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Saving Jemima: Pre-Order a Signed Copy

Monday, July 22, 2019


Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-luck Jay is coming out September 10, 2019. I have an advance copy in hand. Every time I pick it up I feel grateful all over again to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for making such a beautiful book out of my stack of writings, paintings and photographs. I just shake my head. How lucky can you get, to work with the best natural history publisher on the planet to tell the story of an orphaned blue jay? She was some jay, but still. Lucky, and blessed.
Looks small here, but it's a healthy 6" x 9" x 1" Note jay-colored clothing on line.

For months, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about getting signed copies to my friends and you, my beloved blog community. I have had a sense all along that Jemima is going to hit bigger than any of my previous books; my agent tells me it is the most commercially appealing thing I’ve done. You don’t have to have a special interest in birds to appreciate it. You just have to like a good story that happens to feature a bird. 

My first book to feature both paintings and photographs! Woot! It's so EASY to illustrate a book with photos! But I don't do anything the easy way, so I did 20 paintings, too.
I had the great privilege of reading it for HMHCo's audio book (can you hear the squeal?!) and that is gonna kick butt. I loved recording it, even though parts of it were hard to get through. Like doing about 8 hours of radio. All things considered, I knew that I was looking at signing and boxing a LOT of books this time around.

Each chapter head watercolor gets a full-page treatment. Design by Martha Kennedy, Chief of Design, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. Yes I am grinning ear to ear!

I thought about what it’s been like to fulfill book orders from my home. I've done it for my last three books. How keeping track of orders, inscribing, signing, boxing, addressing and mailing books is pretty much all I do for months after a book hits. How lifting the boxes and loading them into and out of my car messes up my back. I used to drive each load 20 minutes to the nearest post office. Now, I'd have a 40 minute drive. Given what's happened in the last seven months, I realized I wasn’t up for any of that. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that my energy—that wonderful energy that I use to produce illustrated books and (ahem) increasingly rare blogposts-- is indeed finite, and it can be quickly drained away. I've had to critically assess how I spend that energy, because there's a lot less of it now. Swimming in a whirlpool will do that to you. My rationale that fulfilling orders for signed books is “part of my work” looks thin to me now. It’s not. It’s something I’ve been doing, doggedly, faithfully, but it’s a long way from being my true work. The truth is, it doesn't have to be done by me. The writing and illustrating and thinking does. And that's how I should be spending my time.

Meanwhile, my family is not the only one that's had a rough time since December, 2018. Bird Watcher’s Digest has been turned upside down, losing its Editor/Publisher and chief visionary when Bill passed away in March. Then Elsa, Bill’s mother and BWD’s founder, who was still working at 85, died tragically just two months later. It was a staggering double blow. Everyone is still picking themselves up. Yet out of the unimaginable chaos and loss, an answer to my small problem became clear to me.

I decided to direct my sales to Redstart Birding, the magazine’s sales, optics and expertise branch, which Bill and Ben Lizdas created not long before Bill fell ill. I’ll design a custom bookplate I can sign, and that will be included if you order a signed copy. Short of attending one of my talks, Redstart will be the only place you can get a signed copy of Saving Jemima. And proceeds of sales from those who want signed copies will go not to an online sales giant, but to the magazine that published my first article and painting in 1986, and helped me build a wonderful audience for my writing and art. It seems like a win all around. I'm grateful that my sweet friend, Redstart's stalwart Swiss Army knife Angela, is willing to take on all those orders, that packing and shipping. It won't be trivial.

 I think you'll love the story of this feisty young blue jay, and how she worked her way into our hearts. How I wound up saving her at least twice, and she saved me right back. Old story, I know, but rescue stories are rarely one-way (ask Curtis Loew!), and each one is unique. And this rescue was a blue jay, the best and brightest bird I could hope for.

So if you'd like to help support Bird Watcher's Digest and have a beautiful signed bookplate in your copy, you can pre-order Saving Jemima at Redstart Birding. Hit this link:  ORDER JEMIMA

 The book will be released September 10, 2019. It's roaring up! I can't wait for you to have it in your hands, too!


All the Beautiful Creatures

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


Floating around North Bend, taking in the sights. Imagine having been born and raised on a chunk of basalt in the middle of the Atlantic. What you know is the sea, the forest in the highlands; how to pick up and carry a lost shearwater back to the ocean--these are just some of the things Oscar knows. And here he is, plunked down in the middle of a large freshwater lake in Ohio, with all the wildlife that goes with that--turtles and dragonflies and deer and woodpeckers (what are those?!) and herons and hawks. Oscar got very excited when he spotted a juvenile redtail, keening for its parents.

Aguila! Well, not quite. But pretty impressive, if a bit whiney.

A northern water snake made its leisurely way along the shore. There's a glint in the eye of those snakes that tells you not to mess with them. You do, they'll come after ya. Got a vengeful streak.

A green heron, looking like a Balinesian god, teed up on a stump.

I thought back to the July day in 2014 I had an audience with a little family at North Bend. Oh, what a day that was. Here's a freshly fledged babe peeking out at me, all toes and curiosity.

Today would be more for people shots.

The eastern pondhawk posed nicely.

As did the eastern amberwing. Halloween pennants are common here as well, but I didn't catch one on this trip.

 There isn't much that's fast enough to grab a dragonfly, but flycatchers like the eastern kingbird specialize in it.

I was thrilled to see this kingbird return with one for her orange-mawed babies.

 Kind of a scratchy crackly mouthful, I'd wager, but the nestling was up for it. Mmmrf!

After lunch, she settled down to shade her panting children from the midday sun. Thanks, Mama.

 Eastern kingbirds are so tuff they sometimes build their nests right out in the open, as here, relying on their watchful ferocity to protect their young from any aerial predator that might try something. Tyrannus tyrannus is well named. A kingbird will ride a crow or hawk, punching holes in it, for just crossing the airspace near their nest.

A tangle of monofilament provided inspiration and perhaps a base for these kingbirds to place their low-hanging nest. It was at eye level for me in a kayak!

 Like it or not, he's there, and he's going to make it work. (You can tell he's a male by the white, not grayish, chest. Both male and female incubate).

Go ahead. Take my picture. 
We drifted past whitetails just resting and feeding. The deer at North Bend have an understanding with boaters, and can be freely observed from cars, as well. It's really nice to be able to see them unconcerned and behaving as they would were you not watching.

I hate to use a tired word like "magical" on this, one of my spirit places, but it is. There's always something special going on on its waters, in the skyspace, or in the surrounding forest. North Bend heals me. 

And the little town of Harrisville is such a treat. Here's a tiny cottage with a Gothic touch. I so wished I could go inside and see if the kitchen was as unchanged as the exterior!

We looked for the post office, a nice early 60's box of metal, brick and glass (probably mint green inside, too)

and found the courthouse, quite a fancy one. We were tourists in this quiet little town.

We got noseprints all over the glass at Berdine's Five and Dime. It's chock-full of little stuff you can't find anywhere else. How we wished we'd come by when it was open.

But the greater treasure was up in the porch eave as Shila indicates in this photo. Musta been Sadie Hawkins day, because here's a male mourning dove tending a nest.  I suspect this to be a robin nest that the doves took over, to which they added some flimsy plant material. Wise move, doves. It's not a typical mourning dove location, but they're flexible birds.

Pretty sweet, to see him there with us just below, and the old sign and some forgotten Christmas lights hanging.  

It had been a beautiful day. We'd shown Oscar some of the best of West Virginia, thanks to North Bend Outfitters and lovely little Harrisville. It had been a stress-free getaway into quiet waters.

 Dinner in Marietta (House of Wines, outdoors, of course!) capped a perfect day. Here's to good days, and love, and breathtaking beauty in the ordinary. You just have to watch for those moments.

Phoebe is 23!

Sunday, July 14, 2019


When Phoebe was a wee little thing, we had a game. She pretended she was a princess who could get anything she wished for from her subservient Queen Mother. “Oh, my darling little princess, what is it your heart desires today?”
“I would like the moon, Mother.”
“Then I will build a giant ladder and take a lasso and get you the moon. I’m not sure where we will keep it, but you shall have it. What else do you desire?”
“I would like a pet giraffe.”
“That will be no problem. I will have to get a sailing ship large enough to accommodate one, but you shall have it, my darling! I wonder what they eat? And if you can bridle train them? But never mind. You want a giraffe, you shall have one!”
And on it went. It was a good parody of real life, in which most of the things she wanted stayed right there in the realm of things she wanted. But she was well fed and clothed and, along with her little blonde brother, certainly well-loved, and neither of them spent much time complaining about what they couldn’t have.

Now she’s 23, home for a few weeks, and she lost her dad on March 25, and the only thing she really wanted for her birthday I couldn’t give her. Still, we had a great time shopping and eating our way across Columbus on July 10, the day before, meeting our sweet friend Alex for tacos, and staggering home around 1 AM.

Phoebe's actual birthday was the 11th. I got up early and started cleaning and straightening; wrapping all the gifts; making a special dinner of pad Thai (because nothing says “I love you!” like a labor-intensive, incredibly messy meal); baking a layer cake strewn with fresh flowers; hastily writing some birthday cards. I did everything I could to make it nice, but there was no getting around it. Milestones take on a whole new meaning when you've lost someone so dear. I gave her lots of stuff, but all the pretty clothes only seemed to underscore who was missing, and that felt enormous to us all. No matter what anyone did, Phoebe's actual birthday was rough and sad and teary. And that’s just how it is. No jollying that away. 
It rained much of the day, but there was a rosy sunset. 

Curtis wants some cake. He and Liam are the best Dr. Feelgoods we could have. 

She already knew what was in 'em, because she'd picked it all out, but I wrapped 'em anyway, over her protests. It's our tradition.

With all that going on, I never got the chance to write my traditional birthday blog, because living in the moment is all we can do lately. This year, I broke a streak of writing joyful birthday blogs for everyone in my family that started in 2006. They never felt obligatory before now. Life just got too big and overwhelming, and it needs to be faced and lived, not written about. Beautiful things happen every day, and I take photos and store them away, for what I don't know. For remembrance, I guess. 

But I still want to write a present for Phoebe, so I will lasso the moon and recreate our best day, June 29, for her and her novio, Oscar from La Gomera. This was his second trip to the U.S. His first was in late March, especially to meet Bill, and outside of his birthday music party, nothing thrilled Bill more than meeting Oscar. On this latest trip, Oscar could only stay two weeks, so we piled up things we wanted to show him. We waited for a sunny day with big puffy clouds and took off for North Bend. Puffy clouds are required for any North Bend canoe trip. I got up, saw them, and set about rolling everybody out of bed. "We're going canoeing today. This is IT."

My friends Doug and Andy of North Bend Outfitters in Harrisville, WV, have done the most amazing job turning what could be a simple canoe livery into a total outdoor experience.  They've got a lovely breezy barn/office right by the lakeshore, and they've built a gorgeous deck around two young sycamore trees. Young sycamore trees don't stay small long, and they've had to cut the deck holes larger a couple of times already.  And they've made this outdoor living room with sycamores for a ceiling, a place I could be happy hanging out all day, if there weren't a whole beautiful lake to get out and explore. You can rent canoes, kayaks, and even a pontoon boat. Their terms are fair and the service can't be beat. Nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. For the best ever canoe adventure, call 304-299-1768. Tell them Julie sent you!

Jessica is the new Assistant Editor at Bird Watcher's Digest. She's been a dear family friend for years. On this morning, she had wanted to come to the house to visit Bill's grave. That would be fine, I said, but I had other plans for Jess. I surprised her with an invitation to one of her favorite spots, doing her favorite thing: paddling around looking at birds, dragonflies, trees and flowers. (She's taking a picture of me, taking a picture of her).

 Wanna know what a happy woman looks like? Like this:

Oscar knows his way around the water; he's a lifeguard and water sports instructor on La Gomera, Canarias. Born and bred on the island, you've got to believe that Harrisville, WV is a long, long way from home. But with his sharp eyes and high situational awareness, Oscar was completely at home at North Bend. 

And Phoebe was at home with Oscar.

I had a hard time getting many photos of the lake's famous red-headed woodpeckers. There was too much other scenery to take in and meticulously document. And I'm the gal for the job. 

We forged on through the puffy white cloudscape, seeking spots of shade, as it was hot! But that only makes the shade feel better. Shila's hoisting her Yeti thermos. No adventure is complete without Shila. Each one of us brought a two-quart thermos and drained it.

It was a disorganized, happy flotilla, each of us following our own butterfly, coalescing to share, then drifting apart.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Oscar paddling hard to build momentum.

 I only realized what he was doing as he began to pass through two closely placed snags.

Nary a scrape on the sides!

 Pretty slick!

 I think my best find of the day was a little family of FLYING SQUEEEE-RILS peeking out of their nest hole!

First there was one:

and then there were TWO


and there was some hole switching going on with a fast skedaddle (fairydiddles specialize in quickskitters)

It was all just too cute for words. What a gift to see these night sprites in broad daylight! They looked like juveniles to me.

We found a 5-6' long snakeskin, likely that of a black rat, neatly shed in one piece in an old snag. The interesting thing about this is that the snake would have had to swim to get there. It kind of shook up my notion of the snags, surrounded by water, as super-safe nesting places for all kinds of cavity nesting birds: red-headed woodpeckers, great crested flycatchers, tree swallows, eastern bluebirds, flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers--and the eastern kingbirds that also nest on snags. Ack. Those black rat snakes will do about anything to get to a nest.


 Right next to the squirrel condo, Phoebe and Oscar discovered a Midland map turtle in a peculiar place. He was a good 6' above the water's surface, high and dry on a snag!

We paddled around for three more hours, and when we came back he was still there! He had to have climbed laboriously up this long snag (pictured below) to get there. I wasn't concerned. When I was a kid, I'd had a Mississippi map turtle as a pet, and that little thing was an expert climber and smart as a whip. But Phoebe decided he must be stuck or high-centered, and she determined to help. I was already chuckling as she planned her climb to aid the turtle. No stopping her when she's decided a critter needs her help. Wonder where she gets that?

When her kayak drew near enough to make him nervous, that turtle spun like a disco turntable and skittered back down the log like a flat squirrel, his feet scrabbling madly on the bark.  Then he dove headfirst into the water from about three feet up, totally soaking Phoebe with the splash!  Obviously, I failed to get a photo, but I sure wish I'd been shooting video. It was heee-larious! Little soldier knows where he's going.

 We laughed for about ten minutes.

If there's anything better than being out in nature with kids and friends, I don't know what it is. 


Remember this day, sweet blue-eyed girl. It was yours, and there will be many more.

Mint chocolate cookie by my sweet Martha. They went on a three hour cruise and never returned.

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