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New Year's Walk

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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No matter what the weather, we go out in nature on New Year's Day. Often we'll go birding. Well, we're always birding.

This year we chose a good hike down Dean's Fork. The added attraction is that we can get there from our front door. I love a hike that starts and ends at the front door. It makes me feel like the richest person in the world, to have a good hike I can take that doesn't require a car ride first.

My gosh, Liam's catching his dad, 6'1" and showing no signs of stopping; growing like he was paid to grow. In this photo, he reminds me so much of Bill, but in vanilla--the build, the stance, the tilt of the head, but also the expression. 


Throwback to about 1989, and why he reminds me of his dad:

All hail genetics! Two lanky peas in a pod.


New Year's Day, 2017--It was time to get little Chet Baker out for a good hike!


There were premises to be patrolled, and Offisa Pupp was on duty, crusin' around in the black and white. 


When Phoebe, Corey and Liam are together, they play like the overgrown kids they are. 


Race to the big rock! Chet always gets up there hisself. Sometimes he gets a lift before he even tries.


We have years of photos of the kids and dog on this rock.


It's so natural and easy to add a fourth guy to the mix. 


For at least four years, I've been quietly cussing at several huge wads of Tyvek house wrap that washed down this stream in a flood. Who knows where they came from? But they were clearly here to stay, non-degrading, and defacing a beautiful run for good. Getting that stuff out of there was something I probably couldn't handle myself. And 99% of the time, it's just me and Chet here.


Bill went down to see if there was anything he could do about it.

And Corey was right behind.


Hauling on the heavy plastic, weighted by years of sediment and gravel, it wasn't long before Corey slipped, and one boot went in the creek.


Laughing and completely unfazed despite freezing water, a cold day, and miles to walk home, he took that opportunity to dunk the other boot. Might as well be symmetrically uncomfortable, and more effective at the job.


Never a word of complaint escaped him as he strained and pulled and got that awful stuff out of frigid Dean's Fork.


He had to use his pocketknife to free the last bit, but soon he was hauling it out and up onto the roadbed. I thought of all the surprised crawfish.


And Dean's Fork was a little muddied, but whole again after years. What a gift to give to this place, that gives so much to us! I now smile broadly whenever I walk by this passage, that used to elicit a heavy sigh.


The Eco-Avengers, posing with the carcass of the nasty old Tyvek they have slain. I'll drive down in the old Subaru and lash it to the cargo carrier, bring it home and figure out how to dispose of it when things dry out a bit.


But wait, there was more.  Right in a part of the stream that catches the afternoon skylight so beautifully, there was another skein of Tyvek. There's always more garbage. Corey to the rescue, scrambling down the embankment!



 Phoebs gave him a hand on the last leg. These slopes are steep, all-fours crawling a lot of the time.


We weighted the second wad of Tyvek with rocks, left it by the side of the road for me to pick up later, and continued on our New Year's walk, Corey in cold wet boots, but in heaven too, out in nature with his best gal. I was working on another little portrait of them, trying to work the dash of red into the composition, when Phoebe spotted something!


Two redtails circled over. There are a few reasons why there would be redtails at this particular time and place.


First, this is where a number of area hunters come to dump their deer carcasses over the embankment. We found remains of six deer, one less than a day dead. 


Deplorable, perhaps, but the coy-wolves, bobcats, foxes, opossums and redtails don't think so. It's a de facto feeding station for area predators.


Another reason for the sudden appearance of redtails might be Dear Old Dod, smiling down on a love so true.


Sending a message out of the blue, him and Ida, too. 



Never count magic out of the mix.


Young Love and Sweet Rolls

Sunday, January 15, 2017

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Phoebe was 15 and Corey was 17 when they met in Maine, in June 2012, when he was enrolled as a camper and we were teaching for Hog Island Audubon Camp.  Liam and Phoebe were along for the ride, eager to soak up the scene off Maine's coast. When I got a load of Corey Husic in the field I knew that he could have been teaching right then and there. And in fact he was, every step of the way. Insects, birds, plants, amphibians, ecosystems...he's got it all packed into his head, and he moved naturally into a leadership position with the other Corvids (teen campers), teaching all the way.

And in an unsurprising twist of destiny, Corey will be an instructor for Hog Island Audubon Camp in the summer of 2017!

Here he is in the summer of 2012, helping us with dragonfly ID.



Liam was so little, yet still so funny. Here, he's making the whole group laugh (well, Hunter's preoccupied) with his antics.


What's wrong with this photo? Corey and Phoebe aren't arm in arm! See, they don't know they're in love yet.  But I was already taking photos, because I had a feeling it was going to happen. I liked that red-headed boy, a lot. 



And sure enough, he and Phoebe started sending messages back and forth as soon as the session ended.

It was a whole year before we met Corey's wonderful folks, both college professors; Diane now Dean of the School of Natural and Health Sciences at Moravian College; his dad David Professor and Head of Chemistry at Lafayette College and a killer old-time fiddle and guitar player.


 There was a whole year of messaging back and forth before Corey and Phoebe got to see each other in person again--at this brief get-together in Pennsylvania in June 2013.

Corey made his first long interstate solo drive to come here for Phoebe's birthday that same July, and a lovely tradition of Indigo Hill idylls began.


Ah they look so young here!


Baking's always part of the scene. 


So is hiking, birding, botanizing, and rolling around in the joy of Appalachian Ohio, summer or winter.

June 2016. I love this shot. Like a still from a country music video. Pickup trucks, fishin' poles, down by the river, girl you're killin' me in them Daisy Dukes, bla bla bla


January 2017. All bundled up and birding from hayrolls!


Like a complete fool, I went back on the Atkins Diet three days before Corey arrived this January. 

Like many a great notion, that was destined for failure.


What are you gonna do when the house fills up with a scent like that? When each new day brings a fresh baking project with eager kids putting plates in front of you, playing to your every weakness? I ate the rolls. And the shortbread. And the pie. And the dang Chocolate Chip Nutella Lava Bombs. For ten days.


 And I'm  paying for it now, having reverted to my usual fare of dry sticks, nuts and berries, yet still dreaming of the doughy-soft inner core of those cinnamon rolls. I think my scale is busted. Stuck.

Wing Night, January 2017, Bill's grilling artistry in five flavor combos.



They, of course, worked off any excess with fully-revved metabolisms, bouncy vigor and a cheerful video coach named Mr. Millionaire or something like that. A workout like that: not remotely in the cards for me.


But what's not to love about a pair of house bakers, cuddling over fresh shortbreads?


When Corey's here, we do things we wouldn't ordinarily, like convene at Whit's Frozen Custard for a mid-afternoon treat.


It's not all about sugar. Mostly it's about sweetness. The love that flows between these kids lifts us all to a higher place.

January 2017

The whole story of how Corey and Phoebe met, fell in love and have stayed in love through months and miles of separation is something I'm baking for a later date. For now, just a taste of the icing.


The Luckiest Lab

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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My friend Alan Poole had a couple of visiting bird people on his hands, and an apparent desire to dazzle us with winter beach beauty. Erin and I were up for that! 


Alan  and his daughter, Phoebe, a flower farmer with Weatherlow Florals, right handy by Dad's spiffy new digs in South Dartmouth, Mass. They both know how lucky they are to be near each other. Alan called Phoebe to come join us for a little birding.  I love this photo. Phoebe has made a little bouquet of sea lavender and grasses. Right out of a catalogue, those two.

Alan's first call when I threatened to land on him was to his friend Geoff Dennis, who, because he's out every day and misses nothing, knows where the birds are, even the ones who shouldn't be there.  

Like blue-gray gnatcatchers in the dead of winter.

Christmas Day, 2016, somewhere in Rhode Island. Geoff's got the goods.


We met Geoff on his home turf, at Goosewing Beach in Little Compton, RI. 


The sun was playing peekaboo with the beach and the clouds. 

Geoff had a dog with him, a big black Lab mix.


Koda had kind eyes and a good smile. He registered me, and I registered him right back. We made an impression on each other.


 I felt that instant connection that you get with some people, and some dogs. Geoff and Koda were two of those types. We had common ground. I snuck a couple of muzzle smooches on this lovely boy.


I could see by the look in his eyes that this dog, now 12, had a story to tell. He was telling it with every glance. I overheard snippets of conversation between Geoff and Alan about how Koda had come into his life. It sounded pretty unusual.


I figured I'd get the whole story later. For now, I wanted to watch the birds, this dog and his best guy. Geoff is a clam fisherman; he goes out in a boat and rakes them up in every weather condition imaginable. He is cheery, rugged; built for the outdoors, and he pays attention to every nuance of sea and sky. His persona and voice are straight out of Central Casting for a New England waterman. It's little wonder he finds the birds nobody else knows about. He doesn't chase many rarities. He finds them. On this day, he had a flock of more than 30 snow buntings, with a Lapland longspur included. And me without my camera. Geoff says this photo he sent is a "terrible" picture, but it shows the snow buntings we saw that December 7. Oh, they were magic! What could be better than living snowflakes, swirling around in the late golden light of a December evening?


And he sent me a photo of the Lapland longspur! (rightmost bird, with the dark cheek pattern--the rest are snow buntings.)




It was a cold day, not as cold as it could be by far, but I wouldn't have wanted to wade in a salt pond. Koda was all for it. Besides, Geoff was throwing things in the water.


Koda hasn't always been Geoff's dog. For the first ten years of his life, he lived with a family with children. And then there came a divorce, and the wife, J., who loved Koda dearly, took an upstairs apartment on a busy street with the kids, which wasn't a good situation for him. Koda stayed back at the house where they'd been living, and most of the time he was chained in the yard. Things changed there, too, and one day J. got a call from her ex-husband that he was going to have to move, too, and he'd have to take Koda to the pound.

J. talked with her landlord, and he agreed to let her take Koda into the apartment. He is a good dog, and wouldn't be a problem. At this point, Geoff and J. were working together managing endangered species along Rhode Island beaches, and she asked if she might keep Koda in his barn during the day. Geoff said, "He's not going in the barn, he can come right in the house!"

Geoff and his wife Emily had always had dogs, but by 2006, they'd lost two beloved dogs in a row to cancer, at the ages of only 10 and 9. It was very hard for them, and Geoff said, "That's it. No more dogs." He felt he just couldn't go through that again. And along came Koda, ten years old, needing a part-time home. Well, maybe just for awhile...

"We just fell in love with him. He’d stay with us during the day and J. would pick him up and bring him home. Something came up and she asked if he could stay with us and we said sure, no problem.  He stayed with us for a week. He was sleeping on the floor next to the bed. We bought a dog bed for him. I started really fallin' for him.  It was all new to him, running in the woods, running on the beach.  J. might have him  for two weeks straight and I’d go pick him up and bring him down here, keep him for a few days and bring him back to her.

"I walked into her house one day and Koda went nuts on me, crying and barking and licking me. She said, 'Oh my God, I’ve never seen him do this with anybody.' I don’t know how it segued from her house to (staying with us). Finally she realized it was too much for her to make him happy. And she saw the connection with me. He ended up moving in with us. When J. got Koda from her ex, when he was about to go to the pound, he weighed 101 pounds. He was chained up all the time. He got fed a lot. He was a barrel on four pegs. He’s now 78-80 pounds."

Ack. I tried to imagine Koda with 30 more pounds on him, and forced that vision away. Yet it's one we all see far too often, when dogs are fed ad libitum and given no opportunity for real exercise.


I hunkered down and watched this gorgeous gentleman self-actualizing, doing exactly what a Lab mix is supposed to do. I found him so beautiful, his eyes so clear and bright, his step so springy.


He emerged from the marsh with a long stick and commenced chewing it up while we birded. Keeping busy, doing dog things, while the people did people things, looking through tubes at distant specks (which turned out to be wigeon, pintails, teal, scaup, black ducks, ruddies, black and white-winged scoter...)

 

He had this whole beautiful place to himself, yet he orbited happily around Geoff, the center of his solar system, his new Sun. He'd range out and find something to investigate, but he was always within earshot and sight of his best friend.


Twelve years old, and now, in the autumn of his life, finally able to become who he was meant to be. This is the gift Geoff has given Koda.

"If it’s two beaches (the distance we walk each day) could be up to two miles. He’s probably doing twice the distance I am. He has never shown reluctance to go out when it’s super cold. He’s panting at 10 degrees. He goes through the water, he has ice pellets on him—salt water freezes instantly. I love going there when it’s like that. It makes you feel alive when the wind’s howling and it stings your face.  I don’t wear a face mask. I’ll walk with my hands on my face to bring the temperature back up. You get the screaming northwest winds after the storm will pass. And all the snow is blowing off the pond onto the beach. He comes out of the snow looking like the Abominable Snowman.  He loves it."

Geoff sent me this photo, taken by Koda's beloved J., just yesterday. He's getting in touch with his inner Arctic wolf.

The light got lower and the shadows got longer. Erin watched scoters just off the breakers, photographed the cloudbank rolling in.


The sun dipped toward the horizon and we realized the show would soon be over.


I thought, and have been thinking, about the generous soul of this New England fisherman, opening back up to another soul in need. Even knowing what he knows about aging dogs and broken hearts. Going against his better judgement and going for it yet again, adopting a senior dog. 

"That’s the only thing about Koda that bothers me. I’ll lay on the floor with him in the living room at night and I'll start crying, because it’s just such a tease, to have only a few years together."

If I have learned anything, it's that our time with good dogs is never long enough. If ever there were a reminder to savor the now, it was this golden December evening at Goosewing Beach, in the presence of those who know how sweet and short life can be. 

We said our good-byes, nabbed each others' contact information, shook hands. And then Geoff said, "You all go on. I'm gonna put a few more miles on the dog."


I chuckled, having said those exact words myself. My heart gave a fish-flop


watching them get smaller and smaller, headed back toward the snow buntings and the last sunlight slamming that beautiful dune.


It would be hard to decide who was the bigger gift to whom: Geoff to Koda (immense), or Koda to Geoff (just as great).

As we drove slowly away, the potholes lit up, punching sky into sand, and I reflected too, about love and loss and how the human heart will dive in, over and over, toward the unknown, sure-to-be-rocky bottom. Love and loss, it seems, are always in cahoots.


Bright-eyed, beautiful, wise, lucky Koda, long may you splash and run.



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