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I've Got the Hawk and the Hawk's Got Me

Thursday, November 28, 2019

As I ran, I repeated: Boltcutters. Cat carrier. Towels. Gloves. Boltcutters. Cat carrier. Towels. Gloves. Boltcutters. Cat carrier. Towels. Gloves.

I didn't want to forget anything. But first to find boltcutters. Did we have them? I'd need them. 
I scuttled around the garage, looking in the dim recesses for anything that might cut double-strand barbed wire. Pruners weren't gonna do it. And there on the wall, hanging from a nail, a brand-new pair of wire cutters. Incredible. Tag still on them, still zip tied so you couldn't use them. OK. Damn. I had boltcutters. Sure beats a hacksaw (my next option).

Grabbed the cat carrier. It looked small. In too much of a hurry to figure something else out.

Grabbed a couple of towels and my rose-pruning gloves from Foxgloves. I knew they wouldn't be thick enough, but I needed maneuverability. I couldn't handle her in gauntlets, even if I had 'em.

Threw it all in the car and sped out the driveway. Curtis was just returning from his little hunt, tracking me home, and I stopped and opened the door so he could jump in.  We drove right into the hayfield because: Subaru. 
I  unloaded all my stuff and assessed the situation. 

First, I threw a couple towels over her so I could contain her. She tore them off in a lightning flash of talons.

OK, that didn't work. I went to grab her ankles and she struck even faster. Bam! like a snake. That didn't work, either. I covered her head with towels. She threw the towels off. By now she was ready for anything. Man. This hawk. 

I decided I would have to just cut her down off the wire and try to contain her afterward. Two cuts and she was on the ground, on the other side of the fence from me. 
She was so shocked to no longer be hanging that I managed to throw towels on her again and sort of semi-bundle her up and feed her through the wire to my side. I wasn't about to try to get that section of wire out of her patagium; she could just wear it until she got into surgery. 

I knew I had to contain her for both our safety. I lifted her and took one photo before all the fun started. She was simply monstrous! In retrospect, I should have headed for home right then.

I started to put her head-first into the cat carrier until I realized that it was a horribly small space and that wouldn't be right. I didn't think I could even close the door! This was one HUGE redtail. 

So, against my better judgement, I backed her out of the carrier. Thinking on it, I probably should have left her in it, headfirst, for transport, open door or no. Yeah, that would have been the smart thing to do, but I wanted to do the kind thing.

Painstakingly, I backed her out. And when her head came free and she could see what was going on, she nailed me. Her foot clenched on my right index and middle finger, and bore down with a viselike grip that took my breath away. 

The glove helped, but it didn't help as much as I'd have liked.

I was now in a most curious position. I was squatting in a hayfield, out of sight of the road, and even my car was out of sight, thanks to a rise in the field. 

I was in a lot of pain. My hand was pinned by a very angry hawk. Trying to loosen her talons with my left hand only made her bear down harder. I knew that would be the case, but you try anyway. I thought, "Right index finger. Who needs that?" I allowed myself a humorless chuckle, but the gravity of my situation was not lost on me.

I knew that she could maintain this grip for hours. Well @#$#@$#. What do I do now? I can't walk with a hawk dangling from my hand. I can't do anything with a hawk locked onto my hand.  I couldn't drive or walk or crawl or do anything but pray she'd let me go.  Curtis was waiting in the car, and I was not about to get in the car with my precious dog and a flapping, unsecured hawk! What a mess that would be. I couldn't have driven it anyway!

The only thing that I could think to do was to face completely away from her and get my body and face as far away from her as possible. I curled up in the grass, my captive arm extended, and tried to forget that I was utterly helpless. I hoped the hawk would forget that I was there and relax her grip.
It was unholy strong.

And ever so slowly, she did let up. Moving like a slug, I grasped the fingertip of the trapped glove with my left hand, and started to wiggle and back my smashed fingers out of it. Thank God I'd been wearing gloves. 

My thoroughly dented but unhurt index finger. Note that she still has a death grip on the glove!

Finally, I was free, sort of. I wadded toweling around both of her wicked feet and picked her up by her feet. This should have been a one-handed maneuver, but because I was afraid she'd foot me again, there was so much toweling in the way that I had to hold the great wad around her feet with both hands. So off we went to walk the half mile home, me holding the towel-wadded hawk aloft like some kind of medieval standard. My mind was racing. What was I going to do with her when I got home? Both my hands were fully engaged. I couldn't open the basement or garage doors, because they have doorknobs, and I have yet to figure out how to open a doorknob with my foot or knee. 

As I walked up the sidewalk I saw that in my hurry, I had failed to close the main house door. And the glass storm door had a lever on it! Maybe I could get inside! 

No dice opening it with my knee or elbow. Can't be done, at least not while holding a hawk. The only appendage I had available was my chin. I have a substantial chin. Bill always said our kids owe their chins to me, since he didn't have one. My giant chin X his receding chin= normal-chinned offspring. Warily, I leaned down, holding the angry bird as far away from my face as I could, which isn't far enough. I depressed and pulled the door lever with my chin, and after a few tries was able to hook my right toe on the bottom of the barely-opened door and open it enough to admit me and my furious bundle of feathers and talons. OK. I was inside, in an enclosed space with an angry hawk. At least she wouldn't be able to get away from me while badly injured, which were the stakes out in the middle of that hayfield. 

I tottered down the basement steps, holding the hawk high. Kicked the lid off a large, blessedly empty Rubbermaid tub. Lowered the hawk and all her toweling into the tub. Grabbed the lid and latched it on. Then, and only then, did I exhale. 

Better times are coming, my love. I promise you.

And now a word from your blogger. I decided to post this on Thanksgiving because I am feeling very grateful  for all that I have been given: an interesting life in a beautiful place; the ability to share it here, with photos; and the best, sweetest, most thoughtful readers anyone could ask for. I create multi-part cliff-hangers not to torture or tease you, but because it takes me most of a day to do each one. I write them for you, and I write them for me, because making them helps me put together and process the things that happen to me as I wander through this world. Sometimes you can't grasp the gravity of a thing until you think about it long enough to wrap it up and present it to others. Knowing what is special, unrepeatable and flabbergasting; thinking outside the box of assumption; drawing connecting lines of significance, is a skill I am developing.

Nearly every day, I get shot through by bolts of grace and wonder and a kind of spiritual exaltation that I can only find outdoors, in the company of wild things. I feel my connection to birds and animals deepening and expanding into orbitals that have nothing to do with coincidence; that seem somehow ordained; and stumbling upon this hawk on an ordinary gray Friday and being charged with her rescue (and gifted with her story) is just another instance of that expansion. I don't take these bolts of grace for granted. I believe they seek me out, like those people who just seem to attract lightning. I get struck like a tentpole. It's not fun. It's hard.  Each time it happens I panic and think why me? and what am I supposed to do here? and sometimes ow, ow, ow!! even as a much older voice inside me whispers, 
"You know what to do here." 

Happy Thanksgiving. Read to your babies**, and help the wild things.

**I love you, Agnes!

Once Upon a Fenceline

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

I find a lot of things when I'm out walking. Pretty leaves, frost flowers, box turtles, scat...I read the book of the forest. 

Some of the things I find are beautiful, and some are ghastly. I came upon this bit of animal on October 25, 2019. It's the leg of a white-tailed deer who got hung up in barbed wire in a hayfield about a half-mile from my door. 

The wires all converge in a deadly star, a Union Jack pattern, on the severed leg of the hapless deer. The flesh on it was still moist and pliable. This had happened last night.

The ground beneath is leafless, kicked white, down to the clay. I gazed at this scene, at the splayed toes of the deer, and felt in a great rush all the agony and terror of the animal being free and leaping and then, in one miscalculation, instantly caught and doomed.

Last night, I'd been kept up by coyotes singing and yipping. I knew they had happened upon something big. I listened in the dark and wondered who might be the object of their attention. I was glad to be inside. The woods is a different place at night.

Well, what they were singing about was here in my hand. They were setting this deer free in the only way they could. I was grateful that we now have packs of coyotes in Ohio; that there were social canids big and skilled enough to end this animal's suffering--even to sever its leg and drag it down the hill to be eaten. No trace of it remained, save for a random bone fragment that I heard Curtis crunch down as he inspected the catbriar patch just down from the fence. Yes, a pack of coyotes can make a large whitetail disappear overnight. I've seen it done.

The splayed hoof was eloquent in its silence, speaking of the wire's cruel and ever-tightening grip. I was stunned and very, very grateful I hadn't been the one to come upon the struggling deer, for that is something I could not have let run its course.  I would have had to find someone to kill it as humanely as possible.  Instead, Nature took her course, and the coyotes feasted. I'd heard their song of death and satiation, the song that raised the hair on my arms in the dark. 

We walked on, me silent and absorbed, Curtis ebullient and enthusiastic. What a neat find for a dog to unravel! I wished I could feel that way about it, but I was stumbling on empathy and sorrow. 

It was a soft gray day, and until we found the dangling leg, it had been the kind of day when you don't expect much to happen. I let Curtis snoop around in the grass and composed photos in a desultory way, thinking about that deer and the rotten way it had to die. There are cattle behind that old fence; you don't just go tearing it down, as was later suggested to me, without wreaking havoc on the landowners. Clearing around it and flagging each wire so the animals can see it, as has also been suggested to me, would be the work of a lifetime, and I don't have that kind of time. There are miles of such fence all around these fields. It lies in wait. Sometimes it snags something.

It is easy to suggest such things when you are sitting comfortably, pecking at your keyboard hundreds  or thousands of miles away. It is much harder to go out and do those things.  I am the one who lives with this fence. I decided  as I tramped along that I would have to walk it as often as I could.

We turned around. I heard crows cawing, the harsh rough crawwww call that says they have something. I ran to a hedgerow running at right angles to the deadly fence and came up the hill under its cover, hoping perhaps to see something snooping around the fresh kill site. 

The leg was untouched. The crows flapped off. The sky was quiet. 

And a hundred feet farther on toward my house, I heard a soft "flup."
It was the sound a manila folder makes when it falls to the floor. It was not an impressive sound, but it stopped me in my tracks.

It was the sound made by the wing of a red-tailed hawk, opening suddenly against briars. A red-tailed hawk, hanging helplessly on barbed wire. I had probably walked right by her on the way out. That time, she hadn't opened her wing.

The cascade of words and oaths and silent cries and prayers that happened inside my skull at the moment I found the hawk could never be put into type. "Sweet baby Jesus!!!" was one thing I said.  And "Oh sweetheart. I have to get you off this fence!!!" was another. The rest was incoherent, panicked, profane because I was alone and here was this hawk who needed me like nothing had ever needed me before, save perhaps crawler Liam when he choked on a Goldfish cracker and I ripped him out of his high chair without even unbuckling the seat belt whoooosh and he was up in the air over my head upside down and the cracker fell out. It was like that. Pure adrenaline and horror and just do it, all colliding at once.

I knew I couldn't untangle her. I couldn't even touch her without gloves.  I'd have to find a way to cut the wire. "Stay here. Don't struggle. I'll be back. I will get you off that fence."  I broke into a run and started the half-mile home, glad I could run in hiking boots, glad I could run at all. What I'd planned for my day had changed.

Until I Get It Right: Persimmon Pie

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We've been doing some foraging under a particularly generous persimmon tree in Marietta. It has been dropping fruits since mid-October, and there are still a ton of them in the naked branches as of Nov. 17!

You don't have to pick them; they're lying all over the ground, like Easter eggs!

 Obviously, the thing to do was to make a pie.

I love a custard pie. But the bar is high. Bill's mom Elsa made a cherry custard pie for his birthday every year that was just the most delicious thing you've ever tasted. Her crust, for one, you could eat like a cookie, it was that good. And the custard was velvety and vanilla-y and it never tasted really eggy. I just don't know how she did it. I believe there was a double boiler involved. And time.

Two weeks ago I set out to make my first persimmon custard pie. I followed the custard recipe I found it Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It ruled out a graham cracker crust because you had to cook the liquid custard in the crust. OK. So I used a conventional pie crust (Pillsbury, if you must know) and Bittman's custard recipe. Not giving it here because read on.

Once it had cooked and set and cooled, I schmeared fresh persimmon pulp on top. I pulp the fruit with my fingers, just getting the seeds out. Many, if not most, of these cultivated American persimmons are seedless, a huge bonus. You can't really peel them at all; the skin is too thin to get a hold on it. So what I do is seed them and then mash them so the skins disappear into the pulp. I agree with the reader who commented that it's hardly worth pulping wild American persimmons--they're mostly seed. These cultivars are the bomb! There's a lot of food in each one.

This first pie was really, unexpectedly delicious. I will say that the custard part was quite eggy-tasting, and the consistency was that of flan--thin and a bit jiggly. So it wasn't quiiiite what I was going for. But it was still gone in a day, between me and Liam! No regerts!

Fast forward two weeks, and sweet Liam is coming home again for my lecture at People's Bank Theater in Marietta, Nov. 14. I resolve to make another attempt on this pie. I figure the missing element is VELVETY. So I Google "Velvety vanilla custard" and this recipe pops up.

Right away, I can see this is more what I'm after. I follow most of the instructions, omitting the candy thermometer (I can durn well tell when a cooking custard has set up) and the strainer (who cares if it's a little lumpy, and who wants to push custard through a strainer, then clean the strainer? Not the Lazy Chef.)

I cook it mostly to instruction, then cool it outside, with Saran over it to keep a skin from forming, while Liam and I make the graham cracker crust and pulp the persimmons. We are terrified a raccoon will come and eat the custard so we keep glancing nervously out on the deck (our big cheap refrigerator).

We make the crust with fresh cinnamon sugar Honey Maid graham crackers, even though they remind Liam of eating them while running cross country repeats which he did not like.  Liam lets out a little emotion in smashing them in a large Ziploc bag. We're a little short of them so we add a couple Breton wheat crackers to fill it out. We melt 6 TBS butter and mix it with 1 1/2 cup of crumbs, then press the mixture into a 9" pie plate and bake it at 350 for a few minutes until the edges start to brown. When the crust and the custard are both completely cool, we combine them and it looks like this:

I.E. YUM!! It's light and fluffy and vanilla-ey and not eggy. Not flanny. Perfect.

Here are the pulped persimmons.

 and the finished pie.

I cannot tell you how delicious this pie is. This is what I was shooting for, but it's better than I'd dared hope.

We had to let little Curtis clean up our plates. He likes persimmons! and, needless to say, custard...

It's been such fun having Liam home the last two weekends. And Thanksgiving break starts this coming weekend. I'm in tall corn and getting very spoiled. We all are! Liam is just about Curtis' favorite person on earth.

I've got lots of extra persimmon pulp. I'm going to freeze it, though it keeps remarkably well in the fridge. High sugar content, and it seems to have some kind of natural mold repellent. Very little problem with that. I want to find a way to get this stuff to my three cooking sisters, see what they do with it.

The gorgeous time is coming to an end, and we'll need bright cinnabar fruit to get us through the long gray winter.

If you don't have American persimmons around, you can do a custard pie with rhubarb, cherries, strawberries--anything that'll make a nice bright schmoosh for the topping. Bon appetit!!

Autumn in Marietta: Gingko Drop and Other Delights

Saturday, November 16, 2019

 My to-do lists probably don't look like most other people's. Oh, there's Bank Deposit and grocery lists and Take Trash and Check Proofs and all that. But there's also GINGKO DROP and GET PERSIMMONS and VISIT MAPLES. Late October and early November is a very busy time in Marietta, Ohio.
That first really hard freeze always makes the gingkos, with their primitive vascular systems, drop all their leaves within a few hours. If you're lucky, they've had time to turn gold first. Then you get this puddle of gold coins under the stark straight trunk, and it's pretty wonderful. So when I wake up to a really hard freeze, I head into town to seek out the gingkos I know, and see what happened overnight.


You've got to be careful not to slip on their nasty little fleshy fruits, which smell disconcertingly like vomit. I don't know what that is designed to attract. Dogs? Ishta. Oofda.

The miracle is that they're planted all over here. I love them, especially when they do their Halloween drama queen leaf drop. Look at the ombre shading on those little fan shaped leaves! Gingko leaves are the most primitive leaves you'll see. They're actually tiny fused twigs--hence the fan-shaped venation. Gingkos have no proper twigs--they've put them all into leaves. This tree hasn't changed since dinosaurs were browsing their branches. It hasn't needed to. 

The red maples were showing very well on Fifth Street on November 8. 

I wondered if this lady raking leaves knew that she matched her house? Pink top, black foundation. I love the color of her house. It's kind of a mauvey maroon, painted brick. Yum.

The fall color is better in town in early November than it is out my way, where it's a lot colder without the rivers to warm things up.  By then, the winds have taken most of the leaves away where we live.  Curtis and I walked the streets in all their lit-from-within glory. It was heaven.

He's caterwauling at me because he wants to get out the back and explore while I'm trying to load corn and seed in the car. Nope. You cover too much ground too fast. You are not Chet Baker, who rarely ever wore a collar because he never let Mether out of his sight.  You're a ramblin' man!

I've gotten into the habit of taking this little creature with me most everywhere I go. Fall is the time to do it, when it's not too cold or hot to leave him in the car for a little bit, and it's fun to walk him and take him to the office for a visit with the people he loves.

 A special hug for Cindy.

Back scritches from Angela! Tail going like mad the whole time.

Curtis keeps a ridiculously close eye on me when we go there, though, because the Bird Watcher's Digest office is where I left him when I went away for a long long time to Africa, for Pete's sake, and he doesn't want that to happen again. Oh, he did just fine, but he prefers to be with Mether. He's convinced that if he's vigilant enough he can prevent me from leaving without him. So he lies down and blocks doorways, to make sure I don't slip out without him. It's really funny. Everybody in the office is onto him and we laugh and laugh. He is Not Slow.  He is Always Thinking.

The most important thing I do in Marietta in late October and early November is Gather Persimmons. There are some absolutely fabulous trees planted on the streets, that produce wondrous quantities of the most succulent American persimmons you have ever seen.


They fall to the ground and just lie there for weeks and nobody much eats them. Most people are afraid to eat something off the ground. They walk up and tell me that as I'm picking them up and sucking on the seeds and putting them in my big green trug. "More for me!" I reply.
How silly that is, to be afraid of a fruit just because it didn't come from a store, wrapped in plastic. How sad that is. It's pathetic. This bounty, this bounty, and you're letting it rot.

 So I walk away with a trug full of gorgeous ripe 2" American persimmons, and they walk away thinking I'm weird and will probably croak young. I've tried to get people to just taste them and they refuse. Sigh. More for me.

 And what do I do with these fabulous fruits? Well, I usually eat the pulp for breakfast over 4% cottage cheese, and it is fabulous that way. But this year I decided to make pies.

My next post details my Quest for the Perfect Persimmon Custard Pie. 

Liam is Twenty!

Friday, November 8, 2019

I went out this morning, as I always do, looking for signs. The time of your birth, 7:24 am, came and went while I was waiting for the light to rise up in the east, enough to get me out in the frozen meadow with Curtis.

While you lay sleeping in Morgantown, I surrendered to insomnia and started my day at four-something, scribbling down a page of truths that I may as well start facing. It's true, I worry about being the only anchor for you and Phoebe in this world, the source of your comfort and stability and support. I think about you two with every single thing I do: the responsibility of being It. The One. I want to be here for your forever, guiding you and talking you through everything life is throwing at you. You're both far away, but it's as if you're in the next room to me, so close do I feel to you. Your joy is my joy, and your sadness is mine, too.

 Finally, it was light enough to go out and face the morning, and I was glad it was clear and frosty.

Every single morning, I head out to your dad's grave, rain, snow, wind, sun, it doesn't matter. And every morning I wish it were otherwise, and that I could see him, give him a hug, hear his voice instead of standing mutely in a little clearing in the meadow, unanswered, staring at the blasted stems of coneflower and liatris.  I wish that for you, for me, for the world. Nothing about the way things are makes sense to me, and I know you and Phoebe are struggling with it, too. It's your twentieth birthday, and even if I did balloons, which I don't, no amount of balloons and frosting is going to cover that truth over.

Because we can't have him, we look for signs: thin consolation, but something. He is strong, and I feel him pushing through the heavy curtains of time and space, trying to get back to us. I had just gotten out the front door this morning of your birthday when I heard the pair of ravens that has been coming by intermittently of late. I feel lucky to be on their route. It's so good to have ravens around--it's been several years since I've seen them here, and this pair just popped up this month. I feel incredibly honored when they look down at me, register me, even talk back to me when they see me. About three weeks ago, when I was running out on our road, one came flapping over to me so low I could hear the silken swish of its wings. Now why would a raven stoop to that, if it hadn't been sent? In my all-too- human longing, I imagine that your dad is sending them. Why wouldn't he pick a raven as his messenger? Strong and wicked smart and funny, too. Here they are, this morning's Liam's-birthday ravens, and please forgive my hopeful honking. It's what I do to keep them around, probably chuckling at me, for a little longer. Always, I wish they would stay a little longer. 


Here we are. The bonsai we planted just before you left for school is turning red at last. And the little patch of white to the right of it bore further investigation.

Oh! They're dirtflowers, frost flowers, pushing up through wet clay on this 20 degree night, to greet me in the morning.

White, like your beautiful hair, and a little unruly.  Another little message? Why not?

Ah, there's our boy, looking back at me through my Dear Old Dad's icy blue eyes, and that shock of hair like frost flowers.

  Curtis wanted to be in the picture. 

He pose, for you.

I am so very proud of you, learning to paint, and so good at it already. Who knew that years of markers would just segue so smoothly into oils? I don't think I could pull this painting off. Always, you amaze me. Helps to have subject matter you like, doesn't it? Liam, you just light up my life with your sweet, funny, sensitive and hugely empathetic soul.

Hey, beautiful, beautiful boy. I hope you have a wonderful day. I'm sorry this isn't a light, fun hi-ho kind of birthday post, but it's what came out. It's a letter from home, with frost flowers and birthday ravens and one little dog made of sugar peanuts.  Just know that your mama is full of love and hope for you as you make your way into the world. We're going to make it together.

Curtis told me he had a little dog-skit to perform for you, for your birthday, so I just stood back and let the camera roll. He says to be happy, to run loops around it all, and go as fast as you can and try to impress everybody! Oh, and he says to smile! And wag a lot. Love you sweet Liam; you're the best son I could ever dream up. Can't wait to throw my arms around you. Enjoy your concert tonight!!

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