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About Those Bluebirds

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I got back from Boston around 10 pm Monday night. Nine hours had elapsed since I left my sister's home in Harvard MA, until I finally rolled up my driveway in Ohio. And that was taking a commuter train, a subway, and an airplane, then driving two hours from the airport home. My gosh, I could almost have driven it in that time. It was a good exercise, not renting a car; fine if you have the time to blow two or three hours here and there catching trains and tubes to your destination, and you don't mind rolling your suitcase behind you. I just wanted to see if it could be done.

Chet was so happy to have me home again, he got up on a kitchen chair to be near me while I answered some correspondence and wrote a blogpost before sunrise Tuesday morning. His devotion never fails to melt my heart. Little CatDog, sleepin' in the sun, curled up on a chair.

I couldn't wait to grab Chet and trot out to the bluebird boxes to see what had happened with the runt bluebird and its host family. First I checked the host family in the box out by the garden. All four chicks are strapping and growing well after their blowfly purge. Here they are at Day 12. Wing feathers are bursting the sheaths, and feathers cover their upper bodies. They no longer need to be brooded at night, and they're getting so big their mom doesn't want to try. 


Peeking again the same afternoon (June 28), when their wing feathers are a bit farther out of the sheath, I find all four to be females! See how gray-brown they are, unrelieved by blue? Now I'm burning to know whether the runt is a girl, too. I've had a feeling it is.

I head out on our road toward the box, a half-mile distant, where Liam and I transplanted the runt from this brood, so it could have a chance of growing up amongst siblings three days younger.

On the way, I'm arrested by the sight of the first blossoms of pink chicory, which sprouts from hardy perennial roots every year along our road.

A mutation of the normal periwinkle blue chicory, it's been growing in this very spot for a very long time. 

July 10, 2007

A very long time indeed.

July 6, 2004

I don't have a little girl to pose with it any more, but I do have a little black dog who enjoys bombing my flower shots, giving me a laugh when he thinks I need one.

If the front view was not so good, this one is spectacular. There. Try that shot. I have the best rumpus.

Enough chicory and dogbutt photography. We have bluebirds to view! 

With growing excitement I pried the hayfield box off its mount. Peeked inside. And yes, I could tell the foster chick from the others right away, but the differences are still pleasingly subtle. 

It's the one on the right top, its bill pointing down. You can see its wing quills, still firmly in their sheaths, and feathers are sprouting along its spine and head. It's 11 days old, and its foster siblings are 8 days old, and things are going perfectly. Yes, it's a wee bit ahead of them, but plenty of food and a comfortable margin, a head start, is exactly what it needed to survive. 

I can't wait to learn its sex, but that will be at least three days from now. 

My beautiful experiment, eet ees workink!!

Wild Turkeys Take Cambridge!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I love love love going to Cambridge and Boston. It feels a bit like going home. I’m too deeply rooted in southeast Ohio to feel completely at home anywhere else. But it’s as close as a city is going to get. Cambridge has a part of my heart, because there’s so much beauty packed into its narrow streets; because it is stuffed with highly evolved, sentient people who appreciate its architecture and plant to enhance. Remarkable, really, to see the roses and daylilies spilling out onto the streets in an overabundance of beauty; to stumble on a moonlight garden, all white roses, hostas and hydrangeas, or a secret grove of river birches with a stone path winding through them. To see people bending over backward to save this fair city’s immense copper beeches, thankfully far outnumbering the ninnies who would cut them down. Oh, there are ninnies, and it doesn’t take many to ruin a place, but Cambridge somehow holds most of them at bay. As I watch the giant sentinel trees being cut down all along my county road, I think some of them have come to live in Ohio. Grumble.

Being an observer of changes both small and immense, I like pointing out the things that are different now than they were when I last lived in Cambridge in 1981.

photo by Kris Hodgkins Macomber

For one thing, there are a LOT more places to sit now. It’s a much kinder, homier place. Harvard Yard blossoms with multicolored chairs each May, and people actually use them, because they can move them around and form fluid groups for conversation and study. I find myself, with delight, arranging to meet friends "in the chairs in front of Weld," whereas before I'd have had to sit on the dorm steps. There's something so lovely about walking through the Yard and seeing healthy, thriving turf and groups of people visiting, studying, texting, snoozing and even reading analog books in these colorful Luxembourg chairs. Just beautiful. It's like a happening, every day.

Photo by Kris Hodgkins Macomber

Photo by Kris Hodgkins Macomber

Radcliffe Quad, where I lived, has white wooden Adirondack chairs sprinkled around in shady spots! And Adams House courtyard now has teak benches, chairs and a rope hammock, where I gladly melted of a lazy Sunday morning and gazed up at a flawless Massachusetts summer sky.

So humane, so welcoming, so homey. The man behind it? Michael R. Van Valkenburgh, Graduate School of Design professor. Read the wonderful story here.  Harvard, I salute you for opening your arms to students, visitors, and local folk alike. Probably the cheapest yet most profound change in use that could have been effected in this private space turned public.

And speaking of changes...

It was probably four years ago on a brink-of-spring night when I looked up into a tree next to the Harvard U. Science Center and saw what looked like a bag of laundry in a pin oak, backlit by the glowing urban sky. Is that a…turkey??? And it was a wild turkey, roosting alone in a concrete courtyard. I would see her walking alone on the sidewalks on that trip. I knew there were turkeys in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, but here in midtown Cambridge, she looked very much out of place.

Hodge, John and I saw the Harvard Turkey, or one of them, while enjoying a Saturday evening lime rickey and a burger at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, a Harvard institution that neither takes credit cards nor has a bathroom, and doesn’t need either to be slammed all the time. Burgers are generous and delicious, onion rings and sweet potato fries are light, tasty and authentic, and I could drink their raspberry lime rickeys all day long. And it was while filling our empty ten-mile hike bellies that we spotted the Harvard Turkey. She came stepping across Mass Ave, allowing a sedan to come to a full stop for her before she finished her crossing. She walked like a queen, like she knew she was worth stopping for. And who would want to argue with a 16-pound turkey? A hard bump she would make in your grille.

Our Mr. Bartley's waitress was chagrined when we told her the Harvard Turkey had just graced us with a sighting. This gal was born here; she lives and works here and she’s never seen the famous Harvard turkey. Huh. I see turkeys every time I come to Cambridge. Maybe it’s because I’ve been looking for them ever since that wintry night when I saw the duffel bag sleeping in a pin oak.

Still, I wonder how they manage. I wonder what they eat. The answer is probably everything, from sweet potato fries to crickets to crabapples to flower buds to acorns. Ah, acorns—the staff of a turkey’s life. It seems like a meager existence, but apparently is not. I marvel that a creature of such majesty and presence, not to mention mass, can make its way in such an artificial environment. The formidable brain of a wild turkey, applied to the conundrum of living in gardens, cemeteries, sidewalks and streets, would be more than adequate to the challenge.

I have live, hot off my iPhone video evidence that this odd experiment in colonizing the city is a success. Not only are wild turkeys making their way; they’re reproducing. Leaving Hodge’s Den of Sleep at 7 AM, I walked barely two blocks and lucked into the ultimate Cambridge wild turkey encounter.

 I’m pretty proud of this bit of hand-held wildlife cinematography. Seeing the hen walking slowly down a bricked garden path, I guessed from her watchful demeanor and rapidly turning head that she might have poults trailing behind.  I led them a bit, following the trajectory of the hen, and hunkered down to make this video about where I figured the chicks would be crossing the sidewalk. Bingo!

Enjoy the June parade!  

Ellen in Springtime

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Lots of things happen in our meadow, all the time. The common milkweed comes into bloom and unless I'm walking up from its end, I may not appreciate that fact, or how much it has spread! I've been hand-pulling competing giant ragweed for years now, and it's nice to get a cheer, a great big beautiful THANKS! from the good guys. 

One morning early I looked out and saw a familiar form, well out in the meadow. I knew without getting my binoculars that I might be seeing Ellen in late spring for the first time. May 22, 2016. In the seven years I've known her, I'd never seen her, much less photographed her, after early April. If you don't know who Ellen is, you can start here.

In fact, the last photos I took of her were on April 4, 2016.  Her hair had fallen out in great swatches, and she was naked about the shoulders. Her bad right eye was still cloudy and useless. 

Sometimes coming to know an individual animal can be hard. 
Their lives are anything but easy. I don't know what's made her hair fall out like this. I can only hope it grows back quickly. 

 And now here she was, with new red summer hair coming in, May 22, 2016.

A cardinal flew in from stage left and began to sing on the vulture snag as Ellen considered my distant form, standing the meadow.

She lifted her left hoof, held it up for a few beats, then stomped it down had.

She snorted, a great windy WHEW!

I smiled. Come on Ellen. You know me. I'm the Corn Lady.

I'm leaving. Not fast, but I'm getting out of here. You have some nerve to try to creep up closer to me. 

And Ellen, who is at least 9, which is old for a whitetail,  took flight.  And when she did, I saw that she is with fawn.

Oh yes. There's probably another little buck in there. She's looking anything but slab-sided.

It can't be easy bounding when you're about to drop a fawn, but Ellen took off, showing me with her flashing tail that she'd seen me and that I had no hope of catching her. Ellen. We've known each other since 2009. Have I ever given chase?

I marvel that this little doe, compromised as she is with physical issues; blind in one eye and twisted up who knows why; could still be contributing to the deer population at her age.

Ah sweet Ellen. You know me. You don't have to leap and run.

I know. I'm pretty sure it's you, but my good eye isn't that good any more, and the wind's in your favor, so what's my choice? Thanks for the winter corn and seed treats. See you in January!

Good luck with your new baby, Ellen! You know I'll be watching.

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