Thursday, July 31, 2008


Lisa, our editor at Houghton Mifflin, who was seen partying incognito in previous posts, brought a toy for Chet made by Orca. It was fabulous, until the doggehs unlocked the secret of its destruction. They somehow untied all the knots that kept the colored ropes in the squishy plastic tube. This photo was taken before the untying.
As you can see, things are beginning to unravel. There is not much that can stand up to two Boston terriers pulling in opposite directions, when one is equipped with big grown-up shredders, and the other with needle-sharp puppeh dentition.You are a pesky little puppeh. Here. Be of some use. I will hold this steady and you pull the ropes out of it.That is good. Keep pulling the orange rope. We must show Miss Lisa that there is no such thing as indestructible, or even durable, where Boston terriers and toys are concerned.Although our main goal is to destroy it, they like it when we romp. Hear them laughing? So romp with me, pesky puppeh. Romp, romp, romp.

All right. It is time to go in for the kill. Pull! Once we get one rope out of it, the others will follow quickly. Next we will study Squeaker Removal. I am the champion at that. Mffft!

Here's the thing. The toys are not quite as fun with no innards. They need to bring us another toy, soon.

I am actually rather tired. Aren't you, puppeh boy? You know, I could get used to having you around, even though you are pesky and your teeth are too sharp. I might even miss you a little bit when Miss Jennifer takes you back home. Hummm.

I did not just say that. Mether. He is not staying here, is he? I am still your only dog, right? You love me the best. Right?

My only dog, Chet Baker, now and forever.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Booker T. Comes to Visit

The post to follow is my way of thanking you for indulging me with my self-indulgent, gloaty posts about my party. We only just disassembled the groaning boards in the kitchen and living room, after scraping the dishes and trying to find their rightful owners. There was precious little left. I did spend about four hours the day of the party making a delicious vegetable chowder. But there was no room for it on the table, so it sat on the stove, where it stayed as untouched as the driven snow. By midnight, I had transferred it to giant Tupperwares, but I left it out on the counter to cool. At 3:30 AM I came in to find the lids had popped off the Tupperwares, and the chowder was oozing down the cabinet faces, having fermented. Being greenish and full of chunkage, you can imagine what it looked like. Nice. In retrospect, shucking and cutting the corn off two dozen cobs, Cuisinarting six large zucchinis and four Vidalia onions, and making a four-hour vat of chowder was kind of like being sent off to boil water when the baby's coming. It kept me occupied and not fretting, and that, I suppose, is worth something.

photo by Shila Wilson

As I think about the self-indulgence issue, though, you all go warned here. You're reading the blog of a Leo, and there's nothing Leos love more than to be queen for a day, if they swing that way. I forget who took this photo. Maybe Phoebe. But it is a perfect representation of how I felt to have Patrick playing in the garage (you can see him over my left shoulder, peeking out like Lincoln on the back of a penny), my friends hanging out grooving on the music and chowing on scallops and crabcakes, the weather smiling perfectly, and a night of revelry ahead of us.

Lights, in this picture and the food picture, by Jen, purveyor of good and beautiful things. Photo by Shila, ditto.Thank you, sweet B, for a night against which all to follow will be measured. (BOTB, here shown heading up the Orangs in his shiny shirt). Photo by Shila.

I’m sittin’ in a railway station
Got a ticket for my destination…

Yep, at it again, on the fly, and this time I was caught flat-footed by the party and guests and aftermath, such that I’m having to come up with a blog post each day. Oh, I don’t like being a grasshoppa. I have plenty of pictures but no time. But I do believe it’s time for a Chetfix, don’t you? Whoa. Take it easy, Chetfans. I can hear you yappin' all the way to Providence.

My dear friend Jen has been a fan of Chet Baker’s since day one, and when the time came for her sister to acquire a puppy, there could be only one destination: Pups Will Travel, our source for all things black-and-white and googly-eyed. There are puppeh pix of Chet on that site, under Pictures, but the susceptible among you must beware the page titled, "Pups Looking for Families."

So Jen’s sister traveled over to eastern Pennsylvania from Columbus, and picked up little Booker T., continuing the tradition both of great Boston terriers named for musicians. Let’s see. We know a Jack Black, Ella Fitzgerald (Baker’s half-sister), Otis Redding, Chet Baker, and, stretching it a bit, we know a big brindle named Oscar, who might just be named for jazz great Oscar Peterson. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we name these dogs after people, or that they seem to beg for both a first and last name. They are something more than dog, something almost human.

Booker T. is precious. He is just as cute as Chet Baker was, and that's saying something. At 11 weeks, he promises, like Chet, to be a dog of both size and substance. He’s got big paws and heavy legs and a gorgeous head. His marking are picture-perfect; he’s got the white tux, muzzle, belly, front legs and collar that people envision when they think of a Boston terrier. Time will tell if he gets spots all over his tuxedo the way Baker did. There are 38, but who’s counting? Phoebe is. At least somebody in our family has time to inventory Baker’s polka-dots.

Photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Zick: Baker, stay here, you little goofball. Jen: Ow ow ow ow ow takethepictureplease.

Please note Booker's pink belly meat. This is expressly for blowing raspberries, while keeping your cheek out of danger. It's an art that we fans of male dogs learn to perfect.

So on the day of my birthday party Jen came down with Booker T. so she could hang party lights and we could watch a little dog TV. Of course we had to pose with the animals. But mostly we watched them be Bostons.

Chet was delighted to have a pup around, with the caveat that he never, ever forget who is Numba One.

For his part, Booker must have been the alpha pup in his litter, as Chet was, because he’s like Texas toilet paper—he don’t take s--- off nobody. That said, he’s utterly sweet, while being assertive. And his ears both flop the same way. (I had to learn with Chet that Boston puppies have floppy ears until the cartilage hardens, and they get the classic bat-eared look).
I would like to think that this is the definitive puppeh portrait of Booker T. If you want to know how to take a good picture of a Boston puppeh, you must get him all tuckered out first, preferably with another Boston, and then lie down on your belleh using a telephoto. Otherwise they will come romping up and lick your camera.

I was delighted that Chet enjoyed having Booker around, not least because, having lived with a Boston, I cannot imagine life without one, without the warm smell of popcorn paws and catfish breath in the morning, without the interludes of hilarity that have become necessary for me to carry on in this all-too unhilarious world. So when Chet reaches the appropriate point of dotage, I intend to call on his breeder Jane for an understudy, and this was a good test of how that scenario might pan out.

It was hilarious, and absolutely riveting, to watch Baker play with Booker. Keep-away is the Boston’s forte, and they played it tirelessly.

But Chet made it easy for Booker, deliberately passing the toy beneath the puppy’s nose, just begging him to grab it.
Here is one of Shila's photos of the pair at play. Booker has a long but straight tail, in contrast to Chet's screw tail. Lots of people ask if we have cropped Chet's ears and tail, and I tell them that he was born perfect. So was Booker.

Tomorrow, the Boston brothers will demonstrate how to destroy an indestructible dog toy.
This is your Chetfix for July 30, 2008.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008


As much as I loved the Night of Zick, I loved the next morning, too. Although it came too soon, with a cavalcade of happy revelers shuffling down the hall to our weary bathroom. I think I dozed fitfully for an hour all night, too wound up and overstimulated to collapse. BOTB set to work cooking a massive breakfast, which I believe involved four dozen eggs. Toast, bacon, scrambled eggs with all the trimmings--his elbows were flying and the short-order cook in him came out of hiding.

Eventually we gravitated to the garage, the scene of so much revelry the night before. Our longtime friends John from Oxford and Bill and Joe from Baltimore pulled out their guitars, mandolins, harmonicas and dobro, and we made homespun music--tunes like Catfish, Bully of the Town, and a string of Dylan songs that I'd forgotten how much I loved.

Patrick wandered in, fresh from the showers, and hung with us.I had to have a documentary photo of me doing an inner squeeeeee! I geeked all the way out, and had to retire to the shade of the forsythia bush, where little Jesse, son of John, had spread his blankie and pillow. Baby boy and dog and cicadas playing their saws on a summer morning, it doesn't get much better than that.Jesse and Baker cuddled for a long time. Chet Baker adores little kids, and always goes out of his way to play with them and make them feel special. He watched Jesse spreading the blanket on the ground and as soon as it was ready he flopped down to keep him company. Chet Baker, Comfort Hound.The sweet resonant drone-tickle of the dobro washed out over us. I decided it sounds like rain on the road.We spend an awful lot of time laughing our heads off when we get together.Bill loves playing music with his old friends, and the sound they produce is warm and deeply familiar.
Baltimore Bill's left foot has a life all its own. It flops like a fish when he plays and sings. When the Flat World Band used to meet and play in BOTB's old Baltimore apartment, the woman in the apartment downstairs always got out her broom and banged on the ceiling, but it didn't help. That foot has to move. Later that evening, Bill and Bill assumed their true identities.
I got to spend some time with some of my favorite babies, when I could work my way in between Phoebe and Liam, who love babies as much as I do. This is by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Patrick and the Patrick Sweany band finally left around 2 the next afternoon, having had probably as good a time as we did. Pat handed out his new CD, Every Hour is a Dollar Gone, like candy. Go here and listen to Hotel Women. Listen to any of them. Oh my goodness. I had to ask Pat to pose, celebrity cheek to celebrity cheek.So cute, I had to take another.A Sweanyfix and a Chetfix in one go. Sigh. I guess it had to end sometime. We're still reassembling our house and garage, and trying to figure out what to do with half a giant jug of Gallo wine, huge bags of chips, melted candles, paper lanterns, mystery pie plates and serving spoons, homeless sippy cups, six giant leaf bags of trash, about a ton of bottles and cans, and a long purple shawl. Thanks for all the good wishes.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Smiles of a Summer Night

I wasn't going to say anything. I really wasn't. But Bill blew my cover in his blog, and then people piped up all over the place saying, "So how was the party?" Uh, who said anything about a party?

It defies description. It was the best party I've ever been to or hosted or anything, and I have my sweet BOTB to thank for that, and dear Margaret, and my other friends all of whom pitched in to make it a night to remember. You know who you are. Twinkle Girl, FlankSteak, BottleCap, SpringRoll, Cheap Lawnchair, PolishPants, KayakBoy, FabulousFungus, NatureMama and Pennsylvania Wine, to single out just a few.

The weather was perfect, sunny and clear and about 82 degrees with low by Jane Streett

Bill transformed our four-car garage into a performance space, draped with tapestries and colored lights.

Friends came from far and near.

He hired our very favorite band, the Patrick Sweany Band.Nope, not my photo, sadly.

Just looking at Patrick made me forget which birthday we were celebrating. He makes me feel like spring has sprung, and there's a wonderful song to be sung.

There were scallops the size of your palm, and little crab cakes, and Kobe beef in red pepper sauce, sour cherry pies and rice salad and fresh peaches from Grimm's Green Acres and cheeses and strawberries and wine and fancy beer and just every delicious thing you could think of, and this apparition chased me around all night with trays of food, asking if I wanted by Jane Streett

There was a giant photo of me smiling down on the proceedings, just in case anyone forgot why they came. Heaven forfend. Along about ten, Patrick sang our song, Rain on the Delta.
And I told Bill how much it all meant to me.
After that, it got a little crazy, kind of Southern-fried and sweaty and hot.There was dancing, and some beers were consumed.
The Swinging Orangutangs played a few sets, too. But mostly, we partied, letting Patrick and the boys carry the music. Along about 2 AM, everybody got hungry again, but the fancy food was gone. Bill of the Burgers to the rescue. Band, front and center. I believe that this is the gig against which all the Patrick Sweany Band's future gigs will be measured.

Then it was time for jokes. I will not disclose what was discussed here, except to say that Jess and I felt very much one of the boys.
Chet Baker retired to the lap of his foster mether, Mary Jane. The faithless little sprite leapt into David and Mary Jane's car the following morning, ready for another stint at Camp Baker. They almost pulled it off, then came rolling back up the driveway with big triumphant smiles and Chet in the front seat. Hmmph.

Tents had sprung up all over Indigo Hill just before dark, and the last revelers crawled into their sleeping bags around three. Little did they know that the birds start yelling at 5:15, and the sun would cook them slowly to doneness by 7:00. Hey, we'll sleep when we're dead.

Aftermath: tomorrow.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Taking Care of Bluebirds

Bluebird season is winding down. Here are five baby males--pretty unusual, to find all of the same sex in one nest, but it happens. You can sex baby bluebirds at about 11-12 days of age. You can tell males from females by the amount and quality of blue in the emerging wing feathers. Lots of cobalt blue: male. No blue, or just a bit of dusty turquoise: female. And then you have to leave them alone, because after 12 days they're liable to boot out of the nest when you handle
them, and you don't want that to happen.

Phoebe loves nest changing time, because she gets to cuddle the young birds while I make them a nest out of fresh dry grasses. I take the old nest away as most of them are infested with bluebird blowflies, Protocalliphora sialis. Specific to bluebirds, this bluebottle fly's maggoty larvae suck the nestlings' blood at night, then writhe back down into the nest during the day, where the adults can't find them to pick them out. Heavy infestations can weaken the young significantly, so I change all nests when the young are a week old.
Photo by Bill Thompson III

Here I am, making a new nest. I've put the old one in the bucket to take it away and count the larvae. Some people think you should leave all those larvae in the nest, so parasitic wasps can infest them. I don't like the notion that maybe 50-175 maggots are going to suck my babies' blood every night, and I don't like having them die in the nest from parasite infestations, so I take a more ham-handed approach to managing blowflies. I get the heck rid of them. Same goes for mites; it's been a terrible year for mites, and I've lost a few broods to them. Most nests leave me swarming with them, so I've been busy changing nests and rinsing the boxes with boiling water before replacing the grass and birds. It's the least I can do for them, as they bring me so much joy.
A bluebird thanks Phoebe for her solicitude with a little fecal sac. She says, "Yucccch!" but holds steady. That's my girl.

It was quite a weekend. I'll tell you about it later, when I've had a chance to download some photos. Man. I'm whipped sideways, but in a good way. And completely out of canned posts. Yikes. Not where a blog ant likes to be. Bear with me?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

North Dakota is...

Old barns, fancied up, then forgotten

The sweep of a Swainson's hawk against a white sky

A ruddy duck blowing bubbles through an impossibill

A lanky girl against endless space

Eager birders on the hunt for an obscure sparrow

A buff Cochin's tiny challenge:


And a red horse, serenely peeing.
Among many, many other things. Thus end the prairie posts.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For the Road and Sky

No kidding.

In the 1980's, unprecedented rains created great lakes all across North Dakota, where none had been before. Roads were inundated, groves flooded. These lakes remain to this day, though 2008 has been quite dry, forcing many pothole ducks to keep flying north in search of water on which to breed.

I liked this vista, a road to nowhere, resuming as if nothing had happened. I remember seeing a road like this on the TransAmazon Highway, that dipped into water. There was a bridge, half constructed, just standing there. It had been that way for years. There was a huge anaconda (sucurucu, if I remember the name) living there, and nobody would go near the site, because it had eaten one or more of the highway workers. I'll have to check, but I don't think a man-eating anaconda is the problem here in Kidder County North Dakota.
The leaden sky gave a limited and very lovely palette. Drowned trees stand, testament to those rains two decades ago. Nothing rots fast in such low humidity and cool temperatures.
And though I know shooting through a windshield isn't recommended, there are times when the road reaches up to kiss the sky and I must shoot, or fall into rapture. I go to North Dakota for the skies as much as anything else.

In other news, one of my commentaries aired on All Things Considered last night. Remember the baby wrens in the copper bucket? This is the story of my hi-tech rescue of the last little one, using my iPod with its Birdjam software. Go ahead and give it a listen here.

Here are a couple of sweet letters from NPR listeners that brought a smile to my face today.

It's nice to know iPods can have such a primal use! Also, thank you for providing free air conditioning -- the plight of the baby wren was so heartwarming it gave me goose bumps on my drive home from work in 90 degree weather and 90 percent humidity ... gas is too high to use my car's air conditioner!


I have to tell you this little story brought me a lot of joy yesterday! I listened intently as Julie told her story, and I absolutely teared up as she told of the last wrens "rescue." This was a true driveway moment! Thank you, NPR for the story, and thank you, Julie for your act of kindness!


When I left my office on Monday I felt as if I had lost my faith in all mankind. During the course of the day I dealt with various individuals who lied, whose strongest personality traits were greed and avarice and other even less-savory folks. Hence, I was preparing to resign from the human race when I had the good fortune to listen to Julie Zickefoose's story on wrens. My faith in the human race was restored and a smile returned to my face as I listened to that lovely human being recount how she saved a baby wren. Thank God for people like Julie who make us ALL better human beings and thanks to NPR for recognizing and broadcasting such a wonderful and rejuvenating story.
Mighty nice to read, especially when housecleaning and feeling a bit rolled under by jetlag. The story is at #6 on the Most Emailed list at Thank you, nice NPR listeners.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Dakota Deer

Deer love lilacs, as I found out when one nipped all the tops off one of my precious heirloom starts this spring. Just to be sure it died, a rabbit barked it all the way around. It is now surrounded by a column of chicken wire, too little too late. Bah.

There's plenty to love in North Dakota. I was stunned by this display of shades in an enormous hedge, from near-white to blue to rose-purple, with no house anywhere near remaining. All that remained of the settlers was the ageless plants they left behind. All the lilacs were in full bloom the first week of June.

North Dakota turns out to be a great place to watch deer. Some of the largest whitetails in the world come from its marble soils, where bones grow big and strong, and a big body helps an animal survive plummeting temperatures. Some, however, were still very very small.
Everywhere we turned, it seemed, a doe was nursing her fawn, or telling it to duck and cover while she bolted away. Older does often have twins and sometimes triplets. It's a mistake to get too close to fawns, because even though they're motionless, they're very frightened, and they will get up and toddle off if pressed. This is why I love my long lens. Whether fawn or butterfly, I can leave them undisturbed.
Mother makes a great show of running off, hoping we'll follow and forget the treasure in the grass, scentless and scared.
I like the soft colors in this primal scene.
That's all, just some deer, water, grass and sky. Repeat as necessary until relaxation occurs.

Subliminal go messages to may north be dakota contained in this post.


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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Immersed in Marshes

A shoveler glides in for a landing, bill still wet from his last dabble.

Let's face it. Here in unglaciated southeast Ohio, we're starved for marshes. There are very few marshes, almost no natural lakes, and comparatively few opportunities to watch wetland wildlife. That's not to denigrate my beloved habitat; this blog is a celebration of all it HAS. But going to North Dakota is marsh immersion, and I love it.

I bring you marsh tidbits in this post. Marsh equals nursery in pothole country. Here, a massive creche of Canada geese from several broods.
And a racing brood of little mallards, peeping for Mama.
They take to the water, where they feel more comfortable.
Their putative father? Who would know? Although I grew up on Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings, with its model of mallard monogamy, it's more likely that Dad's out looking for a receptive hen than helping to tend the brood.
Overhead, snipe winnow, giving an otherworldly woo-woo-woo-woo that seems to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at once. They make the sound by channeling air from their beating wings into narrow, lanceolate outer tail feathers. They tip and tilt, side to side, and spread their tail as they tilt. The woo's occur at precisely the same time as the wings beat down. And the sound is produced. The bird straightens up, folds it tail in a normal flight position, and the sound ceases. In a magic moment, I was able to get everyone in the group on a winnowing snipe, predicting just when the sound would occur. And they understood, and it was beautiful.Everywhere, marsh wrens click and whir. Less frequently, the triple-click and burr of sedge wrens rings out.
To me, they sound like a song sparrow with a head cold--dry and raspy, as if they were about to cough.
I love the straddly poses marsh birds have to adopt in order to perch in waving sedges, reeds and rushes. Boy, sedge wrens are cute, especially when they're mad.On the bison trip, we coaxed a Virginia rail into view with a recording of his grunting song. A sora popped up briefly but wouldn't oblige. While it bugs me to lure birds in with recordings, it makes me very happy to be able to show perhaps 35 people a rail, who would otherwise remain a mystery, and, after we're gone, will continue to be one.
At least until next June, when it might be duped once again.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Liam's Bones

Liam is eight. He's a funny bunch of likes and dislikes, a little bitty boy in a taffy-stretched body. His mind is expanding, and his curiosity and passion are boundless. Here's a sample conversation between me and Liam, one day in the car (where we do our best talking).

Liam: Mommy, if you were to heat water to 500 degrees and shoot it in a person's ear, what would happen?

Science Chimp: Well, Liam, since water boils at 212 degrees, water at 500 degrees would classify as superheated, and it would be instantly turned to scalding hot steam, so that would hurt the person very much.

Liam: But what if the person was old?

Mommy: It would still hurt. (helpless laughter)

On our trip to the Krapp bison ranch, he got to ride in the tractor cab with Elliott. The rest of us had to bump along in an open wagon behind them. He kept shooting happy, triumphant glances back at us as the prairie rolled out before him.

Liam likes bones. He likes all kinds of bones. He spotted a bunch of bones from a winter-killed bison and was practically clawing at the door to get out and collect them.

He eyes the bulbous condyles with the air of a connoisseur.Shirt courtesy of Rondeau Ric and Anne McArthur.

You will notice the Webkinz monkey under his arm. Somewhere in the hustle to collect the bison bones, including a fabulous skull, Liam dropped his treasured monkey. This is the last photo of Liam with his monkey.
The night before, we had listened to the stories of Keith Bear, a gifted Native American storyteller, singer/songwriter and musician. He spoke of always giving something back to the earth after taking something from it. Liam and Phoebe were front row, rapt for his entire presentation.

A very kind man on the bison trip, having seen Liam's distress at losing his monkey, mingled with excitement at finding the skull, reminded Liam that he'd traded the monkey for the skull, and that made it all better.** And then the same gentleman offered to drive Liam's bone collection to the Cincinnati area, for later pickup, for he and his wife are from Ohio. Charlie and Jean, thank you. We'll get with you on those bones. Liam has since acquired a dozen more Webkinz, but bison bones are few and far between in Whipple.
Phoebe (with shawl by NatureKnitter Ruthie J.); Keith Bear and Liam. Carrington, North Dakota, June 2008.

And just for fun, JZ and BOTB get their picture taken with Keith and his handmade flutes.
**Liam: No, it didn't. I miss my monkey. This makes me sad (clutching his Webkinz toucan to his skinny little chest).

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Durable Bison

Drive across North Dakota on Highway 200, and you’ll see bison, on billboards, restaurants, and green road signs. My favorite heralds two little towns, named Buffalo and Alice. The words are stacked, reading Buffalo Alice, conjuring up a wooly-haired, gun-slinging, fringe-bedecked cowgirl.

Bison no longer flow like a black river of boulders over buttes and plains. But they are still out there, in scattered herds on private and public land. I spent two mornings with Oren Krapp, who runs 400 head of bison on a 2500 acre piece of virgin prairie outside Pingree, North Dakota. Gray-green grasses, silverbush and buckbrush, buffalo bean and buffalo grass wave in the warm wind as we roll slowly along in a wagon over Oren’s land. This land has never known a plow, and the native prairie plants are diverse and lush.

Oren Krapp kept cattle all his life until he got bison. At first he treated them like cattle, rounding them up a couple of times a year to tag and inoculate them. When it came time for slaughter, he’d round them up and truck them to a stockyard to fatten them on corn, trying for a USDA prime rating for the meat. But bison won’t eat more than they need, and they don’t fatten easily. And the handling and capture stressed them so badly that their meat didn’t taste good. So Oren simply stopped doing that. In fact, he stopped doing much at all. He doesn’t round them up anymore, and he doesn’t give them shots or treat them for illnesses, because they never get sick. Cancer, so common in beef cattle, is unknown in bison.

I asked Oren how bison compared to cattle. “In intelligence, the bison is to a beef cow like you are to that rock on the road there.” Bison know what forage to eat and what time of year it’s most nutritious. They’ll switch around so no one plant ever takes over their pasture. In winter, they paw to uncover their food, and in a dry summer they can smell water three miles away, and find it. When the snow piles up and tops Oren’s perimeter fence, his bison go wandering over neighboring land, stopping at the highway. “Nobody minds,” Oren told me. “They don’t hurt anything.” And then they come home, because this oasis of unbroken prairie has everything they need, and they know where they belong.Early on, Oren followed instructions to fence off portions of his range, and permit the bison to graze on only parts of it at one time. "I spent all my time mending fence, until I realized that the bison weren't going for it. Fences don't mean anything to them. Now I let them go wherever they want."

Last year, after an April storm dumped four feet of snow, killing 40% of his neighbor’s cattle, Oren went out to check on his bison. One bison cow was down and wouldn’t get up. He thought he’d found his first winter-killed animal. As he pressed closer, she got to her feet, revealing a tiny orange calf, which had been covered by a blanket of the softest wool on its mother’s neck. Mother and baby were fine. A bison cow won’t have her first calf until she’s five or six years old, but she’ll continue calving into her mid-twenties—twice the reproductive lifespan of beef.

We watched a group of cow bison, each one accompanied by a wooly orange calf, dewy-eyed and short-coupled. “A bison will never leave her calf the way a beef will,” he commented. “We’ve got all kinds of coyotes around here, but I don’t worry about them around bison. The coyotes know that if they tried anything with a calf, the herd would be all over them.”

Oren pointed to a distant herd of Herefords, grazing planted fescue on the plowed field just over his fence. “In a hard winter, my neighbor might lose 40% of his cattle, even when he takes them in and feeds them. I leave the bison herd out all winter and don’t lose a one.”

When Oren wishes to cull or harvest an animal, it’s dropped where it stands with a single shot, into the prairie grass where it grew up. No roundup, no trucking, no capture and confinement, no slaughterhouse trauma. There’s an elegance to his operation, a respect for the animal’s natural history and native intelligence, that has been utterly lost in the close-cropped pastures, muddy feedlots, and dark slaughterhouses that define the short lives of beef cattle. We stood on a promontory, facing into the warm wind. On the ancient seabed that stretched below, bison flowed in a black-brown river around a slough, over hill and hummock, disappearing into the distance.

In central North Dakota, a place most of us would call the middle of nowhere, there is a somewhere that retains its ancient vitality. There is an intricate cluster of animals and plants, soil, sky and people, that are as they always were, that are as they should be, that spins in an eddy of time, perfect and endlessly renewed.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prairie Hawk-eagles

For lots of North American birdwatchers, the ferruginous hawk is a real Grail. They're not very common, because they need unbroken prairie. I remember seeking out a bit of prairie in Nebraska, looking for prairie dogs and chickens. I found the tiny dog colony, and was viewing the adorable animals through a shimmering heat haze in my scope. These little rodents are so universally persecuted that they won't allow humans within shotgun range. And as if by magic, up over the horizon popped a beautiful ferruginous hawk, as if to say, "This is what once was, and could be again, if corn and cattle weren't king."

North Dakota has a bit more breathing room than Nebraska where prairie is concerned. I saw more ferruginous hawks on this June visit than I'd seen in my whole life. One pair was set up on a powerline support, complete with fuzzy young. You'll have to take my word for it; we were a respectful distance away. The nest is the bunch of sticks to the right.
Mom wasn't thrilled to see us ogling her young.
What gorgeous birds they are, so pale. The tail is nearly white with a pinkish cast; the dark red striped thighs and legs are feathered to the toes, and make a dark vee against the white belly. Close up, the ferruginous hawk has an enormous yellow grin line along the gape that's reminiscent of a golden eagle's. Those features, and their enormous size (they're North America's largest buteo), add up to one thing in my view. This is the American hawk-eagle, the prairie hawk- eagle.
Dad Ferrug. is quite a bit more slender and gracile than his burly mate. How about those gorgeous black tips on the underwing coverts?

So. When are you coming to North Dakota?

Today, I am trimming shrubs and trees and cleaning my car on a fine hot summer's day. Not that it needed it. It is a mouse warren, a straw fest, haven for candy wrappers and Dum-Dums at one with the carpet. The floor mats are so bad I'm just hosing them down, carpet or no. I'm vacuuming and Windexing and Chet is lying under the car in the shade keeping me company. About to load the kids in it once again and take off (via plane) for a family reunion in Colorado. Bill will have been home from his Big Trip oh, about 18 hours when I leave, probably all of that spent in sleeping. He's holding down the fort this time. Wish us uncancelled flights, please, flights that actually get you where you paid to go when you want to get there. I wouldn't mind not seeing an airport for a long, long time after this, and my last trip to RI at the end of July. I think the air travel system has broken down, crushed under the price of oil, but nobody wants to admit it.

I'm sure there's enough gas and oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fix it, don't you? Let's drill, how about? November, November, November, November...

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The Godwit Escort Service

More things you don’t see every day…marbled godwits. What are those? They sound like some kind of bonbon (the kind I spend all day popping into my mouth while I lie on the divan, watching game shows). Godwits are enormous sandpipers, like curlews who got their bills straightened. Godwits are beautiful, especially in flight. Godwits are also easily annoyed, especially when they have chicks running about in the tall waving grass.

We never got out of the car; these godwits came to us, yelling and complaining. We were careful to crawl along at a snail’s pace lest a chick be squatting in a tire track. The godwits believed that they were distracting our vehicle from attacking their chicks, and we didn’t try to dissuade them. We just let them lead us away, with our friend Ernie driving and Ann navigating and Bill and me leaning out the windows, shooting frame after frame of these leggy furious beauties.

They flew along at window level, yelling.

They landed in front of the car and strode away with a come-hither look on their long faces.

They ran alongside our car.

They crossed and cris-crossed over us. Their cinnamon wings flashed against the verdant green, producing images so beautiful that they border on surreal.
And then we were far enough away and the godwits doubled back to reunite with their chicks, and the show was over. I wondered if they meet every car this way, and if people understand why. Perhaps you can get used to having a marbled godwit escort when you drive this road in June. I doubt I ever could.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008


In North Dakota, I always see some things I've never seen before, and some things that are hard to see anywhere else. Nestled in the grass near where we saw both the displaying Sprague's pipit and the Baird's sparrow was a butterfly I was sure I'd never seen. One of the things I love about carring my camera everywhere is that I don't have to frantically scribble down obscure underwing markings and antenna knob color in my notebook. I just try to get the best picture I can and go about my merry way, keying it out when I get to a field guide. This is a Chryxus Arctic, Oeneis chryxus. I'm not sure I've ever seen an Arctic before, much less this one. Eastern birders count the American bittern among the rarest of the rare, but in North Dakota it's possible to see them both standing in the reeds by the roadside and in flight. If you look closely at these photos you can see the bittern's impossibly long green toes sticking out behind its tail. They're kind of Gollumesque birds. This one was being perforated by a red-winged blackbird as it made its way toward a slough.

Something you don't see very much in the East: a bull, walking down a country road toward a battery of birders.
He was much more interested in some heifers penned in the grove, and turned off before I had to get out my red cape and tri-cornered hat. Tracks showed that he'd been wandering up and down the road for quite some time.

Abandoned houses are increasingly rare where we live, thanks to people's propensity for simply knocking or burning them down. I love abandoned houses, love to poke around in them and look for signs of the lives they once sheltered. Bill of the Birds is very spooky but he ventured a peek in this one. He has his neck warmer pulled up as a kind of stovepipe hat; it was that cold. Oz never did give nothin' to the Tinman.
Outside was an old buckboard wagon. I wondered how long all this had stood on the prairie, covered by snow and battered by the incessant wind. It was freezing, even in June, on this drizzly day.Abandoned buidings are everywhere out here, each one lonelier and more evocative than the last. This one might have been a schoolhouse, with sturdy little blonde kids inside.
But the rarest of the rare came over the phone as we were birding our way back to Carrington after a long day in Kidder County. Three whooping cranes had been reported from a farm section that was about ten miles from nowhere. We swooped in and spotted them without any problem. It's hard to miss four-foot-high white birds on a muddy field.I am not proud of this photo, but we were almost a mile away, and even at that the cranes were nervous about us--walking away. We dared not press them. Because nothing goes unnoticed for long, even in the middle of nowhere, a truck soon rolled up. Inside was a landowner who had been watching over the birds for more than a week. He had been quiet about them, realizing that they were vanishingly rare and worthy of protection.

It was nice to know they'd had a good week's rest, especially when a car with three clued-in birders appeared on the horizon and drove perhaps a half-mile over the prairie directly toward the birds. The birders got out, bristling with scopes and telephoto lenses, and put them to wing, apparently for good. We were too far away to hail them or to do anything more than shake our heads in bewilderment at the intrusion. It was especially embarrassing given that the landowner had been so gracious to us. The cranes weren't seen again. There were a lot of disappointed birders at the festival for whom whooping crane would have been a life bird.

Asking around with USFWS personnel and checking listservs soon revealed that the three birds were one-year-old males that were led south via an ultralight aircraft from their natal area in Wisconsin. According to Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator at Aransas NWR, they returned to central Wisconsin this spring just as researchers had hoped, then (naughty birds) took off for North Dakota. These are the things that radios and color bands tell us. If there's a silver lining to this story, it's probably a good thing that the cranes, imprinted as they are on an ultralight aircraft, still retain such a healthy and well-founded suspicion of people. It's tough to be a tall, white bird that everyone wants a piece of. They're the Brangelinas of the bird world, and they don't like the paparazzi, either.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Beautiful Pheasants

They're introduced, but they've made themselves at home, these Chinese ring-necked pheasants on the Dakota plains. Ye gods! they are beautiful. I am told that, as a baby in my natal state of South Dakota, I was fed quite a bit of creamed pheasant. I had my first bird epiphany as a toddler, hanging onto my father's legs as he plucked a pheasant in a toolshed, a single light bulb hanging overhead. "Was it a mommy pheasant or a daddy pheasant?" I wailed, torn apart at the thought that my father could shoot this bird whose beautiful feathers rained all around me. I'm told he didn't hunt after that.

This is not why I love them now. I love them because they are extravagantly beautiful, unexpected, delightful in the extreme. It seems too good to be true that they could take hold here in America, walk across the road in front of my car.

Let us celebrate the pheasant.

Like a poppy in the grass he is.
He can be contemplative on a rainy afternoon
or straightforwardly splended in his layered silken cloaks.
There is no question that he wishes to be seen.
even down to the ear tufts few are privileged to glimpse.
Ah, pheasant, sneaking through the grass, I cannot get enough of you.
Your mate, demure in khaki, hides without trying, fading into the glory of you.
Rooster, springy in tail and gait, I love you, and the pictures you paint in the waving grass.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another Little Nothing

What are these people doing?

They are looking at a bird, a tiny brown streaked sparrow that they know they can't see anywhere else but here in North Dakota.

They have a lot of equipment with them, thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of equipment. All of it, along with all of their attention, is focused on the tiny brown bird popping in and out of the grasstops.One group is walking toward its bus as another group disembarks. The first group has seen the sparrow; the second wants to see it. Coming together on the plain, they look like pike-bearing Scots clansmen meeting the Hanoverians at the Battle of Culloden. The thought occurs to me and Rondeau Ric at precisely the same moment, and the good Scotsman is kind enough to send me his picture of the bloodless battle.Photo by Bonny Prince Ric MacArthur.

This scene seems ridiculous, even to me, but there you have it. And it's an efficient bit of ecotourism, to bring everyone out in one fell swoop to see a rare bird that will likely go undisturbed for most of the rest of the summer.

All right, then, the bird in question. You may gasp at its plainness, its lack of apparent distinction.
It is neither Count Raggi's bird of paradise nor a kiwi, cassowary or kagu. It is a small brown sparrow with a limited distribution in the northern Plains and prairie provinces of Canada, a small blue blob on a large white map.
But the Baird's sparrow sings with a mellow bouncing trill that is the sweet embodiment of prairie sun, and I am glad that there are people who can appreciate it and travel thousands of miles to see it.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Elusive Pipit

Pipit country at dawn, Kidder County, North Dakota. The pipits live in the prairie to the right side of the road.

I know that many people who read this blog like birds; many of you feed them in the backyard and garden for them just like I do. I'm going to tell you now about a special kind of madness that afflicts a certain cross-section of those who love birds, brought on by a little space in the tickmarks on our checklists. Yes, there are some of us who keep track of the birds we've seen, and the ones we haven't been able to see bother us, sometimes to distraction. The Sprague's pipit is one of those maddening holes for countless birders.

In the United States, only North Dakota, Montana, and a bit of northwestern South Dakota hold Sprague's pipits. They're also found in three prairie provinces of Canada. That's it. You have to go there to see them on the breeding grounds, unless you're lucky enough to catch them wintering in Texas, Mississippi, Lousiana or Nevada. It's well worth going to see them on the breeding grounds, because a singing male will mount high up in the air and sing continuously---seeeuuw, seeuw, seeuw--for an hour or more, even up to three hours of continuous singing and fluttering high above the ground. No other bird on the planet is known to make such a prolonged flight display.

The Sprague's pipit has vanished as the native prairie has disappeared, suffering drastic declines. Introduction of exotic grasses and herbs associated with grazing is the primary cause of their decline. I can attest that you can drive for a long way, even in North Dakota, before you'll find unbroken prairie, often identified by the boulders studding its unplowed contours. Vegetation appears sparse but is very diverse, and it's this diversity that the pipit's insect prey needs. It's all hooked up together: the soil, the rocks, the flora, the insects, and the birds--and the use to which we put the land. Pipits can co-exist with grazing cattle or bison; they need something to keep the vegetation low.

So it was with great anticipation that we loaded into vans at 3:30 AM to see the dawn break on Sprague's pipit country near Tuttle, North Dakota. Our leader was Kim Risen, a Minnesota bird guide who knows Kidder County well. As we climbed out of the vans, a peachy sunrise and low slanting light greeted us, and the Sprague's pipits were already at it, voicing their thin songs high overhead.

It took a lot of doing to get everyone's binoculars focused on the tiny speck high above that would prove to be their life Sprague's pipit. There. In the grayish cloud tier below the whitish-pink one. Now crossing the blue into the left hand grayish cloud...My photos from that morning were largely deletable, until a very cross pipit landed in the road, wanting to know what the heck a pipit was doing singing at waist level from Kim's iPod.
I know. It looks like...nothing. It looks like a little brown bird. But the thin bill means it's a pipit, not a sparrow, and it is rare and treasured among those who know prairie birds. And I'll add that almost nobody gets a shot, even a blurry shot, of a Sprague's pipit on the ground.
Nothing, chasing its shadow at a dead run.

I loved it, loved the whole experience of greeting the painted dawn on the prairie with a life pipit. Later that morning, we were hunting for Baird's sparrow, another rarity with a similarly limited distribution, when one of our group said, "I almost stepped on a little bird with white outer tail feathers." That got our attention. She pointed to a clump of grass and there huddled a 11-or-12-day-old Sprague's pipit, a priceless diamond, a fledgling of this rare and declining bird.
Wow. I know this isn't a great shot, but I wasn't about to go any closer. Overhead, its parents were circling, scolding us, holding insects in their bills. Amazing.
Clearly, it was time to get out of there. I snapped a few more pictures before beating a retreat. In this one, you can see the pipit's eyes turned down right on me. With those great broad wings, it's no wonder a pipit can fly and sing for three hours at a time. We felt honored and not a little abashed to have been right in the pipit's bedroom. May it nest in peace for the rest of the summer, little nothing that means so much.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

A Barnstorming Harrier

On an afternoon that we got a chance to bird together, Bill and I were driving toward Tuttle, North Dakota, through some terrific grassland habitat. We saw a speck on the horizon (middle left) that resolved into a male northern harrier. (I include this picture to show you how far away he was). He was performing his courtship flight, something we'd seen once before near Burns, Oregon. The more I watched him, the more amazed I was. He'd rocket straight up, stall out, flip over, and dive earthward, describing a deep parabolic curve. At the bottom, he'd pull up, and use his momentum to shoot upward again.

He's near the apex here, preparing to flip over, hundreds of feet up.Here, he's in mid-flip at the apex of his climb.It wasn't until I got my photos on the computer and closely cropped (the bird was quite a distance away) that I realized that I'd photographed a bird flying upside down. He's completely inverted here, flapping away. It also became clear to me, watching this magnificent display, why male harriers are snow-white below. They are visible for miles when performing this rollercoaster display. A blinding white rump patch doesn't hurt, either. It all adds up to a neon sign, advertising his availability and his choice territory.

On his way back down--plummeting like an arrow. It worked for this gent. A big brown female harrier appeared out of nowhere and engaged him in some close passes, which may or may not have involved a vole engagement present. We were too far away to be sure. These pictures aren't publishable, but I'm happy to have them as a record of that beautiful flight against a stormy sky.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rain on the Prairie

Traveling for the month of June builds up a powerful backlog of photos. I was mildly surprised to see that I had taken 1,000 images in Utah alone. My computer gagged, but accepted them. I now shoot on Medium resolution, as I have admitted to myself that my photos are merely snapshots whose highest purpose is to appear on this blog. There is no need to have a dozen images of the same butterfly at 10.1 megapixels each. Nor does Chet Baker's slightest glance need to be documented at that resolution. I know there are those who might argue...but when you're talking that kind of volume, you have to economize somewhere.

So. Maine, North Dakota, or Utah? Shall I handle them in the order in which they occurred? Do I dare to eat a peach?

All right, then. It will be North Dakota first. To the prairie we go.

The last three years we've visited the Potholes and Prairies festival in Carrington, ND, we've had a fair dose of rain. "Embrace the Weather" is a field trip leader's only choice. Work a little harder to see the extra beauty in a rainy prairiescape. An American wigeon takes flight over young corn.A ring-necked pheasant walks the rows.

It takes a bit of extra work to find birds in these conditions, too. My co-leader, Bruce, disappeared for a bit, and started walking resolutely out in a huge loop over the waving grass. As I watched, it occurred to me what he was up to. My hunch was proven good when five sharp-tailed grouse came rocketing by us. Bruce had been our bird-dog. It took him a good 45 minutes to complete the loop, but everyone got wonderful looks at these big tan birds. What a nice man, what a nice thing to do. I was impressed at how beautifuly he orchestrated the flyby. Sharp-tailed grouse are native, unlike ring-necked pheasants (imported from China and naturalized). Gray, or Hungarian partridges were also imported for hunting, and are much sought-after by birdwatchers looking to enlarge their life lists.
You tend to find them in newly planted fields with lots of exposed soil. Perhaps that's just where they're more visible. This little male momentarily lost track of his companions and is calling to them.

Pale-morph red-tailed hawks like this Krider's are frequently seen on the northern Plains. Note the white head and tail.
Please pardon these photos; it was pouring (as it is now, as I write--POURING.)Inundated marshes everywhere in North Dakota ring with the klonk and whirr of yellow-headed blackbirds. He's singin' in the rain.

An eastern kingbird is sufficiently disheveled to reveal its hidden crown patch of yellow-orange--kinglet like, and previously unknown to many birders on our trip.
Speaking of previously unknown, birding with natives invariably teaches us things we never knew. Ann Haffert exclaimed, "Oh, look! Green goslings!" And sure enough, the newly-hatched Canada geese did have a distinctly green tinge, which fades to yellow within a day or two.
Then, it goes to brown.
Whether it cleared up or not, there would be beauty at every turn on this rainswept prairie.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Camp Baker

David is saying something about Baker's apple head, and the little stop atop his nose--his favorite part of the the Bacon. Chet adopted Mary Jane as his surrogate Zick. It was seamless.

From the time he was a little pup, I always put Chet Baker in the kennel when we'd travel. I knew it was part of the deal when we got him, and I explained it to him when he was a puppy, and he understood. I told him he'd have the most wonderful life, but his folks did travel, and he'd have to deal with that. He did well there, as well as any dog could do in a cold, stainless steel cage (albeit with two fluffy beds and all his blankies) in the basement of a veterinarian's office in the summer.

But as time went on, he liked it less, and there came a day when I handed him to the attendant (loving and caring, and very fond of him), and he gave a very small moan. That little moan tore my heart in two. Tears streamed down my face and they didn't stop all the way home. I knew I couldn't leave him there again. Mostly, it was I who suffered; they told me Chet ate his food, was cheerful and always wanted to play, but I just couldn't leave him in a cage for the month of June. I couldn't do it.

So I thought and thought and came up with some foster parents for Chet Baker. They live in the middle of the woods in West Virginia, and they had a wonderful shepherd/Lab cross for years, recently passed on and deeply missed, and they know and understand dogs. Would they be willing to take him? I had to ask. Nothing to lose by asking.

David and Mary wanted to think about it. Mostly, they were afraid that keeping Chet would awaken dog-longing in them, and they didn't feel ready to have another dog--theirs had been so singular, and so deeply mourned. But finally, with prodding from several mutual friends, they said yes. And thus began a beautiful relationship.

Chet Baker knew David and Mary socially, and when time came to leave him there, he really dug their place. He patrolled and sniffed every cranny, chased their chipmunks and rabbits, and leapt onto the back of their sofa to survey the scene. Finally, I had to take my leave. Chet had been listening to our conversation. He moved quietly to the door, and stood, head down, nose pressed against the screen. "Mether. If you go, I am going with you."

"Chet Baker. Mether has to leave. But she will be back. You will stay here with David and Mary, and they will take good care of you. Mether is coming back."

And Chet padded over, sat down and pressed his body against Mary's leg, ears pasted back, eyes wide. He understood. David's mouth fell open. "He understood every word you said!"

"Damn straight. That dog knows."

I left, happy that my pup had found people who would love him as I do. He leapt to the back of the sofa and watched me all the way up the drive, but he didn't moan. And neither did I.

Two weeks passed, and finally it was time to pick Chet up at what came to be known as Camp Baker. It felt like Christmas morning. He'd been on two hikes a day; he'd been loved and played with and messed with just like he is at home. He'd cleaned out all the dumb chipmunks and had given a good chase to some squirrels. He had had a wonderful time, and so had David and Mary.

This is the sight that greeted me as I got out of my car. I looooove this snapshot. You can see David and Mary watching from their side yard.
Let's have a close-up of that smile.
What is not to love about a Boston terrier? If any animal could embody joy, they do it best. METHER'S HERE!! METHER'S HERE!! She said she'd come back and she DID!! She DID!!

I must hurry back and tell David and Mary that Mether is here.
Oh! Oh! Oh! She is HERE!! You told me she would come back and she DID!!I think David must have said, "ANY TIME you need us to care for him, just call!" about six times before I finally tore Baker from their loving arms. David's a self-confessed "big dog guy" but he was impressed with Baker's athleticism, his beauty, his heart, and his courage, as well as his common sense. He never wore a leash the whole time; hiked in the woods with them, stayed around and came when called, just as promised. He fit perfectly into David and Mary's lives, and it was one situation where everyone was happy about it. Sometimes in life, things work out just as you hope they might. And now Bacon is back in our home, well-rested, happy, full of beans, and David and Mary are the ones jonesing for him for a change. Thank you, sweet friends, for welcoming him into your lives.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Well, HeLOO There!

Orchid fanciers among you will remember, perhaps, my disappointment at my Psychopsis Mendenhall "Hildos" when, in May, it dropped a bud that had been forming since February 2008. I'd been watching this spike grow, passing a full yard in height, watching this bud form, delighting in the little elf-shoe curl it attained, only to see it drop off immediately after this photo was taken. Plunk. Oh.

I took comfort in the fact that another bud was forming beneath it, in the hope that perhaps that one would come to open. Fast forward a month. It's 3 AM, and Bill and I are getting the kids ready for bed, having just arrived from Utah: 3 1/2 hours on the road; 6 hours on airplanes. "Was there supposed to be a big flower on that orchid?" Bill asked as he emerged from the bedroom.

"AGGGH!" Suddenly remembering what awaited, I ran to the bedroom to be greeted by THIS.I laughed like a hyena for ten minutes, hollering to the kids to get back out of bed and come see what had happened in the bedroom while we were gone. I was jumping around like Daffy Duck. Four inches across, six and one-half inches high it is, and it dances at the end of a yard-long stem, embodying everything joyous and insane and wonderful about orchids, about loving a plant, caring for it carefully, listening to it tell me what it needs, and being rewarded beyond my wildest dream by a single flower opening.

Let's have a closer look at that little flamenco-dancing lobster. Is that a face I see? Or two?I believe there are two faces here, a mustachioed monkey, perhaps an emperor tamarin, and a beautiful snobby puma. Emperor tamarin photo by AFP/Getty Images, from

See if you can find them.There's another bud forming beneath this one. This time, perhaps, I'll be here as it opens. I want to see how it does that.

NOW are you going to go out and get yourself an orchid? What's stopping you?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Atoning to Box Turtles

I was driving this spring at the screech of dawn in a driving rain, trying to get somewhere or other, some airport, some festival. I don't remember. But I will never forget the sound and feel of running over a box turtle who was crossing our country road. I couldn't see it; it was well off to the right side, and obscured by the sheets of rain that my wipers weren't clearing. It's not the first turtle I've hit, and I'm sure it won't be the last. These things happen, even to people who love turtles.

I've always tried to help turtles whenever I can, whether by moving them across the road in the direction they're headed, by trying to fix them when people bring them to me busted, by raising hatchlings to release size, and even by offering food to the wanderers who cross our lawn.
This lovely female (note her brown, not red eyes) was slowly crossing our driveway. I walked by and casually dropped some strawberries in front of her. Wouldn't want her to think I wanted her to eat them or anything. I get such a kick out of watching turtles take in the information. Suddenly strawberries. What to do?

Of course, they're wary creatures, so I withdraw and shoot at a distance through my telephoto lens. This one was aware that I was still watching her, and hunkered down. So I left her to her contemplation of the luscious fruit, dropped from heaven. Ten minutes later, I returned.
And what would that be on your chin, Mrs. Turtle?

I've lost count of the turtles I've moved this spring, but this one is my favorite: a gorgeous little juvenile. I have one the spittin' image of him in a tank at home; he's on his third season with me since he hatched, the progeny of captive parents, in a backyard near Youngstown. I'm growing him on until he's too big for the chipmunks to chew up, and then I'm going to let him go right here on Indigo Hill.
If you count the rings on this wild animal, you'll find four, and he's starting on a fifth. He'll fit in the palm of your hand, and he's four years old. Pretty humbling. My turtle, Shoomie, has had the benefit of an abundant diet, calcium supplements, and the leisure simply to grow. He's a bunch bigger than this one, with only three growth rings. I feed him Repto-Min sticks for aquatic turtles, floating them in his shallow water dish. The Brownian motion makes them move, and he snaps wildly, sometimes eating four at a time. I can almost see him grow. It's good to know he's getting a balanced diet, that it will help him grow fast and strong, and get closer to release every day. We've started to let him tour the living room under close supervision, and he's a speed demon. He'll do well in the wild.

We're home. At 2:30 AM, we rolled into the driveway. After being on planes for eight hours, hauling all our Utah luggage plus the two large suitcases JetBlue lost, then sent out to us at Salt Lake City, we hit a roadblock (police cars with flares) at 1 AM and were forced to turn off the car as we sat on the highway for 30 minutes. We all fell asleep, awakened only by the roar of trucks rolling again. All we saw at the end of the mile-long backup was two police cars, shining a klieg light into the forest. Maybe they were filming an episode of Cops: Muskingum County. Maybe they had a Bigfoot sighting.

Count is strep throat: 3, still standing: 1. That one would be me. We'll get a nurse practitioner's opinion on Dr. Zick's preliminary diagnosis. For now, it's laundry, mail, restocking the larder, doctor at 3 PM, and looking forward to picking up Chet Baker at five. Oh, are we looking forward to that!  Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!

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