Archive for the ‘birding’ Category

The trouble with lawyers

June 4, 2008

Now I’m not one that thinks the solution is in killing all of the lawyers, but I’ve had it to the nth with Hillary R. Clinton.

First of all, my apologies to my international friends who probably couldn’t give a rip about the current U.S. political campaigns. But what is going on here is almost as big a nuisance as modern packaging (a rant very much worth its own post).

The last couple of weeks of the Clinton campaign have demonstrated beyond doubt (Q. E. D., is, I believe, the correct phrase) exactly why I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in any capacity. If the rules don’t favor you, figure out how to get around them.

Now Bill, at least, is angling for a VP spot for Hillary. Dear Barack, this is the one choice that would ensure I could never vote for you. I hope you have the good sense to put a foot squarely where it belongs. Besides, selecting a VP who keeps pointing out the advantages to be realized if you were to be assassinated seems a self- defeating choice.

Here would be an interesting set of ticket choices:

  • John McCain with Condoleeza Rice as VP (and I say this hesitatingly because her voice is impossible, but she is young, female, black, and experienced in foreign policy), vs.
  • Barack Obama with Madeleine Albright as VP (she’s older and experienced and female–besides all of that, she has a wonderful sense of humor).

Obama needs a woman on the ticket just to get rid of the taint of “sexism” (although in my never humble opinion sexism has virtually nothing to do with the growing antipathy toward HRC). The sad truth of the matter is that women with experience in high-level international policy are few and far between, and if Obama has a serious weakness it’s in international experience.

Ben and I were kicking this around tonight, and it’s really fascinating that so much of the tone of this November’s ticket will depend on the VP selections. But I think it will.

On another front, the hummingbirds are making me crazy. We have 12-13 of them at any peak time (on a 6-flower feeder). They are like a swarm of angry insects. Some of them would rather fight than eat (hmmm, I thought I was through writing about politics tonight but maybe not). Tonight I probably created a monster. The feeder was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to get up at 5 a.m. to refill it, so I put some semi-warm nectar in it. The excitement level was so high I had to leave the porch to get away from the noise. But if these nutty birds think they’re getting warm food from now on, sorry. . .

I just got interrupted by a rather protracted phone call. I’ve lost my train of thought totally, so now I’m off to bed. Ciao, more tomorrow.

I can hardly wait to hear Hilary’s latest excuse.

Nathan Zeldes leading the charge to sanity?

March 4, 2008

Well, I finally got around to the Sunday NYT today (except for the book review and the magazine, which I’ll take with me to Tom’s tomorrow).

There’s a great little essay by a man who’s forcing himself to become unwired one day a week. It’s an interesting piece overall, but I got a chuckle to discover one of my Intel buddies, Nathan Zeldes (full disclosure: our acquaintance is an online one, since he’s half a world from me), quoted regarding his efforts at Intel to reduce e-mail.

Nathan, when I was there (not so long ago at that) I seem to recall that we wrote about something in excess of a million e-mails a day. I notice now that you refer to more than 3 million a day. Doesn’t sound as if your efforts are being particularly successful. . .;^}

For those of you who haven’t made Nathan’s acquaintance, you’ll find his Web site linked in my blog roll.

When I first moved out here, I suffered a bit from technology withdrawal. I had gotten used to being online all the time. Not being able to do that made me a little uncomfortable.

But now I have to confess that not only have I gotten totally used to scheduling my online time (usually when the generator is already running unless there’s something major that I need to do), but I’m also rather enjoying living mostly in the real world again. (I make an exception for Super Mario Galaxy, of course.)

I’m off to Tom’s again for a couple of days tomorrow. I don’t even take my laptop with me any more. We have so little time left to share that I want to just be there, even when he’s sleeping.

On the Big Elk front, spring is definitely early. The daffodils are blooming right on time, but the first hummingbird showed up three weeks early, buzzed me, sat down and folded his wings and said, “Where’s the feeder?” It was up the next morning, and he found it within an hour of daylight.

I remember this hummingbird from last year. He’s a bit of an odd duck. He’s a rufus, but he seems to not know how to hide his bright ruby-colored gorgette the way most of them do. He flies around glowing all the time. Since to other hummingbirds this is a “fight” challenge, things are interesting when he’s around. He also makes a sort of odd metallic sound when he’s buzzing around. At any rate, there’s no mistaking him, and I’m glad to see him back, even if I wasn’t quite ready to deal with the feeder yet.

Now the pot roast needs attention, and I will ride off into the night.

Goodbye to 2007, reflections, and a few interesting discoveries

January 1, 2008

And I wish I could say I’m going to miss this year, but the truth of the matter is, it’s been a mixed bag, so I don’t know if I will or not. But at least it’s been interesting. . .

Yesterday I heard of a Scottish custom for celebrating the changing of the calendar that I really like. At midnight you open the front door to let the new year in, then rush to the back door and open it to let the old year out. Beats the heck out of getting smashed and throwing up all over yourself and everyone close. . .

But I couldn’t help but wonder: What if you reversed the order and let the old year out before you let the new one in? Would it stop time for the moment? (I’m not usually this weird but I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on physics, and the lecturer has me thinking about the non-absolute characteristic of time. So that speculation isn’t as far fetched as it seems.)

There’s an article in the current issue of Archaeology magazine about the henge builders (think Stonehenge). One of the things we discovered this year was that we have our very own henge on this place, although it’s made of trees, not stones.

One of our serious landmarks is a very large (over 200′ tall according to my astrolabe) pair of Douglas fir trees. They escaped the logging that was done in the early 1960s (just before Ben bought the place) because they functioned as the tailholt for the tower cable (an anchor that holds the lower end of the cable in place). A piece of the cable still sticks out from where they have grown together over the years. They’re very very lovely, but that’s not the most remarkable thing about them.

The most remarkable thing about this pair of trees is that on the winter solstice, the sun sets right between them. It’s a beautiful thing to see and a good thing to know (especially if calendars should disappear one of these days, not a totally unthinkable event in these interesting times).

It’s very cold since the rain stopped, but that has its advantages, too. I started the kitchen stove first thing this morning because it puts out heat so much faster than the living room stove. So by breakfast time I had a hot oven, and we were able to feast on skillet-baked cornbread, bacon, scrambled eggs, and fresh, sweet orange wedges, the kind you only seem to be able to get in the winter.

One of this year’s real plusses is that I’ve had the time to become very good friends with my wood cookstove. I haven’t attempted a cake yet (mostly because none of us particularly likes cake), but I’ve run just about everything else through it. I’m getting very spoiled.

I discovered a piece of cookware I don’t have (Ben says that’s impossible). I don’t have an apfelskiver pan. I think that’s a very good thing. They look like a great deal of trouble to bake, and I suspect that other apple things taste as good or better. So I’m not looking for one.

And of course, I discovered White Lily flour. I’m still making discoveries about how to use it, when to mix it with other flours to get the desired result (for example, scones made with pure White Lily flour are too cakey for my taste, but if I add a little hard wheat flour (about 3 parts WL to 2 parts hard wheat) the texture is perfect.

And speaking of scones, you may remember that one of my goals was to find the perfect scone recipe. I hit it second time out, so now I’m messing with various additions for flavor. I used to think that apricot scones topped with apricot or peach jam were the best, but that was before I added some crystalized ginger to my plain scone dough.

The local co-op has a million varieties of organic crystalized or candied dried fruits, so I’m not through experimenting. But it’s hard to imagine anything better than that ginger. . .

One recent discovery is wonderful. Living off the grid as we do, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in flashlights. We’ve tried a number of LED mini-maglites with varying amounts of success. The problem with most of them is that a) they cost about $20, and b) they may be very bright up close but they don’t project. But I stumbled onto this weird little mini-mag (brand Performance Tool, made in China, of course, in a variety of bright metallic colors and basic black, but since I rarely chew on my flashlights, I doubt that there’s a problem here). It’s about 4 inches long, fits nicely in pocket, purse, or glovebox, uses 3 AAA batteries (don’t know the life expectancy yet, but with the LED lamps I’m expecting wonderful things), and projects its brightness about 25 yards (or roughly as far as you can shoot accurately with a pistol, even a good one). I liked it so much I bought a bunch of them ($3.50 each at Bi-Mart) and have scattered them around in useful places. I even have one by the stove for an oven light. And since I ended up for some strange reason (tied, I’m sure to a battery-buying binge I went on when I moved out here) with a surplus of AAA batteries, I think I’m getting a double hit here.

I think I’ve finally identified my mystery birds, and it’s so dumb that I really feel stupid. But I think the birds with the beautiful song are sparrows, house or song, I’m not totally sure. But if that’s the case, I can’t believe we’ve never had them around until this year. But they can come sing to me any time.

And of course I’ve discovered Super Mario Galaxy. I’m sure it will take me the rest of the winter to finish it. Most days I play only during the evenings when the generator is running and during the times I’m not busy getting dinner together or the leftovers put away. I’m trying to average one star a day, but some days I don’t play at all, so then I have to try to make up for it. The stars are getting harder and harder.

I think I’m basically too impatient to be a very good Wii player. My favorite approach is to run full tilt at whatever is my target. But sometimes my speed is better than my accuracy. This often leads to a less than satisfactory result. Come to think of it, there are a number of things that I approach exactly the same way, sometimes with exactly the same result. Hm-m-m-m-m-m. . .

Here’s what I’m hoping for in 2008:

  • Peace
  • More good weather than rain
  • Peace
  • A satisfactory resolution to my brother’s troubles
  • Peace
  • Lots of visits with friends
  • Peace
  • Some good writing
  • Peace
  • One belly laugh (or more) every day
  • Peace

You get the idea. . .

Now once again I have lumped so many topics together I’ll probably get another note from that guy who complained before, which is OK. At least I knew he read the whole thing. . .But I’m going to sign off. I’ve got to go write a poem about Appalachia, and I’m not sure where to start.

The best to all of you in 2008. Stay in touch.

Big Bird day, dinner improvisation

November 15, 2007

It’s been a bit wild around here today, both figuratively and literally. The predicted storm has yet to blow in. Last night’s fires did the trick, but it was still only 34F when I got up this morning, so it took two fires today to keep the house overheated. . .

No sign of the cougar, which is fine with me, but this morning I was enjoying the cold air when a pair of bald eagles put on an aerial performance the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Two VERY large ones engaged in some sort of pursuit game circled the meadow in and out of the alders for several minutes.

There are two possibilities: 1) They were fighting over fishing territory, or 2) one of them wanted to mate and the other either a) didn’t, or b) was playing coy. And I’ll probably never know the truth.

One of the really neat things about winter here is that the bald eagles return. I’m not sure where they spend their summers (farther north, I’m told), but come the cold weather and the fish returning up the river to spawn, they’re back. They’re not shy. You can walk darned near up to one and just have it watch you closely. Having seen those talons and beak from close proximity, I assure you I would never challenge one.

This afternoon, I heard a very strange noise from the river. I convinced Ben it must be a beaver (they’re REALLY bad this year) working on one of the big maples, so he wandered down. But it was really a great blue heron, which proceeded to fly up and circle the meadow several times complaining about having its fishing disturbed.

Also notable today: winter wrens and Oregon juncos, two of my favorites, in plentiful supply.

Tonight’s dinner was a surprise, even to me. I got out the B/S chicken breasts I got to roast in garlic olive oil and discovered that I’d really bought chicken strips (the result, no doubt, of shopping without putting my reading glasses on). So we had battered chicken strips with garlic and olive oil roasted potatoes instead. Enough leftovers to get me through lunch tomorrow.

Now, all of these birds make me realize I must fly.

Back from Bend

November 5, 2007

The four-day trip over the mountains to The Nature of Words in Bend was both exhausting and rewarding. Quick precis: Great weather (mid-fifties in the day, high-twenties at night, clear and sunny), great workshops (I took three, and picked up tips in each one) and readings (heard seven terrific authors), enjoyed the company of my dear friend Ruth, met up with old friends I haven’t seen in awhile, made a few new ones. I particularly enjoyed the poets there, my former mentor Pattiann Rogers and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. I admire the poetry of each, and hearing them read it and discuss poetry in the workshops was a great experience.

We took a short side trip to the High Desert Museum south of Bend. What a great place. I really enjoyed the raptor house. I made a few attempts to communicate with the owls. I’ve learned many of their calls here from being kept awake at night and having to figure out what was keeping me up. In several cases, I got their attention, but they didn’t seem to have much to say to me. I think my accent might have been poor, because they looked at me the way the French do when you’ve just butchered some attempt to speak that language. Also got up close and personal with two bald eagles. We see them here in the winter, but generally not from 6-7 feet away.

A sign at the museum advises visitors that the only birds kept here on display are those with some injury or defect that makes it impossible for them to survive in the wild. This seems like a nice solution for all.

But I’m glad to be home. The weather here is gorgeous now, too, which probably means that I’m going to have to work outside today. It’s as if October and November flip-flopped this year. We had November rain last month and now we’re getting Indian summer.

If you can get outside somewhere where there’s little or no ambient light in the early morning (before dawn–I hear some of you saying “”ugh” as I write this), it’s really worth the trouble. Right now, about 5 or 6 a.m., a brilliant Venus is climbing the sky toward a crescent moon and the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux. It’s pretty spectacular and worth getting out of bed to see.

Got a great letter (a real letter) from Phil, my blog friend in Cornwall. He’s vacationing in Cyprus, so now I have a wonderful collection of Greek stamps.  Considering how much of our history is captured in personal correspondence through the centuries, I can’t help but wonder what we will use instead. I somehow don’t think that archives of e-mail will be as accessible. This feels like one of the downsides of our technological advance.

But I’m dithering, and I have some things that must be done now that it’s really daylight.

Life in the country, contemplating birds

October 25, 2007

It’s gorgeous and sunny here, and I probably should be out doing some of the things that need doing in the yard, but instead I’m trying to complete a writing assignment and using this as an excuse not to do so. Also, it’s very cold out there for a wimp like me (hasn’t yet hit 45 degrees today), so it’s also more fun to be in here keeping the fire going.

I’ve been thinking a lot about birds this morning, probably because that’s what I’ve decided to write about, if and when I ever get around to writing it. But so much of what we conjecture about our world here revolves around observing the wildlife.

We didn’t get our usual sunny October. It started raining around the first of the month and, with a break of a couple of days, has rained pretty steadily since. This is what we all call November weather. But somehow the birds knew it was going to happen. The hummingbirds and swallows migrated nearly a month early this year, just disappeared the way they do, headed for South American or the Mexican Riviera to ride out the winter in a less cold spot. And I saw the first bald eagle of the season this morning, also about a month earlier than I expected. They winter here and fish the river, and in January they’re very common. But not in October.

A big old ruffed grouse, the biggest we’ve ever seen, was hanging around the woodshed yesterday pruning and eating the twigs from some brush. It was so large I thought at first it was a rabbit, but then I got the glasses and got a better look.

Haven’t seen the cougar again, which is fine with me, but the fact that it made an appearance so close to the house has everyone a little ruffled. It makes you pay attention (and carry a pistol) when you’re out walking around. Logging has reduced their habitat, and with the new restrictions on hunting, the populations are exploding, so I expect we’ll see more of them.

Tonight feels like black bean soup with vegetables and sherry to me. I think with a big plate of Southern-style hot biscuits it will suit my mood perfectly.

Today’s tally

July 6, 2007

Today I did not make sauerkraut as planned. Ralph showed up at the door early this morning witha humongous quantity of pie cherries that he had just picked. I think he liked the pie. I certainly did.

So tonight I have 5 pints of blueberries, three quart of Royal Annes, and three quarts of pie cherries freshly packed and sealed in glass jars.

Sauerkraut tomorrow. Tonight I’m wiped out.

But today was very special. While Ralph was down picking pie cherries, a happening I knew nothing about and would have put an instant stop to, I was watering and working in the garden. Two great blue herons flew right over head, higher than I’ve ever seen them, and the first time I’ve seen two together. I think it must have been a mating flight. They were headed for the top of Big Creek, and it was truly amazing. Then I started noticing that all of the birds I saw were in pairs.

It must be summer.

New toy, fav tools, new food, hummingbirds, and book worth reading

June 20, 2007

Whew! Can I cram all of that into one blog post? I think so. And things are so busy this time of year that I have to try.

About 7 years ago, Ben asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I answered, “My very own stringcutter (weed eater).” He recovered from his shock eventually, and bought me a Ryobi power head with the “quick link” feature to add attachments.

This was something like the day I said “We have to buy another shovel.” This was before we even had an outhouse out here. But we did have a 6-year-old daughter who had trouble planning ahead. She would say, “Mom, I have to go. I really have to go,” and of course Ben would be at the far end of the property with our only shovel. So we bought another shovel, and life got easier. Then we built an outhouse, and things were great. Now we have septic and real plumbing and I no longer have to get up in the middle of the night wondering what sort of animal has sought the relative warmth of the outhouse, a result, I’m sure, of listening to too much of The Dillards bluegrass music.

But I got my new weed eater. Ben really liked it, and so I never got to use it. It was always gone. But he complained about the smell of the exhaust, so I bought him the 4-cycle version, which used the same attachments. He loved it. But there was a hitch. The 4-cycle can’t be run tilting upward, so he couldn’t use the tree-pruning attachment. So I still lost my weedeater.

Yesterday I bought a new one. The company has been sold God-knows-how-many times, and for awhile you couldn’t get them at all. But they’re back, I have a new one, and I’m going to put an assortment of pink stuff on it so everyone knows it’s mine.

Josh, I’m not going to post unboxing pictures. They’d be very boring, as Ryobi has done a great job of minimizing their packaging.

I’m still in love with the hazel hoe and grape hoe in the garden. These heavy-headed cousins of the American hoe are SO useful. Too bad they’re so hard to find.

But I do have a new kitchen tool that I love, an itty-bitty colander (holds about 4 cups). I use it almost every day.

Yesterday I checked out at Bi-Mart and was leaving when a display caught my eye. “Beer Chips.” Now you have to at least stop and look at this, and I’m glad I did. It’s a new product from a Portland-based company–potato chips made with beer. They’re delicious–crispy, a little sweet, bet you can’t eat just one.

The hummingbirds, I think, have finally started nesting. Thank God! I’ve been filling the feeder 2 and sometimes 3 times each day. But their consumtion has dropped severely and the ones that remain are acting definitely hormonal.

When I should have been out gardening today, instead I was reading a rather amazing (and for someone like me depressing) book–Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. I have added Neil Postman to my list of authors I really want to talk with who are, unfortunately, dead.

This is a terrific book, and a must read for anyone who is worried about the sociological habits of the 21st century American. It was written more than 20 years ago. And reading it left me so depressed, because he is right, right, right, and there may be no fixing it.

Now it’s time to cook dinner. Leftover chili. If you haven’t discovered Carroll Shelby’s (former race car driver/ race car builder) chili mix, do so immediately. It’s terrific.

Slouching toward summer: Photos of hummers and garden

June 15, 2007

I have no creativity at the moment, so here’s a quick update on the state of things around here.

I’ve tried and tried (without much success) to get a few good pictures of the hummingbirds. But when the light is right, I don’t have the camera, and blah, blah, blah. But maybe these will give you some idea of the crowd around the back deck. If you look carefully, you can count 7 (two of them tails only) on the feeder with one waiting in the wings. You can’t see the other 9-10 that are diving around in the trees.


One of the rufous ones just coming in for a landing. Note the alert posture of some of the others waiting to see if she’s going to eat or attack:


The current state of the blueberry crop:


I’ve been eating a few raspberries and strawberries. These won’t be too long. They’re the earliest of my six varieties.

Here’s the top part of the garden:


Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, radishes, onions, bush green beans, baby and mature lettuce, a few tomato plants, some herbs(cilantro and dill), and the strawberry bed in the background. Below the fold, so to speak, off to my left, are corn, squash(four kinds), melons, cucumbers, more tomatoes, some volunteer potatoes, hot peppers, green peppers, eggplant, artichokes, and rhubarb. The bare spot on the left is a road to get the mowers or the RTV in and out. There are also a few scattered flowers–roses, dahlias, zinnias, and snapdragons. Those are for the soul rather than the stomach.

Update from the Big Elk

June 11, 2007

I think my manuscript might actually come together. Today I printed out a lot of poems and loosely organized them. I wasn’t happy with the title I used previously, but I’ve settled on a new one, thanks to Mike Green, my previous director at Intel. Mike’s a writer also, and when he said, “I wish I’d written that,” I listened.

But I found another reason why I’m still married (and remarkably happily so) after all of these years. Ben has surprised me from time to time in what he reads. I subscribe to a number of relatively weird (or at least esoteric) publications. One of the ones that Ben reads regularly is The New York Review of Books. Not what I would have chosen for him to read, but I’m glad he likes it as much as I do. Reading this weekly gives you a taste of reading much more widely and a hint as to where you might read more deeply. That’s where I discovered E. B. White’s collected letters, for example, a book that almost instantly catapulted to my list of all-time favorites.

But Ben likes the NYRB I think for much the same reasons I do. I was putzing around in the kitchen the other morning when he said, “OK, it’s finally happened. There’s a word here that I don’t understand.”

He brought the magazine out to where I was puttering around. I didn’t have my reading glasses, but between the two of us and his spelling efforts, we determined that the word in question was “misogynist.” “Do you know what that means?” He asked. I told him it was a word that describes someone who hates women.

“That would be a very hard word to use in a sentence,” he said, and I fell in love all over again. Ben is definitely not a man who could comprehend hating women. . .

The hummingbirds are eating me out of house and home. I had to buy ten more pounds of sugar yesterday (just got ten a week or so ago). But they are consuming about two quarts of syrup daily. Our count is up to about 20 at feeding-frenzy times, early morning and late evening. I’ve seen 10 sitting on the 6-hole feeder numerous times. They’ve learned to share holes so more can feed at the same time.

We’ve had two days of fairly heavy rain. But the Rose Festival parade was this weekend, so it should clear up any time now.

Ralph made enchiladas (with close supervision) tonight. He’s pretty well mastered the art of corned beef, so this expands his repertoire. They were very good, topped with “the whole Marianne,” a salad of lettuce and tomatoes and olives, and accompanied by guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.

It’s 9:30 and still basically daylight outside. I love this time of year. By the time I get everything shut down, it will probably be dark. And so to bed.