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Robins in February

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We're drowning in Ohio. The Ohio River is predicted to crest at 38.3' (down from 39.5' (ohhhh noooo) on Sunday afternoon. Watching the predictions, which mean the world to those affected, has been nervewracking. They keep revising them upward, and the latest jump (9 pm Saturday) was a durn foot!! Up here on the ridgetop, it's a minor inconvenience not to be able to get into town by our usual routes, but in Marietta, it's disastrous. Days of deluge have turned my yard into a pond and flooded our route into Marietta. I tried to talk Liam through a route to town on Friday so he could help evacuate the boathouse where he rows crew.  I sent him down some iffy muddy roads and inadvertently got him hemmed in by quickly rising water on either side of him, albeit a couple of miles apart. Couldn't go forward, couldn't go back. He, with one bar of 4G on which to communicate. Me, in intermittent text contact with him, back home, frrrreeeeakkking out.  Bill had to jump in his car in town and find a route so he could come down by a back road over a ridge and lead Liam out. That was my quick, lovely nooner panic attack--thinking of my kid surrounded by milk-chocolate creek water with nowhere to go. On the phone afterward, Bill said, "When things like this happen, you can't panic."

Oh. Except that I did, and I do. I guess I have to stop doing that when my kid when last heard from was in his car with floodwater on either side of him and 40 minutes have gone by in total silence. Anyway, rescue effected; Find my Friends on my iPhone pinpointed his location; cellphones and mama and daddy love saved the day. It's probably good for a kid to get in a sticky wicket now and then. It's just not much fun when it's your kid.

Poor Marietta is caught once again with its pants down by the rains and the swollen Ohio and the fast-running Muskingum, by Duck Creek dumping all that runoff into both of them. The last flood, just a month ago, carried off $30,000 worth of docks from the boathouse where Liam rows. So, big fundraisers to replace those, on top of all the fundraisers it takes just to keep these kids in rowing shells. Thank goodness the replacement docks have yet to be built, because those would be gone, gone, gone now. The boathouse itself is about 1/3 underwater; the rowers got all the shells out and carried them to safety, but oh, what a terrible mess. Front Street in Marietta is under, which means bad, bad things for the wonderful businesses there. It's a resilient town, but spring flooding gets old, and it results in empty storefronts in a town that struggles to remain as vibrant as it is.

 If only we could funnel this rain to places out West that need it so badly. This climate change, and the odd jet stream that has formed since the ocean water is so warm, is tough, bringing Arctic cold way farther south and east than usual, while it visits arid drought on the West. And it's not fake, and it's nobody's imagination. Nobody makes up a flood like this. It's here, the unfriendly neighbor, creeping up the front steps.

If I'm only going to see the sun first thing in the morning, by gum I'm going to get out and greet it.

And the unexpected gift this day: a peach glow to the northeast

and a big flock of American robins, bringing indescribable beauty and peace in their songs and their brick-red breasts. Robins, studding the haymeadow like cloves in a pale ham.

I watch them leaning over to pluck Smilax fruits and remember that I've left a mystery unresolved. 

I posted this photo of an epic pileated woodpecker poop on Facebook, saying that it was full of carpenter ants and sumac seeds, and a knowledgeable friend, the kind that's good to have, asked if that wasn't a Smilax seed instead. So I'd made a mental note to go flesh a Smilax fruit and determine if he was right.

I knew it was pileated woodpecker poop because there was this kind of working all around where I'd found it.

Also because I am in the habit of looking for, and finding, pileated woodpecker poop. You should try it. You can often find awesome turds where they've been working for awhile, close to the ground.  An undisturbed pileated woodpecker has tremendous sticktoitiveness. (I use that word in irony, as it's one of my least favorite words in the universe). I mean, that bird will work for hours on a stump or fallen log. So of course it's going to have to go, and if it's on or very near the ground, the poop is deposited gently. That way it doesn't disintegrate when it hits the ground, and you get these fabulous J-shaped cylinders. 

So when the robins were done eating and had flown, I got a Smilax fruit and chewed the flesh off it, finding it pleasingly sweet but very stainy, like hackberry fruit. And sure enough, there was the big round puffy warm-brown seed that my friend James Ferrari had spotted. Smilax. Perfectly good diet item for a winter pileated woodpecker. Sumac, too. Poison ivy, though that's all gone by now. They take a lot of fruit.

Right near the Smilax patch is a woods road that's had a lot of erosion of its bank. I am always finding little bulbs exposed here. I used to think they were spring beauties but now I'm not so sure. Perhaps they're snowdrops or crocuses, escaped from an old homestead. A bulb is an incredible thing. It may persist for many decades, and it should be buried pretty deeply. 

This little bulb was exposed through the terrible cold, the single digits that we had for weeks after Christmas. And it is sending out shoots. What kind of antifreeze does it keep in its cells?? I cannot imagine. The least I could do is replant it. After:

And its suffering companions, too.  Before:

and after.  

Another little Science Chimp errand--keep checking to see what these shoots become. Hoping for flowers.

I try to leave the world a better place, even if it's only in small ways, whenever I go anywhere. It won't be long before I can go check on the ones I saved and maybe see this.

April 3, 2017--not far from where I replanted the bulbs.

Small good deeds...
Even as replanting bulbs gives me a warm glow, picking up trash on my road invariably sends me into the foulest of moods. There's something about dumping out tobakky chaws and getting brown spitgoo on my hands that sends my mood corkscrewing into the ground. I had my arms absolutely loaded with trash after only about 200 feet, and I came upon this. Awww!!

Thoughtful of them to bag up their car trash for pickup. Beats having to pick up each item individually. Thanks so much!  I've learned that trying to carry everything I've found only makes me crankier, so when my arms are full I make trash stations along the road, then come back to get it all in my car. The sole plus of picking up my neighbors' trash is not having to look at it any more. Well, I have to admit there's also the anthropologist's thrill of discovering what constitutes "food" for litterbugs. Mountain Dew, Busch Lite, Little Debbie, McDonald's, RedMan. None of those things are getting in my cakehole, ever.

Back to more wholesome things...I have a constant aesthetic tug-o-war with the dratted plastic-wrapped haybales. While I like the way they catch skylight and define the landscape, I loathe the wrapping. I can't walk by without wondering where all that miles of plastic goes when they're unwrapped for cattle to feast on. As a photographer, I ask myself:  Do I frame them out of each shot, or shrug and include them? They lend a surreal, giant blancmange air to this shot. I saw a titmouse drop down and disappear entirely into the rotted top of a fencepost. When it emerged, it had a nut in its bill. Perhaps it or another bird had cached it earlier. Off it flew with its prize. I love seeing what birds eat when they aren't cadging peanuts and sunflower seeds.

 More robins on Smilax. You might call it greenbriar, or catbriar.

 Robins, with the dratted haybales again.

I jockey around, and finally decide that placing the robins above the distant bales works best.

 If I stand in just the right spot, I can see the porch light from the farmhouse through a barn window. It's a Stonehenge moment, but you'll have to click on the photo to see it.

 I'm not done walking. I need more miles. So I head on out our road and walk the perimeter of a large hayfield that narrowly escaped becoming a drill pad for an oil well. Had that happened, I probably would have had to leave my home. There's a vulnerability to living atop the Marcellus Shale. You're at your neighbors' utter mercy, if they have any. And living at their mercy is a far bigger deal than having to pick up their litter.

I love how the road looks, like a smooth gray bushmaster, snaking off through the hills.  I never tire of this vista. That's a heavy sky, after a faintly promising sunrise. There will be more rain today.  I walk the edges of the hayfield, and find all that's left of a small deer I saw poached and lying in the field a couple weeks ago. No vultures in yet to clean it up, but the coy-wolves took care of it.

Everywhere are the reminders that this beauty I imbibe so deeply is fragile. That none of it can be counted on to always be here. These giant firs were planted many years ago as a windbreak for a classic Ohio farmhouse that I loved. It's been long since razed and burned. A bunch of jonquils and a few naked ladies (pink amaryllis) still come up in the field where the house once stood. I may be one of only two people on our road now who even remembers that house, or the man who once lived in it.

People and buildings die; landscapes change.  Logging lays bare a view I'd never seen before. We are always chewing up the land here. Nothing stays the same.

I listen to the robin's song
Saying not to worry



I know what you mean about those haybales. I have 3 children that farm so I know that to be able to make hay that way may actually be the difference between success and failure for dairy farms around here the way the weather has changed not to mention the lack of high school kids who would be willing to help put those old square bales in the barn. I let my son take hay off our fields but the deal was those round bales have to be hauled away immediately. I like to walk our land and I don't want to see round bales on the edges of the field, wrapped or not. "Really Mom?" Really, it matters that much.

Oh, I feel (and share) your melancholy! Over growing boys, and husbands who tell us that we "can't panic," and climate change, and loss of the beloved and familiar, and human neglect of our world, whether our little microcosm or the whole durn planet. But your "Stonehenge moment" is so beautiful; big, winter-bare deciduous trees make my heart sing, as do old barns. Yes, focus on the beauty, and clean up our corner of the world; there's not much more we can do except to vote, and even that feels completely ineffective anymore.

Don't feel bad about your panic. I would too in those circumstances.
I bet that bulb is a Star of Bethlehem. If the leaf is dark green with a white strip up the middle probably is. I will be curious to see what it is too.

"like cloves in a pale ham" ... why does that resonate so in my head? I am glad you got that started for me. what I would give to hear a robin sing! south texas is sadly lacking in american robins.

Such a variety in this post in images and thoughts put to words. So many things that touch the heart. Change is the only certainty seems to be so true, and it stands out so much anymore. Is is our age (late 50s, I'll soon be 60) or has something accelerated? Sometimes I feel like we out-in-the-country folk experience the loss more greatly than those living in environments that have already been made "deserts" with paving and buildings everywhere you turn; the lack woods, open space, etc. is already gone. No robins here yet. I feel for Marietta; I remember those floods and how the business owners know their specific feet # - the number when they will get the water. And it always seemed Whipple got hit early in the rising. Take care. And yes, worrying about Liam in floods waters is A-okay according to a mother's playbook. Kim in PA

There are so many things to say in response to this lovely post. Maybe it's enough to say this:
Maternal instinct on over-drive--check.
A changing planet with climate change an incontrovertible fact--check.
Picking up trash wherever I find it--check.
Sorrow at the ever-changing landscape--check.
Check and double check.
It doesn't change things, I know, but know that there are many others who carry the same burden and who DO something, many things, to help turn things toward a better present and a better future.

In my lottery dreams, the first thing I always do is buy Dean's Fork and put the deed in your name. Then I think of my own family

@madelynn, thank you for the surprised belly laugh, closely followed by Awwwww. So sweet. Thank you, everyone, for the commiseration, for the shared mom-panic, the robin-love, the haybale outrage (how could something so intrinsically beautiful be wrapped in white plastic?); the sense of loss with nothing else to do but ride along on it; the cloves in the pale ham (sometimes you hit it). Thank you. I love how we can connect here. I miss you so when I find myself unable to share. Glad to be back!!!

I just have to say, "Look it's a Robin! Why, it's a migratory bird!" And I'm still sort of working on that baby robin watercolor...but now I am motivated again. Thanks for all you share with us. It's a great connection.

Let me tell you something to make you a bit happier. Bale wrap and other ag plastics here in Wisconsin (and I'm sure other places) can and does get recycled. We small farmers can get either a bag for it or share a dumpster with several other small farmers and it does get recycled.

And I pick up garbage from my roadside too. It's discouraging to see how much there is some days but just a few minutes can make a big difference. Small good deeds.

Love your photos and I hope that things dry up and the rivers go back down there.

Beautiful and sorrow filled as well. You are one who reminds us all to appreciate the beauty of the moment. I just wish more people would do so😳

What's with the herds of robins this month? I saw at least 30 of them on the ground around my crabapple tree a couple of weeks ago. Is it unusual for them to show up so early in the year? (I guess I could research that myself, now couldn't I?)

I envy your ability to get up early for the first peep of sunrise. The only way I'm ever going to get to see that is if I stay up an hour or two later than my usual bedtime. I've given up trying to turn this night owl into a lark. It's hopeless. As is the concept of the 24-hour day.

Glad Liam is safe! Floods can get real ugly, real fast. Scary.

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