Archive for the ‘oddities’ Category

I think there’s an allegory happening on my back deck

April 22, 2008

We seem to have only four summer-resident hummingbirds this year. A much larger flock flew in early, but they moved on after feeding. However, these four little birds are providing a real sideshow.

If you think all hummingbirds look and act alike, you’re not paying attention. Each has distinct personality and characteristics. And perhaps it’s just overload with all the election-year hype, but it’s hard not to see in them a reflection of a greater drama playing out.

So I have given them nicknames, referred to here with acronyms. I’ll tell you about them.

They are all of the rufus species, although two are male and two are female. I didn’t think the different sexes hung out together, but that seems to be the case this year.

The first to arrive was GWB. I remember him from last year, because he makes such weird noises I thought he was ill and was very surprised to see him back. His chitter has an odd sound, and when he flies he makes a distinct metallic noise that is very different from the others.

He flies around most of the time with his bright orange gorget exposed, daring the others.

In the manner of rufus birds, because he arrived first at the feeder he claimed he owned it.

However, the second to arrive was the largest of the birds, a female I call HRC. She is testy and irritable, and she quickly disabused GWB of his ownership status. She chases all the other birds away when she can, although sometimes they gang up on her. She scolds them constantly, feeds without alighting, generally buzzing and making a lot of racket. She thinks she owns the race. (I can’t believe I wrote “race.” I meant “feeder.”)

The other female is BHO, although personally I refer to her as the philosopher. On a number of occasions I’ve seen BHO sitting quietly on a branch trying to reason with HRC, explaining, I’m sure, that the feeder has six flowers, plenty for everyone, and that the complacent voter sitting there on the deck will keep filling it up.

She talks in a gentle assertive voice. HRC pays no attention whatsoever, squawking and scolding and attacking. Then she tries to chase BHO off.

The fourth I call JMC. He is in some ways the most furtive and interesting. He does his best to avoid the other birds, although when he’s surprised, out pops the gorget and he does battle. But he prefers to wait until things are quiet, then sneak in and feed furtively until he’s full, and fly off. His preference is for lack of confrontation, but he definitely has a temper.

It’s fun to watch these four jockeying for position of “top bird” and finding ways to feed that suit their individual styles. Of course, the season is less than half over, so things may calm down.

But probably not. Rufus birds are just plain territorial and contentious. And it would be awfully boring if they all just got along.

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Tapping on the Buddha’s nose: a dilemma

March 20, 2008

So, I have this new toy, and it’s presenting me with a bit of a dilemma. I’m relying on my faithful blog readers to help me resolve it.

A friend who is an excellent metal sculptor made me a steel drum after learning how enamored I was of the music I heard in the Caribbean. It’s not your standard professional model. It’s a work of art. Hammered on the drum is what I think Fritz intended to be a sun with rays extending out to the edges.

However, the sun’s face looks exactly like the Buddha. If I had never noticed this, it would have been no problem. But since I have, I’m asking this question:

If I hit the Buddha’s nose with my mallet, and I being disrespectful?

I await your answers. This kind of thing keeps me awake all night.

Major Burrows is history: RIP

January 19, 2008

Not only the snowdrops but the daffodils are poking their little shoots up through ground very nearly still frozen. Spring will be early this year.

But the really good news is that the pesky giant mole is dead and I can go on to worry about other things in Wii-world. Josh’s advice helped, but I really had to pay attention to when to thump-jump. My brain was somewhat foggy on the matter.

I’m still not totally sure why he finally died, but nonetheless, he did.

It’s hard to come back to real life, but back I am. Tonight’s dinner is my Americanized version of wonton soup. Everything’s done except the last-minute stuff. The last of the crystallized ginger scones from yesterday are sitting on the counter, and I’ll probably reheat them for dessert.

My daughter posted a weird dream on one of her blog sites today. http://www.inger.net/?p=126

Our concerns are obviously different, but she’s still one of my favorite folks. As I told her once, if she wasn’t my daughter, I still have to choose her for a friend.

Now to go boil stuff. . .

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.

Cougar Standard Time

November 11, 2007

This morning started off as Sunday mornings often do. I awoke early, and rather than tossing and turning, got up, put on my slippers and grabbed a cover, and went downstairs to sit in front of the fire and listen to NPR.

It’s a good thing Weekend Edition – Sunday repeats several times, because as usual, I dozed back off. I heard Ben come downstairs, reheat the coffe, and go up to his office. I dozed off again. Then I heard, “Come here! Right now! The lion’s in the field again.”

Sure enough, out the spare bedroom window I could see a cougar, about 3/4 grown, strolling through the meadow like he owned it.

Now, I enjoy the wildlife about as much as anyone can. I like the idea that we have bears and lions (no tigers so far, thank goodness) living in the woods around us. I don’t like the idea that they feel free to stroll around what is essentially my front yard. This guy is just big enough that he’s been thrown off the folks place and told to go stake out his own territory. He can do it here, but only if he’s discreet about it.

Ben frightened him off with a well-placed rifle shot. We’ll see if he comes back. I confess I’d much rather look at the deer that are undoubtedly providing his meals, so there’s a basic conflict here.

Needless to say, after that I was fully awake and even got to hear the puzzlemaster.

I think “The Oregonian” should change its name

November 9, 2007

Oregon has only one major newspaper: The Oregonian. If you want to have a clue what’s going on, you have to read it at least part of the time.

The Eugene Register Guard and the Salem Statesman Journal would like to be major newspapers. They just don’t quite get there.

But The Oregonian’s name is now misleading. It no longer represents or even presents the values of the residents of the state. It should be renamed The Portland Journal or some such thing.

The Oregonian has been gradually abandoning large parts of the state. Delivery services have been stopped in such places as Wallowa County and the valley I live in. Of course, you can get a mail subscription if you don’t mind your paper costing more and being a few days late. But lately it’s been hard to even buy one if I drive an hour to town to get it.

More than half of the residents of Oregon live in the Portland metro area (Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties), as I think I noted previously. But these areas comprise about 10%, possibly less, of the physical area of Oregon. They exclude the grain belt, the cattle ranchers, the timber lands, and other significant portions of Oregon commerce and real estate.

And The Oregonian seems content to ignore all of these.

But here is the latest umbrage-invoking act:

The Oregonian has created a group called “Community Writers.” In this Sunday’s paper, they introduced them.

The group was announced with a lot of folderol. This group, the newspaper said, would be diverse and represent the widest possible interests in the state. They would be encouraged to speak bluntly about what was on their minds and not be censored by the editorial staff.

Then came the profiles of the 12 people selected. Forget the obvious fact that this is, for the most part, a very lily-white group. There is one person under 30, and, if memory serves me well, two people over 50.

But there is only one person who lives more than an hour’s drive from Portland. There are two more who arguably live in smaller towns outside the immediate urban conglomerate known as the greater Portland area. But Hood River and McMinneville are still close enough to Portland (less than an hour) to be engaged in that area on a regular basis.

Where are the real representatives of the rural areas of the state? MIA, that’s where.

The editorial staff of The Oregonian seems to be completely out of touch with about half of the state’s population. And they seem content to have it so.

So maybe I’m just spitting into the wind here, but it seems to me that the fair thing to do would be for the paper to change its name to something that more accurately reflects what it represents. Full disclosure and all, you know.

The Oregonian it ain’t. Not any more.

I feel a small rant coming on, and a household tip for you

November 7, 2007

I absolutely loathe, detest, and despise modern packaging.

I’m old enough to remember when there were real hardware stores with big bins of nuts and bolts. You went in to the store, selected what you needed, and paid for it. Now you have a choice of packages of pre-counted amounts of things, all carefully sealed in unbreakable plastic wrap with a handsome cardboard outer with description, price, and so on.

These packages are the reason I find it necessary to have heavy duty kitchen shears in at least three rooms of my house.

But I also resent having to buy five screws when I need three. What do I do with the other two? They go in my tool box in the mixed screw section. But I’ll never remember they are there.

I’m a great believer in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I can’t often do much about the “reduce” part. You buy the things you need, and you’re more or less at the mercy of the manufacturer. Although I will say this: For many years we ate only Jif peanut butter. We all liked it. Then Jif switched from glass jars, which I reused like crazy, to plastic. I refused to buy it. I wrote them a letter explaining why. I got no answer.

But the good news is that I then discovered Adams peanut butter, which is a far superior product that’s actually virtually all peanuts and always comes in glass jars. Ben rebelled at having to stir his peanut butter, but I kept buying it. Then Adams came out with a “no-stir” variety that had only minor amounts of adulteration. We’ve all been happy since. I buy no other brand, even though the crunchy style that we prefer is sometimes hard to find.

The “recycle” part is easy. We do huge amounts of that.

But then we get to “reuse.” This is the other part of modern packaging that makes me nuts.

This time of year, lots of things–nuts, chocolates–come in rather large plastic containers. I’m pretty much opposed to plastic on principle, but if I can reuse the container for an extended period of time, my anxiety level goes down. I much prefer glass, but the larger plastic containers can be used to keep tea bags fresh, store bread crumbs, and otherwise make a repository for things that do better if they’re in an air-tight environment. But–

The people who market these things seem to feel obliged to put on their labels with an adhesive with some of the qualities of that ghastly black mastic adhesive that was used for so many years to secure phony paneling or tile to plaster board. It’s almost impossible to remove, rendering the container somewhat less than useful. At least it was. Tonight I made a great discovery.

I had one of these containers that I was trying to remove the glue from. I first of all tried some hand lotion that I won’t use because it’s too greasy. Hopeless. After that, I added some detergent to a scrubber sponge and tried that. No dice.

Then I remembered a tip that I read somewhere about how to get pitch or bubblegum out of your hair. My hair is about 30 inches long, so it’s important to know these things. But the tip was this: Rub peanut butter on it, and it will dissolve.

So I rubbed a little (and it really was only a VERY little) Adams on my recalcitrant jar and–voila! The glue washed right off.

But what a waste of good peanut butter.

Wildlife, and getting wilder

October 8, 2007

I went to Salem yesterday to sort through some things with family, and so I missed all the excitement.

Ben was working in his office and looked out the window (early afternoon) to see a mountain lion strolling across the meadow about 50 yards from the house. !!!

We know they’re around here. We’ve heard them mating, and I’ve seen two cubs in the last three months while on the road. This one, Ben estimated, was probably about a year old, bigger than the cubs I’ve seen but smaller than a mature lion. To have it close to the house in broad daylight was a little scary. Ben’s right, I need to dust off my .38 special.

Our wildlife here is generally pretty reserved and people-contact-averse. I prefer it that way, I must admit. We don’t keep animals, but several of our neighbors do. The deer have been a little sparse this year (very scarce now that hunting season is on us–I’m not sure how they know, but they seem to), so I suspect the lion was looking for something to eat. The neighbors are now officially alerted.

My DSL has been down for two days. I hate working by dial-up, but at least I can still get online. The DSLAN is down for the whole valley, so I can’t even take it personally.

Blood on the moon

August 29, 2007

Early, very early, this morning, with a aid of a little piece of modern technology called an alarm clock, I rousted my poor tired body from bed to view the total lunar eclipse that the sky offered up.

I have seen a number of eclipses: two solar (one full, one partial), and now two full lunar eclipses. It is not surprising that in other cultures they have been viewed as miraculous and portentious events. And this was the first I have ever seen in absolutely clear skies.

Over the months, I have become fully indoctrinated into country living, rising most of the time with the light and going to bed generally not too long after the dark creeps in. I may sit up and read for awhile, but most often, the total dark is the signal to call it a day. In the winter when nights are rather long, it’s not uncommon for me to get up in the dark, use a flashlight to get downstairs, turn on NPR to see what’s happening elsewhere, and snuggle up in one of the recliners, still in the dark.

It’s been so long since I used my alarm clock that when it went off at 2 a.m. I didn’t at first know what it was. My mind was sorting through a large group of possibilities, most of them involving things like smoke alarms, UPS alarms, and the like. Then I realized it was my little 12-time-zone battery-operated clock. So I got up.

The first time I saw a total lunar eclipse I was living in San Rafael, California, and the event occurred at a much more civilized hour–about 9 p.m. The moon turned blood red and angry. Very little else in the sky was visible–too much ambient light.

My neighbor Kenny tells me he saw a picture of an eclipse in Germany in which the moon turned blue. He tells me it depends on the composition of the atmosphere in the viewing area.

But I didn’t know other colors were possible, so I was expecting and found a red moon. But this moon wasn’t an angry red. It looked sad, if anything, a soft rose that I associate with pensiveness and even mourning.

But when the last bit of white faded, the sky lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of the more amazing celestial sights I have ever seen, this sad (blue, if you will) rose-colored moon amid stars that were as bright as any I’ve ever seen.

And so many of them. If you live in a city, or even a small town, you may never have really seen the night sky unless you like to go out camping in the mountains or desert. Even then you have to be willing to extinguish all of your camp lights, set up camp far from anyone else, and be patient long enough for your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then you can see the sky, a night sky you’ll never forget.

The dark adaption is important. There is a chemical that floods the back of your eye when it is exposed to white light to reduce the impact of the brightness. When white light is absent, the chemical gradually subsides and you see better and better in the dark. The process can take 10-30 minutes.

But it’s worth the trouble. There’s nothing else that I can think of that gives me a truer picture of my place and relative importance in the universe than a view of an unobstructed night sky with a little learning to understand what I’m really looking at. It’s truly humbling.

I was moved by this sad moon, and I’m glad I got up to see it. I’m not sure how anything watching the mess we are making of our world these days could not be sad. But last night’s moon, like a mourner at a funeral, helped spread the grief. 

Magic happens

June 9, 2007

My blogging friend Ombusben posted a wonderful entry about “Mocking the Mockingbirds.” I took me back in space and time to at least two different occasions.

If there is something I really miss in western Oregon, it’s mockingbirds. I guess we just don’t have quite enough heat for them to enjoy living here. Or maybe they’re just too lazy to commute for such a short warm time.

Several decades ago, I lived in northern Marin County in California. I loved the house, including the 40′ swimming pool in the back yard. The story I want to tell you began there.

At the time, I was 8+ months pregnant (a situation that continued for about 6 weeks–my daughter is still chronically late) and very uncomfortable most of the time. I awoke very early in the morning unable to sleep, and I would slip outside and lie in a deck chair by the pool.

In a corner of the yard was a huge Monterey pine, the tallest tree in the neighborhood. Those of you who know mockingbirds will understand that this characteristic makes it a mockingbird magnet.

Each morning a mockingbird (the same one, I’m sure) would come and sit on the very tallest branch and sing to me for hours. He had a huge repertory of bird calls. It’s hard to remember being happier, even as uncomfortable as I was.

When my daughter was 13, I had been living in Oregon for nearly a decade (again–I was born and grew up here). We bought a wonderful old house that had  been horribly abused. But it was a terrific house on a huge lot about 5 minutes from downtown, and we loved it.

I was out slogging in one of the flower beds one morning not too long after we moved in. The yard, if possible, had been even more abused than the house, but we were determined to get it back.

My back and shoulders and knees were all hurting from crawling around weeding. I looked up at a huge spruce tree in the back yard (the tallest in the neighborhood) and thought, “If I just had a mockingbird, I would be totally happy right now.”

Three days later, I was still weeding in the same area. I began to hear beautiful bird song, at least a half dozen different species. I started looking for the birds, and here’s what I found: In the top of the spruce tree was a mockingbird.

He sang for me as I worked for several days. Then he was gone. He never came back.

I’ve often wondered how far he had to come that it took three days to get there. I also wondered how he could have heard my call/wish from wherever he was.

But I will never forget him.