache.I had a hunch this bird would burst out of its cardboard box, so I gave it some lead room in the frame.

Oh, did it burst out! Look at Donna's face as she reacts to its departure!
The more I look at this shot, the more I love it. It's like a Liljefiors painting. This peregrine is on its way again. Godspeed, lucky bird. Not many injured birds get three chances at life in the wild.

Please consider The Wildlife Center if you've got any disposable, tax-deductible income before the end of the year. I wish I could walk up to you with TWC's impossibly cute and engaging, hooting pygmy owl on my wrist and ask, but this post will have to do. Please support the rehabilitators down in the trenches. It's work most of us wouldn't be able to handle.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hello from New Mexico

Bosque del Apache NWR has to be one of the most spectacular places on earth. A perfect conjunction of vegetation, water, mountain backdrops, and migratory birds; every vista a painting. I almost overload with exhilaration and joy, coming here. I understand how people come down to volunteer and never leave. There's a changing palette of waterfowl and cranes and passerines, and it's all backed by golden cottonwoods and purple mountains. Aggggh. I come down here and think of all the people I love who would just eat it up (and you know who you are, so get your butts down here!!)

We're here to lead field trips and play a little music. My kind of job. I have to admit that the 4:09 AM wakeup is a little tough, but it's made easier by the fact that we're on Ohio time, mostly, so it isn't quite so cruel. Phoebe and Liam are along, and they're big enough to come with us and be troopers about it. This is greatly aided by the fact that it's incredibly mild and sunny and nice, so they aren't suffering. I pack gobs and gobs of fruit and snacks and water and everyone has been so kind to us. We're staying in a sweet little adobe house, courtesy of some of the Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR, and we even have wireless in one little corner of said house...which goes miles and miles to making our babies happy on the occasions when they have to stay home and wait for us to do our birdly duties.

It is ravishingly beautiful here. Possibly the most beautiful fall on record. The cottonwoods are glowing gold, the smartweed is the color of wine, the coyote willow is sage green and pink, and the dreaded exotic tamarisk is peach colored. Put it all against a purple mountain backdrop and you get this:

I am in rapture most of the time. It's amazing how a day flies by when you're in rapture. I mean, you'd hardly have to have fantastic migratory birds by the bucketload to make me happy. The landscapes would be enough.

I don't know where to start. There are roadrunners. Stop for a moment, and consider the miracle of the roadrunner. This is a large ground cuckoo. It is our only ground cuckoo. There are some tropical forest ground cuckoos, but they're freaking impossible to see--I've seen one in Brazil, and it was a lousy look and I was 20. Here, roadrunners are common and tame and ridiculously appealing birds, with their expressive crests and tails and their fluid, dinosaur-like gait. Love them. Sorry about the Planter's jar. What're you gonna do? I would wager a guess that almost all good roadrunner shots are made from automobiles, because they really do run along roads. And there's junk along roads, because there are people along roads.

There are coyotes here. Coyotes you can see. Beautiful coyotes, full-furred, fat, glossy, duck-and-goose fed babies. Yummm. I'm thankful any time I see a wild canid. Just for the record: Chet's in puppy prison back in Marietta, where he's being well cared for but doubtless bored and missing Mether. Shila is hatching a plan to spring him for a hike in our woods. Don't know if they'll let her, but we'll see... So I am almost at the point of going up to coyotes and asking for kisses, but I settle for fawn-colored pugs named Magoo. He obliged, and gave me the best dog fix of the day (I also knelt before a mutt and a whippet, who somewhat sheepishly agreed to give me a little dog love).It is worth noting here that a fawn-colored pug was one of the canines who planted the seed in my slow-to-awaken brain that having a little dog might be a nice thing. I saw three little girls leading a pug on Bestor Plaza at Chautauqua about four years ago, and a light went off in my brain. Smashy-faced smallish dog. Could do that. Must look into it. Three months later I was on the phone with Jane of Pups will Travel. And the rest is dogstar history. Ohhh, I miss him.

Sorry to ramble, but my festival brain is a little scrambled. By my count, we led six field trips, played music for one dinner, and I gave a talk...all in four frantic days. Most of the time, we had the kids with us, so we were on full parent alert while tending to the birdseeking needs of dozens of people. Phewwww. We had exactly one afternoon together alone, and we used it well, shooting pictures of snow geese in the golden light. I'm looking forward to posting those.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Pinkbottom by Any other Name

Finding ourselves in Columbus in Easton Town Center, our favorite chi-chi shopping complex, which has a Smith and Hawken, an Origins, a brand new Coldwater Creek, and an Apple store, we strolled along with the kids in search of a good dinner. It’s so refreshing to live in Ohio, and still be able to go to a McCormick and Schmick’s and order dazzlingly fresh seafood, ooh ooh ooh. Every once in awhile country needs to go to city.

Poor BOTB had worked himself up into an absolute lather wanting a new i-Phone. I’ll give him loads of credit here: he waited until the battery died on his current phone, and even more cagily, he waited until Apple dropped the iPhone price something like $200 (enraging people who’d stood in line to get the full-priced version, and forcing the company to issue rebates, arf arf.) While he was at the Apple store, with the kids happily plugged in to the Internet on display computers, and finding out from a very apologetic salesperson that they had just that very day run out of i-Phones!, I slipped off to find a groovy outfit for my show opening at the end of the month. I walked into Coldwater Creek, and knew I’d leave with that outfit.

Poor Bill. He consoled himself with a flash drive and a laser remote for Keynote programs, and got directions to the Apple store in Albuquerque, which still had plenty of iPhones, and where we’d be the next day. We went into a Limited Too and pimped our daughter’s wardrobe. How cute does Phoebe look in a chocolate-brown faux-fur lined hoodie and pencil legged jeans? Very cute. This isn’t the exact hoodie, but you get the idea. Is it any wonder that I hate school pictures, when the stars occasionally align and I get pictures like these? Why should I pay $20 for multiple copies of a picture of my kid, smiling like someone’s poking her with a pencil against a mottled gray backdrop (or worse, posing against a fake tree), when I’ve got a computer full of these?

I finally staggered out of the Coldwater Creek, feeling lighter of wallet and relieved to have found my gala outfit, and we headed for dinner. We had to pass a Victoria’s Secret store on the way. I’m pretty sure that anyone who isn’t a leggy, busty, 6’ supermodel will understand when I say that those stores make me grit my teeth. First, shocking pink isn’t very restful to the eye. Second, who needs 15-foot tall models with about a foot of cleavage and bellies like boards leering down at them when they’re just trying to walk down a sidewalk?

“You’re a troll, and you were born a troll, and I am of a superior race, destined only to be desired,” they seem to say, from behind false eyelashes and lipstick-pasted mouths. Blaaaaa. I guess I’m just not woman enough to want to stuff my aging body into a twenty-pound rhinestone-studded underwire pushup bra and ouchy thong, because I know that the result would be simply laughable; a troll in fancy doo-dads. So I drop my head, growl audibly, and tromp past, while Liam and Phoebe’s little necks swivel in awe. I don’t want to know what Bill’s doing with his neck.
But one Victoria’s Secret promotion caught my eye, and made me laugh out loud at its cheekiness. See the lead photo in this post. Lacking a camera, I begged BOTB to photograph it with his cell phone. It spoke to the naturalist in me. I know about pink bottoms.
Pink bottoms are the wild mushroom that I will fall to my knees to harvest wherever I find them. In wet years, they come up in our lawn, often in a “fairy ring” of delight. I found my only batch this year in town though, coming up on a humble median strip behind a senior center parking lot. No matter. Pinkbottoms are heaven wherever they grow. Truth be told, they’re the same species as the little white buttons we buy in Styrofoam coffins in the grocery store—simply meadow mushrooms, Agaricus campestris. Being fresh and wild, though, they’re ever so much tastier. They get their name from their pink gills, which turn chocolate brown as the mushroom matures. I sautéed these up and added them to spaghetti sauce, spiked with my own fresh pesto, even though Chet told me he didn’t think they were good to eat. Now, that’s the kind of pink bottom I lust after.

Posting this from Socorro, New Mexico, where it's in the 60's and blindingly sunny, so warm that most of the sandhill cranes have neglected to push south to Bosque del Apache. But there are hawks and eagles, falcons and pipits, snow geese, roadrunners, lizards and coyotes, and we're leading field, I went from 4:30 AM until 1 PM without a break, got myself all dehydrated and am turning in early tonight. Kids are mostly angelic, hanging in there on the field trips, and I haven't seen much of Bill at's festival mode. I'll try to get a Bosque post in on Monday, when we can finally slow down and take in the incredible, changeable beauty of New Mexico.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Peaceful Bulls

Every morning when we walk the kids out to the bus, there are cattle standing in the low morning light. I love morning light, and the big blocky shapes of cattle backlit by the sun. Chet is a quivering ball of excitement at the end of his lead, as he looks over the herd, deciding which one he’d most like to chase. It’s not going to happen.

This herd is protected and squired around by a young Angus bull, a beautiful, muscular animal, a rectangle of power. Compare his build with that of ten-year-old Buck, in the pictures toward the end of the post. This one's a lightweight! He often positions himself between us (or more probably Chet) and the calves. I marvel that a single charged wire about two feet off the ground is the only thing between this massive animal and us; that if he wanted to he could run right through it and barely feel it. But he understands electric fencing, and we place our trust in his understanding. There’s Liam, seemingly safe, yet so vulnerable in truth. It is remarkable, this deal we have struck with cattle, to live among them and trust them with our lives.

I like to spy on old Buck the Bull in another pasture a few miles distant. Those of you who don’t know why I love Buck should probably listen to this NPR commentary. Buck has a lot of nice wives, including Betty, who always manages to throw a pretty mouse- gray calf despite Buck's Angus genes. While doing my final bluebird box check and cleanout a little while back, I found Buck nuzzling one of his many girlfriends. I see him in the company of this little red cow quite often. I wish I knew her name. I like to think of her as his favorite. Maybe I’ll call her Scheherazade.What are you looking at?
Nothing. Sorry to intrude.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beautiful Woodpeckers

Among my favorite birds to paint are woodpeckers. I love their markings, their colors, their bold architecture, and most of all their head and bill shapes. They seem to draw themselves.

Who’s this, hitching up the side of the studio birch?What else could it be?? A juvenile female yellow-bellied sapsucker. She’s got a bindhi of ruby on her forehead, but her throat will stay white.She’s been punishing my poor birch tree, drilling row after row of sap holes. It’s a wonder the thing doesn’t just break in half. What a mess!

I had to marvel at the perfection of her camouflage. Could she blend in any better with the wounds she’s wrought on the birch trunk? Even her eye looks like a sap hole.She’s not the only birch torturer, though. The red-breasted nuthatches are using sapsucker wells as a place to bash their sunflower seeds until the hulls come off. I can almost hear the birch saying ow ow ow ow. Sick trees give more sap, and the sapsuckers know that. I read a study calling them “victim trees.” The more woodpeckers bang on them, the more high-quality sap they give, until one fine day they just up and croak. Nice.Does anyone NOT love flickers? I remember getting pretty annoyed with them when I was a kid growing up in Richmond, Virginia, the way they drilled on the downspout early on summer mornings when I was still trying to get my 12 hours of shuteye. Oh, how I wish they were still that common. And how I wish I could still sleep until 1 PM.

This little gal seemed to want to be photographed from every angle.

Be sure to get my red chevron.And my crescent chest.
Ahh, flickers. How lucky are we to have such an ornate and lovely woodpecker still among our avifauna.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Everybody Loves Milkweed

Sometimes blog ants get way ahead of themselves. I've had a heck of a couple of weeks, and I've been riding on posts prepared earlier--like this one. Rather than go in and edit this, I decided to post it just as it was, before it gets any older. Grabbing at straws...I'm going to be in and out of touch for the next two weeks. Darting here and there, preparing for my show in Millersburg, Pennsylvania Nov. 29-Dec. 1, sometimes away from my computer, always connected to my camera. I'll try to keep it up, but there may be a day or two here and there when I can't make it happen. I will say this: mounting a show of almost 70 works, during which I'll be giving a banquet talk, two gallery tours, a seminar, various TV and radio interviews, and dragging the whole family (including Chet Baker) along for the ride reminds me of the preparations for our wedding (though the kids weren't in on that one). The good part is that the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art staff is doing all the planning. I'm only the bride, but still...Let's talk about milkweed, shall we?

September 29: Summer is waning. Indigo buntings feed in the foxtail grasses in our makeshift prairie, the one Bill burned and plowed for me to plant in May 2006. I often think that if I go out in late September and shake that prairie patch like a blanket, probably thirty indigo buntings would fly out.

I've enjoyed the meadow for its milkweed, and the milkweed for its monarchs. I read somewhere a wry complaint from a would-be student of caterpillars. She'd read that, to find caterpillars, all you have to do is look for their droppings. Find the droppings, and voila! you'll find the caterpillar. For some reason, she thought this was ridiculous. She needs to stop complaining and pay attention to droppings. They're usually a lot more obvious than the caterpillars who produce them. Both are in this photo, but I saw the frass first, then found the caterpillar.

One of my dearest friends from college, Martha Weiss, studies caterpillars, and what they do with their droppings, among other things. I so wish I had Martha's rollicking mind, wish I could channel her right now to explain this to you, but I'll have to stumble along by myself. Caterpillars know that their droppings can give them away to predators. And since the caterpillar's main function is to grow like Topsy, it eats constantly, and produces copious droppings. So many caterpillars construct hides of folded or chewed leaves stuck together with silk, and they have creative ways of making sure nobody finds them there. Some poop in the hide. Some climb out of the hide to poop. Some shoot their poop many feet through the air. It goes on, getting more whimsical all the time. Martha watches, discovers, and tells the scientific community and her classes at Georgetown University all about poop functions, hide building, caterpillar learning skills, and myriad other things most of us never think about. Lucky students! In another life I'd come back as one of Martha's grad students.

Monarch caterpillars don't think much about their poop, at least in a behavioral/evolutionary sense, because they don't have to. It's no big deal if a predator finds a monarch caterpillar, because they're poisonous. They pick up cardiac glycosides from their poisonous foodplant (milkweeds) and incorporate those toxins in their tissues. Just for good measure, they warn would-be diners with aposematic coloration. Black, yellow and white are a nice combo, don't you think? To predators, those combined colors (along with black and red and black and orange) are equivalent to a Mr. Yuck sticker. Think about it: Skunks, coral snakes, monarchs, Gila monsters, ladybugs, milkweed bugs, black widow spiders, the poisonous pitohui bird from New Guinea...I could do this all day. All variations on black, white, maybe a little yellow, red or orange. Even barbets and toucans have aposematic coloration, and sure enough, their flesh, which happens to be blue, tastes just terrible (I'm told). Maybe blue flesh is just a little reminder for those who didn't connect their black, yellow, white and orange feather coloration with distatefulness. What you are about to eat will not taste normal, and is Not Good. All of which makes me wonder about woodpeckers...but let's stick to bugs for now.

When I was a kid in Virginia the big black oak in our backyard positively rained with orange-striped oakworms, a moth larva. I didn't know what they were, but their greasy, rubbery bodies strewn all over our slate patio at once fascinated and repelled me. I'm always rocketed back to childhood when I discover one in the driveway.Anisota senatoria, the orange-striped oakworm. Think they're poisonous? Probably. Euchaetes egle, the milkweed tussock caterpillar. Aposematic coloration at work. This thing is doubtless distasteful, even if you could get through all that hair! Monarchs aren't the only caterpillars that like milkweed. I'm intrigued by this caterpillar's approach, the way it's cutting the milkweed leaf right down the rachis. Just as they hide their poop, caterpillars will try to hide the damage they do to plants. Often, they'll cut the stem of a leaf they've put holes in, and let it drop to the ground before starting on another leaf. I'm not sure if that's what's going on here, but I'd bet Martha knows.
Speaking of other things that like milkweed, here are some milkweed bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus. They use their long proboscis to pierce through the seedpod and feed on the seeds inside. You can raise them on hulled sunflower seeds in captivity. Who knew? Notice anything about their coloration? Ain't nobody eating milkweed bugs.
Besides chomping on our copious stands of milkweed, the monarchs were more than happy to lay waste to the butterfly weed in my garden. I don't mind. I can't think of a higher use for a butterfly weed that's almost done blooming than to surrender its leaves to beauty. This one big plant had eight cats on it. Oh, it was a glorious summer for caterpillaring.
Shila found this magic capsule stuck to a plant support in the front garden. Note that, with its snazzy golden buttons, it's still telling you it tastes bad. I would love to have a silk dress of this exact chrysalid green. With gold buttons, of course. I was almost there when it finally hatched about ten days later. The clue that it's going to happen in the next hour or so is when it goes transparent, and you can see the butterfly right through the wall.
The insect simply flops out of the chrysalis in one motion, its wings crumpled and wet, and over the next six hours it pumps fluid into the wings and they straighten out and harden enough to be useful.The used chrysalis looks like brown cellophane. When I went to bring in my big terra-cotta Pig of Good Fortune just before frost, I found a chrysalis shell like this one right in his groin. Big grin.

If the new butterfly gets crowded or wedged up against something in this crucial period, its wings may dry crumpled, which is a sad thing. There was one with crumpled wings hanging around the garden for about a week. It could fly about a foot off the ground. Every time I found it I helped it onto a food plant, but I knew it would never make it to the mountains of Mexico like it wanted to.

The splendid product of the magic capsule, a female monarch butterfly, or so I thought. The female lacks the black scent glands on the hindwing that characterize males. "She" rested for about four hours, then climbed up atop the plant support. Whoops! Guess it's a male! See those little black dots on the hindwings, on either side of the abdomen? Wings finally hardened, he flopped away, gaining strength and conviction with every beat of his heart.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Uncle Dunk's Theatre of the Absurd

By cleverly preparing posts in advance, I have concealed a 4 1/2 day trip to New England from all but my closest correspondents. Writing this, I am sitting in Logan Airport, Boston, having traveled through central Massachusetts and New Hampshire, collecting pictures and sweet memories all the way. I love New England, even though I'm kind of over needing to live there. Visit there in the spring and fall, navigate New England's congested highways, sweat and murmur my way around her traffic rotaries, praying that I don't wreck my Dollar Rent-a-Car and get socked for all the collision charges, roll around in the incredible beauty all around me, see my beloved relatives and friends, and then go home to roomy old Appalachian Ohio, which I can actually afford. It works for me.There's Cindy House, left, Debby Kaspari, neatly blocking Mike Di Giorgio; Barry Van Dusen in white and Jim Coe in blue. Painters all.

Dunkin' Donuts is a New England institution. I don't usually drink coffee at all, after kicking a bad habit in 1996, but I cannot resist Uncle Dunk's with cream, no sugar. And let's not talk about Bavarian Creme doughnuts. Or, let's do. Spell it creme or cream or even kreme, you've got this: A powdered sugar-dusted lightly cakey bag of custard and joy. I allow myself maybe one a year. This was to be my day. Cindy House and I stopped at a gas station mini-Dunk's in New Hampshire, and they didn't have Bavarian Creme. We proceeded to a larger, free-standing Dunk's and parked, preparing to enter the store, fragrant with fresh coffee and doughnuts, only to find that it was only a drive-through. No door. Just a window with a person sticking out of it. We walked up to the window, and the attendant told us they didn't stock B.C.'s. Our idle wish in that moment became a Vision Quest. Where's the nearest REAL Dunkin' Donuts? She gave us directions, and we proceeded one exit up the highway, passing another bogus gas-station Dunk's on the way. This fourth store was the real deal. Trays of doughnuts, including my Bavarian and Boston Creme too, Cindy's favorite. She pointed out to me that it has fewer calories and less fat than Dunk's Raisin Bran Muffin, if that makes any sense at all. It doesn't make it health food, that's for sure. But oh... Delicious coffee. We ordered and started toward our table.

While standing in line, we noticed a Distinguished Silver man in line ahead of us. Executive, nay, CEO material. He was wearing a blue button-down Oxford shirt, clean pressed khakis, shiny loafers, and a navy blue V-necked sweater. A fancy insignia decorated the left breast of the sweater. Cindy touched my arm.

"Is that how you're supposed to wear V-necked sweaters these days?" she asked.

Distinguished Silver's V-neck was in back, the insignia decorating his left shoulder blade. The collar of the sweater in front was snugged tight against his jugular. Backerds!

"And me, without my $%^% - @#$#^&^* camera!" I hissed.

Cindy and I began to laugh, and we couldn't stop. This is the thing about running around with Cindy House. Her artist's eye never rests, and she notices the tiniest things. Which serves her incredibly well in her meticulously observed pastel landscape paintings, and would be fine, but she's also so tuned in to the absurd that we can barely make our way down the street without doubling over. It's a trip right back to high school.

We tied into our doughnuts over smothered laughter and inhaled powdered sugar (cough! cough!) And Cindy grabbed my arm again. D. S. had walked out of the store, clutching his takeout bag, and proceeded directly to an oxblood-colored Lexus. Oh, perfect. More gales of laughter and unrequited wishes for a pocket camera, for crying out loud. My word-picture will have to suffice.

We decided that we could probably have almost as much fun people watching in the Uncle Dunk's as going birding at Parker River NWR, but we decided to pack it in and head for the shore. While exchanging cell phone numbers in the Dunk's parking lot with Cindy, I glanced down and exercised my own powers of observation, noticing a small anomaly in this concrete island studded with junipers and decorated with a lit sign:

This must have been provided to enhance wildlife habitat. Juniperus procumbens, nice sandy fill, mounded up. Just the place for a Norway rat burrow, with multiple entrances. Isn't that special? Gee, I wonder what they live on?

I noted that the burrow mouth was about 3 1/2" across, a little bigger than most rat burrow entries. I feel your pain, Templeton. A few too many Bavarian cremes?
Urrp. Yeah, me, too.

Labels: , , ,

William Henry Thompson IV

Eight years ago this day, November 8, 2007, a medium-sized baby was born to Bill Thompson and Julie Zickefoose. He was reddish, with champagne-blonde hair on a head the size and shape of a Delicious apple. He was placid and attentive and a champion eater. He'd have nursed hanging by one foot, in sharp contrast to his sister, who was distracted by every little thing. As he grew, he began to squall, thanks to some undersized Eustachian tubes and chronic ear infections. Warm baths helped. There were days when he had four or five baths. Fortunately, he had been born to an old mother, who was patient and wise in the ways of fussy babies.

At first, he was bald, and his ears and lower lip stuck out in the most appealing way. They still do. His mother could not pass him without kissing him, and she still can't. He was slow to talk, and slow to walk, and he never crawled, but stumped around on his bottom, because that way he could not fall. He took his first steps at 21 months, on his mother's birthday, which also happened to be the day he got tubes put in his troublesome ears, and also the day his mother fainted when he was given anaesthesia and went limp in her arms.

He grew into a toddler with ice-blue eyes and a perfect bowl of white-blonde hair, who was rawther fussy and easily frustrated, but cute enough to override it. He kept the hair, but dropped the attitude.
Fairy child, do you know what wonder you are bathed in every day? Please don't move to the city when you grow up. But I know you will.

As he aged, he sweetened, like an apple, and at almost eight he is the sweetest of sweet little boys, and his mother and father would be perfectly content to preserve him exactly as he is right now, guileless and innocent, smelling of sun and copper pennies.He reads and reads. There is nothing he can't read.

Alas, he grows and grows, stretching like saltwater taffy, and there is no stopping that. We treasure him, his wild drawings, his obsession with trains and skulls, dinosaurs, Club Penguin and pirates and Halloween, his constant and hilarious malapropisms and neologisms. We love our little boy, even as we wave him goodbye, he who marches straight into the rising sun, growing and growing and growing.
photo by Bill Thompson III


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Manly Music

Liam likes to have his cousins over to play from time to time. I ride herd on them, making sure the computer doesn’t melt down with their incessant interactive games. And I unplug the dern thing and make them go outside when it’s nice, which it has been all fall. At this point, we have to hide the cord to the desk computer and make the laptop disappear altogether. When they realize their electronic dreams have been utterly and cheerfully defeated, they play outside for hours.

Playing with some rubber-band airplanes, Liam and Gus launched them into my prairie patch, which is loaded with black raspberries around the edge and most likely poisonous snakes, if you listen to Gus.

They came to me, wanting me to fetch the airplanes from the middle of the prairie patch. Nothing doing. I had just settled into the chaise with Chet on my lap and a cool drink, and I wanted them to fetch their own planes if they were going to launch them into the weeds. If I fetched the planes, they'd just send them right back into the weeds again. There was a lesson to be learned here.

I assured them that any copperheads in the grass would hear them coming and beat it, but that they were in more danger from thorns. So they went and put on long pants. I pretended not to be listening to their conversation, but was smothering laughter the whole time. Moms get good at that.
Gus: “There are snakes in there!”
Liam: “My mom says the snakes are all asleep.”
Gus: “They’ll bite us and we’ll bleed and die.”
Liam: “We’ll put on shoes.”
Gus: "Let's get weapons."

And then, from Liam: “Wait. Wait. We need some manly music.”
And he began to hum loudly, duh duh duh DUM DUM DUM na na DUM DUM DUM…no particular tune, but definitely manly.
Gus chimed in and they held hands and waded into the unknown, marching to a manly beat.

We found it!!
Good. Now don’t shoot it in there again. Snicker snicker. Or, do. I'll be listening. You little knuckleheads.Blogger is acting very wonky the last couple of days. It takes forever, like overnight, to post. It pretends to post, then takes it back. It won't show comments. Poor Bill of the Birds has been trying to post all afternoon. If you don't see a post from him, it's not because he isn't trying. Same goes for me.

The first few snowflakes are drifting down. Just put more bird seed out, and used a 2 x 4 to wedge the greenhouse door shut against the howling gray wind. I dumped out the Bird Spa and put it in the garage. Two red-breasted nuthatches came down and hovered over the spot where it had been. Bawww. Time to turn inward and drink tea.

Labels: , , ,

Driving Miss Canoe

There was no way Shila and I were going out on Seneca Lake in canoes under a driving rain. Part of the point was to take pictures and watch birds, and cameras and binoculars are fussy about driving rain. So we tooled around in the truck, digging the colors on the land and what few birds that revealed themselves in the pauses between downpours.

Colors are so saturated when they’re saturated.

I can’t get enough of the smoky blue of autumn hills, or weathered wood against goldenrod.

Or weathered wood against sugar maple.
Fall foliage shimmers and glows in the rain. Here I am, having made lemonade out of lemons. It's good to have a barn to go behind for that.

photo by Shila Wilson

What do you think? Are cropped pants on their way out? Should they be? On someone with 30" legs like mine, cropped pants just look like a terrible mistake. The only thing they're good for is canoeing, because you can launch without rolling them up. Other than that, they're really good for getting poison ivy, ticks, chiggers and briar scratches on your ankles. I give them five stars for that. I flippin' HATE cropped pants, but I've got a closet full of 'em, because I shop at TJ Maxx. Like most things I whine about, I have only myself to blame.

Speaking of cropping, I suppose I could have cropped off my slug-white ankles...

A kingfisher finial.

Song sparrow, weathered wood, winter weeds, rusty wires, oh oh oh.

In the end, the canoes were the reason we went to Seneca Lake at all, so they deserved to come along for the ride. The car didn’t get too wet, and when I got home I unloaded them and thanked them for the inspiration for our wet photo safari. I looked at my photos and decided that our trip wasn't as dopey as it felt at the time. Thanks to Shila for being able to live in the rain-drenched, ludicrous, four-hour moment with me. It's a rare aptitude, and it's what I treasure most about her.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Taking the Canoes for a Ride

I had one day free this one week, one day when I might possibly call Shila up (who also had one day free that week) and load the canoes in the car and take them out on the water. It was the day we were to leave for Akron, where we’d catch a flight to Massachusetts the next morning. But I had a few free hours to rub together, and Shila and I were itching to get both canoes, newly legal with their big ugly numbers, out for a paddle.

Never one to shoot low, I decided I wanted to explore an arm of Seneca Lake, a mere hour north of home. The skies were gray on wakeup, and the clouds got thicker as the morning progressed. I looked at Intellicast weather—big fat green front, spangled with yellow and pink—covering most of central Ohio and racing toward us. It’s the only day we have. It’ll have to do. I got the kids on the bus, threw the canoes, seats, paddles and lifejackets in the car, tied the back hatch down, called Shila, and met her at a filling station. She jumped in the car, and we were off. I was accelerating up to speed on I-77 when the first raindrops hit the windshield.

Shila and I started laughing, which is mostly what we do when we’re together anyway. We kept going toward Seneca. Maybe it’d stop. The day would be what it would be.

I wasn’t crazy about the idea of rain coming up off the highway and into the back of my Explorer, but I liked that idea better than tying the stupid things on top and watching them waggle their way free in the 65-mile-per-hour wind. The car might get wet. Big deal.

The rain picked up as we found the first possible put-in place. We laughed some more and decided that this would be a reconnaissance mission, a way to explore the perimeter of Seneca Lake, and find all the best put-in’s. And, Shila and Zick being who we are, it would also be a photo safari, an exploration of low light, mist and its effect on fall foliage. Or something like that. We started shooting pictures.There aren’t many draft horses left in the United States, and we owe much to the Amish for keeping the knowledge of how to work and care for them. Speaking of vanishing things, how many more rains will this Mail Pouch barn sign withstand? Mail Pouch isn’t repainting barns any more, and people who want to preserve this iconic advertisement must maintain it themselves. A tableau of disappearing beauty: draft horses, Mail Pouch barn, and a hayrake.Hayrolls in the rain. Jim McCormac has told me, once or twice, that the Department of Agriculture is going to outlaw round hay bales, because the cows can’t get a square meal any more. Hee haw.

A log cabin. More vanishing beauty.Beauty that thrives everywhere: Poison ivy.The vine-draped windows of an abandoned house. I hate to see a house abandoned, but the phoebes and barn swallows, squirrels, coons and mice don’t. Where would you start pulling poison ivy off this house? At the bottom, or the top?The rain poured down. Shila donned her featherweight, fashionable plastic raincoat, which should probably not be used as a toy for babies.

This is Zick, discovering that the extra camera battery she so conscientiously brought is also dead. Just as we found this creeper-smothered barn. Arrrrrggh. End of safari. Photo by Shila Wilson.

We were glad we brought the canoes along for the ride, because they would have been lonely at home. Note nice big legal numbers, just the right size and color to spook waterbirds.To be continued...

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Meet Ella

photo by Bill Thompson III
Regulars on this blog know that Chet Baker has a special magic, and that my not-so-secret agenda is to cover the earth with Boston terriers. So it should be no surprise that some good friends of ours (heavily musically inclined) fell for Boston terriers, and decided to get one of their own. The stars aligned and they were able to contact Pups Will Travel and get a half-sister to Chet, who they named Ella Fitzgerald, in the new tradition of dogs named for jazz greats. If you follow that link, beware. There are some terminally cute puppehs there right now.

We finally met Ella on the weekend of October 20. She is cute squared.

Of course, she had to greet me with ten million kisses and some gnaws. Googly eyes a-poppin'!another one by BT3

Ack! I'm being tatacked!

Ella's a lovely little thing. Her daddy weighs only 15 lb., so I doubt she'll attain Baker's 24-lb weight or height. He's getting to be such a big boy, filling out (doubtless aided by filched Honey Nut Cheerios and pizza crusts). photo by Proud Mether
She's delicate, light-boned, and not very big for her age (six months).
But man, is she a character. Completely full of Boston baked beans, she is. Her Tennessee t-tail stands straight out, all the time, which should tell you something about her spirit.

I know, I know. Raisins are poisonous to dogs. But Ella got intrigued when I blew air through the empty box, making it squawk. I gave her the box to chew, but she decided to hang on to it, giving any dog cognisciento we passed a quick little heart attack.
This is Jeff. In addition to looking fabulous in black, he has a terrific new blog, Jeff's Little Ship of Music, where he freely dispenses his encyclopedic knowledge of music, old and new. I dunno, does he look like a music head? I have advised him, in my gentlest blog-matriarch way, that if he really wants traffic, he's GOT to post about the dog. As yet, he's remained true to his artistic ideal, and hasn't figured out that it's really all about the dog.

I would not want to try to get this box from Ella. She's a headstrong little lady.Speaking of gremlins...

How I wished we could have had Baker along to meet his half-sister. I also wish you could hear the sound track to this post. It's Bill, roughhousing with Chet, who keeps leaping onto the couch and putting progressively bigger and slimier toys in Bill's lap. There's barking and laughing and thumps and thuds, smacks, growls and jingling tags. Cheap fun in Whipple.

Labels: , ,