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The Boy Can't Help It

Monday, July 31, 2006

When we pull out the lawn chairs, we always put up an extra one for Chet, who enjoys being part of the dinner table conversation. He listens attentively and hopes that someone hands him part of their dinner, but he is never pushy about it. He looks particularly hopeful here.

Chet Baker has one of the most expressive faces, human or animal, I've ever seen. I never tire of capturing his moods with my camera. He loves to be photographed and I am certain that he mugs for the camera.
I have mentioned in earlier posts that Chet occasionally suffers from flatulence. It is sad, but true. Some of his little issuances are audible. He knows that these are a real no-no.Oops! Did I just....umm....did anyone hear something?

I am terribly sorry. It is the dried chicken breast strips from Trader Joe's that do it every time. I wish I did not love them so much.
You are hurting my feelings now. It is not that funny.

Boston terriers love to be laughed with, but not laughed at. So after the air clears, Baker always gets a kiss to make it all better. Phew! BAKER!
Bill will kick him out of bed for such a transgression. I never do. Every Boston terrier puppy should come with a book of matches. Other than that small, easily overlooked flaw, they are the perfect dog.

Luther Came Back

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Luther checks out our front awning. He's all grown up. Note the rusty wingbars--hallmark of a juvenile eastern phoebe.

On the morning of July 24, I was sitting in the Air Chair, dangling and doing nothing but watching birds. A phoebe came to the nearby sycamore. I got out of the chair and called Luther's name. The bird flew out of the sycamore, straight toward me, then thought better of it and turned the flight into a loop, landing in a birch. I had time to see its cinnamon wingbars--sign of a juvenile phoebe. Again it came toward me, landed in the mulberry, and then flew off. It was my birthday, and that bird was Luther.Luther on his first day in the tent, clinging to his old nest.
July 25, afternoon. Bill and Phoebe are out playing in the yard and grilling hamburgers. A phoebe landed on the wire over Phoebe's head. When she called Luther's name, the bird flew down at her, then landed on the wire again. Phoebe came running into the house, breathless. "LUTHER'S BACK!" she squealed. I came out, a dish of mealworms in my hand. The phoebe watched me. Through my binoculars I saw cinnamon wingbars again. It lingered, then flew up into the ash where Luther always sat in between feedings. Then it darted out, bill snapping, and caught an insect. No need to come down for mealworms.Luther has a knowing look, to this day. Here he is on June 27.
When my orphans come back to visit, it fills my heart. When they politely refuse food, I know they're on their own. Wildness overrides hunger. But they do come back to say hello, and that is a beautiful thing.Hard to believe he ever looked like this. June 19.

A Little Ad

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Is a blog the place to reveal one's deepest thoughts, insecurities, and fears? Is it a romp through daisies? A place for shameless self-promotion? A place to talk about your dog's flatulence? A blog can be all of these things. The tricky part for me is keeping a balance. I'm afraid that if I hit you over the head with this thing I'm trying to get out into the world, you'll say, "Uck. I'm just here for bluebirds" (or copperheads, or Boston terrier pictures, or whatever...) I don't want to violate your trust. I don't want to be crass.

Phew. Having confessed that, I would like to give you a link to an archived radio interview for WOSU Columbus' Open Line talk show. Host Bob Singleton had obviously read the advance galley of Letters from Eden and asked some really fun questions. The interview is here.

When you get to the OpenLine archive page, just scroll down until you find the July 21 show. I think my favorite moment in the interview is when a faithful subscriber to Bird Watcher's Digest calls. She's 89 and very sweet.

I like doing radio interviews, though I get so excited that I come off as kind of intense and nerdy. I talk too fast and just get all balled up in the thrill of it. You can almost hear me panting. There will be a bunch of interviews coming up though, as the book gets closer to its release date of October 4, so maybe I'll have a chance to display some coolness in the repetition.

If you'd like to find out more about the book, I'm taking advance orders on my web site. You can read a bit about it here

and you can actually order it here.

Most computer-savvy people automatically go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble for books. If you order it from me, I will inscribe it to you. Amazon can't do that. So that's worth something, I think. It has been a blast to keep a list of people wanting this book sent to them. 71 and counting. A couple of orders arrive every day. I'll have copies in mid-September and will be sending madly thereafter. Just can't wait. I have this vision of the studio full of cases of books and me and the kids wrapping and stuffing them to send. It's a good picture.

End of ad. Back to the flatulent Boston terrier, he of the dangly soft jowls.Please don't, Chet. Not now.

Scenes from a Party

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

photo by Shila Wilson
Last night, Shila came over bearing two things. One was a big laeliocattleya that will, at some time to be determined, produce fragrant huge magenta blooms with blue throats. I can wait. Orchid people learn how to wait for gratification. We think it's part of the fun.
The other thing Shila brought was a disc with her photos from my party. I felt like a bride who just got her album. T0 have that evening and the slanting sun and the laughter and fun captured on a piece of plastic was magical. Shila is queen of the beau geste. And such a photographer.

Here we are, the birthday witches: Shila, me, Ali and Margaret.

Here's Ali, laughing. I love this shot. photo by Shila Wilson

The boys: Zane, Bill, and Matt.
Margaret and Zane. Shila is there for the moment, as ever.

Bill, cracking up. He's wearing a tie that my father gave him, when Dad realized he wasn't going to need a whole lot of ties going forward. Talk about vintage; this thing is probably from the 1940's. You have to love somebody to wear a tie like that on a hot July afternoon. Shila Wilson, again
The evening sun was hot; we were all sweating, but it felt lovely. Summer is supposed to be hot.

I can really understand how people become barflies. You find a place that's just exactly right, and your friends go there, too, and it's such an escape from everyday life (which isn't saying that everyday life isn't wonderful; it's just full of things that you have to do, some of them dull). And before you know it, it's like Cheers, and you're there at the same corner of the bar every afternoon, having your martini or your beer...which can never happen to me, too much to do, too many other fun things vying for attention, too darned expensive and far from home...but I do understand how people turn into barflies, regulars.

The Blennerhassett Hotel is an island of sophistication and gentility, quality and attention to detail--live music, great food, perfect atmosphere. I know we can't do this every week; I know it's more a once-a-year thing, but thank you, B, for this little dose of true romance.

Baker Loves Jen

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Jen Sauter, peerless event organizer and heartbeat of the Ohio Ornithological Society, meeting Luther. This picture was taken right before Luther left on July 9. Not many people get to have a phoebe eat out of their hands. Jen appreciates the moment fully.
Since we've had Chet Baker in our family, having guests has taken on a different meaning. Whether our houseguests are dog lovers or not matters not to Chet Baker. His personal mission is to MAKE them love him. Most of the time it works really well. Even when he's not getting quite the attention he had in mind, he keeps trying. When Nancy Tanner visited, Chet kept landing on her well-groomed lap. She'd laugh and say, "Go sit on Janet's lap! She LOVES dogs!" Chet chose never to receive that message.

Other visitors, like my friend Mary Alice, have actually plotted to smuggle him out of Indigo Hill. This is something that Chet would probably go along with, but then he'd start missing us and get all mopey. So be warned, MA. It's not going to work in the long run. Mopey Bostons are much worse than many other breeds: more eye to roll, and lots more google in the eye.

When our dear friend Jen Sauter came to visit, Chet was in doggie heaven. Jen has an Australian shepherd and loves dogs. She knew all the right games and caresses, and she loved having Baker as her lapwarmer.Jen made Baker fly with one of his favorite toys, a soft nylon lead rope.
Baker returned the favor, making sure her neck and face were clean to his exacting standards.I have a Brazil nut scented body butter that drives Baker wild. Don't know what Jen's wearing.
We have friends who I'm pretty certain come to see us more regularly now that Baker's part of the picture. He does know how to make people feel welcome. Come back soon, Jen!

Birthday Weather

Monday, July 24, 2006

Today is Amelia Earhart's birthday. It is also mine. However I am here to celebrate and for that I'm thankful. The fun started last evening when Bill and I took Phoebe and Liam on the bike trail that winds along the Muskingum and Ohio rivers that back Marietta. The day was pellucid, clear, cool, just like today. We reveled in the breeze on our faces as we tooled along. We ended up at the levee, where there is an ice cream stand, and there is always flood debris to be turned into boats and pitched into the river. What a lovely town this is. If only the river would stay in its banks it would be perfect.
There is a mural of sorts at the levee. Dancing hot dogs, doing the mashed potato, or something. It seemed to need a live re-enactment. Phoebe took a picture of Bill and me dancing like weiners, but I'm not going to show you that one. I look like I've escaped from somewhere, the kind of place where they shave your head and dress you in white.
First birthday present: I saw a dog wearing shoes. The dog seemed remarkably cheerful, despite the tappity tappity tappity noise it made whenever it moved. But I could see something in its eyes, something that told me it would one day turn on its owners and kill them in their sleep. I winked back at it and wished it good luck with its plot.
Today will be amazing. It already started auspiciously. I walked out the meadow to check on the formerly starving bluebirds, now 9 days old. Big present: The three remaining nestlings are looking skinny, but healthy. I changed the nest, which still had some blowflies and mites. I fed two of the young, who were just a little hungry. All the mealworms I'd put out yesterday were gone; they were also in the nest where they'd been dropped. And scolding and chittering from a nearby pine were their mother AND their father. I don't know where he was, or what he was doing, but he's back. Oh, glory hallelujah. I left them with clean kids, clean house, and food for the rest of the day. Their future looks bright.
Bill and I sat out this morning, watching birds. The first one to appear in the willow was a juvenile male cerulean warbler. Ahhhhh. They have a turquoise green that is theirs alone. Next was an Empidonax flycatcher who would definitely leave comments as "Anonymous" if he read blogs. Next was a yellow-breasted chat, feeding a baby so young it had virtually no yellow on its throat at all. Whee! Confirmed! And next was an exquisite summer tanager, a bird of the year, and I finally had my camera awake and ready to record the moment. Happy birthday to me!
As if that weren't enough, BOTB has planned a terrific evening. The cocktail dress, dress shirt and tie, and shoes of Spanish leather will be deployed. Little does he know that all I want is right here.Photo by Lisa White.


Sunday, July 23, 2006


Chet kept me company as I walked out to check the bluebird boxes, and drove over to Stanleyville Road to look for a possible foster box. How I love taking him along! The sunset was breathtaking.

It appears, as of Saturday evening, that three of the four active bluebird nests remaining in boxes on our property are abandoned. Two sit, with three cold eggs each, never even incubated. The eggs are beautiful, shiny and blue. A third has week-old chicks in it, four of them. The chicks were standing up, shrilling with hunger, when I opened the box Saturday evening. You never want to see this in week-old chicks. At that age, bluebirds know they're bluebirds, and they know you are not-bluebird. The proper response to having their box opened is to hunker down, eyes screwed shut. Unless they are starving.

In the nest cup was a giant cicada, well mashed, far too large to be swallowed. I sniffed it--still fresh. Good. And a fresh, still-moist and writhing earthworm. You never want to see either of those in a bluebird nest. Earthworms may be beloved by robins, but bluebirds disdain them unless they have no other alternative. Earthworms and too-large cicadas are the foods of desperation, of starvation.

I walked back to the house, got my tweezers, mealworms, and a jar lid to tape to the box roof. I trudged back out to the end of the meadow and fed each shrilling chick eight or more mealworms. They were growing cool to the touch, and had trouble swallowing. Not good. Their skin was wrinkled and yellowish--a sign of dehydration. Three voided small fecal sacs, one with blackberries in it. Again, a sign of insufficient food. Fruit has little protein for growing nestlings; it shouldn't even be part of the diet before the babies are about ten days old. They had been fed today, but when? There were no fecal sacs in the nest. So they'd been tended fairly recently. I took heart at the live earthworm. Someone was still trying to keep them alive.

I left the rest of the mealworms in a jar lid taped to the top of the box for the parents to find, if parents there still be. In all the time I spent there, not a single bluebird appeared, and I heard not the slightest twitter, even as I sat on the ground with the brood in my lap, stuffing the peeping chicks with food. This should normally evoke a storm of protest from the parents, chittering and swooping. Nothing.

I looked through my notebook. I had only one box, on Stanleyville Road, that might just have same-age chicks inside. If these were still starving in the morning, my only choice would be to take them there. First, to drive over tonight and see if the Stanleyville nest is viable, and if the chicks are indeed the same age. There would be three. I could add these four, for a large but not impossible brood of seven. I crossed my fingers and said a prayer. I don't want to raise these bluebirds. I don't do rehab for fun. I do it because the alternative--turning my head-- is something I can't do.

I thought about the abandoned nests as I trudged back and forth up the quarter-mile-long meadow. The two clutches of eggs left cold, and this brood of four young left unfed, bespoke dead bluebirds to me. Perhaps there's a sharp-shinned hawk in the area, picking them off. Bluebirds and other wild things don't just up and abandon their families for no good reason. That's the sad, and sole, province of the angel-beast.

I drove over to Stanleyville Road as night fell. The nest that should have had week-old young in it stood empty. Its beautiful 24" x 7" stovepipe baffle had been breached. The nest was undisturbed--not pulled out of the hole as it would have been had a mammalian predator climbed up. Only a snake or another bird removes the young cleanly, surgically. Since there was no foreign nesting material added, as there would be had a house sparrow or wren done the job, I decided it must have been a giant black rat snake. Damn the luck. I climbed back in the car and headed home, despondent. I do not want to be a bluebird mother for the rest of the summer. Neither do I want the four to die.

I awoke before dawn Sunday and lay there, waiting until it was light enough to pull on my rubber boots, arm myself with mealworms and tweezers, and walk back out to the troubled nest. There was a tiny peep from the box as I approached, and a female bluebird burst out of the hole. The babies were warm; no fecal sacs littered the nest. Some of the mealworms I'd left on the roof the night before were still in the bowl, but I think some had been taken, too. I replenished them and closed the box, flooded with relief that, once again, the bird fairy had tapped me on the shoulder, and sent me out to the box in time to save this brood.

I went out again Sunday afternoon to check on the nestlings. Unsurprisingly, one had died, but the other three looked much better. The nest was clean, but for another cicada. I fed them--they weren't all that hungry--cleaned the nest of a good load of parasitic blowfly larvae, and left more mealworms on the roof. I'm beginning to suspect that the male bluebird has been killed, or has left the territory because he was having trouble finding enough food for himself and his brood. I'm telling you all this because I think you'll find it interesting. I do. I never stop gathering information, synthesizing it, trying to build a picture of what might be going on with these birds. After 25 years of monitoring bluebird boxes, I have learned enough to know when something is amiss. The signs can be as obvious as shrilling nestlings, or as subtle as an earthworm in the nest cup.Birds are already massing for migration: robins, barn swallows, red-winged blackbirds, starlings. They gather in flocks on the wires. The signs of autumn come too early to those who watch birds.

Zickefoose Wines!

Friday, July 21, 2006

I have been quietly having fun on the side for several months now. I've been asked to draw a wine label. Wine labels are right up there with postage stamps in the pantheon of things I have always wanted to illustrate. Let's face it: they're sexy. They have to be nice to sell the wine. (Speaking for the vast majority of we noncogniscienti who select our wines by the label).

Imagine, though, being asked to draw something for the label of Zickefoose Wine. Oh, he had me at the first e-mail. Yes, out in California there are some Zickefooses who make wine. And somehow the Zick blood running through James Taylor's veins led him to my web site, and led him to ask me to draw a goat for the label of his small-batch, superpremium Cabernet Sauvignon. His daughter is the winemaker, and she's really good. Jim describes his winemaking as a hobby gone wild. Having quite a few of those myself, I could sympathize. Poor Jim. He asked me if I would work for wine. Oh, yeah, I'll work for wine. And we were off.

Why a goat, you might wonder? Well, Zickefoose is derived from the German Ziegenfuss, which means goat's foot. Not literally, you understand; it was probably intended way back when to describe an agile or sure-footed way of walking. I take a certain amount of pride in being sure-footed. I've had maybe three bad falls in my life. One was on ice, one was on roller skates, and the other was when I was eight months pregnant and quite front-loaded. (Watch me get up from the computer chair and trip over Chet now).

First, I went to my sketchbooks and found some goats drawn from life. Strange heads, strange eyes, but very fun to draw.

First I did a sort of goofy goat, with my own label design. It wasn't quite what Jim had in mind.

I went through a series of drafts, but somehow I wasn't hitting it. OK, I'll draw more. Jim sent us all fabulous Zickefoose Wine hats. I redoubled my efforts. I was still having fun. I like drawing goats, and I sympathized with Jim and his family's desire to have JUST THE RIGHT GOAT on their label. I drew goats in my spare time, when I was tired of drawing birds or nursing baby phoebes. Goats, goats, goats.
Finally, I drew a goat that everyone in California liked. There were tweaks and fine-tuning, but this was clearly The Goat. She was friendly, nonthreatening, but regal, too. We fiddled with her eyes a little. Goat eyes are a little too weird, being naturally placed high and outside, to be really appealing, I think. So I brought them down a little. This is the final scratchboard drawing.

And here she is on the label.If you double-click on this image, you'll get a bigger image so you can read Jim's text. I told Jim that if he's as picky about his winemaking as he is about his label art, this is going to be a really nice wine.
Jim has promised a case of the precious Cabernet. I am VERY excited. I can't wait to uncork my first bottle of Zickefoose Wine. I promise to document the event here.

Daddy's Home

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I have bought an orchid at Smith and Hawken, just because I wanted it.

I went to pick Bill up at the airport Tuesday evening. I felt all flustered and excited. I had my best dress on and had taken myself to Origins in a chi chi town center, and let them paint my face with some fabulously expensive cosmetics. As you might guess, this is not something the Copperhead Hunter has ever done. It was cool, though, to surrender myself up to someone young enough to be my daughter and have her decide what looked good on me. Then, feeling guilty, I bought a bag of cosmetics about the size of your average school sack lunch. Origins is smart. They don't put prices on anything. So instead of saying, "How can a little pat of eyeshadow cost $25???" you say, "Gee, you made me look terrific! I'll take that and that and that!" and then they oh so smoothly ring it up and you're wincing inwardly, cooly writing a check for your entire last day's slaving at the drawing table. But you know what? It felt great. Now I'm exfoliating and tonicking my face just like I would imagine Jennifer Aniston does. I finally get it. All those little pots of creams and scrubs and colors and ground up whatevers actually do make you look better ouside, and feel better inside. Oh.

Smith and Hawken has orchids. There's a store right across from Origins. I love those stores. I go in and just bask in all the cool furniture and cachepots and plants and garden ornaments. I have never bought an orchid at S&H, because they're overpriced. There was a shipment, just in from Hawaii, and they had those ridiculous S&H prices on them, and one of them was Encyclia alata. It was tightly in bud and I didn't know what it would look like but I had a hunch it would be wonderful and fragrant to boot. Now it's open and it is fabulous, and it emanates a scent like honey when the eastern sun hits it in the morning. So I have had my face done at Origins, and bought a full-price orchid at Smith and Hawken, just because I wanted it. See the theme here?

When Bill got off the airplane, he said it looked like a scene from Beauty and the Beast. Poor thing had been in transit for 30 hours. Brutal. But he looked real good to me. Since I'd blown my wad on makeup and orchid, we went to Steak and Shake for dinner. He's ordering a double steakburger platter here, and mighty happy about it. I'm just watching him, hardly able to believe he's finally home.
My three boys are very happy to be together on the couch, where there is plenty of leg room.

Smell their heads, and do the best you can.

Happy parents, reunited, laughing our heads off because the cameraman (Liam) is so darn cute, with the camera strap dangling in front of the lens, holding it crooked, kind of knock-kneed. Looks like our overloaded bookshelves are going to topple down over us. Baker chewing away on a Nylabone, delighted to be part of the scene. Crunch, crunch, crunchity crunch.
Since there are so many kisses flying around the house, Baker got up on top of my flat file this afternoon and requested a few for himself. Note cute lips.Kiss me, you fool. You know you want to.

I'm in Love

from afar, with little Will Salter, my grand-nephew. Here is a picture of Will with my mom, Ida, my beautiful, kind and lovely niece, Karen, and my sister Barbara. Since I was the youngest, Barbara was almost as much my mom as Mom was. I remember being crushed flat when she went to college. But oh! how I loved visiting her in her exotic, slightly wild college digs. I found her friends to be the most interesting people I'd ever met. They still are. We must make our way to Rhode Island before Will develops Michelin rolls. How adorable is he? And Karen is a child development specialist by profession. And his daddy Jason is the sweetest doctor. And the only person on earth who loves babies more than Karen is his wildly delighted grandmom Barbara. Well, it's a dead heat between all of them. This is one lucky little boykin.

I have lots of baby bird pictures on my blog. This is only because baby humans are scarce in the greater metropolitan Whipple area. I for one am fresh out of them. The situation is no better in Dalzell, or Fifteen. Darn! So I shoots what I gots. Barbara sent these pictures. I suspect Jason is behind the camera, and deserves credit for their fabulosity.My sweet mom: still a natural brunette at 86. Will is checking her out with every immature neuron he's got. It's pretty obvious they're all firing. This baby probably got a perfect 10 on his APGAR test. Ida Zickefoose walks three miles each and every day. They call her Speedy at her independent living community. I hope to grow up to be an old lady just like her. Perfection, thy name is Will Salter.

Bill is home. I am complete, woozy with love and relief. Let the pre-prepared blog posts roll!

Saving the Yellowthroat

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's been raining a lot, and until today has been exceptionally dreary. Probably just fine, because I have a ton of drawings to do for the New York breeding bird atlas, and for another book project. If the sun shines, I'm out in the gardens, can't help myself. Confined to the studio like a good drone, I do glance up at my birches every few minutes. This lovely scarlet tanager stopped by to brighten my day. He's one we know well for his lighter-than-usual orangeish plumage and his persistant song. Such a blessing!

Got my bird mojo workin', yeah. I went outside at dusk while talking on the phone to a slightly shaky Phoebe, calling from New Jersey, where she'll be spending a week at the beach with her grandma. Although it was pouring, I walked around the front yard, enjoying the feel of rain on my face. I heard a plup-plup-plup sound and assumed it was water dripping into the muck bucket that serves as my rain barrel. But the bird-protecting fairy tapped me on the shoulder, and I looked, just to make sure. There was a newly fledged juvenile common yellowthroat, no doubt the offspring of our beloved orchard pair, treading water in the bucket! Aggh! I scooped it out and saw that it was at the very edge of exhaustion. Oh, poor little thing! I set it in a flowerpot and stepped back to evaluate it. When it didn't immediately try to fly, I decided to warm it up and give it something to eat.
I fetched a nice fat newly-molted mealworm and my forceps. Got that obstinate little bill open and placed the larva inside. The yellowthroat held it, considered for a few seconds, then greedily gulped it down. I held it awhile longer in my warm hand, and watched the life seep back into its eyes. Then the moment came, and I carried it to our thickest arbor vitae and opened my hand. It stood on my palm, ruffled its feathers, and hopped gladly into the shrub, scolding all the while. I liked hearing it cuss me out. Yellowthroats are volatile little birds. And it was lovely to know it would go to roost with a full crop.
There is now a little wooden raft in the muck bucket. I was heading for the garage to get the raft when I found the copperhead in an earlier post. Ah, hello!
I'm surfacing from a ten-day funk, brought on by Bill's extended absence in Africa. I don't begrudge him the trip one bit; I'm delighted he gets to commune with elephants, but man, the timing is rough. He's been gone 20 of the last 40 days, and has been so swamped with work when he is here that we're like a couple of ships passing. No need to wonder how single moms cope--I know too well. Being on duty around the clock day after day is hard on the spirit. I'm guilty of working too much, and totally neglecting my own needs. Those of you who wonder aloud how I manage to do so many things take warning: I'm a messed-up cookie.
But I am so looking forward to welcoming Bill home. He's my driving wheel. I have lived life without him too much lately, and I know to my bones that I need him every minute of every day. Does this describe a needy, weak woman? No. I am the Copperhead Hunter. I could forge my way alone in the world, but I don't want to. I know exactly what, and who, I need. It's a blessing to know what you need, and who you love most of all. Such are the rewards of getting older.
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