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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Strandfontein is a water treatment facility in the Cape region of South Africa. It's a series of manmade impoundments that serve as settling and purifying ponds for, oh, OK, sewage. 

Other than some low brick buildings, fencing and pumps, you'd never know it. The waters are teeming with food.

Flamingos don't care. Neither do the hadedas. 

These funny, stocky ibises wail like babies. They're found all over South Africa, their loud cries just part of the everyday scene from Cape Town to Kruger Park. It's neat to have an ibis be so common, a bit like the white ibises in Florida, grazing in everyone's lawn. 

We were here for the birds, and they did not disappoint. What a delight to have a still, sunny day for flamingo indulgence! I have soo many nice photos of them, and I'm torn. Do I show you all the good ones, or keep it to a dull pink roar?

I was so taken by the axillars--the long, filmy feathers in their wingpits, brilliant carmine, fading to blush--imagine how that would look in a hat! After it's been molted, of course. Part of me understands the millinery feather craze of the late 1800's when I look at these feathers. But they would soon fade to white; the color in flamingo feathers is pigment-based, and fleeting. Let's leave them on the birds.

Strandfontein is a sort of unusual setting for flamingos, because the water is so much deeper than what I imagine them choosing for feeding. They swim around like odd, bent-billed swans. You almost forget they have stilts under them when you watch them swim by.

They paddle like antic sternwheelers, their long pink legs making odd angles behind them. They even tip up like ducks and geese, feeding on the bottom, filtering sludge for tasty crustaceans. They must get some pretty good stuff here, because there are a lot of happy looking flamingos frequenting the settling ponds.

I could watch them swim, take off, and land all day long. And we pretty much did.

Like most larger waterbirds, flamingos must run across the water's surface, flapping like mad, for a distance before becoming airborne. 

It's harder to get started when the water's so deep.

Taking off into the wind gives them lift. They throw little rooster tail tracks out behind them.

When the water's glassy, the reflections are incredible. Glassy conditions are rare on the Cape, which is known for its near-constant winds. We were very, very lucky with the weather on our trip--only one day of occasional drizzle and clouds in twelve! There's a severe drought going on, so it was a mixed blessing--more on that later.

 I particularly like this shot of grace going airborne. Don't forget to take in its reflection!

I found myself holding my breath until that magic moment when the feet lifted off the runway.

These are all greater flamingos, which are larger and paler than lessers, also present in the Cape Region. That jet-black melanin in their flight feathers strengthens the feather for the inevitable wear of flight. Many otherwise white birds have black or black-tipped flight feathers, because these are the hardest-working feathers, and subject to the most wear, scraping against the air.

I was so focused on the birds that I kept forgetting to get a longer shot of the mountain background around Strandfontein. Behind that mountain is a large bay of the Indian Ocean.

With these flying umbrellas against a filmy blue backdrop.

Every once in awhile, the water would be still enough for mirrored reflections. I tried to stay conscious of them while composing.

I couldn't resist putting some words on this shot of one bird taking to the air. Might as well add to the inspirational memevalanche.

You were. Me too. Try not to waste a minute.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Gotta make this morning last...

When we last left Zick and Baker, they were playing shadow games on their favorite barn. Well, it's hard to pick a favorite among barns. Let's just say this one is our favorite for shadowplay. You'll notice I have a leash on The Bacon. It's necessary now, because he's got some new behaviors since he went deaf. For instance, while we are still on our road, before we turn out onto the main road, he will sometimes turn around and very quietly try to sneak home when I am distracted, which is most of the time.  It's not safe for him to do that, because he can't hear the cars coming any more, and it's a pain in the neck to have to keep an eye on him all the time.  So I keep him leashed on the first part of the outbound loop. 

Why does he do this? Well, it's not because he doesn't enjoy our runs--he loves them. But Daddeh gets up later than I do, and Chet knows that Daddeh starts the day by giving him a bikket. So if we leave before Daddeh is up, Chet will do everything he can to sneak home so he won't miss that morning bikket. Bikkets are inordinately important to Chet Baker. Bill slipped a bikket into my pocket as I was heading out on my last run (after giving Chet one), and that Bacon stuck to me like glue for the whole run! We may be onto something. But I didn't like having him beg from me. I like to watch him doing his thing without distraction.

For most of his 11 years, I've been able to softly speak to Chet, ask him to stay, to stick around, and he's been happy to comply. He'll just sit or lie down next to me until I'm done examining the tracks or photographing the bindweed. Now that he no longer gets that auditory input, he decides what he wants to do, and just up and does it. So if he feels like heading home, he heads home. And since he doesn't hear me call him back, he figures that's just fine. Yep, heading home, bum ba bum ba bum, nope, she's not calling me, must be OK to head home...
Time for a leash.

He leads me to interesting stuff. And because he's leashed, I have to linger for anything he wants to check out. New territory for both of us. He found a stain that I knew went with a car-killed raccoon (here's its last deposit, too, how sad!)

And then he found where the vultures had dragged it and reduced it to a stain and a felt of hair

and he still found something or other to scarf down, eccch!! No kisses for you!

I noticed then that there were snow-white down feathers sprinkled all over the grass around the vultures' picnic site, and one body feather. Clearly, they'd taken their ease after eating, and preened for quite awhile.

So if you didn't know that turkey vultures, sooty-brown as they are, have snow-white down and feather bases, now you do. I picked this one up and sniffed it. Yep. Vulture. Strong pungent odor, unmistakeable. 

Just love what Mother Nature did with this little old gaily painted John Deere tractor tire planter. The russet seedheads of dock, paired with foxtail. A bit sparse, but pretty nonetheless, seasonally appropriate.

We forged onward.

When we get well away from home and we turn onto a little dirt road, I hurry to let Chet off the leash. By then he's fully engaged and enjoying himself thoroughly. He leads me, and that's how I love it best. I like to watch those little haunches clicking away. He moves so beautifully, not a hint of stiffness in his joints. I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful for my fluid joints, too. 

And just like that, MonkeyBall season has begun! The first MonkeyBall* has been thrown out onto the great court of Autumn!

*Osage orange

and just like that, my photo got bombed.

We fetched up on the porch for a spell

and I scritched his lil' ole back, including the pleasantly itchy new divot on his withers where he proinked hisself crawling under the compost pit wire. When I got back from South Africa, he had a weird scaly hard lump on his back. Nobody knew how it had gotten there, but all agreed it had been there for a couple of weeks. Off to the vet we went the very next day, and Dr. Lutz looked at it, peeled it off in one smooth fearless vetlike motion, and decreed it naught but a scab! Whew! 

 I got up and took a look around the old farmstead and was pleasantly surprised to find a sofa where there had been no sofa before. Not one I would sit on, ick, but one that's clearly destined for burning at the stake. Note the fuel piled up nearby...doesn't look good for Joan D'Barcolounger. There was a little toy caterpillar and the cookie crumbs of the ages down under the cushions. 

The sofa made a pleasant, homey contrast with the autumn sky and the weathered old house, and Chet did a thorough inspection. If he'd have found a 50-year-old cookie in those creases, he'd have eaten it, for sure. The couch lends an air of surreality to this scene, as if someone was interrupted while preparing a photoshoot. It makes the old farmyard a living room, an inviting one at that.

We turned homeward. I loved watching that Bacon become a dot in the distance on this carless road. Of course I love him best when he's free to do whatever he wants. So I try to make sure he is when it's safe for him.

He's a little Black Beauty, smelling the barn, picking up the pace. 

And the last of the ironweed drains its color into the rapidly warming morning air. 

We find a curious relic by Fergus' farm pond. We're still looking for Waldo, but we know he was here. 

Coming down the hill, at exactly the spot where I found a northern red salamander this spring, I found the sad dessicated mummy of a garter snake. It had doubtless been bluish in life, but death had burnished that blue to an ethereal aqua. Whoa. What a thing to see. 

And you don't see these things--raccoon stains, vulture down, tractor tire planters, Waldo socks, snake mummies or monkeyballs--all within a two-mile stretch--when you're whizzing along at 50 mph. You have to take it slowly to see the good stuff. You have to look at the things that are there, and their shadows, too. Just another reason to be grateful for Chet Baker, slowing me down.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

When climatic conditions are tough, creatures like Chet and I adapt. We've got a thing going on here in southeast after day of blazing blue cloudless skies, temperatures hitting 90 degrees every day--in late September!
The only way you can tell it's September is that it cools off to the upper 50's at night. That, and the fact that a lot of trees are going yellow and dropping their leaves from sheer drought exhaustion.
We haven't had a break in the heat yet. I can't remember a September like it. A 32-degree temperature swing from dawn to 2 pm! It's like living in the desert.

So Chet Baker and I go out before sunrise to get our exercise. And we see things. 

The Heavenly Blue morning glories, which have made three tremendous towers (we're talking 15' high) of lush dark green heart-shaped leaves, are only just starting to bloom. Never seen anything like that, either, but then I've never given them a couple of shovels of aged cow manure before. Why bloom when you can make leaves? Duh, Zick. Duh. Starve them if you want flowers.

Still, it's going to be uberfabulous for the bare month that they're in bloom, before frost cuts them off in their full glory. I foresee some sheet and blanket draping in my future, trying to protect them in late October. They're just too beautiful, and there are going to be hundreds of them! I can't wait!!! My Instagram feed is going to be solid blue. 

So off we went on a fine September morning, finding a surprise display as we reached the end of the driveway, one we couldn't see from the yard. Much as I wish our neighbors wouldn't wrap their bales in all that plastic, they do a nice job of catching the skylight.

You're going to have to click on this panorama, to fully appreciate the land's contours, the glorious dawn cloudage, and the way the pond catches the sky in its eye. And don't miss the little house, set aglow by the rising sun on the far right.

I took a little slice of the beauty.

As we headed for the Shadow Barn, I noticed three turkey vultures roosting on its roof--a first for me!
Then a fourth came to land on the telephone pole. Whoot!!

I told them they had nothing to fear, but they eventually lumbered off into the cool air, having to flap their dignity away. This one is already facing right, ready to go. 

Chet and I headed out into the monarch field, but there were no monarch caterpillars on the yellowing plants. It wasn't such a good monarch year here, but then I wasn't around to check very much, so some might have slipped through. The important thing is that Farmer Bob left most of the milkweed standing after the May cut, to let the caterpillars grow up.  

The light was incredible. And a big female kestrel was pondering on a wire, her shape so burly I thought she was a merlin for a moment. She took wing and in the deep shadows she looked bluish-brown above. Broke out into sunlight and it was clear I'd been deceived.

Rising sun, caught in foxtails. I like this photo because it somehow captured the intensity of the sun. I almost can't look at the brilliant spot, even though I know it's just white. It seems to glow as intensely as the sun!  I've been programmed my whole life to look away from it. So I do.

If there's sun, then there are shadows. I looked over and found myself high up on the Shadow Barn's roof! 

I wanted to be in the red, so I gathered Chetty and walked down the hill. This time of year is Shadow Barn time!

Shadow Tree time, too. I never tried the Shadow Tree before. Think I'll do it again soon. 

There is so much to discover in this one morning, I can't put it all in one post. More anon.

Make a Summer Quiche

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Certain foods go with certain seasons, and when the late-summer garden is bursting with cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers, it's time to make a summer quiche.

I like making quiche because it's never the same dish twice. And I love cooking with produce I've grown meself. 

Things I don't grow meself: Pie crusts. I use Pillsbury's rolled up ones, even though I swear they shrink them every time I buy them. Barely enough dough these days to pinch a tiny frill on the edge. Pfft!  Think we wouldn't notice, Doughboy? 

Put a fresh crust in your favorite pie pan, then get to sauteeing! 

Those little sweet snack peppers that come in a zip-top bag at the grocery store are true to seed. I figured that out about four years ago when I took a leap of faith and planted some seeds from the grocery-store ones, and got darling little sweet snack peppers in my own garden. Pick or get a bunch of those and chop 'em up. Add some minced poblanos (green) for heat and color. Sautee up with chopped onions in a blob of butter until they're tender, and the onions are clear.  Set aside.

Toss some chopped Sungold cherry tomatoes in the pan. Cooking with Sungolds is wonderful. They're like little flavor bombs, bringing intense, rich, sunny tomato flavor to anything you make, be it quiche or stir-fry, scrambled eggs or soup. I miss them so when frost comes!

In tonight's quiche, I added tomatillos. One brave tomatillo volunteered this year, right where last year's plants had been. Despite the severe drought, that one plant has made dozens of fruit, small but tangy, which are begging to be used wherever cherry tomatoes are used.

The fabulous tomatillo/Sungold slurry:

With onions and peppers...

Moosh 'em down with a potato masher and you have a flavor-packed base and binder for your quiche. These somewhat unexpected ingredients are what make this a Summer Quiche.  Put that slurry in your unbaked pie crust.

Add generous handfuls of whatever cheese you have on hand. Sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, Monterey Jack, Asiago, even a smattering of feta! All cheese is nom. Mixtures are nom nom.

If you wish, toss in some fresh spinach. It'll cook down in no time. And then you can call it Quiche Florentine, which sounds so nice.

Over it all, pour a mixture of 2 cups whole milk (a bit of half and half won't hurt, either) and 3 eggs, beaten well together.

Salt lightly, and season with fresh herbs from the garden. I like to use rosemary, sage and thyme. Grind a little fresh nutmeg into the liquid pie and slip it into a preheated 400 degree oven. After 10 minutes, cut the heat to 325 and bake until golden brown on top (about 50 min. total).  You're supposed to serve quiche lukewarm. It slices better then. We usually can't wait.

Touch the top lightly, make sure it doesn't jiggle too much. It'll set up more when it's cooler. 

Yep, the clock says 10:22 pm, but I wanted to make a quiche for the morning, to say goodbye to my dear friend Mario Cordoba, who has been visiting from Costa Rica. It's been a joy to have him here taking in all my favorite places, getting to know my little family. If food be love, and I think it is, he's been well-loved.

How lucky can you get, to be able to show your friend your favorite places, to see them through his wondering eyes?

 Ahh, I miss him already. But I'll see him in February, when we take another lucky band of 12 sojourners on a natural history romp through Costa Rica.  That ought to take the bite out of winter.

**Alert readers will notice that there are a bunch of different ingredients going down here, and no spinach in the final quiche. These photos are from several different Summer Quiches. Really, this post is just meant to encourage home cooks to branch out and throw a bunch of different stuff in your quiches, to see what happens. Cherry tomatoes and tomatillos are the only real twist here. Quiches can be anything you want them to be. I've had a Village Bakery quiche stuffed with carrots and beets and it was delicious! So toss the recipe out and have fun!

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