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Cavalcade of Guests

Saturday, December 31, 2005


Howdy! The Hostest withthe Mostest Dirty Dishes in her Kitchen is back. We've had back-to-back houseguests this week, and more fun in that lax week between Christmas and New Year's that I can remember. First came Clay Taylor, one of my oldest friends from Connecticut days. I think we met in 1982, when we were both really skinny proto-professional birders. We shared many a dinner and rare bird sightings, and it has been a delight to watch Clay grow up, have kids, and get a real job (for me, one out of three of those apply) with Swarovski Optik as their birding specialist. As a result, we get to see Clay several times a year, more than we see my family, for goodness' sake, as we haunt many of the same birding festivals. It's such a treat to have him visit, though! We could yak around the clock, and nearly did. Here's Clay, with Baker alap. If you visit us, you have to put up with having a 20-lb Boston unexpectedly launch himself into your lap. So far, nobody's objected. Clay's adorable red-headed daughter Gracie, just 13, was a perfect match for Phoebe.To top off all the fun, Clay and Gracie rolled up in a rented PT Cruiser, a car that has achieved cult status in our family. We play a game we call PT Loser, in which we all try to spot the cars and blurt out their color and any special features before anyone else spots it. It makes trips go much faster. Extra points for flames, wood sides, or the omnipresent Dangling Dice. Phoebe and I had a fashion shoot in the Taylor's fabulous Loser.

'Twas not to be long before my even longer-lost friend from college, Martha Weiss, showed up with wonderful husband Josh Rosenthal and beyond-adorable daughters Annie and Isabel. The kids formed a pack and played Extreme Hide and Seek in our cavernous and confusing house, occasionally getting themselves so well-hidden as to need adult intervention. Martha came packing menorah, candles, Hanukah geld, and little presents for everyone. Our kids heartily embraced this new ritual, and loved lighting the candles and searching for their presents afterward.
Martha is a self-described "lapsed botanist" who is breaking new ground in the field of insect learning and behavior. Her doctoral dissertation was on butterfly learning, wherein she shed new light on color-changing flowers, the signals they send to pollinators, and the speed and alacrity with which butterflies pick up on those signals. From there, she has become fascinated with caterpillars, especially those, like the skippers, that construct houses for themselves. Management of their own droppings is a problem for sedentary larvae, and Martha is studying the various ways the caterpillars clean house. Silver-spotted skipper larvae can shoot a poop pellet as much as five feet--ptoooo! Learning things like this makes my canary chirp, and we had the most fascinating, never-ending conversations about bug behavior, and the many parallels with bird behavior. Our poop-shooting discussion segued into a dissertation on fecal sacs--all this over dinner. We decided that two days and nights exploring such topics just wasn't enough, so we're making plans for a week this coming summer.A luna moth pancake. Easier to eat than to make. Martha took orders from the kids.

One of the things I love most about Martha is the creativity and flair that she brings to the most pedestrian activities. Cooking with Martha is an adventure; it was she who first showed me how to pop sesame seeds (like tiny popcorn!), who introduced me to red quinoa (the little embryos in the seeds spiral out when it's steamed), who gave me my first Granny Smith apple in 1977. Friends with whom one has a history are priceless treasures. To have our children emailing madly back and forth in advance of their visit, and then playing giddily together in our home, is a joy beyond measure.

A train pancake for a very excited Liam. His mommy never made an interesting pancake in her life before now. Thanks so much, Martha. I'll remember you next Sunday, when I'm trying to make a railroad trestle out of Bisquick.

The Bird Connection

Thursday, December 29, 2005

This is Bela, on his first afternoon of freedom. He came back at sundown to chat and sip a little nectar from an eyedropper. It was clear he didn't need to eat, he just wanted to say hello. Funny, so did I!

Well, it's been a thrilling day. "When Hummingbirds Come Home," the commentary that aired on All Things Considered last night, is #1 on the NPR website's 25 Most E-mailed Stories. Not only that, but "My Hummingbird Summer," the prequel to this one, which aired last April, is #16! Which means that people are emailing the sequel, and then they're looking up the prequel, and emailing that, and it's all just a bit much to believe.

Magic atop magic: Sitting in my kitchen right now is Martha Weiss, fabulous college friend. We've not seen each other for 23 years. But she heard me on the radio, and looked me up, and we've been in touch since. Our husbands are yakking; our kids are all having a slumber party in the tower room as I write.

While I was fixing shrimp curry for dinner, my dear friend Grace Shohet called from San Francisco. She'd heard it, too. We haven't spoken for eight years, and she has an 8-year-old daughter I've never seen!

At the root of these little reunions is a powerful story--the story of hummingbirds that made a real connection with human beings. Knowing an individual bird is a powerful thing. We all yearn to know birds, I think, to make that vital connection with an individual. Raising a young bird, we're let in on a big surprise: they think, they reason, they recognize us--and they bond with us. Birds are anything but feathered automatons. They're intelligent, resourceful, and surprisingly affectionate beings. I've raised robins, bluebirds, mourning doves, cardinals, chimney swifts; a starling, a catbird, a wood thrush, a cedar waxwing, a rose-breasted grosbeak, five hummingbirds. They all bonded with me; I think they all needed to know they were loved, and they returned it. Unscientific? You bet. But they all returned successfully to the wild, and most of them came back to visit, sometimes for years on end.

Amazing what happens when your voice comes out of people's car radios. I feel so blessed.

Hummer, Come Home!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Here are some of the color studies I made of the birds while they were in my care.

I had a commentary air on NPR's All Things Considered tonight. Normally, my editor lets me know in advance when something's going to air. She's really terrific about it. I imagine she's on vacation, and someone else pulled this off the shelf. It's not exactly seasonal, but maybe they figured we could use a bit of summer...who am I to argue? Like most everyone else, I missed it, but the story is up on the NPR web site, with audio. There's also a cute picture. The commentary's titled "When Hummingbirds Come Home." It's a sequel to "My Hummingbird Summer," which aired April 4, 2005. Briefly, Phoebe and I raised four baby ruby-throated hummingbirds that were blown out of their nesting trees by a thunderstorm. The calls came in to the Bird Watcher's Digest office on the same July morning. One was injured in the fall, and never flew, but the other three fledged successfully, hung around the yard charming the bejabbers out of us for about another month and a half, then migrated. The next spring, all three- males now in resplendant breeding plumage--CAME BACK. I can't think of a better reward for feeding baby birds, dawn to dusk, every 20 minutes for three weeks, can you?

Man, I love it when commentaries air. This is my 18th since July of 2004. So that's about one per month. If you've got time to kill and the interest, here's a link to all the Zickefoose commentaries. Woo-hoo! I'm a happy girl tonight.

My Dog Period

Sometimes I feel like Picasso in his Blue Period. I'm in my Dog Period, I guess, because I'm endlessly fascinated by the photo ops that Chet provides. It's hard to capture Chet with his Goofy Grin because he's a blur of black, white and pink, and I'm usually laughing too hard to hold the camera. More tranquil moments are much better fodder for this camera, which has a two-second delay between when I press the shutter button and when it actually records that long-gone moment. When I first got the digi-camera it was incredibly frustrating; I'd always prided myself on capturing the moment as it happened with my film SLR camera. Now I take a scatter-shot approach to photography. I click and click and out of a batch of ten there might be a good shot, and the accidents are often more interesting than the setups. I absolutely love digital photography. I set the sucker on Automatic and fire away. I let it worry about lighting and exposure and I just go for the moment. Chet likes to sit on people. He also likes to stick his butt in your face, something we refer to as "butting." Since his all-but-vestigal tail is permanently decurved, being butted by Chet is not nearly as obnoxious as being butted by a cat, for instance. Well, usually not. I've decided to ask Chet's breeder if there is a gene for flatulence, because Chet is expressing that gene in a big, big way. He can hotbox you under the covers until you scream for mercy. From Liam, sitting next to me, coloring: "Hey, Mom. Please don't laugh. I'm trying to concentrate."

Chewing a bone on something, whether it be a pillow, your book, your knee, your head, or anything Liam is trying to play with, is another quirk of Chet's. Try to wrap a package, put together a wooden train track, or read the funnies on the floor, and Chet dashes to get a chew bone, flops down on whatever you're working with, and chews away. As a result, the countertops in our house are festooned with howling monkeys, squeak frogs, eviscerated Teletubbies, and the like, because the kids get tired of being interfered with and retaliate by putting the chew toy up where Chet can't reach it.
Well, it's a beautiful sunny afternoon, and my Loop trail is calling. We're in a brief lull between houseguests and I should be straightening and cleaning and planning meals, but you don't often get 55-degree days in December. There are Men in Orange swarming the woods the last couple of days. I don't know what season just opened--perhaps Kill Antlerless Deer with Butterknives Season--but I'm going to defy them, and hope that Chet and I emerge alive to blog again. Ta!

The Tower Room

Monday, December 26, 2005

(photo by James R. Hill III)
Our first winter dinner in the Tower Room. Oh, wonderful place. For those of you who don't know, we have a 42-foot-tall tower on our house from which we watch birds. Yes, we had it built. Houses don't tend to come equipped with towers. Bill said from the very first time he climbed our old TV antenna and saw the view spread below him that this house needed a tower. It took us seven years to pull it off, but he was right. You can access the top of the tower via a set of folding attic stairs and a hatch that swings open. You're up in the clear air, 42 feet above the ground. It's like being in a small boat--a feeling of being isolated and above it all. Chet adores it and asks us to set up his special bar stool so he can survey for deer and bunnies.
In the winter, we don't climb up on top as much as we do in the other seasons. No, when it's cold we use the Tower Room, a 10' x 10' glassed in space. When we close the trapdoor, we're all alone there. We haul our dinners up on trays, light two candles, and share a glass of wine before we eat. It's so quiet. The kids know that when we eat in the Tower Room they can do whatever they like downstairs, and they don't usually bug us. Chet, of course, groans pitifully until we carry him up the open stairs to join us. As he doesn't add to the conversation, he's welcome to join us. It's a secret place where we recover our sanity and sense of humor after a long day working or taking care of the kids or (as today) cleaning the house. Is it just me, or do the holidays feel like one two-week marathon of straightening and cleaning the durn house? I swear, I spent almost the entire day disposing of boxes and packaging, and figuring out where to put everything we unwrapped yesterday. How much stuff does a family of four need? Not this much, I'm sure.
Good old Charlie the macaw is on my shoulder, running his rubbery black tongue in and out of my ear. After almost 20 years of this, it's relaxing to me to have him near, and to inhale his good birdy smell. On cold nights like this, he likes to dive down the front of my Polarfleece pullover and hide in the warm darkness. He giggles and clambers around in there, and the yeasty smell of his breath floats up to my nose. Then he settles in for a good preen on my shoulder. At the end of a session, there are feather sheaths all over my clothes. But no droppings--Charlie doesn't poop on me unless he can't avoid it. I toilet-trained him when he was very young, simply by asking him to void before I'd take him on my hand. It's hard to train a macaw with food, so I used myself as a reward. He got it in the span of a half hour. Now, when he feels nature call, he pulls my hair or lightly nips me to tell me to take him to a newspaper or trash can. Unlike a lot of birds I've met, he'll hold it for an hour or more, and he'll let you know when he needs to go. And being a species that roosts in cavities, he holds it all night long. So I suppose a sufficiently addled person could share a bed with a macaw, though it's a bad idea on many fronts. Move the wrong way and you'd have a perforated elbow. I've seen washable "diapers" for birds--how ridiculous. You can ask a creature this intelligent to do almost anything, as long as it falls within the normal range of behavior for the species.

Sugar and Spice, PuppyDog Tails

Merry Christmas, everyone! I got a present on Christmas Eve as the kids and I did some 11th hour running around in town--an immature Cooper's hawk atop a lightpole in the Parking Partners lot in downtown Marietta. It allowed me to snap its picture and even show it to a group of passersby. One man asked, "Are they bringing them in to control the pigeons?" which was a good question, considering the publicity peregrine introduction (notice I didn't say re-introduction?) has gotten. That gave me a good laugh, and I replied, "No, they're doing it for themselves!" and told him about the urban Cooper's nestings I've seen. I stood under an active nest with nestlings in the middle of a mature suburb of Pittsburgh two springs ago. It was a residential street, with beautiful townhouses and gardens, and it was just right for this family of Cooper's hawks. I like seeing things like this in the city, and I like showing them to others. Since nobody keeps chickens anymore, nobody calls this a chicken hawk, and nobody shoots it, either. At least not in the middle of town. Doubtless the hawks have figured that out. More power to them.

Snow is falling gently, and it's quiet here. I'm stalling, because today I have to try to find places to put all the stuff we got yesterday. We had a peaceful if groggy Christmas morning. Our family attended the midnight service Christmas eve, which meant that the kids were in bed at 1:15, and Santa's helpers didn't collapse until 2:15 AM. (There's an awful lot to be done after the kids go to sleep on Christmas Eve). Liam awoke at 5 AM with a nightmare, and I was up from then on. Oh, three hours of sleep just doesn't cut it. So we dragged ourselves out of bed, opened our presents, and were back in bed by noon. We slept away most of Christmas day, which was dark and dreary, anyway. Then we went into town to Bill and Elsa's for a proper Thompson Christmas celebration and feast. Here's Phoebe in her cool hat and new PJ's, and Bill and Liam in theirs. Elsa gets them for everyone, every Christmas. The Mr. Bill jammies are so appropriate for Bill, no? The little plant blooming in the vase in front of Phoebe is Cestrum nocturnum, night blooming jessamine. It emanates the most heavenly sweet-spicy scent starting at about 8:30 p.m., and it continues until dawn. The magic of this
aroma coming from such inconspicuous flowers, and at such a precise time; the fact that it fills the room with fragrance, and then shuts down completely as the light grows at dawn, delights me. I forgive it its forsythia-like growth habit, because I can root the cuttings in water, and sometimes the cuttings still bloom, like this one. Plants. Such a gift. My dear friend Dave Brigner at the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus keeps me supplied with wonderful plants like Cestrum. The best gifts are usually the free ones. Unless, of course, you ask Liam. He'd tell you that the best gifts are the Lionel trains that make his parents groan as they pull out their credit cards. Yowch. I find it interesting that our girl seems to be content with lots of neat little things, like hats and snow boots and small toys, while our boy sets his heart on the One Big Thing and No Other. And I wonder how much of this behavior is fed by our cultural expectations of boys and girls (Oh, she'll be happy with whatever she gets, but we mustn't disappoint our boy!). And yet, when I ask Phoebe what she wants for Christmas, she just looks confused, and says she doesn't really know. I ask Liam, and he says, "Wal, I want an engine with ten wheels and a tender. Lionel."

Chet got his own presents, and he figured out how to open them by watching us. I left one on the kitchen table because it is a monkey that howls when it's chewed, and he climbed up on the table and unwrapped it right there. Nobody told him it was his, he just figured it out.
It was a fun and blessed Christmas, and we're looking forward to this week, when we'll have friends from Connecticut and D.C. coming out to visit. Aggh! Gotta throw away some boxes! Happy Boxing Day! (Can I say that without offending anyone?) Yes? Well then, Merry Christmas, too!

Pet Night

Friday, December 23, 2005


A fun evening on Indigo Hill (we named it for the abundant indigo buntings whose song rings out everywhere in late summer). The kids, dog and I walked the Loop, and met up with Bill as the sun was sinking. It was warmish--50 or so--and still, and you could almost imagine that the woodcock might start calling as the sun sank. Oh, spring's not all that far away. The days are getting longer, and I heard a white-breasted nuthatch sing its spring song--werwerwerwerwer--two days ago. God bless its heart.
Finally, though, it was time to go inside, where Charlie was ready for some attention and a couple of sips of Bill's beer. He'll be 20 next August, and yes, he looks a bit tatty. He's been plucking his belly and axillary feathers since he was four months old. His breeder told me he needed a really good home, since he was kind of emotional (at first I typed demotional, which is more appropriate). I love him just as he is, and I'm thankful he leaves some; lots of parrots pluck everything they can reach, leaving themselves just feathered heads. Even the fabled African grey Alex, who probably knows more stupid human tricks than any other parrot alive, plucks himself! It's something some captive parrots just do. I always sigh and often cry when I see wild parrots and macaws; they're so much more beautiful than captive birds, every feather perfectly in place. I don't kid myself that parrots make good pets, or that we can provide everything they need to live perfectly happy lives. I got Charlie the first time my biological clock went off, when I was young and dumb and in my 20's. We're in it for the long run, through thick and thin. I owe him that. He loves to join us for dinner, adding his raucous comments and laughter to the conversation. To our relief and joy, Charlie and Chet get along just fine. Neither one has it out for the other, and many's the time I've had Chet on my lap and Charles on my shoulder without a concern. I wouldn't leave them unsupervised by any means, but they seem relaxed in each other's presence and peace reigns. I'm pretty sure Charlie got a good nip in on Chet's nose early in Chet's puppyhood, and that's all it takes for a smart Boston.

We cleared the table and I left the kitchen for a bit. When I came back, here's what I found on the table. Chet thinks it's probably OK for him to scrounge for crumbs as long as nobody sees him up there. Of course he knows that walking on the kitchen table is not cool; you can see it on his face. But I can also see him thinking that the darn parrot does it all the time, so why not Mr. Baker? It's hard to be mad at Chet. Bill marvels that there's virtually nothing Chet does that makes me mad, and I'm sure he wishes I were as tolerant of everybody else.

He calls me the Dog Lady of Whipple. I really don't think that's fair. Dog ladies have like five or seven dogs. Big dogs. Dogs everywhere. Big scratches on the doors, hair everywhere. I really don't think I qualify. I admit that I am coo-coo, ga-ga about this one clean unobtrusive polite little dog but I have a problem with being labeled. I did make him get down when I was done taking pictures.

You could call me the Tetra Lady of Whipple, though. That's a title I'd accept. Today I weeded and vacuumed my 38 gallon Amazon freshwater tank. My dear friend Lisa van Dusen, (fabulous horticulturist and wife of peerless bird painter Barry van Dusen) gave me a bunch of her beautiful aquatic plants about four years ago, and got me started in aquahorticulture. I use rainwater that I catch in a muck bucket under a drippy eave, add electrolytes to it, give the plants lots of light (for only 8 hours a day, though, or algae can be a problem) and stand back. I never clean the glass; I just vacuum the gravel very lightly once a month, and do a 25% water change. I had a female emperor tetra born in the tank not long after I started using live plants. I saw that she was getting old, and bought her a mate about eight months ago. He was courting her through the wall of the plastic bag he came home in! It was a match made in heaven. I now have at least 25 young emperor tetras crowding the tank. Clearly, it's time to find homes for them, much as I hate to think of them living anywhere else. Brothers are courting their sisters and we can't have that! The pet store in town will be happy to have them. That's where I take the armloads of plants that I weed out of the tank, too. I'm amassing credit upon credit. Someday I'll buy myself a nice new bowfront tank with the proceeds from this tiny fish farm in the living room. That's the goal, anyway. It'll take years, but I'm waiting anyway. I got this tank in the want ads about ten years ago, and its ugly faux walnut finish doesn't do much for the beauty within it.
It would be the height of hubris to say that I bred these fish; they bred themselves. All I did was leave them alone in a functioning ecosystem that obviously suits them. (Java moss is the nursery, by the way. It's a ferny, filmy beautiful groundcover that grows like mad. Close inspection of the tetra fry revealed that they were catching microorganisms that live in the Java moss for their first couple of weeks of life. Then they graduate to First Bites by Hikari).

Other successful breedings in this tank have included pristella tetras (o beautiful little fish!) and pearl gouramis. My pair of pearl gouramis coexists peacefully with their daughter, Fern. Her dad is beginning to show interest in her but I'm turning a blind eye and hoping they'll see the error of their ways. Fern is not going to a pet shop, no matter how naughty she is with Papaw. That's her, top center.
It's been fun sharing Pet Hour with you. I've got to get off this computer!! Yikes! Pet Lady of Whipple, how about? We hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

Winter Sun

Thursday, December 22, 2005


The mail is full of wonderful Christmas cards every day. They make me feel guilty. So I spent most of the day trying to write a Christmas letter, because a simple signed card just isn't my style. I laboriously built a chronology of our year, and it was so awful even I couldn't read it. I realized that my favorite Christmas letters go down like a shot of egg nog--smoothly, sweetly, with humor as their vehicle. So I junked the chronology and decided to take a walk. Gathered the kids and Chet and took off into the clear, cold air.

And like most walks, it cleared my mind. When I came back, I was ready to summarize the year in 500 words. I realized that nobody wants to hear exactly when we did this or that, who won what, or where we went and when--they want to know if we're OK, to get some impression of how the year's been, and to smile.

Winter sun--it was made to shine through a redhead's eyelashes. Everyone enjoyed posing for me. Chet spontaneously leapt up to a little rock and posed. I love this picture, but I can tell he's really cold, sitting on that rock, and he wishes I'd get it over with so he can get moving again. I felt like a person who's been let out of a dark cell today. The light was so beautiful that we'd get a few yards down the trail and I'd have to take another picture.

There was one incident on the walk that stopped our hearts. Chet caught the scent of cattle, and rushed on ahead of us. When we got to the fenceline he was rounding up about a dozen Angus heifers. They tossed their heads and pounded around the pasture, kicking out. One little gal even came at Chet with her head down. I knew I'd only foul things up if I ran into the pasture, so I hollered desperately from the fenceline, begging Chet to come back. He disappeared over the crest of the hill but I could tell from the cattle's behavior that he was still cutting and chasing. When he came back, there was a muddy mark along his spine that might just have come from a heifer's hoof. He wasn't hurt, and I thanked St. Francis that the hoof hadn't connected with that dear round head. Durn dog.

Puppy Boys

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


The Salem-Liberty Christmas program was last night, after two reschedulings due to snow. The kids were ready for it, everyone was in high good spirits, and I glowed with pride as Phoebe (the redhead in black velvet) played "Snowflakes Falling" on her plastic recorder, along with her best friends and teammates Jessi and Abbey. In every photo, Phoebe's fingers hug the instrument with grace and economy, as they should. She told me she is one of the few kids who consistently hits low D. I plan to augment that recorder with a pennywhistle soon.

There was a Santa at school, with a decidedly real pelt. I can't believe how big my little boy is now, how lovely my little girl is. I take pictures as if I could preserve them in amber. They're arrows shot from a bow, those kids, and there's nothing we can do to hold them but to treasure every moment with them.
I'm feeling very hollydayish, having spent the entire day wrapping presents. Everything's stuffed into the back shower, which has a magnetized door that's very hard to open, ideal for hiding things. A big sign on the door that says NO, LIAM! (two words that he can read at just six years old) helps, too. What did not help was Chet Baker. Chet Baker's idea of helping me wrap Christmas presents was to sidle up and put a big, usually soggy, toy atop whatever I was wrapping. He'd stand on the
wrapping paper, looking off into space, ears folded back, as if deep in thought. The whole point, for him, was to interrupt the process and make me fling the toy as hard as I could down the hall. That would buy me a few seconds in which to hurriedly slap tape on the package and get it out of his way before he returned for another go at me. My packages look like they were wrapped by a monkey.

I find this 1-year-old Boston so fascinating, because he's as playful as he was at 3 months of age. People tell me that their Bostons act like puppies their whole lives, something I'm looking forward to. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to note that having a critter underfoot that looks a lot like a human baby helps ease the ache when your little girl is too old to whisper to Santa, and your sweet youngest boy is almost too big for his lap. I must get hold of a copy of Jon Katz's book, The New Work of Dogs. I have a feeling that much of this new work will describe Chet Baker's place in my life.

I enjoyed Katz's book, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm. He's as much a psychologist as a dog guy, and he's got people pretty well figured out as he explores the canine-human interface. Working with border collies, he's got some pretty intense dog-human relationships. I don't know if I could take having a herding dog around, staring at me, wanting me to give him a meaningful job to do. I've always been a lousy delegator. So a dog that just pesters me for the sake of pestering me is perfect. There was no question in my mind that I wanted a boy dog--no mystery there, either. I love Liam's boy energy, even as he orbits around me, asking endless questions, wanting to use the computer. The happy upshot? A not-so-empty nest, when my babies are away at school. Thanks, Baker. You do good work.

Fueling the Hawk's Fire

Monday, December 19, 2005

I started today with a heavy rush of guilt, as I poured the last crumbs of homemade peanut butter suet dough out for a waiting crowd of juncoes, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, and song and white-throated sparrows. It would be enough to last only an hour or so--and it was 15 degrees outside. As soon as the kids were on the bus, I began the rawther large job of making a batch of suet dough--times six. It wouldn't be bad, but measuring out six cups of lard and six cups of peanut butter gets old. I get it all over my hands, and then all over the countertop. Why I washed the kitchen floor yesterday is anybody's guess. I put out a heaping double handful of this stuff twice a day. The colder it is, the quicker it disappears. Oh, I'm such a happy homemaker, up to my elbows in lard.

Here's the recipe. I sextuple it:

1 cup cheap peanut butter
1 cup lard
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups quick oats
1 cup flour

Melt peanut butter and lard over a low flame. Remove from heat. Mix dry ingredients together well and combine with melted lard/PB mixture. Allow to cool and store in jars. Needs no refrigeration. Serve crumbled in a shallow dish.

All the feeder birds except doves, goldfinches and house finches (confirmed vegans) love this stuff. Eastern towhees adore it, as do bluebirds. Higher on up the food chain, Cooper's hawks benefit, too. This beautiful adult Cooper's (I can't tell whether it's a large male or a smallish female) has been haunting our feeding station for about a month now. It's getting bolder all the time. I was thrilled to finally get it in the scope and cram my camera lens up against the eyepiece. I won't call what I did digiscoping, because my camera's lens extends too far to be good for digiscoping, but I have to say I'm delighted with this picture. I just cropped out the black fuzzy edges. (S)he was sitting about a foot off the ground on the spent stalks of the giant pokeweed that grows atop our compost pile. She saw me moving about just inside, but wasn't concerned; she's seen us before. She was completely relaxed, so much so that the birds went about their business at the feeders only about 50 feet away. She sat and sat, allowing me to draw her. She didn't fly until the UPS truck rumbled up the driveway, and even then she waited until the UPS guy was halfway up the sidewalk before she streaked off into the Virginia pines.

What a bird. She's responsible for the piles of mourning dove feathers under the pines, the spots of blood in the snow, and the continually craned necks of our dwindling dove flock. She's welcome to them. Better her than the durn dove hunters. For her, they're not just animated skeet targets--they're life itself.

Chet Likes Ice

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I love walking with Chet, because I can see the world through his eyes, and imagine what he can smell. He's a very visual guy, and is driven to investigate things he's never seen before. Today,he pointed at something across the Chute, and it took me awhile to figure out what he was so interested in. After staring and sniffing the air, he plunged down the steep side of the streambed to investigate. He had found the first big icicles of the year. This is one of the things I like about Chet (and there are so many). He notices everything. The joy he takes in discovering his world is infectious, and I find myself looking forward to our hikes as much or more than he does. When the weather keeps us inside for a few days at a time, he's visibly depressed, and he sleeps too much. We both need a ramble every day to keep our minds sharp.

I have to say it's good to be home, on my own blog. I've really enjoyed keeping Sharon's blog for her; it was a whole new world for me. Being able to show you what I find interesting and beautiful is an amazing exercise. I got a call from my friend Jeff Gordon today; he said Sharon was at the airport as of about noon, so she should be checking in at any time now. I would imagine there are some people and pets to hug before that happens, though.
This is a farm we look down at on our walk. The north slope is always

cloaked in snow for weeks after everything else has melted. I never tire of the patterns made by the bare trees and their shadows on the snow, or the gentle curve of the hill we stand on. Still, this kind of land use is pretty tough from the standpoint of erosion, and running cattle on such steep slopes makes it worse. But it's what happens to most of the land around us: it's clear-cut, and then put into pasture. It's used hard. Our land was used like that for decades. It's only just now catching its breath. Our forest is young, but we have some nice big oaks and hickories that I'm sure are wondering when we're going to cut them down. How about never? Does never work for you?

Into the Blogosphere, boldly!

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

My first post, on my first blog. I have Bill and Katherine to thank for this. And Sharon, who asked me to take care of her blog while she was away for two weeks. It doesn't take long to get infected with blog fever. I find myself thinking much more about the little things that happen during the day, and taking more pictures, in order to be able to share this wonderful life. I'll be back in a couple of weeks, to segue smoothly from birdchick's blog to my own. Thanks, KK!

The birth of a new blog...

Monday, December 5, 2005

Testing, testing, 123... Hello, world!
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