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New England Sojourn, Bonus Bird Messengers

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My trip through New England, December 1-10, was a beautiful getaway. I got to meet amazing new friends and hang out with old friends and family. 

Avian veterinarian extraordinaire Robert Giddings, DVM, 
Charlie Macaw's vet and my dear friend.
 He drove more than 2 hours to see me, 2 hours back. So grateful!

Me and Leo Kulinski, deerstalker/photographer/woodsman at White Memorial Conservation Center. 
I spread the Baby Birds gospel to to a several hundred people in three talks in Litchfield, CT, Westerly, RI and Salem, MA.

It was so beautiful to be in Litchfield again. I was gobsmacked by the simple majesty of the white New England churches. Their window glass all wavy, they've been there forever, monuments to faith and love and caring of the parishoners.

Of course, I looked in the windows to see the pews, and got totally distracted by the reflection of the trees and homes, and the sky holes of the windows on the opposite side, and the clouds, then the apparent holes in the fabric of the Universe. And I don't drink or smoke or take anything...looking is more than enough.

While I was preparing for my talk in the empty Carriage House at White Memorial Conservation Center, two ravens flew by, honking sonorously. My head snapped up; I did the mental calculation of how long it would take me to race outside to see them; knew they'd be long gone. I became still and simply savored their honks, a halloo from Great North, a "You go girl!" from these higher beings of humor, intelligence, mystery and magic.

The talk went great. The ravens had sprinkled their fairy dust over the Carriage House and everyone assembled there.
We filled the Carriage House at White Memorial Conservation Center on a Saturday afternoon! What a thrill!
I was delighted to find a new friend in the dynamic, articulate and impossibly talented Gerri Griswold, Director of Administration and Development for White Memorial Conservation Center. She moves so fast I had to scrounge a picture of her, and now she's in Iceland for the 46th time, leading a tour for her company, Krummi Travel. Krummi is Icelandic for "raven."

Nice mount there GG. You like taxidermy?

We hit it off so well we started talking about going to Iceland together. Maybe taking a small group along. And as if to reinforce a great idea, three medium-sized particolored Arctic birds fluttered up from practically underfoot as we made our way along the path to White Memorial's headquarters.  One paused briefly on the most Icelandic-looking boulder it could find.

Gerri and I looked at each other, and we just knew it was a sign that we should do this.

I got these shots of my first snow bunting of 2016 with my iPhone!! I didn't bring my big rig on this trip because I had literally no room in the art and book-crammed car for it. And I kicked myself about a dozen times. I'll never come back to New England without it. Place is lousy with great birds. I'll carry it on my lap if I have to.

Perhaps I'll find myself in Iceland, if the Little People who sent these beautiful messengers have anything to say about it. Pretty neat trick, that, a cosmic nudge.

Speaking of messengers, this is Gerri's darling Lab mix Bradley, with his toy, Corn. 

Those of you who know Liam know that his familiar when he was a baby was also named Corn. Oh my gosh! I flashed back, bigtime. Oh I miss that sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, roundish baby boy.

Corn was a gray and faded shadow of his former self by the time Liam lost him. Thank God Corn was there for that first haircut in Gene's Barber Shop and Rumor Parlor down on Third Street. 

 Corn is long gone, lost, and no one knows where. Liam turned up without his takealong famililar one afternoon and when we asked where Corn was he pointed and answered, "Behind you."
We never figured out what that meant, and Liam didn't either. We offered New Corn and Corn III as backup, but they didn't smell funky and they just weren't right, and that was the end of the relationship. 

Bradley, on the other hand, knows where his toys are, knows all his toys by name, and will go get them for you. And he does not tear them to smithereens, the way Chet Baker does.

I met several noble, hard-working and excellent dogs on this trip, and Bradley was one of them. We connected! What a shiny beautiful gem he is, and he saves his mamma Gerri every day, just like Chet Baker saves me.

 Looking back on this year and all it's held, I'm proud to have ended it with a bang. Twenty-two Baby Birds talks delivered,  one major show of the original artwork at the Museum of American Bird Art, two pop-up shows of the art in this last New England swing, and around a thousand copies of Baby Birds sold out of my studio mailroom. I did not sit on my hands in 2016. Nor do I plan to in 2017. 

I went through my iCalendar the other day and made a list of the significant events in the year. It's a good exercise, to review it all, to see what you accomplished (Baby Birds published and promoted, two great trips to New England, a transformational trip to Sedona with Shila, ten days guiding in Costa Rica and 14 in South Africa, Liam driving, Phoebe in San Diego and Panama)  and what you simply survived (four root canals, four crowns,  cooking for 60, Chet's deafness, Ellen's murder, oil and gas decimation of a beloved forest...I could go on) And you realize that you're pretty tough; that you never once sat down to do nothing; that you used every moment and sought out the sunrises and sunsets, star conjunctions and moonrises, and plunged into it all with a wide open heart, breasting the waves even as some rolled you under.

Coming soon: Another fabulous dog who crossed my path and worked his way into my heart. 
Happy New Year, y'all. I hope yours is filled with the people you love, and the delicious anticipation of new potential in 2017.

That Which No Longer Serves

Friday, December 23, 2016

A 10 x 12'  hobbyist greenhouse is like a very small boat. It can only hold so much. 

My natural tendency as someone who loves and actually needs flowers is to stuff it to the gills with plants I think I can't live without. 

Which is OK until the plants get big and old and start taking more than their fair share of space. Even that I can deal with, until they also begin harboring insect pests. A plant I adore can  easily overstay its welcome and become a liability almost overnight. 

Such was the case with the original edition of Hibiscus sinensis "The Path."  This monster is head-high to me, and taking up the whole southwest corner of the greenhouse. 

She was given to me by my dear friend Donna as a foot-tall youngster in the spring of 2014, as a sort of greenhouse warming gift after the Great Greenhouse Apocalypse of November 24, 2013.  She was part of that which saved me, the replacing and planting and salvaging of all the plants that I had loved that died that awful night. I loved her with my whole heart, and set about making her happy.

 And she set about making me happy. By April 25, 2015, she was quite a specimen, in her prime. Amazing what two years and some cow manure will do. And she's ready for a larger pot!

By midsummer 2016, The Path had turned from a manageable little filly into a gigantic rangy horse, despite some severe pruning in the winter of 2015.  The growth potential of a happy hibiscus is awe-inspiring, incredible. Even The Path, who famously "blooms more than she grows," still grows a ton. 

Being big isn't necessarily a sin in a small greenhouse, but I'm afraid that being chronically bug-infested is.  
The unwelcome confetti of mealybugs--one of the worst pests I know

An explosion of aphids on a new blossom.

Not only these pests, but The Path was harboring red spider mites and scale as well. I've got to hand it to hibs--they have absolutely cornered the market on insect infestations. Everything loves them. The only thing The Path didn't have was whitefly.  One Typhoid Mary in a greenhouse is one too many. Thanks to her great size, it took a lot of effort to turn her around so I could spray her from all angles. That didn't happen, so the pests just multiplied in the myriad places my homemade Dr. Bronner's soap/isopropyl spray never reached.


 In a 1 qt. spray bottle, mix

3/4 cup 70% isopropyl alcohol
2 T Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap
1 QT water.
Shake well and spray all surfaces of the plant,
concentrating on the undersides of leaves and growth tips.  You're welcome!

I walked into the greenhouse on the first snowy morning of December and knew it was time for The Path to go. When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me stories about the Eskimos turning elderly people out into the snow. I don't know for sure if that was an actual practice, but with what I've read about Inuit culture, and with greatly limited food to go around in an Arctic winter, I could see it happening. He also used to talk about people chewing food for those who'd lost their teeth, so clearly there are two sides to every story.

For me, saying goodbye to The Path was a test of my resolve, of the strength of my vision for a better world, in this one microcosm in which I can exert some control.
As I attempted the first lift of her lead-heavy planter, I felt the muscles all across my lower back stretch and then give. Oops. Note to self: Commit  all executions before watering. 

I dragged her the rest of the way out into the snow, groaning and cursing my foolishness for even trying to hoist that leaden pot.

Even covered in aphids, she was still so beautiful.  But I couldn't even cut the flower to bring it inside, for all the aphids.

Enjoy your strained back! Serves you right, she seems to say. I was in bloom, in bud. I could have gone on 'til May.

Ow, I answered. So was I. Now I'm going to be hurting for two weeks.

You were killing everyone else in there. No fault of your own, but true nonetheless. It's time.

While I was at it, I brought out "Queen of Persia," a beautiful lime and magenta geranium I've been propagating and trying to grow for three years. No matter what I've done: starting it over from apparently healthy cuttings; consistently cutting back all the diseased parts,  leaving it out for the summer, taking all the soil off the roots and repotting, the new growth of this plant always turns brown and shrivels. I suspect it's infected with a virus, and there's nothing I can do about it. I think she's given it to "Petals," too.  So goodbye to you too, Queen of Persia.  Out in the snow with ye.

When I came back into the humid warmth of the greenhouse, Creole Lady was looking wan and hanging her head. She'd caught red spider mites from The Path, and now needs daily spraying. 

The greenhouse was a bit darker for The Path's absence, but it wouldn't be for very long. That unprepossessing looking plant on the far left has a secret.

Just three days later, The Path's understudy, carefully nurtured from one of only two cuttings I've ever been able to root, would burst into glorious bloom.

You see, the understudy is the same plant, just rejuvenated. Through a cutting, I've made a clone of the original.  Oh, the power and the glory of plant propagation. Ain't it wonderful? Plants, for me, are an endless Fountain of Youth, the ultimate renewable resource. I can only be this heartless when I know an understudy's got my back. 

There are metaphors in this, and they are rich. I've written and deleted several paragraphs here. No sense in leading the witness. I think it's best that we each have the room to draw the metaphor that fits our situation.

For the New Year, look around. See if there are things in your life that no longer serve you. 
 That once brought you joy, but no longer do.
Examine your attachment to them. Why are you keeping them around? 
Because you think you're expected to?
Because you can't imagine getting rid of them?
Because it would be mean to do that?
Because people would be appalled if you got rid of them?

Because it's never occurred to you that you had the right to throw them out? Who are you waiting for, to give you permission?

Let it go.

Maybe the end of usefulness is only natural, like insect infestations, like decay and rot. Part of the great process.  Perhaps it's even to be celebrated.

Smithiantha says YES. No more mealybugs on me.

 Gardenia is planning a fragrance party in a month or two.

Little Alpine Geranium (also from Donna!) keeps a-bloomin', looking toward spring. Mama's taking cuttings...

Life goes on, in a less-fraught, simpler, more beautiful and less buggy way.

And the greenhouse becomes a happy place once again.

Do you have a skin to shed? A load to lighten, a path to clear? 
Why not give yourself permission to do it?
Merry Christmas! and thanks for being here with me for my ELEVEN YEAR blogaversary! 

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Chet Baker, Alpha Dog

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Homecoming night for Phoebe. Chet Baker's 12th birfday, December 12, 2016.  She puts him through his tricks. Or tries to. Prepare to be amazed!  For me, the highlight of this video is not Chet's prowess at tricks.

 It's the oinking. Turn your volume up. He oinks when he sits up (0:17) and again when he flops down to play dead (0:45).

The dog whisperers among you will note that Chet is not the most deferential of dogs. He was the dominant pup in a two-pup litter, nearly twice the size of his sibling.

photo by Jane Streett, Boston Terrer Breeder Emeritus Extraordinaire
Hard to believe our little chunker ever fit in someone's palm but there you have it: newborn Bacon!

 And a bit later, when he was coming into his Bakertude:

photo by Jane Streett, Boston Terrer Breeder Emeritus Extraordinaire

When a pup starts out life as the dominant one in the litter, he can be expected to cop an attitude with people, too. The point being, Chet has been a bossy guy from the get-go. On the day we went to pick him up, he stood down Liam, just five years old, barking and even growling at him. Even at 9 weeks of age, he took a look at our little family, figured I was Alpha, Phoebe, 9 years old, was #2 in line; and Liam was destined only for domination. Chet wanted Liam's place. He wanted to be #3, and while I was at her kitchen table, still going over care instructions with his breeder, Jane Streett, Chet was already working on that hierarchy. We piled in the car, kept him in his pet carrier for about one mile, and then he came out to sleep on a delighted Phoebe's lap for the duration of the trip. "I was the happiest person in the world," Phoebe remembers. When he'd wake up, his little flop ears would prick, and he'd bark and growl in his ridiculous puppeh voice at Liam!! The audacity of that babydog!

 I chuckle to think of it now, but I remember wondering what we'd signed onto. I'm sure Liam did too!  Jane told me to teach Liam how to roll Chet over on his back and hold him down "until he goes limp as spaghetti." With some strong correction, the barking and growling stopped, but Chet freely engaged in dominance mounting of his blonde brother until he had an attitudectomy (highly recommended for bossy boy dogs).  Oh this photo. See how Liam's protecting his wee little hands? :) Just good practice around puppies, but especially around tiny sock-sweatered Baker.

It got better. Chet quickly became Liam's living teddeh bear. 

 Even now, though, I see traces of that #1 Puppy. He does things with the kids he'd never try with me. H can be seen dissing Phoebe throughout this video: lunging for the treat, storming the castle in the rudest way, and even giving her a little snarly-poo at the very end (1:27), when she reaches to grab hold of him. He's a naughty boy, copping the same attitude as a grampa as he did as a pup. 

He's not perfect, never has been, because I'm far from a perfect dog trainer. But we love him, warts, oinks, emanations, snarls and all. He's 99.9% wonderful. 

Also a major babe magnet.

Pinky and Flag: Post Gun Season Check-In

Sunday, December 18, 2016

December 14, 2016.

The new snowfall makes a fairy landscape of the standing bluestem, goldenrod and Virginia pines. Three deer are moving through it, the pinkening sky aglow behind them. 

 Many mornings, when I look out at first light, there are deer in the meadow. I pretty much know who they are. But gun season for whitetails just ended, and you never know who is going to make it through and who will never be seen again. I never got close enough to identify this trio, but I had a feeling I knew them.

That same afternoon, three deer tiptoed into the sideyard. The big one looked like Boss Doe.

A second adult doe hung toward the back. With her indistinct eyerings and very small bib, I didn't recognize her at first.

 Going back into my photos, I found her first from one taken on Jan. 21, 2014. She was also an associate of Ellen's. See how buffy her eye and nose rings are? See how she's got a tiny black triangle on her lower jaw, that looks like a tooth poking out? Her markers are subtle, but consistent.

Though this doe is larger than Ellen, she submits to Ellen's gentle suggestion that she move on (by laying her chin on the big doe's back). Jan. 21, 2014. She knows Ellen's next move is a BAP with her sharp hoof.

Here she is again, from Feb. 21, 2016.  Ellen is telling her to stuff it, and getting away with it. 

Today, she was holding her left eye closed. Uh-oh. Not good. I'll have to watch out for this one, to see how she fares with that eye.
I would imagine it's all too easy to run a twig into your eye, get a scratched cornea when you're bounding through the thickets. Poor dear. Hoping it doesn't go the way poor Ellen's eye did.

Two fawns accompanied the does. Hey, little man, I know you!

It was Ellen's son Pinky! See his pinkish nose, his little buttons, the white spats on his feet?

Pinky, Dec. 14, 2016.

Meanwhile, the second fawn moved out under the pines and began eating oak leaves. 

I was immediately arrested by her feet. Look at those white spats!

It was Pinky's twin sister Flag! Her wide white eye rings, bright bib, and white stripes down the back of her forelegs were all in evidence. I had never seen her feet before, so their markings were a nice surprise. Figures her feet would be flashy too. What a pretty girl she is. 

Even with her mouth stuffed with dry leaves. I'm guessing she was feeling the need for a little roughage. I feel it, too, having just gone back on the Atkins diet in a sort of last-ditch holiday Hail Mary. Right when everybody's throwing Christmas cookies at you, that's the time to say no more. If you're a total masochist, at least. The shoe fits. Hurts, but it fits.

Flag, Dec. 14, 2016. Look at those eyebrows! And her fancy toe shoes!

I hope and pray Flag and Pinky will stay together and let me watch them grow up. It's the least I can do to honor little crooked Ellen, whom I still miss every day.  But seeing her in her children's faces helps a lot.

Ellen, Dec. 19, 2015--just a year ago.

 Pinky, every bit his mother's son. Pinky's not so flashy as Flag, but he will be when he gets his crown next summer. Look here at the shape of his white eyerings. The contrast between them and his darker forehead make him look a bit puzzled, in contrast to Flag's wide surprised look. 

For now, he's got a little yarmulke of snow, which plopped onto his sweet head while he was foraging for Japanese honeysuckle leaves. Eat hearty, my boy. Plenty of that stuff.

I was ecstatic to find my three friends still alive after gun season, to puzzle over and figure out the identity of the squinty doe; to have one more bit of identifying bling on Flag. Her hind feet, even whiter than the front ones. She's a magic fawn. The first time I saw her mother in 2009, she was exactly here, in this spot, giving me exactly that look.

Ellen, Feb. 2009. See her little white toe shoes?

Flag, Dec. 18, 2016. Her face isn't crooked; her neck isn't bent.
But she's Ellen, incarnate.
 The pine trunks are much thicker now, and the one Ellen was standing near has fallen down and died.  You can see its cut stump in Flag's picture. The leaning pine to the right has gone all yellow. It will come down this year. Planting those three pines was practically the first thing Bill and I did on moving into this house in December of 1992. And now they're ageing out.

The only constant is change. And genetics. Oh beautiful genetics. I see my DNA spooling out in my kids, and it humbles and amazes me. I know what they're going to say before they form the words. I understand them on a cellular level, because their cells came from mine. And I see more than a hint of Ellen in these fawns. I see her, healed and whole again, and seeing her gives me hope and joy and peace in a deeply troubled time.

Pinky frowns and asks, "Must you stare?" 

Oh Pinky. Yes. I must. I was a friend of your mama's. And besides, it's my job. Staring, and sharing. 

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanzaa, groovy Festivus to all you deer-lovers out there.

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