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Baby Season

Friday, June 22, 2018

Carolina chickadees, thinking I'm Mom. 

 Can it really be more than two weeks since I've posted? That's June for you, when both kids are home for the whole summer (I'm still dazed at this) and I'm conscious of treasuring every minute in their presence, because what else is there to do that is as important as that? Well, I had a big drive to Chicago in there, too, and a bunch of talks to give, but now I finally, finally get to stay home for a little while. Well, there's a wedding coming up on the East coast...but I still have a week here!!

There's also been the little side job of getting Liam ready for college, going through all the forms and financial aid and work study job applications and promissory notes and rooming assignments and buying extra long twin bedding and field trips and orientation...gaaaack it's like a part-time job. I don't remember anything like this with Phoebe. At all. Maybe because she just handled it herself. Or in part because Bowdoin didn't have an orientation, at least not one we could attend. Anyway. It's hectic as all get out. And he leaves for good on AUGUST 11. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE OR HUMANE?? So if you don't hear much from me in the next couple of months, it's because I'm too busy loving him up. And if you don't hear much after that, well, assume the worst. Ha ha. Ugh. Not looking forward to rattling around in this too-big house by myself. Good thing Phoebe will be home another couple of weeks after that. Lord. From feast to famine, it'll be. I have a good project, at least, and I'll be deep deep into it then.

I've finally broken through the barrier and switched gears from finishing the writing to doing the illustrations for Saving Jemima. I think, no, I know it gets harder to do that with every book. I grind my gears for weeks, putting off the inevitable. I love to write. I could write hanging upside down by one toe from a forklift, if I could get the pen to work. But I have a really hard time getting started with painting.  Every time I sit down in front of a blank sheet, I'm afraid I've lost it. Which, of course, I haven't, but try telling my psyche that when I'm frozen up and looking for anything to do but paint.

 I literally got to the point where I couldn't write any more. The story was finished. I had cobbled a fairly satisfying ending out of a story that didn't have a satisfying end. She was here for eight months, and then she wasn't. Rats. OK then, let's recap. What did we learn here? That's the solution I came up with. And I learned a lot from that experience, from that bird. The ending works, I think.

 So I selected a ton of photos for each of 20 chapters, and decided what I should illustrate,  mostly things that can't be photographed. Every morning when I open my laptop it's like "Get Smart," where The Chief tells Maxwell Smart: "Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is..." except that I don't have a phone in my shoe (it's in my pocket!) and I certainly don't have an Agent 99 to help. All I have is me and my watercolors. And that's fine. I love getting the assignment each day. I've got this.

One thing that really helped was teaching a two-day sketching and painting workshop at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago. 

I'd love to post some illustrations but that would ruin the surprises for the book. I'm painting on scraps of very old Fabriano cold press watercolor paper, which I'm sure is a lot better than new Fabriano paper, and loving it so much. Soon I'll run out of that and have to rummage around in the flat file for more scraps. It's not a very big book, so I can paint these things fairly small. It'll be OK.

I have some photos from the last couple of weeks that I like, so I'll share them here, in this disjointed halooo from the Land of Book and Kids and Flowers and Rabbits and Chipmunks.

An extremely rare photograph of a Carolina chickadee sheltering its nestlings. Even got a little catchlight in its eye, practically impossible to do with chickadees. They're skittish, and inclined to come out of the nest box hole like an arrow aimed right at your eye. Staying put is not something they are good at. I had my iPhone camera on and ready when I took the box down to peek inside.

On my run a couple weeks ago, the same one where I saved the snapping turtle, there was a little thank-you present waiting in a little shed not far from the Three Graces--an active phoebe nest on a light fixture, and the light coming through the machine shed siding.  Oh, I like this picture. I could tell by the way the phoebe mom was acting that she had new babies in there. I got my photo and got gone. Looks like years of phoebes in that mud and moss tower.

The chicory was just coming out, and you know how I love chicory. 

One of my continuing frustrations is being unable to shoot The Three Graces in the morning. They're backlit and it just doesn't work. But here they are in full summer dress, in the morning.

Daisies do a lot better backlit. 

A moment when the sun came out for maybe six minutes and I ran around like Daffy Duck taking shots. 

I appreciate cattle. This heifer is absolutely lovely. She's got that deep deep mahogany red coloration I like.

Never mind the dirty bum and the poop bindhi on her forehead. She's still a looker, and she made me laugh too.

The Shadow Barn, from another angle. I'm worried about it. Pieces of siding keep falling off. Dang it.  But there's an orchard oriole nest in that beautiful oak, just like there was the last two years running.

Here's a little video of my first fawn of June with its mama.  You might need to full-screen it to see the fawn, which is barely more than a wake ripple behind the big doe.

And some of the sweetest music I know--begging eastern bluebirds. Yes, I'm speaking bluebird to them. One of my parlor tricks, learned of necessity as a rehabilitator. It's so much easier to whisper to them, and ask them to open up, than to force-feed them. Everybody's happier, and everybody eats.


 And in the perfect metaphor for how time and birds fly in June, here is the same brood recently, at Day 14. This photo taken with my "magic eye," held up to the box hole. I wrote the book, and the change in these birds in two weeks never ceases to amaze me. Time and bluebirds wait for no one.

Epic Turtle Save

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

          This morning's run was so jam-packed full of June, I had to come right back in and share it. I so enjoy seeing what's coming into bloom.

Moth mullein, Verbascum blattaria, is an import, but it's so lovely, and doesn't seem to overreach its welcome.
 I like how both the flower stalk and the water tower seem to have the same lean in this shot.
That's the tower that brings us our "town water." So lovely not to have to order and pay for loads of water, 1500 gallons at a time, to be hauled to the house twice a month, as I did for the first 13 years of life on the ridge. The well water was unpotable and unreliable, and I had to go buy five-gallon jugs of drinking water, too. The former owners of the house glossed over the water situation pretty thoroughly. Only after we moved in did we find their stash of dozens of plastic milk jugs, with which they hauled drinking water from town! I remember thinking that if I couldn't lift a five-gallon jug of water, I probably couldn't live out here. Still lifting them, too. Check out my arms sometime.

Hedge bindweed (Convolvulous sepium) has the most bewitching pink and white blossoms. You'd almost think they were petunias, for their size and happy particoloring. Nestled there amidst the yellow clover, at the base of the teasel, it has a rare beauty. I never let any bindweed grow, much less bloom, in my gardens, but I enjoy it when I'm out on the road.

New leaves of tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) bend and wave under their own weight. I always wonder why juvenile trees have such enormous leaves. Maybe it's because they're in shade, and trying to get maximum surface area for photosynthesis.  But they seem to have a life force that can't be stopped.

Not everything I saw was sublime. Took me a bit to figure this one out. That's a Copenhagen tobaccy can. But what's with the stain? Well, when you've dipped your last chaw, then you unload your lip juice in the empty can, and you toss that out the window (because you don't want it in the truck). And then it leaks down across the road. Ain't that nice? The pleasure of figuring out this little phenomenon is followed by disgust. Who could trash a road like this? Almost everybody, apparently. 

 Along the way, I met up with my kind of folks: a cooperative meadow fritillary--the smallest fritillary, barely larger than a pearl crescent. I like taking photos of butterflies with my iPhone, because it's a challenge. You have to get verrry close. Like 6" away close.

It occurred to me that a photo showing its setting--in the middle of the county road on a Sunday morning--would be more meaningful.

So I hunkered down even lower and shot him in situ. 

Lord, I love this camera. I swung around, checking for oncoming traffic, which was very light before 8 AM on a Sunday. And I saw a little dark ellipse way up ahead in the road. And I thought, "Well, that wasn't there when I came by. So that means it's alive. That means it's a turtle. And the low profile means it's a snapper."

Compare the horizon trees in the fritillary shot and the turtle shot and you can see I had a good ways to go to get to that turtle. And as luck would have it, a truck was coming up behind me. I jumped up into the hayfield, off the road, so he wouldn't be tempted to swing into the turtle's lane to miss me.

And another pickup came from the east, and he was headed right for that little turtle. I sprinted up the last few hundred feet and swooped the turtle up just before the truck was able either to hit or straddle it. One never knows with pickups in southeast Ohio. Depends if there's a jackass behind the wheel, the kind that spits in a can and tosses it out the window. The same kind aims for turtles.

Oh I was so happy to have her in hand. Until she emitted an odor that brought me back to the years when I used to grow broccoli. If you've ever grown broccoli, you probably know the smell the plants get when you've harvested the big central head, and there's a hollow stem left. That collects rainwater, and it puts up a stench that's so ungodly you can't believe it's just a plant rotting. It has methane and sulfur compounds, I'm sure, as well as mustard gas. Well, this little turtle perfumed the atmosphere around us with rotting broccoli that seemed to come in waves. Lee-ord. I had to admit it was a nifty  deterrent to my ever making a meal of her!

Happy to be corrected, but I thought it was a female as the base of the tail was rather thin. Maybe there's a way to tell by the plastron. I'll wait for Boneman or Floridacracker to chime in. Fat little thing!

 And then she did the sweetest thing. It was all too much for her, to be suddenly airborne and closely scrutinized. So she closed her eyes. Do with me what you will, primate. You've got me. But I don't want to look at you. Checking out.

Her face with her eyes squeezed closed made my heart go flippy flop. And I decided at that moment that simply picking her up and carrying her across was not going to be sufficient. I would take her all the way down to the pond. Fergus' pond. 

This was not a trivial decision. There were many hundred yards of wet, waist-high June hay to navigate. And that was the other thing that made me want to help. It would take her days, maybe weeks, to get through all that, if she even could. 

I was careful to keep myself out of her sight as I pushed through the hay, and it worked. Her eyes opened and she took interest in her assisted journey, her low, jolting flight to freedom.

 If a snapping turtle can be dear, this stinky little pot of joy was dear. At least to me. And utterly docile, thank goodness. She didn't even push against my fingers. Good thing, because snappers are ungodly strong, and she'd have been a double handful.


I made a bad one-handed shot of a European skipper, my first of the year, as we trudged and swished along.

Her first sight of the water. I saw it flash across her eyes: Yes. This is where I want to go. Her front legs came out. She thought about air-paddling, but decided playing dead would be more prudent.


As we neared pondside, the ground got soggier and soggier.  But I wanted to get her in the water. I'd come this far, I needed to complete the job. 

Such a fine home for a small turtle. Here, she could grow into a leviathan.

Finally, with the water squishing up between my toes, I put her in a little rivulet that led right to the pond. I had no doubt she'd motor on down and disappear in the cool depths as soon as I left.

And I had several hundred yards of high wet hay to navigate back to the road, and another mile to run with sopping wet shoes and socks. And nothing was ever more worth that.

It had been a most excellent save, a most excellent morning. After all the turmoil and excitement of this spring, with two kids graduating the same weekend, and 1800 miles driven in the doing, I finally feel like I'm back in my body, like my mind, body and heart are hooked up again. And that feels wonderful.

Wishing you peace, and all the heady joy that June has to offer. Get out there. Just go!! Waller in it!

One Evening in June

Sunday, June 3, 2018


 Riches. That's the theme as spring turns into summer. My girl is home. My boy is home. They're both here with me, for the summer, though summer will be so very brief; Liam leaves for W. VA University (pronounced Dub VeeYew) on August 11. I'm conscious of treasuring every moment with them both home, for what will likely be the last summer. I don't need anything else, but June...oh June. She keeps throwing things at my feet, draping beauty around my shoulders. I can't begin to take it all in, but oh, I try.

While bending very, very low to try to catch the fragrance of my Firecrest water lily, my flubberroll pushed my trusty faithful iPhone 6 out of the stretchy little Bandi waist pouch I wear around all summer long. It usually keeps my phone and Flipnotes metal notebook safer and more accessible than they'd be in my pockets, but this time there was a wardrobe malfunction. I heard a Ploop! and swiped my hand into the water, catching the phone as it was settling gently on the bottom. Instinctively, I sucked water out of all the ports, raced inside saying, "Phone in pond. Phone in pond. Get rice!" Phoebe leapt into action and we interred the phone in rice for 36 hours. I tried to leave it alone, in state. It was hard. After 24 hours, I fired it up and it seemed OK, then went black. Back into the rice, which helps desiccate soaked electronics.

There ensued a couple of days that, if I'm honest, were entirely devoted to replacing the phone. A 40-minute drive  with Bill, the account holder, to Parkersburg to the ATT store, where I decided to make an insurance claim rather than upgrade. I loved my 6. I didn't need a 7, 8, or a 10. It would be replaced with a 6, and that was fine with me. Waiting for the new phone, I realized what a part of my life it is, and mostly for the camera. I missed it terribly. When a new one arrived, I spent most of a day transferring content from the old one to the new one, and doing all the sweat-inducing password and sign-in gyrations that accompany firing up a new phone. First world problems, all of them. Nothing more than an inconvenience, and a reckoning of just how much having this magic camera/lifeline/access to a world of knowledge means to me. It was a good way to back up (literally and figuratively) and take a look at what's important to me. And what's important to me is staying in touch with my family and friends, and making images.

So when I finally got the new phone up and running, I got myself up and running for an evening light photosafari. I love running in the morning; I feel a bit logy by evening, probably because I work and garden so hard all day that exercising then seems beside the point. But the light and the allure of photography got me out.

This is the child of the great red oak who used to grace our mailbox. I love to see it thrive and grow. I love to think of a time when I'll remember when it was just a sapling. I wish I could live long enough to see it get huge, to see it throw shade on the mailbox. I want to sit under it and read the paper.


You can't really see them unless you click on this photo, but there's a bluebird on the wire, and the white breast of a redtail shining in the dead tree just beyond. And let's look at those thunderheads. Oh, Summer.


I'd been looking for the prints of the first fawn of summer, and this time I found them. So tiny it must be, the size of a cocker spaniel, tottering around after Mama on fingertip-sized hooves.  Ah, June.

The field daisies are out full, finishing up, even. They always surprise me, blooming earlier every year.

Pair them with evening light and you have a poem. I don't care that they came here from Europe. So did we. They're a heavenly host and I love them without reserve.

 As you might imagine, I was feeling quite satisfied with the camera on my new iPhone 6. I'm not sure how, but it manages to be even better than the one I tried twice to drown. (I left it out overnight in a thunderstorm once, in the bottom of a laundry basket. That time I dried it out and it was fine.)

A 15-foot tall Honeysuckle Tower of Flower Power. You simply cannot imagine the scent that comes from a cluster of Japanese honeysuckle like that. It is overpowering, and in those concentrations, it takes on a soapy powder-room overtone that actually makes me reel. This Asian import I do not love, but it has its charms. The ruby-throated hummingbirds will have nothing to do with my feeders while this riot is going on, and it's a blessing for the little hens, who have no trouble getting a headily scented meal of nectar while busy feeding their young.

The milkweed is locked, loaded and ready to fire in about a week.

I have seen some good years for Penstemon digitalis or Foxglove penstemon, a gorgeous native member of the Scrophulariaceae. But this year takes the absolute cake. Lots and lots of rain, and somewhat cooler temperatures must be just what it needs to reach its best.

My road is lined with foxglove penstemon. Another hummingbird bounty.

Evening light just makes it glow.

The light in the little churchyard was ravishing. That obelisk in the center marks the grave of Nancy Love, and the verse on it goes:

She has gone to the realms of the blest
Where sorrow can reach her never
She has passed through the gates of her rest
She is lost to our dim eyes forever.

Rain Crows fans will recognize these lines. 

But the best surprise was yet to come. I've been given permission to trot around on a large piece of land where someone is building a large castle. On my first visit, I was delighted to find a grove of young persimmons, growing up around a mother-tree, topping a grassy hilltop.  That was several years ago. Since then, I've been back many times. I made a point to speak with the landowner and let him know what a treasure he had in that grove. I told him the trees would make bushels of sweet fruit come fall; that they were well worth keeping around. He was all over that; he likes the idea of living off the land. And though he's done a lot of cutting and clearing there, to date he's kept his promise to save the persimmons from destruction. I feel proud of that. It's conservation on a grassroots, landowner by landowner level. Every time I visit, I look at the little grove and smile, thinking that, but for that one conversation, those trees would likely have gone unrecognized for the treasure they are. There is so much work to do.

 This June evening, I walked up as usual, and everything was different. I heard the bees humming as I approached. Hundreds, thousands of bees. The trees were in bloom! PERSIMMON FLOWERS!! Where I could reach them!!

It may sound odd, but I have wanted to see persimmon flowers all my durn life. I have looked for them and have never seen them. Mostly, that's because a persimmon grows to be a very tall tree, and there's no way, even with binoculars, I'd be able to make out its tiny flowers if they were 50' over my head. But these trees were small enough to have some branches at eye level to me. Eureka!! I waded through blackberry and poison ivy to get some photos and revel in the discovery.

Tiny, four-petaled chalices of sweetness they were. You'll notice the black spots on them and all over the leaves. That turns out to be a fungus called anthracnose, and I've never seen a persimmon that didn't have it. It must not compromise them much, and for that I'm grateful.

Though small white flowers are often very fragrant, these were very lightly scented. There was a barely discernible sweet, olivey scent. 

One of my favorite botany gurus, who goes by The Buckeye Botanist on Instagram, commented, "Let me just say that I've admittedly never gotten this close to fresh persimmon flowers like this before either. You got me beat!"

 Life goals!!--to beat Andrew at anything plant-related!

As I thought about it, I realized this might be the first time these trees had ever bloomed. I'm sure I'd have noticed it in past springs. I felt honored, like I was present at their debut, their coming of age party. To some, it might seem like such a small thing, but it made my day.

I stepped back and looked at the grove, and realized I could capture the whole story in one photo. The bulldozer, the persimmons, and far back, the castle under construction.

There they were, with the bulldozer that might have taken them down, had I not had the nerve to say something. To try to save a little something special in this bulldozed, built-up, scraped-flat world. 

I'll be back in November, looking for the sweet, squashy, sticky orange fruits. Maybe some will hang low enough for me to photograph and pick them--another first! I'm used to fighting the 'possums and coons for wind-dropped fruit, used to finding nothing but the licked-clean pedicels under the towering trees on our place. It'll be sweet, another one of those full-circle moments that happen when you're in the same place and watching and caring the whole time.

Oh, June. Your light, your skies, your flowers. It's all too much, and just exactly what I need.
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