Thursday, March 29, 2007


I have been reading Garrison Keillor's book, Good Poems for Hard Times. I offer you a poem.

Spring by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlesness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees
Whatever else

My life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her--
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spring must be on the way.

I adore daffodils because the deer won't eat them and they are cheerful after a gray season. Up here on the mountain, we have a SERIOUS problem with the deer eating everything. Over the years, I have stopped planting anything that they might find toothsome. And daffodils they will not eat. Well... every spring they seem to forget how nasty daffodils are and there are a few nibbles. But they don't even swallow, but spit out the mouthful of greens.

Right after I moved in, I went crazy and planted early, middle and late season varieties. There are yellow ones, and pink ones, and white ones. There are tiny ones and the huge King Alfreds. There are split coronas and classic narcissus. With 2000 bulbs of various kinds in the ground, I eagerly await daffodil weekend. Hang in there, you'll see.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Birding King Ranch

I arrived at the King Ranch Visitor’s Center in the pre-dawn at 5:45 am. Yawn. There were 8 people milling around 2 vans. We would be driving an hour south to the Norias Division of the ranch and meeting 5 more people at the southern gate. On the list, the big 4—Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Audubon’s Oriole, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Tropical Parula. The scouting the guide had done several days before really paid off. We found a Tropical Parula and a Hooded Oriole right away. We looked long and hard for the owl though. We walked through live oak motte after live oak motte searching, listening, straining for any flicker of movement. Finally one owl started calling, coming closer, coming closer.... It popped out and we got great views. Fantastic.

The day passed with life bird after life bird flitting through. I ended up with 12 life birds on King Ranch. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Audubon’s Oriole, White-tailed Hawk, Olive Sparrow, Vermillion Flycatcher, Sprague’s Pippit, Green Jay, Harris Hawk, Black-crested Titmouse, Cave Swallow and Bronzed Cowbird.

I loved the Ranch and would highly recommend it to everyone.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Greetings from Texas.

I am in San Antonio for a conference. I flew down here a little early to go on a Whooping Crane tour and to pop over to King Ranch for a full day birding tour. I flew into Corpus Christi and stayed in Aransas Pass. There is a very birdy local park just outside of Portland called Indian Point Park. You can get great pictuers because the bird are fairly close. I spent a morning there with some very nice folks from the Audubon Outdoor Club. I then drove to Rockport to board the Wharf Cat for a 4 hour tour (10a-2p) of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. There were only 9 people on the boat. No jostling for rail space. We ended up seeing 56 cranes and the Wharf Cat was able to get fairly close. It was awesome. Many of the cranes were in family groups like the one in the picture (the baby is brownish). But there were also some juveniles hanging around together in cliques. If you want to go, you gotta go soon though, they are already starting to leave. It was a mere $30. Best of all, I didn't get seasick.

And King Ranch! What an amazing experience. I picked up 10 life birds including the Ferrigunious Pygmy Owl. Sweet. If you are anywhere near Kingsville, you must arrange a tour. Definately worth it. The local birding is great as well. There are Harris Hawks and Crested Carcaras sitting on utility poles like we have Red-tails in the Northeast. I got some great pictures which I will post. If you are anxious, you can go to my Flickr page.
More later. Gotta go to work.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bear Scare

My first year on the mountain, I was unaware of "living with bears". One day that Spring, after a harsh winter, I went to fill the feeders and found that apparently a massive bruin had tried quasi-successfully to raid them. He had snapped off the metal posts on a tube feeder and pulled a sturdy steel hanger on a metal feeder out of whack. He made off with the suet cage completely.

Scary, frankly.

Two days later, I came down to the kitchen in the morning and there he was nosing around the seed debris. He came very close to the house and pooped in the yard. "Oh no", I thought. "I hope he is not marking his territory or something." The ultimate in scooping....

Since then, I only put the feeders out in the depth of winter after I am sure the bears have gone down. I put them away again in mid-March. Since I feel bad about leaving the birds in the lurch, I put peanuts on the deck during the day for the avian throngs. (I have also been known to use whatever nuts I have in the freezer-walnuts, almonds, pecans.) Titmice, Blue Jays, Crows, Nuthatches, even Chickadees love them. Did I mention squirrels? Whoeee, it’s like they died and went to heaven. All that and a heated birdbath.

The cats love watching all of the drama on the deck. There is squabbling, chase scenes, robbery and flirtation. Pretty much the same as daytime TV. They line up in a row like they are at the theater. The tips of their tails twitch. They chatter their teeth. Sometimes when they cannot stand it anymore they will jump up and paw at the window. Yup, they love watching the birds and squirrels. And the birds and squirrels love watching them.

And so, the days are getting longer and warmer. Very soon my ursine neighbors will be peering out of their dens and venturing into the skunk cabbage patches to purge themselves of their sluggish winter digestion and then looking around for a snack. But not at my house. My feeders are down and in the garage.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


How do you pick new glasses?

Do you trust the optician?
Do you take a friend?
Do you lean really close and decide yourself?

I found myself in this position last week. I had been putting off going to the eye doctor for at least a year. But I started to have headaches and I could no longer see clearly. So, I caved in and made an appointment. The end result was not so horrible. There was a new doctor who I really liked. She answered loads of whiny questions gracefully albeit with a tiny smile. Everything checked out OK, but the reading needed to be adjusted. Not for the better.

Wahoo. New glasses.

I wear glasses everyday (my quality of vision is crappy with contacts.) I think of them as fashion accessories for the face. So cool factor is critical.

I wandered around the showroom/store for over an hour trying on these, trying on those.
Brown with lime green inside, brown with an electric blue top, olive with red inside and a red nose piece, lovely cream and brown checkered, black and red, black striped, navy blue and magenta with green temples, I tried them all.

It was a slow day at the shop so I had the undivided attention of 4 opticians. They tilted their collective heads this way and that. I squinted into the mirror. They supplied ever more options.

I finally decided on 2 pair of Miklis, the olive and red and a crystal and black. They came in and I am getting used to a new look. The olive and red pair are so neutral that no one has noticed. The black ones on the other hand are a statement.

If you see me, you must comment on the new specs. It will make my day.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Orange Aid

JoJo opened his eyes a slit at the tapping on the window. He saw only a shadow on the pane and closed his eyes again. He was feeling much worse this time. It was so unfair. He was young and strong, so why me? He wondered. The tapping came again. He turned his head away ignoring it. At the doctor last week, she said to think about sharks.” Well, like that was going to help!

It was the C word. Cancer. It was bad. He hadn’t known. Not one to go to doctors, he hadn’t really thought about it. His sister was a nurse and when he finally told her he had a little something going on, she threw a fit. The process had started. The chemo had started.

He was feeling much weaker. In fact, he was exhausted. The last round of chemo almost killed him. His mouth had sores, food tasted and smelled strange. His hair was all but gone, even his beard was thin. The doctor wanted him to try and visualize the chemo attacking and eating the cancer cells. But he wasn’t much of a fish person. He didn’t even like sharks. Jaws still freaked him out. The whole idea of eating put him off.

Again the tap on the window, more incessant this time. JoJo opened his eyes and saw his brother Dave’s finger on the outside of the bottom pane. Tap. Tap. Point. Tap. Tap. Tap. Point. JoJo followed the pointing finger with his eyes. There in the big spruce next to the patio was a Red Tailed Hawk. Dave knew he loved birds. JoJo could see the hawk from where he lay. Big. Fierce. Powerful. Free. It thrilled and depressed him. Would he ever be able to get outside again? As he lay there contemplating his future, he saw a flash of color. He turned his head slowly and painfully to the left. There it was again! He squinted. What was that? He carefully lifted the binoculars off the covers.

A large black crow flew past with five bright orange orioles chasing and dive bombing it.
They didn’t like the crow. They didn’t want it anywhere near their territory. In all of the years of birdwatching, he had never seen orioles chasing a crow. He had seen lots of other small birds chase crows…but orioles?

He watched for a long time as the orioles chased and harassed the crow. It flew this way and that, banking and twisting. The bright orange flashes against the black were seared on his eyelids as when he closed his eyes. The cancer loomed black and ominous; the chemo bright orange. He visualized all those bright orioles harassing the black thing that was cancer. This might work. His mom poked her head around the door with a tray. He smiled. Maybe he could eat a little jello. Orange jello.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Out of the Loop

It's true. I cancelled the cable. I gave it up. Completely. I was only watching ½ hour of weather channel in the morning. If I turned it on in the evening, I would sit there like a mindless drone surfing from 1 uninteresting program to another. I was paying $50 a month for something I did not use and did not want, weather channel notwithstanding. (Besides, that would buy a heck of a good bottle of wine.) When I lived on the farm, I didn’t have TV and did not miss it. (My friends and family knew I lived in a bubble and would call and give me updates on things they thought I should know. Princess Di died? Get out.) But, when I moved to the mountain, I got a huge TV and a cable connection. Need I mention that there was a man involved in this decision? Well, he is gone and I have now been without TV for 2 years. The upside is that I have lots of time for reading, writing, entertaining, blogging…. ☺ The downside is that outside of listening to NPR and the BBC in the mornings, I don’t have a clue as to what is going on.

OK, here is an example. So, I come home from the flatland after Christmas and I am driving around doing errands or whatever I was doing and I notice that all of the flags are half-mast. What the ??!?!?!? When I got off the plane yesterday everything was fine. I put on my “hands-free device” and start to call around. No one was home--at the mall exchanging gifts no doubt. Finally I reached my sister in the flatland.

“Hey, anything I need to know?”

“The flags are all half-mast here.”

“What do you mean Gerald Ford died?”


“Get out.”

See what I mean? I am happy living in my bubble, but if something important happens, I am relying on you to keep me in the loop.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

After the attack

Right place at the right time

As I was walking along a gravel path in the wildflower garden at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, I was contemplating leaving. It was close to 11:30 and getting hotter by the minute. I, being a northeasterner, was not prepared for the heat (in October!) and was wearing a black sleeveless shirt and no hat. Suffice it to say I was toasty and burning (not enough SPF). There was not much happening anyway. I should have come earlier in the day. I had seen some nice birds, but nothing new this time. Some other birders that I met along the path had told me that Harris Hawks nest at the zoo. I thought I might just go over and hang around in the parking lot to see if any were around.

The garden paths wound around and around. As I rambled towards the exit, a Roadrunner dashed by. I had seen one earlier in another section of the park by a huge mesquite tree. This time, I pulled out my camera to try and snap him. As I did, it ran across the path and around me to my left. I whirled around to see it dart into a low tree and come out with something dark in its beak. It suddenly spotted me and dropped its prey and backed off slightly, beak still agape. I looked down to see that the dark thing was a bird--and then-- that it was some sort of OWL! I had never seen such a tiny owl. The little owl spread it wings and faced off with the Roadrunner. The Roadrunner circled to the left. The Roadrunner circled to the right. Back and forth pendulum fashion trying to get an opening. I was standing not 2 feet away watching. As the roadrunner would dart in, I would shuffle my feet in the stones to try and help the little owl. The owl turned toward me and I saw dark eyes beseeching me. Tiny owl. Dark eyes. Hmmm, the only small owl that I knew of in the desert was the Elf Owl. Could this be that?

This presented the ultimate dilemma—to intervene or not, it is the life of the desert. I decided that I had seen many, many roadrunners but not this owl. I needed a better look. So I started to flap my arms and shuffle and stamp my feet—carefully staying on the path. The roadrunner pecked at the owl again and again. I thought at one point that the little owl flinched, as if hurt. It seemed to favor its right wing. Oh no! is that a speck of blood?

What to do…what to do….I couldn’t leave and get help. I knew the instant that I turned my back it would be all over. As luck and the owl gods would have it, a school group approached. As the kids came along, the roadrunner dashed off ahead of them. The guide spotted the roadrunner and stopped to show the kids. I sidled up to the guide and told her that the roadrunner had attacked an owl. I turned to show her and as I did, the owl fluttered off. She immediately picked up her walkie-talkie and called into it. “Come quick. We have an injured owl!” She said that there had been a juvenile western screech found a week before. I told her that the owl had dark eyes. Screechs have yellow eyes. We collectively looked and looked for the small owl. The guide asked me to stay and wait for the ranger.

Standing in the shade of a nearby saguaro trying to keep from frying, I flipped open my ancient Peterson’s. I turned to owls and scanned through them all. Hmmm. The only small owl with dark eyes is a Flammulated. Is that possible? The map does show it here, hmmmmm. I hurriedly looked through the pictures I had snapped. Sure enough, 1 small owl with dark eyes and 1 very agitated roadrunner.

As I waited for the ranger, I spied a Verdin flitting in and around an old nest. I snapped some pictures of it, but it was moving so quickly I finally gave up and watched it. As I was watching the Verdin, I saw a flash of dark movement out of the corner of my eye. (Thank goodness for good peripheral vision.) The ranger came down the path as I was continuing to scan where I had seen the dark movement. I told him of the drama. He was a volunteer for the garden and knew his birds. We looked for the owl. I told him it had dark eyes. We looked at the pictures and in the book. He said that there had only been one or two prior records of a Flammulated Owl in the garden. What a find! With him on the job, I felt free to make my way out of the heat to the relative cool of the gift shop.

On the way out, I became a member of the garden. It supports them and there is reciprocity with other gardens around the country, including the big one near me, New York Botanical Garden. More than that, it serves as host to migrating Flammulated Owls! It is a sea of green in an otherwise sprawling desert city.

After I returned home, I got an email from the ranger. After I left that day, he found the owl sitting straight and tall (well as tall as a 6.5 inch Flam can). As he was trying to take a picture of it, it flew off. He said that the flight looked nice and strong.

I encourage all of you to visit the garden, next time you are in Phoenix. It is one of my favorite places.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

murmuring trees

When I first moved to the mountain and would take my morning walk, I often heard a bird song that had the cadence, "trees, trees, murmuring trees." After some time spent trying to hum it for various people on the phone, I resorted to listening to Birding by Ear in its entirety (luckily I have a long commute). I soon found out that it was a Black-Throated Green Warbler. They nest up here. Of course, I had seen them before during both spring and fall migration, but I had never heard the endless murmuring of the trees.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Gray Ghost

Sarah started at the sound. She held her breath, straining to hear more. She was uneasy, almost scared. She was alone in the house; everyone had gone. But, she could feel someone. There seemed to be voices that were just beyond her hearing. But that was impossible. She had checked every wardrobe, under the beds, even the cellar. Nothing. And besides, she rationalized; no one came out this far into the country. But she was still edgy.

She moved the curtain, peering out at the empty fields for the third time. It was cold, barren and dreary. The fog that had rolled in over night was now so thick she could barely see beyond the yard and into the field. Her eye caught a movement in the fog. There was a stirring--in the fog--of the fog. It was hard to determine which. The waves of mist billowed gently across the field. She looked up but did not see any movement in the trees. If there was no wind, then how was the fog moving?

When she looked back down, a gray shape sliced its way through the fog right at the edge of the field. She stared. She had never seen a marsh hawk so close. She watched it fly away, the white rump glowing before being swallowed up. The fog swirled around in the bird’s wake, and then closed in again.

Sarah slumped against the wall. “I should be doing something,” she thought. “Why did I come in here?” She had been oddly distracted since the summer. If she could only figure out what was wrong, maybe she could get on with her work—-not feel so anxious. Not feel so worn out. She looked out the window for a few moments. What is wrong with me? She got up and glided out the door.

Nina stared out at the swirling fog. Her aunt had disappeared, again. She shivered, there was something creepy about this house, she could feel it. She loved coming to the country and relished the few days she could spend with her aunt. But this time was different some how.

She was tidying the kitchen after lunch when she noticed an old gold ring on the window ledge above the sink. Looking around guiltily, she picked it up and turned it over. It was not her aunt's. It was too small. She slipped it on her pinkie. Who did this belong to, she wondered? She was peering at the inside of the ring, trying to see if there was an inscription, when her aunt came up behind her. She blushed and hurriedly put it back on the ledge.

“Ah,” said her aunt, “I see you have found Sarah’s ring. I've been hoping she will think to look here one day.

Noticing the girl’s blank look, she said, “You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?

Well, there is one here, you know.

Her name is Sarah.

And is she searching for her wedding ring.”

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Meatless for a week

I am not Catholic, but this year I spontaneously decided to give up eating meat for lent. I have no idea why nor where it came from. I have been feeling sort of sluggish lately and thinking more fruits and vegeables might help. It was a casual, passing consideration. But, somehow it has been a whole week. So, many grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, roasted veggies and one dubious casserole that involved swiss chard later, I have not even craved meat. On some level it sort of skeeves me. If you know of any good vegetarian recipes, let me know. I still have 2 business trips and 5 more weeks to go.

Ruminations on garden catalogs

I am sick to death of winter. I was lulled into not hating winter by the relatively balmy December and January. But then came February with its arctic blasts. So, on this March 1st, I am ready for green growing things.

I, like you, receive upteen garden catalogs starting around Christmas. This year, I decided that I was not going to even look at them becasue all of the beds need to be reworked. It's the need versus want thing. So I made a critical error in judgement and recycled all of my garden catalogs. Not a Burpee in the house.

Well, I now find that even without ordering from them, I need them as reminders of the promise of Spring. I need to revel in the purples, yellows, oranges and reds on cold nights as the wind howls around the house. I need to dream of new yellow lilacs and white forsythia. I need to discuss plant varieties with my family.

While I am a flower grower and my sister is a vegetable grower, because we get the same catalogs, we can flip back and forth between them as we discuss the merits of zone 5 versus zone 4 gardening, sun versus shade and the latest techniques for keeping critters out. She kept her catalogs and is busily ordering her seeds with a long vision into the harvest. She will have pointy green caulifower, white tomatoes, yellow carrots and purple potatoes. And, of course, she always grows Bloody Butcher. She has an amazing green thumb and the patience to start all of her plants from seed. Patience is not my virtue. I go to the local nursery or order from catalogs....and await the box of veggies that will be coming to my house from the flatland.