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When May Comes...

Sunday, May 28, 2017


 I awoke on a May morning to birdsong, as I always do this time of year. April is tough. My brain has to transition from no song to a sudden chorus coming in the window. And early May is worse, but better too; worse in the sense that my brain starts processing and sifting all those songs and winds up yammering to me so that I wake up thinking about what I'm hearing in my "sleep." Better in that the birds are back! and singing! and I will have to slowly learn to sleep through the robins and cardinals and wake up for the prairie warblers and yellowthroats. So this morning was kind of fun, because the song sparrow who now sings under my bedroom window has one song type that I find quite sweet.


 Listen to this video. He'll sing twice, once at 09-12 seconds, and again at 24 seconds.

 Do you hear the familiar climbing scale we all learned when we were three? He's singing the Alphabet Song! A B C D E F GGGGGG...he never goes on to H I J K LMNOP. But oh, the musicality in that voice! He's hitting the notes perfectly, perfectly. And my brain grabs onto that and runs with it, even before I'm awake. The brain is a wonderful organ. It can be extremely annoying, when I need sleep so badly and rarely seem to get it, but there it is.

 Right after I made this recording (dominated by the pond fountain, burbling away, and my iPhone's obsessive focus on the window screen) he switched to another song type, not nearly so anthropomorphic. And don't animals charm us most when they remind us of ourselves? Sigh. It's true. For those curious, a field sparrow's sweet accelerating trill opens the video, then a blue-winged warbler sings bee-buzz, followed by the song sparrow. Then comes the field sparrow, overlain with the brown-headed cowbird's piercing Twee dee dee! and the song sparrow finishes the 30-second clip with his Alphabet Song again. It's so rich. It's late May. Abbondanza!

Blackberry spring. 

 Missouri primrose says YEAHHH!

And THIS is what happens when you put cow manure and water on a peony that's been struggling for years. It says YES THAT IS WHAT I HAVE NEEDED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

 A blue jay shows up at the feeder with a soiled front. I know what that means. She's nest-building, using wet rootlets to weave her amazing solid platform, and it's dirtied her breast as she shimmies around to form the cup.

As if to corroborate this bit of situational awareness, her beautiful mate swoops in with a gular load of sunflower hearts for his hardworking wife's breakfast. So nice to have someone to cook for you when you're oversubscribed. 

 Everybody's oversubscribed. The bluebird babies grow fat and fill my nest boxes.

Oh what can happen in only a week!!

I must check this cardinal nest again. I saw the female pop off of it as I walked down the orchard path and found these three exquisite orbs full of protein and hope.

On my next peek six days later (May 16), here's what I found. And I've stayed away since. 

The temptation is great to look often. But predators are watching, sniffing, wanting, so I don't. 

I don't blog often in April, May and June. It's not for lack of material. It's for lack of time, for my cheese being spread too thin over the immense cracker of obligation. I've got everything I can do to keep up with this yard, the gardens, my family, friends and a too-hectic speaking and traveling schedule. And the moment I get a breather, and get to stay home for a few weeks in a row, in come the baby birds to be fed every half-hour. It is both my joy and my ball and chain, and balancing it all and keeping the joy is the big trick.

On days when I haven't slept much and it seems that everything and everybody needs a piece of me, and life goes roaring on all around me, I remind myself that I'm just one good sleep away from being on top of it again. And that's the truth. 

I get a good sleep, then spend a whole day, sunup to dark, gardening and doing heavy yardwork, and the sleep and the work fix the broken parts, glom them back together.

The Pig of Good Fortune smiles on the inkblot someone dribbled on the emerald grass.

The Encyclia from Guatemala laughs out loud, filling the studio with clove and honey.Twelve years it's been growing and blooming, and I treasure it more every year. 

This doughty plant, brought home as a withered bulblet in my bra, reminds me that everything good is worth waiting for. And as DOD pointed out, I'm already waiting.

Grandma Cora (proper name, Madame Chereau), blooms as she's bloomed for more than a century. Planted in the Adirondacks exactly 100 years ago by my friend Caroline's Grandma Cora, who was then young and just married, this treasure has been passed from hand to hand and state to state. It's blooming in Caroline's South Dakota garden, in my sister's garden in Connecticut, and soon to go to Massachusetts, too. We will have to count up the states where Cora blooms.

First with a few blossoms, and many furled buds

And then, when the May sun shines at last, with a full fanfare of cobalt violet, and the heady aroma of fake grape Kool-Aid! And there are orange shirts on the line, and I just have to lie down in the sweet smelling grass for a minute and breathe, unable to believe that I get to live here

in all this useless beauty I've planted with my own square and calloused hands. The nails are broken and there's dirt under what's left, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thank you for all your expressions of love and support after that last difficult post.  I occasionally must gather myself and tell the full truth of what's going on, or I can't go forward. It takes me months to work up the words and the courage to do it, but I owe you that, and it's the best way I've found to put one foot in front of the other and keep going on. Chet Baker is doing fine. He's still good for a 5-mile walk, and his coat is coming in shiny and new. I can't tell you how much it means to me to run my hands over a mostly smooth coat,  to see the little hairs standing on end as they grow in, and to blow a raspberry on that round belly, too.

He puts up with a baby bluejay who likes to jump suddenly up on his back. He tucks his rump and scoots out from under her, which deters her not one bit. You must click on this to see the look on his face. Ut oh. Here she comes again.

Chet Baker, yep, he still comes along. And I treasure every moment that he does.

May 26, 2017

Happy birthday to Hodge (yesterday), The Light of Cambridge, Star of Middlesex County, and to Ida (today) who is in every flower and bird and shining through the sweet souls of my children, too.

The Way It Is

Sunday, May 21, 2017


You getting up? Because I'm getting up. Yup. We're up.

Chet Baker, on second wakeup at 7 AM. He gets up at about 5:40 AM to pee, then we come back and he goes back to sleep for an hour, and I don't. Pills (=treats) at 7. No ifs, ands or buts. Good thing he's so cute. I did not know when I started him on his first thing in the morning pill routine about 15 months ago that I was in fact creating a monster. This dog, who would sleep in with me as long as I wanted on the rare mornings I did that, now has timers on his bladder and stomach that ring loud and clear. And it doesn't matter if you were up until 1 AM. You're going to get up with him. So between Chet and the dawn chorus, we're up with the birds.

The good part of that is that after losing prodigious amounts of hair to thyroid issues and a tenacious skin infection for more than a year, he's finally growing shiny black hair back. You wouldn't believe how that helps my spirits, to see his hair fill in again, even though I'm not sure, after having had him on antibiotics since September, that we have the skin infection licked. I had become convinced he was simply going to be naked for good. He's on two heart meds for a murmur that cropped up 15 months ago, and one (Vetmedin) seems to be helping quite a bit. Though he still moves beautifully, in early May he finally started  hesitating at stairs and even small jumps. I feared it was his heart, going south, but his wise veterinarian suggested a painkiller. Two hours after taking it, he was a different dog. Deramaxx is an NSAID that has made a huge difference in his mobility and attitude. It really gave us some essential Chet back. The other big difference has been feeding him twice a day. His hardworking heart was burning up all his energy just pumping, and he dropped weight steadily. And almost doubling his food intake in two medium-sized meals daily has made a huge difference. He's finally gaining it back! That little pot belly is a welcome sight. I really like Fromm Family kibble, my third and final food choice for Chet Baker. Good food, it is.

This senior dog stuff ain't for sissies. It's been a long year plus of worry and vet visits and hair and little shoes dropping one after another. We seem to have struck a balance of sorts with a skillfully orchestrated medication regime. I'll never give another dog the systemic tick medication called NexGard, that I know for sure, for it was that folly on my part that seems to me to have kicked off all the rest of the cascading issues back in late winter of 2016, starting with the ear infection and the sudden deafness, proceeding to the heart murmur and a suddenly done-for thyroid. Some veterinarians tell me the tick poison had nothing to do with it; that Boston terriers are prone to heart murmurs and bad thyroids. And some veterinarians I've talked with say that systemic tick medications have become dangerously toxic as the ticks build up resistance to the more innocuous ones we used to administer. I wonder if it's true that Boston terriers are prone to these issues. Maybe they are simply the kinds of dogs we love so much we over-medicate them in trying to protect them. It's worth thinking about. And I do.

Chet used to sit and stare at me, hoping I'd ask him if he wants to go for a walk. Now, in a sweet reversion to puppy days, I carry little cubes of freeze-dried beef liver in my pocket, little bribes to keep him following along. Any route we take that starts at the house invariably ends in his pretending to find something interesting in the grass, slowly turning, and then laying back his ears and trotting with increasing speed and determination back home, liver treats or not. I have become used to the sight of my dog's rapidly receding back end, to leaving a sliding door a little open so he can let himself in and flop down in his bed until my return.

Now, to get Chet Baker to go for a walk or run with me, I have to put him in the car, to remove that "turn for home" option he seizes first. We drive to one of our distant routes. And then things go fine. In fact, we've both accommodated to his deafness and his tendency to lose sight of me so beautifully that I've ditched the leash and the obnoxious sheep bell I used to put on his collar. We keep each other in sight. Period. If I stop to look at something and he loses me, he stops, thinks, and looks back over his shoulder instead of panicking and bolting for home like he used to. He sticks to me like a tick. 

It's good to see the native intelligence of this little animal kick in, to see him compensate for his disabilities, even as I, too, have become hypervigilant to his whereabouts at all times. If he's unaware that he's deaf, at least he knows he isn't able to monitor me with his ears any more. So instead of striking out yards ahead, he follows behind or right beside me. If he goes ahead, he looks back over his shoulder every 20 seconds or so. It makes my throat catch to see him checking so frequently, to think that he's always worrying a little about losing me.

I know the feeling. 

What is this pact we make with our dogs, that binds our hearts so tightly together? By the time you realize that living with a senior dog isn't nearly so much fun as, say, romping around with a sleek and shiny five-year-old over hill and dale, it's too late. We're in the chute, me and Chet, and it's going to play out the way it's going to play out. Suddenly you've got the equivalent of a car payment going out each month, and you look out in the driveway,  expecting a shiny new Subaru, but all that you see is the same little black and white cruiser you've always had, and he's headed home, and it's time for his pills again. And you adjust. You simply adjust. You love him for the magnificent dog he was, and for the dear little gent he is, and for whomever it is he becomes, because a love like this takes a love like that.

Be Glad You're Not a Whitetail!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Baker, posing with my venerable Hinoki cypress, and my oldest Japanese maple, which has perfectly lovely leaves the size of a quarter. Amazing tree. Amazing doggeh, too. 

In an ideal world, I'd have had this post up by Mother's Day afternoon. I have noble intentions, but May is its own thing, and when it's overlain with the kind of barely contained chaos that is 2017, I'm lucky to squoze out one post a week.  I get up every morning and strain my eyes to see if there are any deer in the meadow. If there are, I throw on whatever clothes are nearby, coming up with some truly fetching ensembles, jam my bare feet into muck boots, and I steal from deck to shrub to tree  to ambush them with my long lens.

It's an entirely different thing from just taking pictures of pretty deer. It's more like an espionage mission. I'm gathering information. I want no I NEED to know who they are. Not just what they are.

This is challenging, but I have a wealth of clues to go on. I see two adult does. Both are heavily pregnant. They're the two animals on the right. The far animal has much of her summer coat (red) in, while the closer doe still has a lot of winter hair (blue).

There are two yearling fawns from spring 2016 to the left side of the photo. First, I need to determine the sex of the fawns. That may tell me who the moms are. So while I'm shooting, I'm blowing up my photos and peering at the backscreen. Bingo. I've got a doe (left) and a buck (right). See the little button on his forehead?

Now I take a closer look at the does. Man, they're about to drop their fawns. Heavy bodied and moving slowly. The doe in the foreground is in better condition than the red doe. Better filled out, better topline, no sway in her back like the red doe. The close doe has a beautiful topline.

I'm smiling now.  The red doe is older than the blue doe. Her back is swayed and she's thin around that big old fawn in her belly. But there's a distinct resemblance.  I'm pretty sure I have my beautiful Jolene and her mother here, and they're both pregnant. That doesn't happen much with people. Which sends me into a reverie about just how happy I am that I'm not a whitetail doe. I try to imagine being pregnant every May without fail, and cannot. Nope. We humans have a lot of follow-up with our babies. The pregnancy and that crucial first year is only the beginning for us.

Jolene in front, Grandma behind.

Jolene is still being trailed by last May's buck fawn, and she's fixin' to drop him a little sister or brother. You don't see a doe hang this low very often. I wonder if she's carrying twins again?

 Once I figured out the structure of this little group, I could divine who they all were. Seeing the buck and doe twins was the key to knowing who I had. They're the Blackbriskets! Grandma, Jolene, and Boy/Girl. I haven't named the twins as yet because I haven't gotten to know them yet, the way I know Pinky and Flag, Ellen's orphans.  And their black briskets aren't in evidence now. That's sort of a winter thing. It's tricky to identify individual deer, especially when they change coats with the seasons.

How do I know the twins are Jolene's, and not Grandma's? 
Well, they associate closely with Jolene, nuzzling and grooming her, and not with Grandma. 

Maybe Grandma's cranky when she's about to give birth. Weird sentence, I know. But we're talking whitetails, not people. Phew! 

 I study the photos to confirm my hunches. I'm still and always looking for confirmation for my hunches. I know from past explorations that Jolene has light brown scent gland tufts on her hocks, rather than black.  She's got a long face and prominent white eye rings.

Jolene also has a little notch in the outer edge of her right ear. I scrutinize several photos and can make it out in three of them. (Jolene to the left, her buck fawn to the right). Light tan scent tufts on her hocks, big white eye ring, square throat patch, notch in right ear border. Check, check, check, check. 

Here she is in February 2017, with the slight notch in her right ear. Marks like that tend to be permanent. 

It's hard to describe the joy that settles over me when I am able to reconnect with my friends.  Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jo-leeeeeene!

They all turn around to stare at me, giving me a last wonderful family portrait op. I love how Jolene and her ma are both looking over their shoulders!

 Buckfawn, Jolene, Doefawn, and red Grandma with her sway back. If I had to guess I'd say Grandma's gonna drop her fawn first. 
Or maybe she's got twins this time, too!

Stranger things have happened. I'm thinking of tiny stunted Ellen, who had her last twins when she was at least nine. You know I'll be watching for Pinky and Flag this summer.

And I'm thankful again that I don't have to drop a chile every May. I've got way too much to do.

My Mother's Day completely precluded blogging. I started the day with a slow birdwalk, netting 61 species, including 15 warblers--all within a mile radius of the house. Such is mid May in Appalachian Ohio.  I then did three loads of laundry and hung them out.  Charged the tractor battery and mowed the lawn. Continued emptying the greenhouse of its beauty to make these baskets and planters and lug them into place. Soo much more satisfying than having a pre-fab hanging basket presented! Then, because it was such a beautiful day and I was cruising on sunshine, I cleaned the pond, saving the lives of about 271 individual toad tadpoles as I went. Scoop out muck, pour into bucket, wait for taddies to surface gasping; net them out, return to pond. The muckstank was disgusting, as it always is in May. Now I've got it all out it, the water's clearing up and it's so nice to hear the fountain going!

 Here, I've just stepped out of the shower and asked to have my picture taken with some fruits of this glorious sunny workday. Not that I needed a shower.

I'd spent all day Saturday at Liam's last regatta. Somehow volunteered to tidy up the portolets, all 60 of 'em. Whew! But I did get to drive a golf cart around to haul the trash and spare bogrolls.

 Boyfaun is growing up, up, up. Lookit those gams! That shock of cornsilk on top! But no button antlers as yet.  I bought him a shirt with all the college oar insigniae on it. Very cool! Maybe his future college is on his shirt. It's a nice thought, innit?

  Miss Fifi sent me a strange Mother's Day snap using her trademarked dead-eye camera smile.  She makes me larf!!

 It was pretty much a perfect Mother's Day. Working my butt off is always my activity of choice when nobody's around to suggest I do otherwise. I wound up feeling like weary little Tilda Sixbuttons, who's still trucking around the front porch and doing impossibly cute things 24-7 while raising babehs she's got tucked in a hole somewhere.

Today, my knees, feet and ankles are hollering at me because I never get off 'em. And when I can't run around any more, I sit meself down and write a blogpost. Happy Mother's Day to all you hard-working women. Be glad you're not a whitetail!

Wallerin' in Bluebells

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I hunkered down to fully appreciate the bluebells; I waded up into them as best I could, without stepping on them. The eye looks for anomalies, and I found plenty; some that were fully pink, a luscious contrast to the masses of sky-blue blooms. The mutation seemed to travel in patches, making me wonder if bluebells spread vegetatively, underground. I’m thinking they do, and that these pink sports are genetic copies vegetatively propagated under ground, rather than seed-generated.  

Pink is wonderful, but it's hard to beat the wild type blue. Here, highlighted against the artwork of a pileated woodpecker, I made a souvenir of the day.

Finally I came upon a sign, and smiled to see The Athens Conservancy had had a hand in asking American Electric Power to help them make a preserve of this magical place: 64 acres of diversity and beauty. I spoke to The Athens Conservancy this past winter, and a warmer, lovelier, more dedicated group would be hard to find. It was good to be here where wild 
things are safe; where the heartbreak of finding them devastated or gone on one’s next visit is held off by a pact. There are few such pacts in my part of Ohio. 

I watched people making the pilgrimage to this place, two women laughing as one kept wading in for photos. I spoke with several people, and all were happy to be here, too. There is no way to put a value on a place like this, on knowing it’s there to be resorted to, to be shared with those who may never have waded in bluebells.

 As I turned back toward my car, the light finally fading, I heard a man singing to the ringing tones of a twelve-string. He was good, too. He wasn’t playing “Wildwood Flower,” my father’s favorite to pick (one of only two he knew), but he might as well have been. Imagine living amidst drifts of bluebells! Oh!

These folks were making the pilgrimage. I knew, but I asked anyway. Yep, they were good for the mile-plus walk to see these plants putting on their best show. And the dog, to my surprise, wasn't one of the oh-so-popular designeroodle mixes--she was an undiluted standard poodle, apricot, and she was lovely.

This outfit would stop my Costa Rican co-leader Mario Cordoba's heart, should someone wear it on one of our birdwatching hikes. Big birding no-no, those flourescent colors. Good, I suppose, if you're working or running along busy roads.  Otherwise, leave it in the drawer, or get used to watching birds flying away from your screamin' neon shirt.

A funny perspective on a bull, looking uphill.

  And his ladies.

This place has so much, and it's so easy to access. I highly recommend it. Mark your calendar for next April 10, and maybe I'll see you there. If you get on the bike trail between Athens and Nelsonville at Hamley Run Road near Chauncey Ohio, and head west toward Nelsonville, you'll find it.

You'll know when you're there. :)

The titmice will be peter petering. 

The bluebells will be tripping over blue-eyed Mary on their way down the hill, going pink with embarrassment.

When I finally made it to the parking area, the sun was setting, striking the plump flanks of a muddy-billed robin. I thought about all the things I’d seen on this blessed day, things common and rare, and I felt very lucky to be able to go seek them out, to know where to go and to be able to take the time to do it. 

I believe spring ephemerals should be treasured and sought out; that we should all grab a day somewhere in mid-April, or whenever they’re blooming, and pay tribute to this show that, whether we know about it or not, is going on under the budding trees, in the rich humus of moist forests. Giving thanks for these things, going out of our way to find and appreciate them, is part and parcel of being alive and aware on Planet Earth. 

 Do click on this one! It looks like nothing until you do.

Imagine--that sea of leaves around the lone bluebell clump is all wild geranium (cranesbill). Not a noxious exotic. Native. It'd be in bloom right now. World enough and time to go back and see it, that's what I lack.

Blue-eyed Mary says "See ya next year!"

And a white trout lily Erythronium albidum, rare and wonderful, waves me goodbye as the sun sinks low.

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