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"Baby Birds" Comes to Roost

Thursday, April 21, 2016

One of four major shipment waves, executed since March 23. This was the biggest one, fer sure.
The right-hand pile is all doubles, from people who trusted they'd like the book enough to buy one as a gift! There have even been triplets, quadruplets and a few quints! And I'm going to hand-deliver a DEXtuplet set to Cambridge MA in a couple of days! Hodge wins the pickle!

I knew it would be big. I even figured it would eat about a month of my spring. And that was fine with me. But your response to the "Shop Local!" plea still exceeded expectations. My right shoulder keeps telling me so. By the time I learned to stop awkwardly skewing my right arm as I folded and taped the boxes, it was already bunged up. I was happy to get out of it without screwing up my lower back, which I did with the Fantasy Flock Jigsaw Puzzle Shipping Event. Which also exceeded expectations. 

This is All Good, as the airheads say. I know YOU know you could get my books a lot cheaper elsewhere. And I appreciate your buying from me very much. It's made a lot of things possible for us this spring. 

The whole venture has opened out beautifully, like Creole Lady does, day after gorgeous spring day. 

Just after sunrise--I love to catch her like this!

Per Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's request, we held all the books until a day before the official release date, which was April 12. I started processing orders when I finally had books delivered on March 23. It took me very nearly until April 11 to get them all signed, packed and shipped. As I would finish a wave of orders, I'd pack my car full and drive them down to Lower Salem. 

I don't lose sight of the fact that, when I'm all done with a wave of shipping, I then dump it at Miss Cynni's doorstep at the Lower Salem Post Office. And it becomes her thing to lift, sort and ship.

I try to soften the blow for both of us by taking Chet Baker along. I think it helps.

He's not your average customer. But Miss Cynni sees lots of above-average folks in her 4 hour day.

Chet Baker, however, is the only one who gets to stand on the counter.

And get kisses and a special all-natural cheezy bikkit (or three).

The books piled up in the little post office, and Cynni worked on them as she had time.

I'm afraid we made a mess of the place. There are books everywhere--under tables, and the first wave is stashed in the hall at the back of the room, so this isn't even all of them! All I can say is WOW. And THANK YOU. And look at that smile, despite it all. But who wouldn't be smiling, holding The Bacon, Hisself? If you click on the photo you can see he is doing a blep wif his tongue. Cynni came in on Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10, to sort and finish metering this enormous shipment. Her husband Marty came in with her, because he didn't want her picking up those boxes, which weigh anywhere from 4 to more than 20 pounds each. I am going to take the liberty of pasting a Facebook post Cynni made, because it says volumes.

And before any postal employees start wondering how I'm getting paid to work on a Sunday, I'm not. This was done on my time because I want to provide great customer service to my customers! It's not about the money for me but to keep my customers happy and keep them coming back. I love my little 4 hr office and all my customers. And for the record, since I am a 4 hr office, I don't have the title of postmistress, I am a PSE, Postal Support Employee and I love my job.

The next time you're tempted to take a swipe at the U.S. Postal Service, remember Miss Cynni, and all the terrific people out there who in many ways big and small make our everyday lives and businesses possible.

Creole Lady, the same blossom at 11 AM. Boom!

How the Post Office looked Sunday afternoon. They got'r'dun. Photo by Cynni Francis

Monday morning,  April 11, loaded into the truck for Columbus (right?) and thence to YOU, all over the country!
Photo by Cynni Francis

To be delivered to Lynne at the soothing side of Hasty Brook,  her refuge and inspiration in Minnesota

To Kim in Free Union, her home in Virginia (note orchid!)

To Kate and her sweet dog Radio, also in my home state of Virginia

Looking a bit battered, but with contents pristine, to Gail in Florida

To Anne in Bowling Green :)

to Janet in Greenback, Tennessee

To Judy, on a peaceful porch, also in Tennessee

and to Jayne in Ringgold, Georgia! That's what a SQUEE looks like!

My heart is overflowing. Full, spilling over, eyes too. Dammit, I have stuff to do!! Y'all stop!

Creole Lady at 1 pm.

It doesn't get any better than that, to be able to see this book land with a thump on the tables of beloved friends all over the country. And we have Miss Cynni and Marty to thank for that. 

 As if it all weren't sweet enough, Cynni finally had time to start reading the book I gave her in wholly inadequate thanks for her extra sweat and time. She started with the Acknowledgements, where I mention a woman named Gwen who, with her adorable young daughter, brought me five chimney swifts that had fallen down their chimney.  With them, I had five more absolutely beautiful models to draw.

                                 Gwen turns out to be Cynni's sister in law, Marty's sister.
Had I not thanked her in the Acknowledgements, Cynni and Marty never would have known that.

Oh, there's magic in simply saying thank you. The more you say it, the more magic you get.

5 pm. Dayum, girl! You aren't getting older. You're getting better!
Having said Thank You to all of you who have bought my new book, please know that this post is not a plea for more orders. I will be indisposed from now until May 2, traveling, speaking and signing books in Massachusetts, with one foray into New Hampshire. Details are in the left sidebar, "Julie In the Flesh."

For those on mobile cellular telephones,  who can't see the blog sidebar, you can find details here:

My talks kick off with Harvard Museum of Natural History on Saturday, April 23.
 I'm at Gibson's Bookstore in Concord NH April 25.
Mt. Auburn Cemetery April 26.
Fruitlands in Harvard MA April 27.
Drumlin Farm in Lincoln MA April 28.
And it all wraps up with a show of the ORIGINAL ART for Baby Birds on Saturday, April 30 at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton MA.

Come see me, Northeasterners! I am locked, loaded and ready to talk!

So if you're moved to order copies for Mother's Day, just know that I will do my very best to get them shipped in the three days I will be home, and before I take off again for the New River Birding Festival on May 5, and the Great Salt Lake Birding Festival May 13. No rest for the wicked or the weary in April and May. 

Lower Salem Love Letter

Saturday, April 16, 2016

In the little hamlet of Lower Salem, just a few miles from our home, is an elementary school, high on a hill overlooking PawPaw Creek and a small dairy farm.

My kids attended Lower Salem Elementary, and I will be forever grateful for the wonderful teachers who graced their lives in this one-class-per-grade rural gradeschool.

Science Club, after school, organized by Mrs. Hendrix.  I helped sometimes. Binoculars and scope courtesy us.

It is the kind of school where a boy can show up in Crocs and a cape, every day, and get away with it through fifth grade. Because to his teachers and classmates, he is a superhero, even if we aren't so sure what his superpowers are yet.

And this lovely teacher, Mrs. Hendrix, saw what was so special about Liam and nurtured that. I know he is who he is today because she cared so much and believed in him, and gave him wings (and let him wear a cape).

For me, this is the quintessential photo, that summons the place up in memory. I'm brought right back to when they were little and we entrusted them completely to this place, these people.

Liam, at the time this photo was taken, was in kindergarten, and having some issues with germs. He didn't want to touch the bench. Or anything. So he's got his little mitts all curled up and he's scowling, while Phoebe is being Perfectly Fine Despite All That. You can hear me tell a story about germs and those adorable kids at this link to NPR.  Do listen, if the player works for you; the written transcript loses a lot in translation.  But come back! You have to see more of our little village.

 Lower Salem also has a barber shop that is open sometimes. Fridays, 3-7, and Saturdays, 9-1pm. The little pole sign turns then.
We peeked in the window.

On the bulletin board, there's an ad for stump removal. The pink sign advertises Gracie's Grooming Salon, and the white one on the right says 


They would probably notice if I snuck in there on a Friday or Saturday and tore that sign down, so I won't. But I would sure like to. 

Nobody was home when we were snooping, but we thought there had been a cat around.

Yes, we're sure. We could see some cats on the hill across the road. But we knew better than to chase them.

In Lower Salem is a post office.  It's the brick building on the right. We'd never been inside it until the Whipple Post Office closed. Small rural post offices all over Ohio are closing, closing, closing, and we are much poorer for it, for they might be the only social gathering places in some rural areas. There is value to that that goes well beyond convenience.

I depend heavily on my local post office and postal carriers for much of my livelihood, which involves sending books, notecards, puzzles, art prints, CD's and plant parts (to name just a few things) to people far and near. These people send me money, and then I turn around and send their money to dentists and Bowdoin College.  

If I want to send something by any non-governmental carrier, I have to drive 18 miles to drop it off. This quickly becomes a problem. So I was crushed when, after having been cut to a four-hour office, the landlord refused to renew the lease on the tiny brown shed that was the Whipple Post Office, and it was suddenly no more.  It was a dark, dark day in Whipple when that happened. There's nothing in the building now.  Whaa?

What to do? I turned my eyes toward Lower Salem, only about 8 miles away.  That's it, white roofs gleaming through the sycamores along PawPaw Creek.

I loved having an excuse to go back. Since the kids have grown up, I haven't gotten over there much. Turkey vultures stayed there almost all winter this year, roosting in the trees on the high bluffs behind the village. I took that as a good omen, turkey vultures being (one of) my spirit guides.

If I took the right route, I could visit Nostrils and the Minidonks on the way!

Nostrils is the cutest horsie in the land, especially when she's got a fresh haircut.

  The minidonks are very, very sweet.  It's nice to see them on the long way to the post office. Velvety muzzles make everything better.

This photo was taken in early April from the front stoop of the little white Methodist church on the hill. The post office/bank complex is the brick buildling to the left, and I think the beautiful Gothic brick is the old school, now a community hall. The elementary school is just out of the picture to the right. But that's most of Lower Salem in this photo.

I will be honest. I was a bit trepidacious
 about bringing my business to a new post office. Because I inevitably wind up asking more of postal employees than your average bear.  What I mail can be big, bulky, and sometimes heavy. I knew that the success, or at least the pleasant execution, of my next big mailings--and I had a feeling they were going to be really big--depended upon whom I found behind the counter.

On my first visit, I took a deep breath, opened the door and let little Chet Baker take the lead. I figured I might as well just be me and let the chips fall where they may. And me = Zick + Chet Baker. We're a package deal. If the person behind the counter liked dogs even a little bit, everything would be fine. I hoped they liked dogs.

He trotted briskly into the foyer, stood up and tried to see over the counter. 
And what he saw was Miss Cynni. Who let out a squeal of delight and dove for her treat drawer.

It turns out that Miss Cynni is the kind of person who likes dogs. Probably more than anyone I know. 

Everything was going to be fine.

Spring on the Old Farm

Sunday, April 10, 2016

April 10--the day in 1994 my Dear Old Dad, or DOD for short, finally got free of his lymphoma-wracked earthly body and took off to fly with the hawks (and hurl a few down at me). Every year, I try to do something life-affirming on that day, something that he'd enjoy. Often it's potting up the bonsais, or planting the peas, turning some rows in the garden, or poking around an old farmstead. How about that last one? Let's go to the Becker farm!

It's not every day you see falcate orangetips mating. These jittery little bugs are among my favorite first butterflies of spring, right in there with the (increasingly scarce) mourning cloak and much more common spring azure. I thrill to the incandescent satsuma orange of their wingtips, and will them to settle, which they virtually never do.

But this trio was preoccupied and let me get close with my little phone camera. Out of focus, but it gives you that orange flash. Two males are trying to mate with the same female.

She's not having it, though, and wants to hang with just one.
Male left, female right (larger abdomen).

While they're engrossed, I get to appreciate the checkered border of those lovely fairy wings. 
Like a race flag! No wonder they never sit still unless en flagrante delicto.

And the delicately marbled undersides! Who knew? Wow, what a treat. Thank you for making more FAOT's.

Falcate orangetips, or FAOT's as I write in my notes, using a shorthand adapted from bird bander lingo, use the early cresses and rockets (mustards) as their broodplants. You'll see them flying low and bouncily along meadow borders and roadsides. 

The other one out early around here is the cabbage white. I snuck up on this one, hoping it would be a West Virginia white, but the dark patch on the wingtip and little dots on the forewing say cabbage.

This cabbage white is feeding on deadnettle, a creeping Eurasian plant that turns fallow bean and cornfields into a haze of purple this time of year. It's a lovely phenomenon from a bad weed. Its major virtue is that, like all mints, it's pretty easy to pull up.

It was a dreary gray day in what seems like an endless string of them, but I knew that would make the forsythia positively sing, so I decided to head up to the Becker farm to see that.

We passed the Toothless Lady. You may remember the white woman's slip that somehow got caught on a nail after a windstorm. I had plans to get it down and try it on. Alas.

When it finally slipped down low enough that I was able to reach it with a long stick, it was so thoroughly tangled around several nails that I had little hope of getting it. I tried, but it was anchored there for the ages. 
The wind has torn and tattered it until it's no more than a bunch of bandages, hardly fit to wrap a mummy. There will be no ghost slip selfies from me!

I still find it beautiful, and enjoy photographing it in changing light.

I could be wrong, but that warm russet color in the wood might indicate that The Toothless Lady was built of Osage orange. I have it on good authority that her attendant, a small toolshed to the south, is built of that wood. And the protected parts of it are that same beautiful orange color. For that alone, she should be an historic treasure. Not too many Osage oranges around that are big enough to saw into lumber any more. That, and the fact that I love her so. I hereby propose Historic Treasure status for many tumbledown buildings and trees on my routes. Things Zick Loves. Thou Shalt Not Cut or Destroy.

Out the back of the same barn, there is a trail of old clothes stringing down the poison ivy vines. This puzzled me momentarily, until by scanning carefully with binoculars I figured out that they issue from a squirrel's nest at the eave.  That squirrel's been busy, raiding the boxes I would love to look through, but will never be able to reach, thanks to the barn's utterly rotted floors. I am imagining the vintage clothing, chewed through by mice, sorted by squirrels, and crapped upon by 'coons.

Their colors remind me of the Buddhist prayer flags that fly in the Himalayas, starting out red, yellow, blue and white, then fading to gentle pastels.

Whipple Prayer Flags. Squirrel prayers.

The Toothless Lady continues to delight me in all the oddest and best ways. I fervently hope I am not around when she's finally torn down.  There would be rending of garments and tearing of hair.

We forged on to the farmstead.

I'm not sure what colors Chet can see, but he sure gave the big forsythia a long look. I was interested to see that the farm's caretakers, while letting the house slowly deliquesce in a squirrelly mess, decided to trim the drooping wands off the bottom of one of the forsythias this winter. Chet used to crawl under the cave they made to cool down on hot summer days. Sometimes I'd throw a cup of cool well water over his back before he flopped down. 

I walked a circle around the farmhouse, looking for flowers growing unseen. It was too early for the wild red columbine someone transplanted there years ago, but I did find a bit of hawk down caught on a grass tip and blowing in the crazy April wind. 

A little calling card from DOD. I'd bet it was redtail down, being sparkly white like that.

Then I went to see the pheasant-eye narcissus that are growing a little down over the hill. A telephone pole always spoils my composition, but I shoot anyway.

Spirea, or bridal wreath, was just going crazy in the hedge.

Chet went out into the lawn to graze like a miniature Angus x Hereford. Standing there like a cow.

Spirea makes a rather loose, messy hedge, but oh! is it beautiful in spring.

And back of the house, an old peach was blooming as it fell. Here's to blooming as you fall.

On our way home, we stopped to examine a sofa someone had left on the corner. Why would you do this? Hoping someone will like it well enough to lug it home with them? Not wanting to pay dump fees? 

I'll be curious to see if it's still there, three days later (I don't get out much).
Update: Someone hauled it away! Amazeballs.

We stopped to greet the new cattle at the Harris farm. This mama looked at me like I was dropped from Venus. That's how I knew she'd never lived here. That, and I didn't recognize her.  She has a very nice angel on her chest.

Her fat little girlcalf (look at that potchy brisket! That quadruple calf-chin!) looks as much like a sheep as any calf I've ever seen. Slitty eyes. So, so fat. Mama must make good milk. I'll be anxious to see the regular crowd come back from their winter quarters. I miss them. I heard a rumor that Bully will be sold, or perhaps already has. I hope it's not true. I'd miss his marcelled hair and his white-ringed ears, and the way he would oooof at me when I came up to the fence, then let me touch his always-wet pebbled leather nose. I'm still hoping to see him this spring.

Bully, July 2015

And of course I'm anxious to see Spotify and see if her new calf has The Triangle. They always make my day. 

These are the rhythms of rural life, the growings up, the fallings down and the yearly coming around.
Happy Free Spirit Day, DOD.

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