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The Owl Angels

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I get the unlucky ones, the ones that fly in front of cars.

This young Cooper's hawk had a badly broken elbow. I met the people who found him at a pet shop in Marietta, which is the only place people in my town can find to take injured wildlife. That's a sad state of affairs, but it's what we're left with in depressed areas where nobody can afford to set up a wildlife rehabilitation center. In Ohio, the rehab centers are in the big cities, and that ain't us. We've got more woods and more wildlife than practically any other county in the state, and nobody for two hours around to take care of them when they get hurt.  I washed the wound and disinfected it. I didn't think there was much hope for him, jumpy nervous accipiters being the worst patients at best, but who am I to make that call? I have to send them on to someone who can. 

You see, all the birds that come to me in winter are raptors, and all of them are broken. I try not to let it break my heart, but it does. I can't fix them. On the rare occasion I can support and feed them until they're stronger, but when there are broken bones I must get them to expert veterinary care. Which is 2 1/2 hours away. 

The calls keep coming in, and I keep trying to help. Josh called, using his aunt's cellphone, to tell me he'd found a barred owl in a cemetery. It couldn't fly. So he picked it up and brought it home and started making calls to try to find someone who might help. I was probably the sixth person he tried, and I was not going to re-route him.

It seemed tame, docile, willing to let him do anything. I told him that's how barred owls are, especially when they're hurt. Over the phone, I told him to be careful and secure its feet, and asked him to feel around its breastbone, to see if it was emaciated. He said it was nice and rounded out, like a chicken's. 

I told him, as I tell everyone, not to offer it any preserved meat. No hotdogs, no jerky, no bacon. You'd be shocked how many people give hotdogs, ham or lunch meat to raptors, and how very bad the salt and nitrates are for them. But too often, it's the only thing people have in their house that resembles meat.

"I have wild game in the freezer. Squirrel. Would that be OK?"

"That would be exactly what the owl needs. With fur, if possible."

So Josh gave it some squirrel, and it ate well that night. He said it was about 1 in the morning before it ate, but he called everyone he knew to tell them, he was so excited.

A few days passed, and there came the time for our rendezvous in town, when my Owl Angel, Lee Hermandorfer, would come to pick the bird up and take it to Columbus, to the Ohio Wildlife Center. 
Lee is an artist and a respiratory therapist (note scrubs). This Christmas Eve, she was on her way to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

"I don't have kids of my own, so I figure I'll take care of them so the people who do can be with their children." Let's just let that statement speak for itself. Said, I'd add, with a smile, and not a whiff of martyrdom.

Please also note license plate, and Lee's modification of her Mazda's emblem. She used reflective tape, so her  owl's eyes glow back at you. Oh my. Whooo thinks of doing that??

Lee also loves clouds as much as I do, as much as Bonnie, who gave me The Cloud Collector's Handbook, does. And she takes amazing photos of the skyscapes as she drives back and forth from our corner of southeast Ohio to Columbus. 

Back to the owl. While they were waiting for me to arrive, Josh and Lee talked about how he'd found it. He told her that his family was at the cemetery to inter his grandmother, and they saw the owl huddled next to a sign by the roadside. 

You could go anywhere with that. Owls and cemeteries and signs. And somehow, the right, gentle young man arrives to bury his grandmother, and then to wrap his coat around a hurt bird and take it to safety. And he has squirrels in his freezer, and is more than glad to care for it until he can meet Lee and me in Marietta.

My first look at the bird took my breath away. It radiated calm and trust and an ineffable dignity.

It sized me up. It was clear that Josh is the person it trusted. He asked it to step onto his glove so I could examine it.

And it did, this wild bird. No flapping, no panicking, just acquiescence. Trust.

It allowed me to stretch its left wing, where I found a break near the wrist joint. It gave me the slightest nibble with its golden bill when I found the bad spot, to tell me that it hurt. Oh poor creature. If I could wave a wand and fix you...

 I couldn't resist digging my fingers into the deep, incredibly silky soft feathers on its head and giving it a little rubdown. I have had a barred owl push back up against my caress just like a cat. It didn't do that, but it didn't seem to mind, either.

I was filled with admiration for this young man, whose car was badly battered and needed a muffler, who called me on a borrowed cellphone, who had cared for this sweet bird for four days, then brought it to Lee.

I purely hated to take it from him. 

Lee drove off with the two birds in her Owlmobile, and delivered them to Kristi, who stayed late to wait for them, at Ohio Wildlife Center on Christmas Eve. 

These people are my heroes.

Phoebe Comes Home

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Phoebe had it all planned out. She hadn't been home since the end of August, and here it was Christmas, and she wanted to surprise Chet Baker. Surprise him she did. She also bewitched, bothered and befuddled the little gemmun.

Speaking of the Three B's, my iPhone chose the exact moment Phoebe walked in the living room to tell me it had no free space with which to record a video. Or so much as a photo. So everything you see here is Bill's work. Thank you, B.

This is a video portrait of a Boston terrier, amazed. Seeing a person he loves very much, whom he wasn't expecting, just walking into his living room after four months of goneness. He's just flabbergasted. All he can think to do is sniff her over, make sure she's real. Kiss her. Punch her with his front feet and kiss her good. And then GO GET A PRETZEL TO CHEW ON!! This is Chet's happy thing, chewing something while people laugh and talk all around him. She's home! I need something to chew on.

  Phoebe seems to want him to make a bigger deal over her, but Chet's never been a howler or a crybaby. He's a gentleman, through and through, and he has a certain gentle, quiet dignity about him. There's a point at which he kisses her, then sits with his back to her. That's a dog's way of saying, "I know you. I trust you. I will protect you. You and me against the world. We're a team. And you may scratch my backus."

Even when she swoops him up while he is trying to chew a pretzel. He continues chewing the pretzel.

Even when she chews HIM.

Have you ever tried a Boston terrier? Many parts are edible. 

She flops down on her great big bed, for the next month having a whole room to herself. Life is good for us all. That thing a-layin' right there is my big Christmas present.

Silent Night

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I have a new friend named Caroline who loves all the same things that I do. Things abandoned and crumbling as well as things alive, blooming, growing, thriving.  This is Caroline. She is a professional floral designer, among many other talents.

photo of Caroline in action by Sally Burton

So it was only natural that I take this lovely friend around to two of my favorite spots

 to find wood and odd iron

 and an old forsythia putting out flowers brave and unexplained in December

some most excellent coy-wolf poop, full of deer hair and PERSIMMON SEEDS and even some bluish persimmon pedicels.

This was almost the piece de resistence but it would get better. I know. Better than fruityhairy coy-wolf poop? But how??

We made a pilgrimage to the Waxler Church to see its quiet interior.

                                                         photo by Caroline Waller

It being close to Christmas, and we being fresh from a wassail party where I discovered that the girl could sho nuff sing, we punched RECORD on my iPhone and executed a carol as a little hymn to the silence. We didn't practice first. We are both mezzo sopranos and perfectionists (one of the things that binds us together!) but we decided it would be what it would be, and we held hands and jumped off the cliff together. I took the harmony part. The phone was too close to me. C'est la vie.

While we were singing, Chet Baker trit-trotted around the church interior, listening, and then decided to scratch his Christmas-sweatered back on a bathmat. So if you hear snorfling and thumping that would be Chet, and me and Caroline trying not to laugh.

What a goofball. Merry Christmas! 

Chet in Church

Monday, December 22, 2014

In my last post, I demonstrated Dogtography, Mode I, the Fashion Photog mode, where I put the camera right in Chet's highly aware little face, talk to him, coach him and snap away. That's fine for what it is, but Mode II is when the neatest stuff happens. 

That's when I turn off the sound on my iPhone camera so he can't hear the (fake) shutter skazicking, sit back and just let what happens happen. It becomes an exercise in composition, with Chet composing the shots for me. A synergy with this little animal and the place we love that is nothing short of magical. 


On this rare, rare sunny morning the light was pouring in the Waxler Church like honey, and Chet was deciding where to take his sunbath.

Here might be best.

When he finally folded onto the dusty wood floor, he looked like nothing so much as a reverent little lamb.

And yet there was an attentiveness about him that made me think he was listening to something from beyond.

Who knows what a dog thinks about when he's sitting in the sun?

Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps he's hearing a conversation between spirits. Nose to the wall, ears turned backward, he's hearing something. 

The simple interior of Waxler Church has a timeworn perfection that draws me back again and again. I am so grateful to the people who keep it standing. Who leave it unlocked for the wanderers. I know why they do that. Because otherwise, someone might break in. Lock it, and you're inviting destruction. Leave it open, and they don't have to ruin it to get inside.

 I wish these caretakers could somehow know what this place means to me. How it soothes my soul. How its perfect woodwarm acoustics give my wavery, sometimes thin-in-the-higher-register voice wings. Here, where nobody can hear me, is where I come to sing. And, in my own way, worship. Hosannas to light, one after another.

More slate shingles and part of the belfry siding came off in the last storm, the same one that tore the panes from my greenhouse. I'll do a preemptive strike, and will tape them in place with clear Gorilla Repair Tape tomorrow. According to my Guardian Storm Angel, Christmas Day will bring winds of at least 40 mph, to pluck and pick and tear at the fragile little structures I love and need most. 

  I know that this church will not grace its windswept hilltop forever. I find it more careworn with every visit; the ruffled slate roof rougher, the floor a little more rotted under the old central stovepipe.  I mean to appreciate it while it is here, because all good things seem to come to an end. If passing 50 teaches you anything, it is a full appreciation of ephemerality.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dog photography, or dogtography, as I like to call it, is a dance between the photographer and her subject. 

I have two modes when I'm shooting Chet Baker. This is Mode 1, which involves a bit of coaching and back-and forth. It's a bit like the old cliche of the fashion photographer who goads his subject to strike ever-more-outrageous poses by raving and cheering her on. For the gender sensitive, please switch the pronouns in that sentence. I could definitely see being a fashion photographer to those Calvin Klein boys.

Chet Baker was trying to catch a few Z's when I noticed his ultracute paw position. You'll see he has an antler tucked into his bed, too, for those sudden urges to chew.
Always with the antler.

Chet Baker. Are you asleep?

 Hunh? I was... What is it?

Chet Baker. What if there was a SQUIRREL out there?

A squirrel? Do you think there is a squirrel out there? Like, on the feeder?

 I happen to know that you are lying, Mether. There is no squirtle out there. I can tell by the way you said it, and the fact that you are not looking out the window, because you are pointing your camera at me.

It is going to take a lot more than the rumor of a squirtle to get me out of my warm cozy Dogburger.

I know. I'm sorry, Bacon. But thank you for the pictures. My favorite is the one where your little purple lip is hanging down, where you are starting your yawn. 

In my next post, I will explore Mode 2 of Dogtography, a far less obtrusive mode, which can result in photographs rich with mystery and meaning.

Chet Baker's Birfday Pie

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Once a year, on his birfday, Chet Baker gets a special meal on fine Portmeirion china at the Big People's Table. Often it's roast beef with gravy and green beans.

Chicken pot pie is about his favorite thing of all. On his tenth birthday (December 12, 2014), Chet got a slice of pot pie.

As always, I am narrating his every move like an idiot. Like he's some canine Charlie McCarthy. Oh well. I can't help it. I'm a Crazy Dog Lady now, have been since December 2004, and it's just getting worse all the time.

I hope you enjoy this video half as much as Chet enjoys eating at the kitchen table. Please pardon my cackle.


Zick Alert, Canton Ohio!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Zick Alert!

I will be presenting "Ohio's Owls: Ghosts Unmasked" on 

Monday, December 15, at 6 pm 

Exploration Gateway at Sippo Lake Park
5712 -12th St. NW
Canton, OH 44708

I'll have books, limited-edition art prints, Four Seasons of Birds notecards, and CD's by The Rain Crows for sale, and would love to sign your books if you'd like to bring them from home, too.

See you there?

Chet Baker: Now We Are Ten

Friday, December 12, 2014

From The not Writer's Almanac: Today is the birthday of Chet Baker, Boston Terrier,  born December 12, 2004, in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, by Peanut Brittle out of Miss Chili Bean. Grandparents: Handsome Boy and Maeve Bean.

Newborn Bacon with fresh bellybutton photo courtesy Jane Streett, Pups Will Travel 

Baker is a poet, musician, entertainer, chipmunk exterminator and writer, but he is known best as a muse to the writer Julie Zickefoose, who toils in relative obscurity except for the blogposts she writes about her canine companion.

photo by Bill Thompson III

From an early age, Baker loved the camera, and as a small puppy, upon hearing the Schwingg! Zickefoose's first camera, a small Olympus point and shoot, made when it was turned on, he trotted over and posed, ready to make Internet history.

and yes I am fully aware of the double entendres in that sentence

Chet Baker has two siblings, Liam

and Phoebe

and a doting Daddeh

all of whom he loves very much

but he will not leave the yard without Mether.

photo by Bill Thompson III

Of their relationship, Baker wrote, "It is good for a dog of my caliber to have a reasonably literate person with nimble fingers, whom he may enlist to type his thoughts for him. Our kind has been held back by our clumsy and inflexible paws, and it is only when one finds a meet scribe that the world may truly know what goes on in the mind of a Boston terrier, or any other dog, for that matter."

I burdied something. I am not saying what it was, but it may have been lima beans.

Chet Baker keeps fit and active by running regularly

and posing for many dozens of photographs each and every day. He writes,

"When all is said and done I will probably be the most-photographed dog in history, or at least in Ohio. What Mether will do with all these photos, only Heaven knows. Perhaps there will be a Chet Baker Museum in my future. Or at least a book about me. People would like that."

 Once she finishes her next bird book, Zickefoose will follow the plan her dog has set out for her and resume work on a book about Chet Baker's life. She writes, "It's interesting to write someone else's memoir, to go through his life and pick out the high points and the low points, and to realize that his life is really yours, too. That's how close we are. He is my constant companion, my familiar, my muse, and I don't want to imagine a world without him. So I'd better get cracking and describe this one the best I can. Because there never was a dog like Chet Baker."

Happy birthday, my beloved Chet Baker. You just get better and better. 

Let's write some more chapters, shall we?

 Connecting to the spirits at Waxler Church, December 7, 2014

Zick Gifts-Your Handy Shopping Guide

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Looking for the right Christmas gift for the bird-lovers in your life? I have ideas. I have just ordered a mess more "Four Seasons of Birds Keepsake Box" notecards.  Zickards, as FloridaCracker calls them. Four seasonal designs, with 16 cards and 17 envelopes in a magnetic-closing keepsake box. They're really pretty. And I am hard to please. (Thank you, Galison/Mudpuppy; you do fabulous work!

 The backs are covered with my sketches and writing. I love them and use them all the time. So buy extra, some to save, some to send, some to give as gifts. We love bulk orders.

When I launched the first push for notecard sales here and on Facebook, I was blown away by the response. It was awesome, and for about two weeks I did nothing else but pack and send cards out.

What surprised me was the photos people sent of their pets with the cards. There was a regular photosalon of cute pet shots on my Facebook page!

 There was Stella the cat. 

And sweet Cooky the dog. She is a music lover, obviously. She got a CD, too.

And a mess'o pups from Harma!

Mr. Bean is a music fan, so he ordered a Rain Crows CD. He must've known that was the one (Dream of Flying Dream) with the Turtle Song "Little Soldiers" on it.

But Looks Like Rain is awesome, too. 

Here's somebody's pet Eiffel tower. :)

and what has to be the leggiest, prettiest Dobie on the planet.

If you look in the right sidebar of the blog, you'll see handy order buttons for lots of Zickmerch. I'll be more than happy to pack some gifts up for you.  Don't miss the limited-edition art prints. 

We love bulk orders here at ZickMerch. If you want to order more than the order form lets you, just write me a message on the order form and we'll work it out.  Don't worry--the order form comes right to moi. Staff of one. Packing up some presents for you will be a nice break from painting baby birds. Which I am now doing. All the time. 

Don't forget The Bluebird Effect. Surely you know someone who'd love it!

I miss forsythia. Almost as much as I miss shirtsleeve weather.

Thank you for perusing this little ad. Wishing you a peaceful Christmas, a happy Hanukah, a kewl Kwanzaa, a fabulous Festimas.

JZ and Christmas Sweetness!

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