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Milkweed Madness

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

9 comments
I've shown you a little of what goes on in the cultivated flower beds. Well, out in the meadow, which is just impossibly rich and diverse, it's a party all the time. If I had nothing else to do I'd be out there with my camera most mornings.

 The butterfly weed Asclepias tuberosa  was fabulous this year. It loved the extra rain, and it loves the way Bill mows around the thickest patches with the old tractor.
 Great spangled fritillaries think it's keen. It was overall a very light butterfly year here...many fewer individuals and low diversity in comparison to most years. I've heard as much from many friends.  Lots of rain early on may have suppressed hatching. I don't know. I just know there aren't as many butterflies around as there ought to be. It usually looks like a scene from Snow White around here.

It helps having butterflies' favorite flowers. Common milkweed A. syriaca is just irresistible. It, along with its more glamorous butterfly weed cousin, is one of my most valued garden plants. And out-of-garden plants.
Above: a beautiful female great spangled fritillary. She's more chocolatey than the male.



A Hoary Edge partakes (below). This is a less common relative of silver-spotted skipper. As you can see the white is more diffuse on the Hoary Edge--not a well-defined spot as on the SSSK. I would imagine lots of hoary edges get overlooked.


 I like this crazy shot of a fritillary feeding and a bumblebee departing. Sort of surreal.

 I like to remind people who wonder at my fondness for common milkweed that it's a treasured exotic in the best English gardens. And for good reason! Find me a plant, any plant, that offers so much to butterflies and bees, and in such a spectacular way. And that's without even mentioning the monarch brood plant factor.
                                                               All hail Milkweeds!

Praising Geraniums

Sunday, August 28, 2011

6 comments

 I was pleased to hear from some friends that they grow the vine Pigeonberry Duranta erecta down south, right in the ground. I just love this little flower, and I'm not the only one. Silver-spotted skippers are mad for it, as are hummingbird clearwing moths.


From there, the hummingbird clearwing went right to one of my favorite miniature gerania: Happy Thought Pink. A rather rare little thing, this is one of the "butterfly" geraniums, named for the butterfly-shaped splash of color on each leaf. Oh, I love this little plant. Its color reminds me of Rosepink, the pink gentian I love so dearly.
which brings me to one of my favorite subjects: geraniums. I adore geraniums. They're almost pest-free save for a few winter whiteflies. They're hardy and willing and we understand each other. They like warm days and cool nights, just like me. They're colorful and free-blooming and come in all kinds of tantalizing shapes, sizes and colors. And best of all I can make cuttings and make more of them.  

They're wonderful subjects for large pots (this one's got Contrast and Maverick Red)
and their leaf colors are just as delightful as are their flowers. Needless to say I gravitate toward the fancier ones. This is Contrast, again.
 

 Here are Occold Shield (top) and Vancouver Centennial (bottom). Both are ancient varieties, dating from pre-Victorian times. Vancouver hardly ever blooms, but when it does it's got a scarlet single flower. I don't think my plants have bloomed for five years, but the leaves are so pretty that's OK.
I dabbled in some true miniatures (stellar gerania, named for their star-shaped leaves) but a rabbit got up on the porch and mowed them down. Here they were before the mowdown:  Ragtime, Petals, Contrast and Bird Dancer. All history now. This is why I must grow all my gerania in hanging baskets and elevated planters. Durn rabbits. They chew them off at the root and leave the pieces lying there. I think they like the spicy crunch.


Oh well. I've got plenty more plants to propagate and love. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Very happy to see lots of volunteer gray birch seedlings in my shade pots underneath the adult trees. I'll need them...birches are so short-lived it seems I'm always planting more. But they're essential for attracting fall warblers. We saw our first migrant Blackburnian warbler the morning of August 26. It's in full swing, folks...hooded warblers, scarlet tanagers, red-eyed vireos, blue-gray gnatcatchers; they're all going through on their way south. Catch the show while you can!


 The pond, burbling away...reminds me, I gotta go clean the filter again...with these gardens, it's ALWAYS SOMETHING!


Late Summer Gardens

Friday, August 26, 2011

5 comments
I know there are a lot of you who'd like to have a look at our place, after hanging out with me for so many years. Well, I'm going to give you a virtual garden tour. Mind you, these photos are a few weeks old; the daylilies are distant memories on blackened stalks right now. But those hollow-but-strong stalks are excellent to take along as spiderweb catchers when we walk the late summer trails. Super light, strong, and with a multi-pronged end to catch the webs. Much better than letting them ruin your glasses. I've lost two pairs of lenses to the abrasive silica in spiderwebs!
Margaret gave me this one for my birthday a few years ago. Mmm. I love it.

My gardens are riotous and somewhat messy. Some plants have gotten very large and crowded out others. They desperately need me to get in there and divide and thin and in some cases conquer. This has yet to happen. So what you're seeing is a Darwinian struggle in full color.

This coneflower has been fighting with a magenta aster for years. I think the aster's winning. Its strategy is to grow tall then flop heavily all over the coneflower.
I can have quite a bit more control in my containers. There, weeds aren't an issue, and I can pick who lives with whom.

Coleus, lemon verbena, bicolored lime and raspberry petunias, and Lophospermum "Grand Cascade." Love it. These are huuuuge containers, the biggest pots you can buy. Needless to say I buy three cubic yard bales of Pro-Mix each season for all the containers.

This one has some Million Bells petunias (Callibrachoa) in it, Tequila Sunrise flavor. Hummingbirds like them.

The purple beauty to the left is my Plant of the Year, Duranta erecta. It's a tropical, sometimes called Pigeonberry. South American, I believe, but an introduced pest in Australia. Well, it's an introduced joy in my garden. Small lightly fragrant purple flowers, picotee-edged in white. They smell just like heliotrope, only lighter. Silver-spotted skippers are mad for them. This plant is never without a SSSK.

Though pigeonberry is a vine in nature, I'm growing mine as a standard. Wish I could claim credit, but I bought it that way. It has grown like mad, and I've made multiple cuttings and already given some away. Love it! It remains to be seen how it will do over the winter in the greenhouse. This is why I've taken cuttings...

Another tropical I adore is this little Cuphea, or cigar plant. The hummingbirds work it over all day long, and with hundreds of flowers per plant, you can watch the birds work at leisure, because it seems they try to hit almost every one.  The plant's tough as nails, drought tolerant and just plain fun.

More gardens anon.

Not About Primroses

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

18 comments
 
 Evening primrose in my garden. Gratuitous color splash, nothing to do with what's spilling out of me...

Haven't felt much like blogging lately. It's felt more like something I had to do...I had to tell you all about Charlie, and then Snapperfest came up in an anonymous comment on my blog, and I was moved to investigate and then to do something about that. That post continues to draw hits, which delights me because it means people are still ticked off about it. I know I am. I've been working on a strategic angle on the whole mess that has some promise. I honestly think the animal cruelty angle, however obvious it may be to (literally) the rest of the world, is a dead end in the fine state of Indiana. Emails to Indiana's Governor Daniels protesting the event are answered with:


"The common snapping turtle is one of three turtles considered a game species in Indiana. The other two are the smooth softshell turtle and spiny softshell turtle. All three are subject to state laws that regulate their taking from the wild. Those laws include the purchase and possession of a fishing or hunting license for anyone age 18 or older, plus a daily bag limit and possession limit. Furthermore, Indiana law prohibits the sale of all native turtle species.

"Many individuals who have voiced objection to Snapperfest point to the animal cruelty laws found in Indiana Code 35-46-3. However, that law is not applicable in this instance because it provides an exemption for wild animals that are legally taken and possessed under the authority of Indiana Code 14-22.

"Thank you for your active citizenship."


Oh, you're welcome. I'm nothing if not an active citizen.

Which response apparently means that it's OK to be cruel to animals as long as you've taken them legally, in season, with the proper license. So I could torture a fox or a bobwhite quail or a white-tailed deer to death with a toothpick as long as I wounded it legally. Do you see anything right about that? Because I don't. If an animal is declared  a game species, it's left unprotected by animal cruelty laws? God help sandhill cranes if they're ever hunted in Indiana. Maybe you could wing one, then tie it up in your yard for awhile with the chickens. As I think about it, if you're going to hold leghold trapping seasons, you would have to exempt those furbearers from any animal cruelty laws, because they leave this mortal coil in a very bad way indeed.

Hmmm. Must get off that particular train of thought. It's like turning over cowpies, only what you find isn't fun creepy crawlies. Anyway, I'm not done fighting for snapping and soft-shelled turtles in Indiana, and I hope you aren't either. Still channeling grief and anger at myself on Charlie's behalf into something that might make a difference for some turtles and the kids who've been watching them being manhandled. I feel just a little bit crazy, but at least I'm aware of it. Phoebe said last night she'd like to have her fun mommy back. OK, I'm working on that, too.


 Quite the most spectacular evening primrose there ever was, and it volunteered!

Today a big bouquet of daisies and lilies with a teddy bear attached to it arrived from a reader, and her name was familiar, and I saw that she had helped me way back in another dark but memorable time, the Darryl the Bat Rabies Inoculation Event. Liam immediately appropriated the supersoft teddy bear after first cutting the pink ribbon off its neck. It was really something, to have a dazed and confused floral deliverywoman show up at my door, having punched our address into Mapquest and been sent on a wild snipe chase over hill and dale trying to find our place. When she called to say she was coming I warned her not to rely on Mapquest; it had tried to send our friend Jason down a woods road with 8" dbh trees. I gave her directions but she assured me she had them just fine. Oh, yeah, I've heard that before. Google Maps, I told her, Google Maps. Mapquest, no good. Anyway, she eventually made it and now there's this pretty bouquet from dear Ruth, with a little stack of cards from people I've never met and it all makes me cry all over again, but just because it's so sweet, to send flowers and condolence cards for a macaw they'd never seen but loved anyway.

I was reading this evening about the death of Nickolas Ashford, half of the singer/songwriter duo Ashford and Simpson, who left us this week. Apparently he was homeless when he wandered into a Baptist church because he'd heard he might get something to eat there. And there was a woman there playing piano and they struck up a conversation and wound up collaborating on songwriting for ten years before finally getting married and staying married. She wrote the music; he wrote the lyrics to songs like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me." Inside this homeless hungry man was a poet and songwriter wanting out, and what might have become of him if he hadn't met Miss Simpson?

Evening primrose and moonrise.
 They're popping open with an audible plup!

It's the human connection that matters; the connection between us, the thing that makes you write back to me when I am hurting. That's the thing. It's clear to me that Charlie is still doing her work of keeping me company, and it seems she's been very busy scrabbling around in your hearts. Chet Baker has been hanging close with me in the studio. There's no bossy green terror kicking him out of his Studio Bed, and he can actually go into REM sleep now. I'm not sure he ever did that while Charlie was around to waddle up to him and say Move Along.  (He's sound asleep as I write.) I watched him today as he chased something, listened to him giving squeaky sleep barks as his legs twitched and galloped through a field of dreams.


Chet as a tubesock wearin' winter puppeh, a photo I haven't seen since 2006. Because who doesn't need to see that? It's a wonder that dog gets any sleep at all, as much snorgling as STILL goes on.
 

I'm keeping very busy cutting mats, mounting prints, making signs, and figuring out how to present a bunch of the original artwork for my new book The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds. I'll have a couple of panels of my show booth at the Midwest Birding Symposium dedicated to the new book. And today I made a pre-order form for the book, so people who come to the Symposium September 15-18 in Lakeside, Ohio, can have it before anyone else. It's exactly the kind of thing I need to be doing. And I'm doing all that work in Charlie's sunny little room. The countertop where she played and shredded papers is now my work surface; her view for the last dozen years is now my view. The bird feeders we put outside her window are still full of the goldfinches, cardinals and titmice she loved to watch. It feels good and right to be in there where she lived for so many years.

I'm really looking forward to the Symposium, to writing and giving a brand new talk called "Living With Birds," which is how The Bluebird Effect came to be a book, anyway.  It's about the bonds, it's all about the bonds.


My finest work, viewed through a screen lightly.
Thank you for all your kindness. It helps, it helps.

Aftermath

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

27 comments
 

All right. It's been two weeks since Charlie died and it should be getting better by now, but it's worse, worse by far than I thought it would be, to live without her. I thought it would be nice not to have to care for her, to start every blessed day changing reams of papers and sweeping the floor of her room, taking two wastebaskets of soiled papers out to burn, fixing a nice breakfast of ravioli, sweet corn, snap peas, carrots and cherries. But it's not nice. It's horrible. Easily twenty times a day I get something she'd like, a sprig of oxalis or a glassine envelope or a whole zinnia flower, and I turn for her room and she is not there and there is no one now who wants this little thing I've got to give.

Chet Baker hangs close and is as sweet as a biscuit with honey but it's her I want, her fusty feathery smell and the soft doeskin of her cheeks, it's her scratchy voice and her golden-eyed crazy glance and her bobbing head, her special bird consciousness, that I want. And nothing in me understands why I can't have that any more, now or forever. It is a grief and loss so specific that there is nothing that will fix it, spackle over it, but time.

Over the last week, I've channeled a great deal of this fiercely focused longing into fighting that hideous travesty of a "festival" called Snapperfest. The one where people feel a need to throw and yank snapping and soft-shelled turtles around in order to have fun. Hundreds of gallons of Bud Light and a good dash of animal abuse. Bring the kids!

And though Monday was one of those rare seventyish days with high puffy white and gray clouds and blue sky and a lulling cricket and katydid chorus, one of those days that starts in the fifties and never gets to the eighties, one of those days that should be spent messing about in a boat, I never looked up, not once, until 3 pm. I wrote and wrote and wrote and researched and consulted with my best herpetological and clear-thinking life experts and came up with a letter I think might give the State of Indiana pause about this awful thing going on down in its southeast groin near the beautifully named town of Rising Sun. Channeling, that's what it was, channeling the pointless, aimless grief and loss toward trying to ease the suffering of some unfortunate turtles that a bunch of people thought nobody would care about.  That nobody did know or care about for fifteen freaking years. Well, wrong. Thousands of people the world over turn out to care about snapping turtles, thousands and thousands more than anyone thought.  Once they know about them, that is. And to me that is a beautiful thing, and it fills my heart. Part of my heart. The part that doesn't include the hole a crazy small green macaw chewed right into it.


Monday morning I spoke with Ann Fisher, my friend who has a lovely program called All Sides on WOSU Columbus. We didn't have a long time, what with a big segment on the possible repeal of our spiffy new law eliminating collective bargaining for public employees, but what time we had we used well. Here is a link to the program, and I come in about halfway through the show. And now for something completely different...from Republican Senator Shannon Jones telling us how great Senate Bill 5 is for teachers and firefighters, to me, barely holding myself together as I remember a quirky little bird. If you want, you can hear me fighting back tears as I talk about what Charlie meant to me, and what it means to enter a lifetime pact with a large psittacine. If you want. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want; if you would rather go outside and look at big puffy white and gray clouds in a clear blue sky.

Snapperfest: The World is Watching

Saturday, August 20, 2011

37 comments

 Today, Saturday, August 20, at Campshore Campground in Ohio County, Indiana (812-438-2135), the 15th Annual "Snapperfest" will take place. Here's Timothy Sizemore, the proprietor of Campshore Campground, holding the unfortunate focal point of the "festival." The highlight of the event is when contestants reach into a horse trough of murky water, pull out a snapping turtle by its tail, slam it on a mat, pound on its shell to further terrify it, then brutally yank its head out without losing a finger. But they're not done yet. A successful contestant wraps the turtle's neck around his wrist and holds it up over his head, asserting his dominance over the terrified and by now perhaps mortally injured turtle. The crowd, composed of families with lots of children, sends up a roar of approval for a successful contestant. What message does that send to the children? Fifteen years of this...how many rural Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky kids have grown up thinking that's an awesome thing to do?
If you can stand to watch, here's the video. http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/81767472/
Ohio County, Indiana, whose only incorporated town is Rising Sun, is right over the line from Cincinnati. You'd think that this kind of thing would have already gone the way of cockfighting, bull-baiting and Vick-style pitbull fights. But no. Who loves a snapping turtle? Who empathizes with a vicious, dangerous, cold-blooded monster of the deep that eats the fish we like to haul out on our lines? I'm figuring you do. I sure do. People like us move them off the road when they're in peril.
When we first moved to Marietta, Ohio, I went to the Washington county fair. And there was an event called a Turtle Race. Wild-caught box turtles were placed in the middle of a circle drawn in the dirt, and the owner of the first turtle to leave the circle "won." When I saw more than a dozen of these animals, abducted from their woodland habitat and plunked down in the blazing sun for a frivolous competition, Bill had to physically restrain me and carry me from ringside. I couldn't stop it that year, but I damn sure stopped it the next year. I wrote letters, I made calls; I was shouted at, hung up on and accused of spoiling harmless children's fun; of harassing members of the Fair Board. Tough. I kept my eye on the prize, because I knew I had truth and compassion on my side. The box turtle a native wildlife species that is rapidly declining and threatened by habitat loss and human exploitation. It isn't a toy. And the Fair Board had no good rejoinder to that.
 A few years later, when Washington County Fair carnival concessions were offering hatchling red-eared slider turtles and (horror of horrors) baby green iguanas as prizes, I went back into action. This time, my first call was to the Washington County Health Department, which quickly responded to my assertion that both water turtles and iguanas are known salmonella vectors, and hardly suitable as children's prizes at a fair. Shut them down that time, too. A few well-placed, polite calls shored up with factual information go a long way.
Indiana law states that a person who knowingly, intentionally beats a vertebrate animal commits a Class A misdemeanor. 
I note that Campshore Campground's proprietor Timothy Sizemore's favorite saying on his public Facebook profile is "What goes around comes around, do unto others......"  He also describes himself as "honest, straightforward, compassionate, emotional, sincere."
A snapping turtle is not a toy. It is a sentient vertebrate being, capable of feeling fear and pain. This "festival" needs to go the way of bull-baiting, cockfighting and pitbull fighting. We've apparently learned nothing from Michael Vick's example.  
Call the Ohio County Sheriff at 812-438-3636. 
Call the Campshore Campground at 812-438-2135.
Even if you get an answering machine or a busy signal, keep calling. Make it more trouble for them than it's worth to hold this brutal event. Tell them the world is watching.
Here's my letter: 
Dear (insert public official here) 
I am a writer, naturalist, and wildlife rehabilitator who works with turtles in southeast Ohio. I have just become aware of "Snapperfest," and I've viewed video of live snapping turtles being very roughly handled by people in a contest. As one who spends years and quite a bit of my own funds healing turtles that have been hit by cars and mowers, or kept in captivity by people, the notion of using living animals in a contest to subdue them literally sickens me. This is a barbaric thing, which must go the way of bull baiting, cockfighting and pit bull fights. Have we learned nothing from Michael Vick's example? Turtles are not toys, and the regrettable fact that most people hate snapping turtles doesn't make this any less cruel and barbaric. Snapping turtles are native wildlife, and must be treated with respect. This event reflects very badly on Indiana, on Ohio County, and on officials who turn a blind eye to an illegal and extremely inhumane activity.

Looking into Indiana law, we find:

Information Maintained by the Office of Code Revision Indiana Legislative Services Agency
IC 35-46-3
Chapter 3. Offenses Relating to Animals…
IC 35-46-3-8
…Purchase or possession of animals for contests
Sec. 8. A person who knowingly or intentionally purchases or possesses an animal for the purpose of using the animal in an animal contest commits a Class D felony.
As added by P.L.193-1987, SEC.11. Amended by P.L.171-2007,
IC 35-46-3-0.5
Definitions
(2) "Beat" means to unnecessarily or cruelly strike an animal, or to throw the animal against an object causing the animal to suffer severe pain or injury. The term does not include reasonable training or disciplinary techniques.
(3) "Mutilate" means to wound, injure, maim, or disfigure an animal by irreparably damaging the animal's body parts or to render any part of the animal's body useless.

I would be surprised if any of the snapping turtles used in violation of Indiana law in this contest are viable or releasable after such severe abuse. Please stop this event, or be prepared to receive the outrage of many thousands of people who respect native wildlife and will not suffer its torture for fun or profit.

Sincerely,

Julie Zickefoose 
 Compose your own letter and fire it off to:
The Honorable Connie J. Brown
Ohio County Commissioner
yvonnewalton@hotmail.com


The Honorable Todd Walton
Ohio County Commissioner
twalton@cinergy.com


The Honorable Connie Smith
Ohio County Auditor
ohioctyauditor1@earthlink.net


Campshore Campground
812-438-2135 (office)
812-290-5939 (cell)
info@campshorecampground.com


Councilman Pro-Tem Mike Padgett
mpadgett@orvcomm.com
(812) 438-3340


Councilman Steve Slack
sslack@orvcomm.com
(812) 438-3340


Councilman Lynn Graves
lgraves@orvcomm.com
(812) 438-3340


Councilman Bud Radcliff
bradcliff@orvcomm.com
(812) 438-3340


Councilman Roy Powell
rpowell@orvcomm.com
(812) 438-3340



AND: Sign the petition, "Stop Snapperfest" at change.org.
Thank you. Together, we can change the world for the better, one cruelty at a time.
 
  

Charlie's Secret

Friday, August 19, 2011

116 comments
 
He was born in an Arizona incubator, came rolling out of an egg that had been taken from his parents. Which, right off the bat, doesn’t seem right. He was bred of captive parents for captivity, but he was never domesticated, and his kind never can be.


He was shipped at a tender age to a bird broker in Connecticut who put an ad in the paper, which was spotted by a 31-year-old woman who had recently lost Edie, her best-ever white budgie.

Who wanted a new baby bird who would live a long, long time. Who probably should have been planning for a human baby about then, but that’s moot now, beside the point.

She got what she wanted, and a whole lot more. She put Charlie in a big cage that took up almost her whole tiny living room in a cabin in the woods in Connecticut. Charlie learned to call her boyfriend’s name: “ROB?!” and he called Rob for the next two decades, even after the young woman left and 
 moved to Maryland, and then to Ohio.

  

Charlie bit Julie's new boyfriend Bill until the bird figured out that he wouldn’t get any more beer if he kept doing that.


Bill and Julie got married and built Charlie his own room with glass doors and a sunny window and a big countertop to play on. Charlie could keep Julie company in the studio, and he did, very well indeed.


Along came a little girl, Phoebe, in 1996, and Charlie was fascinated and fell in love with the little girl. 


They played for hours all around the house, in closets and halls, hiding and chuckling and sharing secrets together. 
Phoebe could do anything with Charlie. She could wrap him in her blue blankie and carry him like a baby.


 When Liam was born in 1999, Charlie fell in love all over again, and suggested to Phoebe that she should probably learn to fly off and find her own territory. That never happened, so they all learned to get along.


 Liam loved Charlie, too, and that made Julie very happy. She felt lucky to have a bird that everyone in the family could handle and enjoy.


Charlie was 17 when a little black and white puppy came to live on Indigo Hill. He bit the pup once on the nose and was the Boss forever after. Chet and Charlie played lots of games, but Charlie wasn’t much for sharing toys or seats or beds. He just took them and bossed Chet around.


 All along, Charlie kept his best friend Julie company as she worked on her writing and painting. He loved to watch a bird take shape under her hand. He liked to check to see if their shiny eyes might come off the paper.


For her part, Julie loved his warm doeskin-soft cheeks, his kisses, his crazy sense of humor, and the sweet familiar weight of Charlie on her shoulder as she worked and thought.


She did not love the endless messes he made, but she took the good with the bad. She often said that there is no dirtier animal than a macaw, and she sounded like she meant it. “A hundred times more work than a dog! A hundred times!”

Phone bill? What phone bill?

Sometimes papers went missing. Bills, things like that. Books were notched, stationery was confettified, and cabinets were emptied, especially when Julie was otherwise occupied. 


Really, the safest place for Charlie was on Julie's shoulder, supervising the bird painting.



There were warm summer evenings and lawn games;




there were chases and screams and Sungold tomatoes.




 There was mashed sweet potato from a spoon. And cheesy eggy grits. Everything good.


 Julie loved to draw Charlie when he was snoozy.




And then in late summer 2011 Charlie started to act strangely. He fell silent and began looking for a corner where he could build a nest. He wanted to tear up the wall of his own special room, but Julie gave him newspapers and thick art catalogues instead. He could reduce them to confetti in a single day. He chewed and chewed. 

July 15, 2011

Charlie began pulling his tail forward and making odd roaring squawks. He rushed at anyone who entered his room. He hardly paused to eat. And then there was a rattle in Charlie’s breath, and Julie became very alarmed. She called his best veterinarian, Bob from Connecticut. Bob listened to Julie’s story, and the first question he asked was, “Are you sure Charlie is a male?”
 


 
The bird dealer had assured Julie that Charlie had been surgically sexed and was a male. Charlie had been mating with Julie’s sock foot for years (whether she liked it or not). Julie thought Charlie was a boy…but maybe someone had lied, someone who was trying to sell a macaw quickly. If only the dealer could have known what that lie would do. It would have been good to know Charlie's sex for certain. It would have explained a lot.

Summer 1990. Photo by Michael Stern



On a Monday night in August, Charlie’s biggest secret became clear. She was trying to lay an egg, an enormous egg, and it would not come out. The egg was so big it had collapsed Charlie's air sacs, causing the rattle in her breath. Julie held her little hen macaw in her arms past midnight, then got up at 4 AM to rush her to Columbus on Tuesday morning. All the way, Julie cradled Charlie’s cheek in her hand, stroking her sweet sea-blue head. But the egg wouldn’t come, and no amount of work by a bird veterinarian could remove it all. Charlie was terribly sick and fading fast. When the doctor let Julie in to see her, Charlie was in an incubator once again. Which didn’t seem right at all.

And when Charlie heard Julie’s voice, her eyes flew open and she struggled to the front of the plastic cube to be closer to her best-ever friend.

Winter 1989. Photo by Michael Stern.

And that was the last they ever saw of each other. Which still doesn’t seem right. 


But there’s nothing to be done about it but to go on, in a studio that is now much too quiet.


Charlie
August 19, 1988
August 9, 2011



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