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Skunk Self-Care--and That Smell!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

One of the signs that an animal is feeling well is self-care. That's funny. One of the signs that a person is feeling well is self-care.  I admit to falling off a bit in self-care of late. My hair is driving me nuts, going full-on Bozo with giant sidewings, as I've missed two cuts with my beloved and gifted stylist Angie. I bought barrettes, then headbands. Neither accoutrement has been used on my head for 23 years at least. And neither works on my wild in-between hair, to keep it out of my eyes. Finally, in desperation, I took some tiny butterfly hairclips that I use to secure orchid blooming stems to their stakes. My head is studded with them, each one holding back an obstreperous hank of hair, and I look like Pebbles Bedrock, but it works and I can forget about my hair and get on with my work.  I tell myself it's youthful and perhaps kind of cute, but it's really just pathetic. Oh well. Nobody but my kids sees it, and at least I have enough hair to annoy me. Be thankful for what you have.


You may watch this video and think that SugarBean has fleas. Far from it. This is simply grooming, all the scratching and chewing and licking. What a privilege, to kneel on a terrace directly over a wild skunk, and see how he conducts his toilette. What a thrill, to be trusted, and to trust him. This stink bomb he carries colors every interaction. There's always that chance that something could scare him and I could be drenched. But the longer we know each other, the more distant that likelihood is.

In my years as a dog owner, I've had to deskunk a dog five times. Five times too many. It's one of my least favorite chores. I did it twice for Chet in 12 years, and three times for Curtis in the first eight months I had him! There are lots of folks who are just signing onto SugarBean's story via various Web channels, and it seems that some have missed the two previous posts that explain how it is that my hunting dog Curtis isn't attacking this little black and white yard fixture. Here's the first one: Fun With Skunks and Dogs  and here's the second one: About That Skunk.  Thanks to having SugarBean around, I've had the opportunity to teach Curtis to leave him alone, and that is a beautiful thing. I DID find Curtis cleaning up SugarBean's dinner one day, then STICKING HIS HEAD IN THE MAILBOX where the skunk was sleeping, so I wouldn't say we are exactly home free, but both skunk and dog are champs, and I have to trust the process and the intelligence of both animals. My devotion to one injured skunk has been tested and found true.

While deskunking Curtis, I have given a lot of thought to the absolutely jaw-dropping power of skunkstink, N-butyl mercaptan. As much as I've smelled it, it still amazes me that one animal, smaller than your average housecat, can pack a couple little sacs full of oil that, when deployed, you can smell for literally MILES. And you can't smell it until he lets it loose. How on earth does he confine that stench with nothing more than flesh and a sphincter? It all amazes me and makes me wonder. I found this bizarre little video on the Net that shows the two "nozzles" that pop out on either side of a skunk's anus that fire and even direct the spray! I hope never to be that close! And having been sprayed myself twice (never a direct hit, such as Curtis takes, but damn close), I will say that skunk scent, point blank, is the only smell that actually terrifies me. It's such a primal response.

Yesterday, the kids thought it would be funny to take Curtis' toy skunk, Snoutnose**, and place it in the bluebell patch, where I would see it out of the corner of my eye as I chugged out to fill the bird feeders. I did at the bone! Stopped in my tracks! If I ever had doubt that the black and white pelage of a skunk is a primal fear releaser, it is gone now. And even after going on two months of fraternizing with sweet lil' SB, I still get that chill when I first spot him on his afternoon peregrination. Once sprayed, twice shy. I'm fascinated by this visceral response to seeing him that persists even though my conscious mind knows he's "safe." And I suspect that the frisson of knowing that I could get sprayed adds to my enjoyment of being his friend. It has been pointed out to me that I like to live dangerously.

**a gift from my sweet friend Marianne!

Because one can never have too much of watching a skunk roll around on the ground, here's another sweet video from the same session on April 2. These were made with my iPhone from a ridiculously close range. Lookit that little face! And those nails. Just everything. The snorf. The belly, now much rounder than it was. The underlying white hairs in his tail. The way he norbles on his fur. Oooh this little animal, he's soo sweet.


With love from the edge,


A Helping Hand for House Finches

Thursday, April 23, 2020


It started on the fifth of April,  with a typical rainy morning, when I looked out my bedroom window and saw this little fella with a big Fu Manchu of nesting material. I skibbled down the hall in my jams, did a two-wheel corner into the studio, grabbed the big camera, and thank God he was still a settin' there when I got back. 

First, you gotta love a guy who helps around the house. Second, my affection for house finches has grown over the years, as I've watched them decline pretty drastically from their mid 1980's explosion in New England, then all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.  They were frankly a huge pain, mobbing feeders by the score and tweeting incessantly. Loudly and incessantly.

Nature finds its balance, though. I've watched as they have been taken out by inbreeding depression, which means they have little resistance to disease. All eastern house finches descend from a release event at a NYC pet shop in 1939.
They were imported from California and sold as "Hollywood Linnets." Imagine. This is what the Migratory Bird Treaty Act disallowed! Let's hear it for that!  Being inbred and with little genetic diversity,  they've succumbed to Mycoplasma gallinae, a disease of domestic chickens that also strikes at least 30 other native songbirds to date. I'm so happy now when I see healthy house finches and I really do wish them the best. After all, they are native to North America--just not east of the Mississippi. Their song is among my favorites--so clear and vibrant, a tumbling cascade of beautiful notes.

I figured they were building, and it wasn't hard to figure out where. House finches like dense conifers close to houses. Duh?

And speaking of duh...Do you see their neatly woven nest?

With its precious cargo of four eggs of palest blue, ink-dotted with black?

Daddy's whiskers for a lining and a mourning dove tail feather for good measure. Ah, it's all too sweet--and too damned visible. Any blue jay worth its salt--and there are at least six around the yard this year hooray!!--is going to key in on that nest immediately, if not sooner. If I can find it so easily, what about a sharp-eyed jay or crow?

So I cut a thick branch off the bottom of the same spruce and stuffed it into the boughs over the nest, making a little awning to hide it from predatory eyes. 

Better. (Compare to first photo). 

You have to approach it from the side to see it. Jays flying over won't see it nearly so easily. At least that's the hope. 

And speaking of hope...they hatched April 21.

And here they are on Day 2, April 22. The weird yellow thing is the transparent crop of a baby which has its head down in the nest lining to the right. That's actually regurgitated seed fed to it by its parents, and it's completely normal for an infant house finch to look like that. I know it's hard to tell what you're looking at, but the lower chick has a downy head to the right and two sweet little arcs of downy wings on either side.

House finches were the most challenging of baby birds to paint for my book, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest because they have so darn much long grayish white down that their anatomy was totally obscured! But oh are they dear. Crossing my fingers for this nest, hoping the cold spring keeps the ratsnakes in their burrows, hoping the chipmunks won't brave the prickly spruce--just hoping for everything. Know the feeling?

More Skunk Lore

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Obsessing about a badly injured skunk has been sort of a steam escape valve for me, and Lord knows we all need those. I mean, it's business as usual for me to be hyperfocused on and fussing over some badly compromised wild thing, but this hurt skunk has really stretched the limits of my ingenuity and forced me to be patient and wait for slow improvement. I like to fix things. I like to fix people and animals, if I can. I use nature, positivity, time and good food to do my witchery, sometimes a little medicine. But this skunk cannot be fixed neatly or quickly. That's not to say he can't be fixed at all.

 SugarBean showed up March 7 and had been more and more dependent on my food subsidy as the weeks went on. There were a few days near the end of March when it actually hurt to watch him crippling around the yard. One beautiful warm day he sort of lay around on the grass in broad daylight, and when he wanted to get up he had to use his head to roll over on his side and kind of pry himself up. That was really hard to watch. That was when I got kind of frantic about him and started trying to dream up ways to catch him in a carrier and transport him to the Ohio Wildlife Center in Columbus. I was able to get him in a cat carrier, where he slept overnight in a rainshower, dry and protected. So OK. I could easily catch him... but for what? Once I found out that Ohio Wildlife Center likely would not try to operate on him, I had to fish or cut bait. I thought of calling a couple of people who might be willing to come shoot him for me, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. If he still showed interest in food; if there was even the whisper of a chance that this poor little wreck could turn out to be a viable skunk, I owed it to SugarBean to keep trying. He was certainly trying!

So I adopted the role of nurse/caregiver, and kept the nutritious food coming. I was pretty much winging it, trying to keep SugarBean well supplied with protein and calcium. So far, soft-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, chopped spinach, chopped pear, strawberries, fresh corn off the cob, mandarin orange,  sunflower hearts, sliced almonds, and cooked chicken have all been hits. Kitten chow and dog kibble are both appreciated. I'm not sure there's much you could offer a skunk that it would refuse. I've managed to feed that little skunk most every day for almost two months. I didn't mind. It was a privilege, and I have thoroughly enjoyed interacting with him.

Phoebe came around the corner of the house, looking for me, and found this scene. She'd been calling for me, but I didn't answer, for obvious reasons. I heard her breathe, "Oh my GOD" in a sort of "This would be going on whether I was here to witness it or not" voice. I quietly handed her my phone and she grabbed a couple of shots of her Crazy Skunk Lady mom, living dangerously as usual. 

I was a lot closer to him than I wanted to be. I had just set the dish down when the skunk ambled up, and I didn't have time to back off! At that point it seemed I'd do more harm by trying to waddle backward, and probably tip over like a brown marmorated stinkbug, lying there waving my legs, than just by staying in place until he was done eating. Good thing my knees still work pretty well. Ha ha! That was an epic squat. 

Taken with my iPhone. I was right on top of him!  And that's how Phoebe found us. I love the possessive little paws, placed right in the food. As if, once I'd given him the meal, I was going to rescind it? You never know...

Obviously, a telephoto lens is to be preferred for both parties' comfort and safety. 

Mmm, chicken.

Pignosin' his kibble. I just love the snowy Afro.

I took to setting his food and water just outside his little mailbox home so he wouldn't have to use that poor busted leg so much. 

He took to that mailbox like a duck to water, and he spent the better part of two weeks sleeping almost around the clock in its toasty soft confines, coming out only to eat and poop. I love to creep up, peek in there and see ebony fur. 

Each day, he'd emerge to poop. I cleaned up his little noodly piles with a shovel. But not while this gorgeous little moth, a Grapevine Epimenus, was doting on them! Now you know what skunk poop looks like. I'll confess I didn't, before this. But whoa. 
Come to find out, I've already used the tag "skunk scat" on this blog, so I'm gonna have to go see what I said about it!

Here is a video of SugarBean motivating toward his carrier on March 30, before the mailbox palace was in place. At this point I still thought it was a female, so pardon the narration. This was as well as I had seen him move since he first appeared, and hope sprang in my heart that he might eventually be OK after all. His locomotion is certainly not great, but it's a whole lot better than it was. I'm so amused at the thought that a wild skunk would willingly go into a cat carrier and spend time in there. Just one of the many lessons this little mustelid has to teach me.


 SugarBean has sure taught me a lot about skunks, about trust, about patience and love.  And about dog training! My hope is that, having come to know this one virtual skunk, some readers might not be so quick to freak out, call pest control,  or at the very least, run around shouting and waving their arms. It's just a small, calm, sweet, black and white animal, who happens to be packing a bomb. Your job is to stay cool so he doesn't have to deploy it.

SugarBean's New Home

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Mid "stride:" SugarBean has to hop to get that bad right hind leg forward.

 It's really hard for a born empath who is also a wildlife rehabilitator to watch a very small skunk sort of drag-hopping around with one hind leg that's of no use. I want to do something, anything to help. And it kills me that, if SugarBean were an opossum or woodchuck, I'd have dragged her off to a veterinarian a month and a half ago. If only she weren't fully loaded with such a deadly weapon!

So when she spent the night in that cat carrier with its straw bedding and doormat roof,  I knew I had to do better by her. I made a sleeping box with a skunk-sized entry hole, and stuffed it with sweet dry meadow grass that I gather and use to replace my bluebird nests in blowfly season. This is the box my book, The Bluebird Effect, comes packed in. Space for 12 copies is just about right for a small skunk.

I then put the box in a great old steel mailbox that I've had since I lived in Connecticut. They don't make mailboxes like this any more. Its twin is currently in service at the end of our driveway. Somebody tried real hard to rip that one off its post, and they couldn't. All they did was bend the tab. That's my kind of mailbox. I kept this one because you can't get good heavy steel mailboxes any more. And maybe I knew that somewhere 30 years hence, I might need to make a skunk palace.

On March 31, I removed the cat carrier while SugarBean was out, and put this weatherproof setup in its place. The first one to check it out was a tufted titmouse, who thought it might have been put up for her, decided it was too low to the ground, and settled for stealing some grass from SugarBean's nest. You can see here there in the doorway.

I put a nice dish of food in the sleeping box. Around 5 pm, SugarBean came trundling up, following her nose.

She climbed up on the porch as if skunks always go into mailboxes.

 She checked out the surrounding area.

Cast me a look which I decided to interpret as thankful.

Went inside to have dinner and check out the mattress.

My heart almost burst when she scuffled around in there, arranging the grass, and stayed, curled up, for a nap. The nights were still in the 40's and it made my heart sing to know that, even if she was broken, she was warm and as comfortable as possible. I don't know where she'd been sleeping, but I can't imagine she could get down into a burrow thus compromised, so she may just have tucked herself into the trumpetvine tangle to sleep. Poor thing!

I can't tell you what a treat it has been to really get to know a skunk. When we first moved here in the early 1990's, there was a beautiful skunk who came around on some summer evenings. It was all white down its head, back and tail, and, unlike SugarBean, it had very strong BO, so I could literally smell when it was around. I gave it the highly imaginative name of Stinky. Whatever works.  I had no dog to worry about, so I started accidentally leaving the odd bit of chicken, pork or what-have-you along the skunk's yard route. It wasn't long before I could walk up, talking softly, and lay a treat before Stinky's nose. Skunks are trusting animals, and they catch on quickly that you mean no harm. They catch onto it even more quickly when you're a good cook. Stinky was around for a few weeks, and then ambled on, as skunks do.

But my relationship with SugarBean is at a whole 'nother level. I know it's not a good idea to feed wild mammals, and I would never even consider leaving large bowls of kibble out at night, like I've seen people do for packs upon packs of raccoons, opossums and skunks. I have no desire to artificially boost the concentration of predators in my surroundings. But I did very much enjoy my brief relationship with Stinky.

Providing good food, clean water, and excellent housing for this car-crushed waif seems like the least I can do, given her pitiful condition.  I doubt SugarBean would be alive now but for this intervention, and her life is precious to us. I'm so grateful to this skunk for schooling Curtis in some sorely needed etiquette, for keeping her cool with a hot-headed cur around. It is a definite risk to have a wild and fully loaded skunk in one's yard, but it's worked out amazingly well, given the odds.

Watching her make herself at home in the fancy new digs was such a thrill. I couldn't stop smiling. A while later I saw movement out there and came out to see what was going on. SugarBean was on her porch again, busy grooming her fur. 

 And what to my wondering eyes did appear
But a miniature...Huh?

My apologies, SugarBean. I have been using the wrong pronoun all along. I took you for a girl, being so small and delicate. You must just be a yearling.

And you've now seen a skunk's junk, and no surprise! Cute eyes, ears, nose, toes...even the junk's cute, too.  We'll keep the name, because you're no less sweet for being a boy.

About That Skunk...

Sunday, April 12, 2020

While all this is going on with pets inside the house, there's a pet who roams outside, too. Not gonna lie. Going from a Boston terrier to a mountain cur has been a big adjustment. Chet's reason for living was to keep me company. I remember once when he treed a raccoon deep in our woods. He stood up against the tree, barked, got very excited. I watched awhile, then said, "OK, Chet, let's leave him in peace. I'm headed home." That little dog took a last look at the coon and trotted over to me, and that was the end of that. Chet knew what his job was, and he put his whole heart into it. He followed me to the washing machine, to the bathroom; he'd butt the door open with his little melon head when I was showering (never failed to get a peal of laughter from me as the cold air would rush in). And until he lost his hearing at the end, he never even needed a collar on our runs on the busy road, because he listened to every word I said.

I can't say that about Curtis, but he's listening much better than he was a year ago. I don't love him any less for his wandering spirit. My love for him is different, because our relationship is different. He's more like a friend than the everything that Chet strove to be, that I needed him to be. Curtis is just the dog I need at this stage of my life. He's taught me to loosen my grip and let go.

I am usually looking at the hind end of this dog. Not exactly a heeler.

Just like Chet, Curtis knows what his job is. He was bred to hunt. He's a fabulous companion, as you've seen, but his first love and calling is the hunt. So when Curtis trees a coon, he stands up against the tree, bites some bark off it, bays a little, and, if he's not a half mile away through the woods, I watch for awhile. And then I say, "I'll see you at home, Curtis. I'm headed back."  And there we part ways, because Curtis is not a Boston terrier. He is a Treeing Tennessee Brindle. I'll see him again in oh, maybe two or three hours, when he's good and ready to come home. He'll be riddled  with thorns, ear tips bleeding from their tears, tongue hanging down to his brisket, hungry and exhausted and oh, so happy. Overdoing it is his way. He is doing his job, as he feels it in his very cells. 

Work mode: sniffing scent trails old and new. 

So when a badly injured skunk showed up in the yard, Houston, we had a problem. As explained before, he'd gotten himself odiferized three times in only eight months since he'd joined our family. I had concluded that Curtis was one of those dogs who would never stop trying to catch a skunk.

And yet, in that one magic moment explained a few posts back (Fun With Skunks and Dogs), Curtis put it all together. Even as he was charging for the attack, he registered my anguished plea for him to leave SugarBean alone. And alone he has left that skunk, despite myriad opportunities to ruin all our lives since. SugarBean has become a bit of a fixture in the yard. Can't imagine why...

About ten days ago, I heard Curtis ranging about in the woods to the north, his bells jingling. Without even thinking, I called to him to come home. The shortest path was through the tunnels in a trumpetvine tangle that sprawls behind the compost pit. It's a highway for Curtis, for the opossums, raccoons, rabbits...and for SugarBean. Too late, I saw SugarBean, crouched in a vine tunnel. I heard Curtis coming straight toward the skunk. I couldn't do a thing. You can't stop a dog from coming to you once you've called. You can't tell him, "No, I've changed my mind, don't come home." I heard twigs crackling as Curtis drew closer. Frantically, I sent him mind pictures of backing away. And then he caught the scent and stopped. Backed up. Went back the way he'd come, and allll the way around the garage. I ran to meet him as he emerged from the woods a good 300' from where SugarBean was hidden. I threw my arms around his neck. That's when I knew this dog gets it.

I've been very worried about SugarBean. Her right hind leg is nearly useless; she puts it down only lightly and it obviously hurts. I've thought and thought about how to help her. The injury dates to sometime in early March, when I first started seeing her around the yard.

The idea from the start has been to support her nutritionally, and hope for healing in the leg/hip. 
Because as sweet and cute as SugarBean looks, she's not a housecat. 
She's not even a feral cat. She's a mustelid, and she packs a ferocious bite as well as a scent bomb that WILL ruin my whole life if it goes off. About a week ago, something perturbed her in the night, and she sprayed, and that scent drifted in Phoebe's open window and permeated the house. It woke everyone up, and kept me up the rest of the night. I spent that time thinking about what it means to have an injured skunk in residence in one's yard.

A friend of mine tried to help, investigating as to whether the Ohio Wildlife Center would admit the skunk if I was able to catch her. She really, really wanted Sugarbean to get medical attention, and made some offers and suggestions that included offering to drive the skunk to Columbus if I could catch her! (That's love!)  Well, I really wanted her to get care, too, but I knew that her injury is too old (more than a month) for the leg to be set, even if one could operate on a skunk and keep it in a clinic, which one simply cannot. Once it wakes up from the anesthesia, the first slamming door would bring a stinkbomb! And the word came back from OWC that, even if SugarBean were somehow caught and brought in, they wouldn't attempt to operate on her leg. So what's the point of catching her?

the first falcate orangetip of spring

But while I was in the flush of being persuaded that maybe something could be done to help this poor hobbling creature, I set out a cat carrier with the door wired open, and decided to feed SugarBean inside it.
She entered without hesitation. It's all about the food with skunks. But then when she was fed, she did the most interesting thing. I had piled dry straw up in the back of the carrier, and SugarBean went on in and curled up in there, and slept for five hours!

While she was sleeping, it began to rain, and I was able to put a doormat over top of the carrier to shield her from the rain without any trouble or protest from the skunk. 

That night was cold and wet, and, but for a foray around 10 pm, she slept in there all night. 

Well, how do you like that?

Skunks normally have a low profile, but this one is snakelike. She flows over the ground, very very slowly.

One of the most winsome and endearing little animals I've ever known.

I am forever trying to think of new ways to help her.

Hard Times Make Happy Pets

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Life these days, at least for me, doesn't look all that different from life as it has been. There are two other beloved beautiful people in residence, and you can be sure that I'm reveling in that. I never thought I'd get to spend more than a couple weeks at a time with them both. And now, it seems, we have many weeks together to look forward to. All that other stuff aside (and that is a lot of stuff) that is a beautiful thing.

People say dogs and cats (and birds and all other pets!) are the greatest beneficiaries of this shutdown. Curtis is certainly getting an abundance of attention and affection. One of my dad's favorite sayings was, "Attention makes the pup." He used it to refer to children, too. If that's true, Curtis is getting even moreso. We are so grateful to have him here to love on. There's little that's as comforting as the scent and feel of a good solid animal when you're freaked out. I love this shot. Curtis is taking the Wide Stance which is becoming his trademark. He's got strong shoulders.

This dog is truly in hog heaven with his pack all together in one place. He still prefers Liam as a sleeping partner above me or Phoebe, but that's fine with us, because he kicks and has hunting dreams which involve lots of foot paddling, deep breathing and muffled yelps.

Our beautiful betta, whom the kids insist on calling Boogle, is another beneficiary of the attention of his humans. Bettas are very personable and Boogle enjoys his perch from his new desktop tank atop a column in a busy corner of the kitchen. He creeps on us all as we work and eat and demands treats, grabbing fresh bloodworms and shaking them like a tiny aquatic pitbull, darting enthusiastically after his daphnia. I hear the kids talking to him all day long. Liam does a noodle dance in front of the tank and Boogle goes crazy, shimmering up and down. Who knows what the noodle dance means to a betta, but Boog seems to be digging it.

Boogle is all I have now for tropical fish. After 25 years of cleaning it every three weeks, I finally broke down my 38 gallon freshwater Amazon tank. I was down to 8 fish (one of them Boogle) when a hideous cyanobacteria, expressing itself as blue green algae slime on EVERYTHING, overtook the tank. I fought it for more than a year,  endlessly scrubbing glass and plants, and finally conceded defeat. It was killing my beautiful plants; it smelled like rotten patchouli, I could NOT get rid of it, and I was finally and completely DONE with it all.

Mind you, in its prime, it was a glorious tank. The tank itself I'd bought well-used in the Pennysaver; it was not beautiful; had ugly peeling contact paper over pressboard on its stand. But the live plants made it an enchanted place, a world of its own, and I looked past all that at the life within it. I filled it with rainwater from my barrel. Emperor tetras bred like mad in it, and I actually sold them and vast armloads of excess plants to my fabulous local Marietta pet shop, We Love Pets. I had to weed it every couple of months and my plants were so gorgeous--they loved to see me coming with a cooler full of plants and young tetras! The tank paid for itself and all its accoutrements and then some! That part was really cool. When I look at this lush and vibrant shot from 2009 I realize how far down it had gone thanks to the cyanobacteria. Ah well. All things have their time.

I found a beautiful home for the 7 tetras with dear friends who have a 50 gallon tank, bought a 5 gallon Contour tank for Boogle, because I could not give him up. I rigged up my beautiful and expensive color changing LED light fixture over it (because the fixture that comes with the tank is, to put it kindly, merely decorative) and am a happy fishkeeper and aquatic gardener again. Plus, bonus! another well-lit plant growing space atop the water filter! Ha ha! The Zick way--cram 'em in!

I love water energy, fish energy, aquatic plant gardening...but a 38 long? Way too much for me now. I'm much better able to see what's too much for me now, having been through too much of late. This tank is juuust right. The cyanobacteria came along for the ride, doubtless on the plants, though I scrubbed them under running water and even gave them a 10-second diluted bleach dip. So I'm still scrubbing glass, d'oh! If anybody out there has a cure for slime algae, I'm all ears.

I would like this post to be longer and have more photos, but two nights ago I went to reach for a mug half-full of cold herb tea and instead of picking it up I knocked it over and guess where the tea went? All over and intothe keyboard of my new MacBook Pro, purchased in August 2019. I had just updated its OS to Catalina and was so enjoying it. 

Despite early hopeful indications that it would shrug off the insult, and my turning it upside down in a New York nanosecond, then setting it up for 24 hr. above a box fan, the tea did its work and my New Hotness is deader than a donut.  I am coming to you from Old and Busted, with no new photos in its library and an operating system that dates to its purchase (Snow Leopard...remember the big cats that came before the mountains?)  

Apple's gonna send me a coffin for it, and then I send it out and wait a minimum of 7-10 business days for the repair. Though I was told it could be longer due to you know what. Luckily I know myself well, and I'd purchased the turbo version of AppleCare that covers stupid human tricks like tea in the keyboard. After years of haranguing my kids about liquids on the same table as a laptop, I've done it now, too. I blame quarantine brain.

I finally feel like I'm settling into some kind of rhythm, and I was able to finish one job and am now going onto another. It's a big illustration job, and I took it because it was awesome and I needed something to get me painting again. Now I'm SO glad I did, because my book tour is totally cancelled/postponed/FUBARed. In happier news, I'm hearing from lots of people who are finally finding time to read Saving Jemima. I get emails every day, and actual letters in the mail from people who truly love it. That feels so good! Almost as good as having Phoebe and Liam cook dinner and call me into the kitchen!! And we're gonna watch a movie tonight, the four of us on the couch. Boogle will watch from his tank. Life is good. Hope it is for you, too. Hold your loved ones close!

Photo from Feb. 2019 by Shila Wilson. I was letting him run leash free on long hikes. Aaack! Once I got a load of who I had here, I started using a lead. Only now, a year later, do I very judiciously let him off the lead on hikes off our land. Progress is slow and steady. Dog is good.

Turning Inward--Home and Garden Solace

Sunday, April 5, 2020


Out in the greenhouse, I went to pull something I thought was a withered bud off Hibiscus "The Path."

It was not a plant part. It was a huge female Bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax). And she had something in her jaws.  A brown marmorated stinkbug! I cannot imagine eating one of these, but maybe if you avoid the stink glands, you're good...This one was on a bud, sucking the life out of it, before its career was summarily ended by Ms. Phidippus.

I love jumping spiders. I hope this one makes a million babies. I'll put them all in my bedroom with the orchid collection. I let jumping spiders sit in my hand and zoop around on my arms and I have never, ever had one try to bite. No, they look up at me as if they understand that I am their friend.

I've had a bad bug year in the house. Zillions of Asian multicolored ladybugs. And way too many  brown marmorated stinkbugs. I hate them both with a passion. Here's what stinkbugs do to my orchid flower spikes INSIDE MY HOUSE. They pierce them and suck all the juices. This would have been an Encyclia cordigera flower spike with 5 incredibly fragrant lilac flowers on it, but for ONE stinkbug that I found on it. Ladybugs will pierce and chew orchid spikes too! I haaaate them so.

In past years, I bought yards of pale green tulle netting and made growing bags for the plants. It was a real pain because the stinkbugs and ladybugs still managed to find their way in. 

This year I hit on a more efficient protective device. It's Saran wrap, taped around the stem of the flower spike, with plenty of room for the buds to grow inside their makeshift protective bag.

It's ugly as hell, but it works. I have to look at bagged flower spikes for months. But oh, when they bloom! It'll all be worth it. 

In years past, before ladybugs and stinkbugs. This, my friends, is what's at stake. Encyclia cordigera:

Not only are they cool looking, they smell like muguet in heaven.

For some reason, stinkbugs leave Phalaenopsis bud spikes alone. They like to kill off rare orchids instead. Here's a fabulously graceful, full spike of 13 on its way. I've had this one for about five years. I remembered to use  orchid fertilizer late this winter. Duh. They do better if you feed them!

Next day, more are open. It's that ever-changing thing I love about growing plants. Checking in on them, seeing what's changed. Seeing the results of a well-timed feeding.

I like this strangely colored mini. It's more blue than magenta.

And this little clownface opened yesterday, and made me laugh. The whole plant isn't 5" across.

Speaking of mini, I'm in love with this supertiny aroid, Syngonium podophyllum "Mini Pixie."

The plant to the far left is the mother plant. I've had it since I took a cutting off my niece's plant, Thanksgiving 2017. And it still isn't 4" tall. I've split all these babies off it, and each one makes a gorgeous little specimen, variegated broadly with white. They're like microminiature caladiums. I have heard that people use this plant in fairy gardens. This is not a fairy garden, LOUISE. It is a planter with some very small plants and an oversized toad in it. Because Homey don't do fairy gardens. Well, I will put a toad in a planter, but that's as far as it goes. 

Another thing I'm growing in the house is sprouts. Many kinds. My very favorite, though, are sunflower. These are ready to harvest. You start them by sprinkling black oil sunflower seed atop moist potting mix, vermiculite or orchid mix, and you cut them off at soil level with a scissors when the shells finally pop off. It only takes about 10 days to get them to harvest. If you let them grow too long they'll get true leaves, and those are hairy, and not so good to eat. But the nutty flavor when you harvest them right after the shells pop off is amazing. So, so good. Anyone can do this. You don't have to live in the country! Just put them near a sunny windowsill and they'll turn into food.

The lettuce plants in the tower room ranch all bolted when Phoebe came home, but we got maybe six big salads out of them before I yanked them out of their planters. New understudies in the greenhouse here. I've got the planters all refreshed and ready. I'll grow them on the front porch from here on out, until October/November, when I'll have a new cohort ready for the winter tower room fun.

Outdoors in my shade bed, I'm watching these Virginia bluebells. When they are in full bloom, I figure the woodland plants will be, too. Then it'll be time to hit the trail! This year, I'll have both kids and Shila (at a distance) with me. Bliss. Heaven. 

Our daffodils have been absolutely spectacular this year. 
Phoebe's been making elegant bouquets. She says we have 13 varieties. I have never bought fancy bulbs. I have, however, dug a few here and few there at the margins of old cemeteries and abandoned homesteads, preferring to shop the heirloom section of the Earth's variety store.

Many firsts this year. We've tackled a bunch of spring chores much, much earlier than usual, simply because the weather seems finally to be breaking a bit, and we're here, and I have help and the time to do it.
The vegetable garden is cleaned up (with a team of three!), fully tilled, and I planted the peas this morning!! In order to get this done, I had to get the bonsais out of there.  I heel the bonsais into the vegetable garden in early winter. I take them out of their pots, dig a pit and sink them about a foot below ground level, and they do just fine. These are the small ones.

The big maples are getting really big.  I-can-hardly-lift-them now big. The one on the left is 43" tall. The right-hand tree, also my oldest at about 37 years, is about 38" tall. Scale is deceptive here. 

I'm so excited to see them leaf out slowly. It's the most beautiful thing to watch. Sometimes I'm so busy in spring I can't even get them potted before the leaves unfurl. This spring is different. I'm busy, but with different things. The things that fill my heart. Getting these trees out where I can talk with them and watch them change every hour is the thing.

Right now, this is my best looking tree. But things change.

This smaller one has real potential. I love that sideways sweep it has.

I've only got four potted maples to tend now. You may remember I sent the fifth out the meadow to become what it was born to be. It was so dang big, and it was trying to get out of its pot, getting taller and taller. I gave it a bigger pot and it started sending out crazy straight sprouts, headed for the stars.

The obvious thing was to liberate it, and put it out by Bill, where it gets daily visits and watering when it needs some.

I was most gratified to have a shaft of sunlight fall on this tree just as I was composing its picture.
 It is so very beautiful now. I can't wait to see it become a full-sized tree, like the two liberated bonsais in our yard. I mean, I can wait.  I want to wait. It'll just be fun to watch it all unfold.

This western red cedar that I got in maybe 1987(?) when it was about 8" tall has grown into the most beautiful specimen, complete with sweet little blue cones in season. It was given to me by a gentleman I knew in Connecticut who I'm sure is long gone. He asked that I remember him as long as I have the tree. His name was Dodie and he was wonderful. Loved bluebirds and used to put orange halves on dowels around his yard for the orioles. It was in his yard that Vanna, my Savannah sparrow, was found, rendered flightless by a cat. I kept Vanna for 17 1/2 years, effectively defining the possible life expectancy of that species. That's how Dodie and I became friends. Vanna is long gone, too, but the tree and my memories live on.

Thirty-three years on, here's that cedar you gave me, Dodie. It's 21" tall now. 

Still taking care of it, and the bluebirds too. They are initiating clutches earlier than any year in the 27 I've been keeping records. Birds are always telling us things. Those of us who listen to them have to tell the rest of the humans. 

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