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Cheddar Bunnies

Thursday, November 30, 2006

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Our friend Jason came to visit last night to pick up a crockpot he'd left during the Big Sit. Hard to believe we hadn't seen him since October 9, but we picked up where we'd left off, with a glass of wine, a nice dinner and some laughter.
Jason decided, based on recent blog posts, to upgrade Chet's snack food with some Annie's Organic Cheddar Bunnies. The kids were enthusiastic, too.
Before Jason unveiled his gift, Chet gave him a right good butting. This is something Chet does that I can't really explain, another of his catlike behaviors. He jumps up on the lap of the long-suffering guest, and presses his rump against said guest's chest. You either like this or you don't. Gorillas are said to like to stand on people. Cats, of course, like to rub their chins on people, and wave their tails in your face. Chet butts people. It's better than some behaviors I can think of, and as long as we don't point it out, people seem to be willing to overlook it, until Chet fires. Jason looks like he's enjoying it. Hmmm. Jason.
Chet was immediately galvanized by the unveiling of the Cheddar Bunnies, forgetting all about his butting mission. He morphed from a nonchalant butt-inflictor to a shameless beggar. Note ear position: farthest forward possible. They only come this far forward for bunnies, cheddar and otherwise.
Jason whipped him into a frenzy (it's not hard to do that with a Boston; they are very suggestible) by withholding the bunnies. Chet was soon waving his paws in the air and oinking like a pig.
Rest assured Chet got plenty of bunnies.
Cheddar bennehs. They are good. Only the best for Chet Baker. Thanks, Jason, for the new snack treat. When winter's cold winds start to blow, we look for new junk foods to keep our carb fires burning. We are not paid or otherwise compensated by Annie to tout her snacks. We just grab photo ops where we find them. No actual bennehs were harmed in the making of this photo essay. This one is for Jane, who I'm sure can use a laugh right about now.

Hot Spring Reverie

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

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That's the spring, with rockworks around it, a primitive spa, probably known and enjoyed since time immemorial. Above the Rio Grande, we found an old stagecoach road rising precipitously up the canyon sides. Amazing. Photo taken not from a helicopter, but from partway down the canyon trail.

Hot springs are a uniquely Western phenomenon. They're a culture. People know about them, seek them out, hike great distances to enjoy them. Bill and I have a hot spring experience that shines in our memory as the ultimate. With our friends Caroline and Douglas, we hiked down a canyon on Thanksgiving day, 1991, to the hot spring at Rio Hondo. When we got there, there was a really scuzzy bum in the spring, stark naked, who welcomed us warmly. Eeeyyew. The phrase "testicle soup" presented itself to my writer's mind, and I couldn't get it out of my head. But we threw our clothes off and climbed in and when we felt the hot upwellings and relaxed, the scuzzy bum and whatever kind of unchlorinated bum soup we were sitting in didn't matter anymore.
Bill and I had been looking, as long as we were in the right habitat, for a dipper. A magic little gray bird that swims underwater using its wings, that braves the most ferocious cataracts and rushing rivers to walk on the gravel and pick things like caddisly larvae and amphipods out of the crevices. Then it pops up like a cork and perches on rocks and gives metallic calls.
As darkness came on, as we were up to our necks in the spring, a dipper popped up, out of nowhere, and gave a call that sounded, as Bill put it, like someone pulling a rope out of a beer can. My first dipper. While soaking in a hot spring on Thanksgiving day. It was a perfect moment. We followed it up by a dinner at a roadside diner, some kind of pressed turkey and canned gravy on Wonder Bread. It was fabulous, because it was our own, seat-of-the-pants impromptu Thanksgiving.
And so, in search of perfect moments, we followed directions to another spring on our latest trip to New Mexico. The road leading in was terrible: good sign. The hike was moderate. Good for the kids. The spring looked really cool from above, lightly developed. And there were no skanky bums in it (Turns out to be a bad sign). We had our swimsuits and towels; we were prepared. We got down to the spring and it was...tepid. It was a cool spring in more ways than one, perhaps due to the high river level. Massive bummer. I was not about to strip down for a tepid soak. Neither were any of the other adults. But the kids were undeterred, and they had a lovely time. This is not the first time I've wished I were a kid again.
I decided to seek my joy in photographing them, and found it. Pearl was as lovely as one of Degas' dancers, binding her hair up out of the way. Two redheads.
Phoebe's eyes took on a green cast.
Liam tried to get the girls' attention, my little Scorpio, appreciator of feminine beauty.He looks like a faun here.
A dipper came, out of nowhere, and perched and bobbed on a rock. There are all shades and colors of perfection.

His Eye is on the Cheezit

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

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Whew. What a day. I was on the phone giving and scheduling interviews all day. Drew a few gulls in between. The Martha Stewart Radio interview was really, really fun. Marion Roach loves the book and was really warm and welcoming. She said she is giving it to half her Christmas list this year. Yeah! I imagined those words beaming up to a satellite and beaming back down into millions of kitchens and cars, and I liked the image.
I have an insight, after today, into the work of a publicist and what that must be like. It is exhausting. But man, Taryn Roeder does beautiful work. And I appreciate her so much, knowing what she does all day, which is be really nice and upbeat to try to engender interest in the books she's working with. She makes amazing things happen. She was the little bird that got my book into Ketzel Levine's hands at NPR! Figured that out this morning. Taryn, my sincerest thanks.
One really nice thing that happened today: I found out that my commentary, "When Hummingbirds Come Home," will be included in the next Driveway Moments CD from NPR. The commentaries and stories that get included in these compilations are nominated by listeners. They're called Driveway Moments because people sit in their car until the story is over, because they can't stand to leave without hearing the end of the story. Another of mine, about Buck the Bull, also got nominated, but they could only include one, so I asked them to include the hummingbird story. It's just a bit more magical and quintessentially Zick than the bull story. Cliff's notes: it's about three orphaned hummingbirds that I raised, released, and that migrated and returned home the following spring. You can hear both commentaries, or waste an entire evening, here.
So my head is spinning, and I'm officially overstimulated. Working on about nine hours of sleep in the last two nights, which ain't enough. The kids have coughs and I am up schlepping cough syrup to them at all hours. Bill has taken to calling me Media Mogul, but I feel more like a mogul, as in speed bump.
Along about 3:30 this afternoon, Chet came into the studio and asked for a walk, and he wouldn't take no for an answer.
He bossed me around, barking in that rolly Demi Moore growl, and he kept play-bowing and dancing around.
I'd pet him and he'd dance away and then as soon as I bent back to my work, he'd poke me with his toenails, paddling away at my leg. Dog's a darn pain in the leg. But oh, I need him so. He knew I needed some air and a change of scene. So we went for a walk. It was a flat, gray, dark day, no good for photography, but warm. I donned my flame-orange vest and Buck Fever hat (I look soo good in it) and set out with Chet, having fun by mentally writing my own obituary as I went. Chet and I learned something about deer behavior during hunting season. Chet found two groups of deer, all does, all bedded down in thick cover--thorns and sumac. Of course he chased them, cheating death, and eventually came back. The second pod of deer included six animals, tightly bedded down in sumac and brambles. Chet put three deer out of there, and I thought that was it. And three more does shot out of the same cover, widely spaced, running with their heads down just like soldiers trying to make it past gunfire. Amazing. They sat very tightly and waited amazingly long to leave. I was standing right there but they held their ground. Doubtless they noted that I was unarmed; doubtless they know my scent and know I don't kill deer. This is not behavior I have witnessed before, but it speaks of the pressure on the animals during hunting season, and to their coping mechanisms. I felt bad to have spooked them out of their haunts, but no gunshots followed either flush.
After that, I leashed Chet, and we listened to a flock of turkeys rustling through the leaf litter, and turned for home. It sure feels good to get some exercise, even at risk of being mistaken for venison. I never have been able to stay inside for a whole week. I wish it would rain so walking wouldn't be such a temptation.
Since I didn't get any pictures outdoors today I will leave you with another Chet Baker fix. I walked into the kitchen to find this domestic tableau, almost something Vermeer would set up. How sweet, I thought. The kids are reading to Chet. And then I noticed the Cheezits, and the reason for Chet's intense interest became clear. I call this series, "His Eye is on the Cheezit."
And now, I will emulate Chet, and attempt to sleep like a dog. Oh, to be able to curl up any time of day on whatever pile of blankets presents itself, and sleep the dreamless sleep of the just, undercommitted, and innocent.

All Streams Gather Light

In the afternoon
Rio Grande or unnamed trickle
All streams gather light.



It is good to be home, even if the vistas aren't as grand. It's home, and this little trickle holds all the magic of the Big River, though I might have to turn over some rocks to find it. Ohio welcomed us with warm temperatures and sunny skies, and I got some nice hikes in with Chet before hunting season started. Opening day was Monday, and we awoke to salvos of shots. You really have to live it to understand it. Hunting season always hits just as I'm getting into the rhythm of daily winter hikes, and I have to sit on the sidelines until most of the people from Cleveland and Youngstown have spent their ammunition on thin air, tree trunks, and each other. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! When you hear four shots in a row, you know he didn't get the buck. And you wonder what it would be like to be caught in that hare-brained crossfire. Yes, we have 80 acres in our sanctuary, and another 85 that are posted by our neighbors, but you can take that and a dollar and it won't get you a cup of coffee. So I sit it out, and fume, and wait for the goobers to go home so I can have my Loop back.

Today: big. Put the kids on the bus for the first time in almost three weeks this morning. Ahhh. We've been living with them around the clock, even sleeping with them the entire time in New Mexico, and it has been a lovely family bonding experience, but I am ready for some semi-solitude. Live radio interview with Marion Roach on Martha Stewart's Sirius radio channel at noon today. If you get it in your car, tune in! Marion has been reading excerpts from the book on a segment of her show titled "The Naturalist's Datebook," and she'll be interviewing me about exploring nature with kids, and journaling.

Yesterday, a holiday book roundup by Ketzel Levine went up on the NPR web site. She highlighted thirteen books as the best gift books of 2006. Letters from Eden is one of them. Interestingly, she say this about having chosen it:

"What I didn't know -- much to my embarrassment -- was that author Julie Zickefoose is often heard on NPR's All Things Considered. So in choosing her bucolic bedside reader, I'm pushing nothing beyond a truly charming book -- written in the same soft language she uses in her on-air pieces, and made irresistible by her drawings. Wait for page 157, where a squabbling Carolina wren writhes on its back like a kid having a tantrum, or page 53, where a spirited phoebe alights in a watercolor dream."

Ms. Levine, whose radio broadcasts from the garden and the wilds have delighted me for years, couldn't have given me a nicer gift. I don't know what gods of good fortune, or what little bird at NPR placed the book in her hands, but there you have it, and you have a very happy Zick, more than a little agog that Ketzel found LFE and thought it worthy of including in her roundup. Trying to hold myself in from writing her and slobbering all over her with puppylike gratitude. Wouldn't be cool.

Last night, Bill and the kids and I walked into the brand spanking new Borders store in Parkersburg WV, at 9:30 p.m. We found LFE, All Things Reconsidered (the anthology of Roger Tory Peterson's writings that Bill edited), and Identify Yourself (the bird ID book Bill and I put together two years ago) on its shelves. All Houghton Mifflin titles, and all there, not because we pushed them, but because they were there. Whee! We gathered up the books and took them to the counter and asked to see a manager about having a book signing there. The manager had gone to high school with Bill, so it looks like it will happen. And we found out that she's planning to have live music in the cafe on Fridays, so we may have picked up a Singing Writer's acoustic gig at the same time.

I'm sounding suspiciously like the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion here, so I'll quit. Still have mountains to dig out from our trip, and I somehow have to turn this house from a troll's den to a showplace by Friday, when a local reporter is coming out for an interview about the book. No wonder I prefer phone interviews! I can sit there in my skeevy jammies surrounded by squalor, and sound proper, put-together, and perfectly appointed. Kind of like blogging--semi-anonymous, with only the pictures I want you to see. No live video feeds forthcoming from the Random House of Piled-up Stuff anytime soon.

Bacon Bits

Sunday, November 26, 2006

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Ten days was a long time to go without Chet Baker. It was a long time for him to be in the kennel, down underneath Dr. Lutz's office. There would be times when we'd have to leave him, this dog we were only contemplating, and that was one of the things that kept me from getting a dog for 13 years; 13 years in which Bill steadily worked on me to just go ahead and do it. I didn't even know the dog yet, and I already dreaded leaving him in a kennel. I knew how much I'd love him. Part of deciding to get Chet was becoming comfortable with the concept of kenneling him, because living where we do far from any neighbors, and as much as we travel by air, there is no alternative. We decided that we'd start leaving him at the kennel while he was very young, for short stints, and by the time we were inseparable, he'd be comfortable with it, and we would too.
It worked. Chet always strains at the leash to get into the kennel lobby; he greets his caretakers enthusiastically, full of curiosity about the other dog smells emanating from the place. This time, though he did all that, he also cried from his cage for as long as he could hear me talking to the attendants. That was tough. So I cried on the steering wheel for awhile.
When we got him back Thursday night, he had lost a couple of pounds, and looked a bit gaunt. That would be the equivalent to my losing 13 pounds in the same time frame, which I can assure you did not happen. The caretaker I spoke to told me that he hadn't been interested in food for the first three days, eating only about a quarter of his rations. Then his appetite kicked in, and he finished his food every night.
She told me that some of the dogs that kennel there refuse to eat or even perform bodily functions while incarcerated. Imagine holding it for a week. It's amazing what dogs can do, or refuse to do. I feel blessed with a well-adjusted dog who undoubtedly misses us, but realizes that life must go on. I hope he'll continue to be this good. We'll have to leave him for a week or more only a couple of times a year.
There's no doubt that it takes Chet a while to get over being left. I read in Temple Grandin's incredible book, Animals in Translation, that when dogs act standoffish upon returning home from the kennel, owners often interpret this as the dog's being "mad at them." In reality, Grandin says, the dog is acting subordinate, because it figures it must have done something bad to have been locked up all that time. Being confined to a kennel reduces a dog's self-esteem, and it takes awhile for the animal to feel right about itself around its owner again. I see this in Chet, and notice that for the last few days, he averts his gaze from me, needs more reassurance than usual, and is not nearly as ready to growl when one of the kids hauls him around.

Chet and I are a lot alike, and the best remedy for low self-esteem, we find, is a walk (or a leap) in the woods. And so this afternoon when the light got buttery we took off, I putting a flame-orange vest on for protection from deer hunters; Chet using his speed and blackness as his shield. We had no encounters. I took Shila's good good camera for a final shoot; I'm already dreading giving it back to her tomorrow.To get this shot, I tracked Chet with the camera moving along with him, hoping, in the low evening light, that I'd get an acceptable image of him in full bound. It turned out better than I'd hoped. It captures a bit of the joi de vive that makes Chet who he is.

I get a lot of pictures of Baker from behind, since I always let him lead in the woods. This is part of why walks make him feel better about himself. He gets to be lead dog. And I get to watch him experience the woods. Today, I wanted to try to get some profiles and head-on shots. Chet knows very well when I'm trying to get those kind of pictures, and he poses like a champion. I'm always amazed at how he strikes those show-dog stances--and holds them--while I compose the shot. But then, I've been photographing him since he was nine weeks old, and he is anything but slow, and he wants most of all to please me. Here, I've asked him to sit and stay, something he's loath to do in the woods. But he does, because I've asked him to. Here, I've just asked him if he thinks there might be any squirrels in the trees. I love a dog who's fluent in English.
Right after this session, Baker spotted a young raccoon lumbering through the brush, and gave chase.The coon flowed straight up an enormous double tulip tree while Chet circled the base. Here it is, quietly bumming out, wedged between the trunks. I'm going to miss this camera with its 12x zoom. Never once did Chet yelp or bark; he just tried once to run up the trunk, then stopped and gazed up at the animal, cutting glances back at me to be sure I appreciated what he'd accomplished. When I'd documented everything, we moved on and left the little coon in peace. Above all else, Chet is cool. He doesn't yap or make a commotion, and he knows when he's beat. Some dogs would stay there all night, barking away. Baker's happy to moonlight as a coonhound, but he never loses sight of what his real job is: Zick accomplice. He falls into step beside me and we turn toward home.

Life Bird, Life Mammal

Friday, November 24, 2006

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A life bird is one you've never seen in your life. When you see it, you add it to your life list, and it becomes a life bird. Being a card-carrying Science Chimp, I keep life lists of mammals, butterflies, reptiles, plants, and what-have-you. I wish I were organized enough to write them all down, but I somehow keep the information in my head, and I know when I've seen something new, and especially when I yearn to see something new.
Lewis' Woodpecker is a bird I've longed to see since I was about eight, when I first saw an Allan Brooks painting of it in a book. The only pink and green bird in North America, it's a large Melanerpes, related to the red-headed woodpecker. It makes its living in much the same way as its more famous cousin, flycatching and caching acorns. Nowhere is it common, and we asked around until we found it was fairly reliable around Chama in extreme northern New Mexico, two hours from Taos, where we were staying.
I call Bill Logisto Mephisto for good reason. I had the bit in my teeth about getting to Chama, and was meeting some fair resistance from everyone else in our party, who didn't much fancy driving four hours to see one bird. So Bill got on the Net and located a Taos bird guide who was kind enough to tell him where, a year earlier, he'd seen Lewis' woodpeckers in Arroyo Seco, about five minutes from where we were staying! We followed explicit directions, stopped at a cattle grate in a dirt road, looked to our right, and spotted a pink, silver, red and oily green bundle of feathers in a dead apple tree. Bam! Wooooo Hooo! We spent the next hour and a half swiveling the scope and cameras around, trying to capture a decent image of these lovely big birds. Which, by the way, never sit still for more than ten seconds at a time. They look for all the world like miniature crows, very dark in flight, with the same wing-body proportions, much the same wing shape, and even the same cadence of wingbeat as crows. LEWO's have the habit of sitting on an exposed perch, then launching out in a wide circle. Much as this looks like the birds are hawking insects, Bill and I watched carefully, and never saw a hawking bird catch anything. We decided that the birds we were watching were doing it for some kind of display purposes, because at least five individuals were present, squabbling and flying in and out of a small grove of cottonwoods. The flight display was visible from a tremendous distance, and once we had an image of the birds, we could spot them from very far away by this distinctive behavior.
Every once in awhile a bird would descend to a small cluster of Gambel's oaks, hop around on the ground, and come up with an acorn, which it would break into pieces and cache in the bark of the cottonwoods. I wish I could show you a better picture of the filamentous wine-pink flank feathers of this beautiful male, but for that you'll have to visit Bill of the Birds' pre-emptive blog strike on Lewis' woodpeckers. Given their hyperactivity, getting a digiscoped picture of these birds in the tangle of cottonwood twigs took all his considerable scope-wielding skills. I know I'd never have gotten a look at them at all but for him. Thank you, sweetie, for setting me up. I took these snapshots with Shila's camera. Go look at Bill's now.
The next day, Bill and I spent more than two hours watching and sketching the birds, a delight, so relaxing. Neither of us are the kind to tick off a species on a list and move on. We want to know a little something about the bird, to feel we've given it its due. To live with it for even a little while. We never heard them make a sound but for a high-pitched rattling squeak when they were in conflict. More information is needed, perhaps the stuff of another trip to Arroyo Seco.
It took a very long time before I'd drunk in enough of these tremendously interesting and active birds to look about at my surroundings in Arroyo Seco. When I did, I noticed a yurt on the horizon, something you don't see every day. Immediately in front of the hutlike structure was a little knot of bovids, which I did not recognize at first sight. I moved closer, binoculars trained on the animals. Could they be....yaks? Well, I didn't know, because I've never seen a yak, except in pictures, and on one particular blog I could mention. They were so small, so utterly adorable! Somehow I'd always thought yaks were great big animals. These were about a yard high at the shoulder. I would think that milking a yak would give you about enough milk for your morning cereal, and not a lot more. Maybe some to drizzle over the strawberries and make a latte with. Small animals.
It is at such times that being a Science Chimp is perfectly wonderful. You can flip through your library of mental images, stored over four-plus decades of staring at and subconsciously memorizing animal books, and definitively proclaim the identity of a small, cute, tiptoeing bovid for anyone within range who might care. It gives you a big, electric, nerdy thrill and edifies nearby parties (whether they care or not). And if you do it long enough, you really don't mind what they think of you and your proclamations, or the fact that you're talking excitedly to yourself: clinching the ID is the thing. You take your six-colored ballpoint pen out of your pocket protector and write, "YAK. Life mammal. November 22, 2006, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, group of four with yurt. Also, five Lewis' woodpeckers. Life bird. Same place!!"
Then you snap your pen, adjust your thick, tape-mended specs, hike your pants a little higher, and get on with your bad self.
I kept moving closer, snapping away. The kids got caught up in the moment and ran to the fence, drawing the yaks closer with curiosity. Yes. Yaks they were. Life mammal!
Oh, adorable bovids. They looked like they were wearing too-small wooden shoes. They licked each other a lot. I think the parti-colored one was Dad, and the slightly smaller one in the back with finer horns was Mom. And I think the two black ones in the front were their twins. At least that's what I decided. I couldn't sex them; there was too much hair hanging down. But Mr. Parti-color looked decidedly guylike with this curly forehead and heavy horns. Yaks (Bos grunniens) have been domesticated for longer than just about any animal, having first been kept by the ancient Qiang Chinese about 4,500 years ago! There are still wild yaks, but they are endangered, probably less than 15,000 in number, and larger than their domesticated counterparts. For a fabbo rundown on yak faks, see this link.
We never succeeded in luring them close enough to touch, though we tried every endearment we could imagine. I suspect we were not speaking their language. I could tell these yaks were well-treated. Nothing that cute could be mistreated.
I do not know where one gets yaks, any more than I know where one gets a yurt, or plans for one. I am just glad that somewhere in the New Mexican hinterlands, there are yurts, and yaks. FYI they did not seem to have any need to be herded; they seemed content to find their own way in the world.
Once I started learning about yaks, I could not stop. I was distressed to learn that people eat them, but I suppose that is the lot of most bovids when you think about it. They're also highly prized for their fiber (which I assume refers to their coats). I quote from the website of the International Yak Association: "We have only begun to expound the virtues of the yak. For those whose interest is piqued, please feel free to contact us for more information. We have members exploring every asset of the yak and we are happy to share our discoveries." This one's for the Swami. May you continue to explore every asset of the yak.

A Mountain Bluebird Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

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Drinking, bathing, partying, mountain bluebirds celebrate water in the high desert winter.


The females are bewitching, the color of river stones with rich, green-tinged blue in wing and tail.

The Bosque del Apache blog posts are getting a bit of notice from the local media. I think this is a good thing, but don't know if I'm going to be let back into the Owl Bar anytime soon. I sure didn't mean to offend...just to point out some things that made me scratch my head. Maybe there will be a Blogger Shoot should I return...Please Dispose of Your Own Blogger. Bill is the one you want, a trophy buck blogger, dresses out to about 180.

I have a thing for bluebirds, as author of Enjoying Bluebirds More, a 30-page booklet which has sold probably a half-million copies. I know a little somethin' about enjoying bluebirds, friends. And so New Mexico, winter home of the cerulean-blue spirits known as mountain bluebirds, is a place of pilgrimage for me. I saw more mountain bluebirds this trip than I'd seen in a lifetime. Flocks of 30, 40, 50, lining the wires and adorning the fenceposts. I thrilled to their breezy, low calls--phew! And when I'd draw closer, I could hear the syllables in the call, almost a stutter of notes within that simple call.

Every morning, behind our adobe house, dozens of mountain bluebirds gather to feed on the fruits of a silvery tree. Then they whirl off across the sage flats. I followed them, and found them on the fenceposts across a pasture. They kept flying down to the ground, then rising up to preen in a brushpile nearby. I began shooting pictures from across the pasture, worried that they'd leave if I drew closer. I've only got 12x zoom on Shila's Panasonic, and I never thought I could get much before they spooked. But I pretended that the last thing on my mind was mountain bluebirds, not fooling them for a moment, I'm sure. I meandered slowly closer to the site, and discovered that they were drinking and bathing in a little pasture rivulet. Oh, joy, oh, rapture! Best of all, they did not mind my presence one little bit, bathing and preening like swimsuit models. I spent two hours in their company, enthralled and loving every minute. Finally I had to leave, and I meandered back the way I'd come, leaving them in peace.
They are living turquoise, gemstones in the mountain landscape. Theirs is a spectral cerulean that bears little resemblance to the hue of either the eastern or western bluebird. They are big and strong, long-winged and upright in their stance, fighter jets to the eastern bluebird's Piper Cub. They are built for vast distances and long flights, with long, tapered wings and deep chests. They are perfection.
This Thanksgiving Day, we're being smart travelers, flying when everyone else is cooking and gathering and celebrating.At least the planes won't be packed solid; at least the airports will be quiet. It was a calculated move, a little bleak from one angle; smart from another. I'm trying not to think about the longstanding traditions we're missing, preferring to give thanks today for New Mexico's landscapes and their birds, and the time we've been given with them.

I Found My Heart in Magdalena

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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Fifteen years ago almost to the day, Bill and I found this spot on NM 107 that bewitched us. Equipped only with a Polaroid and my old film Canon, we took pictures of ourselves standing before the gate that would become part of my mountain bluebird painting, "The Road to Magdalena." Trying to find it again this trip proved a bit more difficult than we'd thought it would be, because the original fenceposts had been moved. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that it had to be at one certain spot that had a funky wood fence, a stock corral, and a spectacular view. Our conviction that this was The Place grew as we walked toward it. And then we saw the fencepost--the funky bent one to the left of the posts, the only one that was unchanged from our little Polaroid photo. All the rest of the pieces fell into place, and we posed for Phoebe to take our picture.We just couldn't get our minds around all the things that have transpired in the last 15 years. Here we were, not young lovers anymore, but accompanied by our kids, who have become two fine and interesting people.
The sky was just as blue, the grass just as golden, the distant mountains purple, the silence just as thick and soothing. But we were more, and we were immeasurably happy about that.

The first time we visited, mountain bluebirds appeared out of nowhere, the first ones I'd ever seen in my life. They sat on the corral posts, let us take in their beauty, and then they flew off. This time, as we stood and looked out on the mountains behind the magic gate, two mountain bluebirds came winging up and landed on the wires overhead. Having spent the last couple of days blissfully in the company of mountain bluebirds, I know that they were motivated by curiosity--they wanted to see what our little family was doing out in the middle of their nowhere. A male and a female, just like last time, maybe the great-great-great grandchildren of the ones who'd sought us out before, the pair that found its way into my painting. I knew I would have to paint this scene again.

Bill found a bit of barbed wire on the ground by our fence, and gave it to me as reference for the painting. "You could bend that into something," I said, and he set to work, bending and twisting it into a lopsided heart.
I had to sit down for awhile then, and think about all this, about all we have done together, about the joy and the heartbreak, and about how much more and different love is in our lives now than there was even then, when we were new. It's not often that your life passes before your eyes, that you have the perspective to compare yourself now to the person you were a decade and a half before. Coming up from the reverie, I held the heart my sweet Bill had made up against the blue New Mexican sky, for all the world to see.

Fretting, Basking, Yearning

Monday, November 20, 2006

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So I'm sitting here in a beautiful adobe house on the high plains of Taos. We've just come in from a long day of hiking--a 2.4 mile trek from the top of a plateau to the rocky banks of the Red and Rio Grande Rivers. I've got a lightning fast wireless Internet connection. I have photos a-poppin'. Hundreds. And, characteristically, Blogger will take two (no, after an hour more of trying, four) and no more. So I try to access my Flickr account. Only problem: it was created on another computer. I'm on my brand spanky new laptop, and I don't have all the durn passwords and ID's I need to get in there. So Flickr doesn't recognize me, and I cannot come up with the Yahoo password I need to access my Flickr account. So I go in and change ALL the passwords and ID's, and I STILL can't get into my account to download or retrieve photos. Two hours pass. I'm all tangled up in Internet manipulations and I am exactly at the same place I was two hours ago---struggling with Blogger, unable to do my Flickr end run, unable to show you anything but some photos I took several nights ago. Two, to be exact. Foaming at the mouth. I can't tell you how frustrating this all is. There has to be a better way. End of rant.
Cranes. Prehistoric, intelligent, stately, beautiful in every pose. Drifting down like giant pteranodons from pastel heights. Calling, groo groo groo, a rolling, sonorous purr that fills the heart. In these pictures, you can see the earth shadow, the shadow our planet casts on the sky. It's the band of blue beneath the pink, and it's all too enormous.
Dawn and dusk is the time to be out at Bosque. That's when the guards change, that's when the birds leave for where they're going and come to where they want to be. And that's what you want to see--the swirling, clamoring flocks, the liftoffs, or "blastoffs" as my friend Artie calls them.
Standing under a blizzard of snow geese reduces me to blithering and grinning and moaning. It's a spectacle, something that takes me out of my body and up into the air with the birds.
And still...as much as I love Bosque, I love the road to Magdalena more. Bill and I were on a quest, to retrace our route up NM 107 to Magdalena. Not that Magdalena is much--a soda fountain, a couple of businesses, a post office. It's the getting there. This road opens my soul. The vistas are endless, the colors sere and purple and blue. The last time we drove it was 15 years ago. We weren't married; we were just in love. And it was the most perfect thing, to find this road just out of curiosity, and follow it to its end.
The animals and birds were waiting for us. This band of pronghorns stopped to stare. Three prairie falcons beat by. Three coyotes loped and whirled to a stop to see if we were packing heat, then kept loping out of rifle range. Mountain bluebirds appeared, then disappeared. This time, we had Phoebe and Liam with us, and we could show them these marvels through our spotting scope. It was different--less romantic in some ways, even more romantic in others.
I'll tell you more about the road to Magdalena in a subsequent post. Perhaps I'll be able to show it to you.
Know that I'm itching to get home, to feel Baker's warm kisses, to log into my Flickr account without having to stand on my head and whistle Dixie--to get these images to you. We're having the most wonderful time. We're with good friends in a lovely adobe house buried in sagebrush. Mountain and western bluebirds greet the dawn; ravens row overhead grooping their gutteral calls. We hike and play with the kids and forget the icy cold of gray Ohio. We're basking in November sunshine and turning our cheeks red. November sunshine: I wish I could bring it to you. I wish I could can it and open it up when I get home. For now, I'm resetting my winter clock to the BASK setting. I'm savoring the last three days of our vacation, even as I'm pining for home. This trip has let me out of my everyday skin; freed me of the burdens and obsessions that weigh me down when I'm surrounded by obligation and schedule. I'd love to think that when I get home they'll stay somewhere out there in the ether. I know better, but for now, I'll pour another glass of wine and rest my eyes on the mountains.

The Best Night of My Life

Saturday, November 18, 2006

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We spent all day Wednesday in the company of Mr. Bouton, also known as Boo-tawn, PrettyBoy, and all around great guy. We birded Bosque, drifting from one neat wildlife encounter to the next. The kids were mostly content, having Bill set up the scope to show them breathtaking views of cranes, waterfowl, hawks, flickers, a preening adult bald eagle (gasp!) and a young bald eagle devouring a coot. We were just able to identify the prey by its foot before the foot fell off. Science Chimp was fulfilled.
At the end of the day, we found this line of photographers, led by our old pal Artie Morris. Naturally, they had an incredibly choice setup of pastel sunset with sandhill cranes and snow geese dropping artistically against the painted backdrop. We joined them and bogarted the scene with our somewhat less impressive camera gear. Nevertheless, the images that came from that evening are among my favorites yet (thank you again, Shila, for loan of this great camera!) And no thank you, Blogger, for inexplicably refusing to upload any of my bird images except this one. What is it? What am I doing wrong? Dying to show you these things...
We were in a state of rapture that peaked while there was still light enough to capture sharp images, and gradually fell off into afterglow.
For their part, Phoebe and Liam amused themselves gathering railroad spikes in the gloaming, always watching and listening down the track for an approaching locomotive. This image blows my mind, the track a shining line, little more. And approach it did—an enormous, several hundred-car freight, pulled by no less than four genuine Santa Fe engines.
I think I love trains almost as much as Liam does. It’s a visceral thing—the sheer power of them, the rumble, the earth-shaking majesty, the knowledge that they could turn me into a spot of grease on the steel. Liam was alternately laughing and crying, running like a crazed terrier up and down the trackside as the great freight roared by.
And then, it began to slow, and stopped---right there where he could admire it up close. Liam, Phoebe, Bill, and I were the only people in that assembled throng who thought that was terrific. Of course, the mile-long train totally blocked our access to our cars across the road, just as we were hoping to cross. Everyone else was tired, cold, and hungry, thinking of hot hotel showers and warm food. Several people, unbelievably, threaded their cameras and tripods through the cars and climbed to freedom. We stood and gaped at their temerity, commenting on the possibility of a sudden lurch by the train. And sure enough, from way up the track, the engine gave two quick toots, and began to roll. The suddenness with which it picked up speed was frightening. It was going faster than a person could run within seconds. We stood, rooted, watching it pick up to 80, maybe 90 mph in a matter of minutes. Liam began to cry; it was all too much, and he was afraid it might derail. He soon recovered, turned to me with a tear-streaked face, and said, “This was the BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE.”
Yes, he’s missing more than a week of school. We don’t feel bad about that at all.
Posting once again from The Place in Socorro--Socorro Springs Brewing Company. Fabulous food, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and homebrewed beer. Yes. It's all I can do this morning to keep BOTB from ordering ale with his eggs Benadryl.
Posting, uncharacteristically, on a Saturday, because we're headed north to Santa Fe, Sandia Peak for rosy finches!! and then Taos for cultural koolness. I've no clue when I'll have a connection again, and as it is Blogger is blocking our every attempt to show you New Mexico, so it may be adieu for awhile. The festival presentations went swimmingly, they seem to like us down here. Now we're off the clock and ramblin' again. Later!
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