Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

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.

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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.

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.