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She Wanted an Adventure...

Sunday, July 31, 2022

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Phoebe has a hunger for new places and adventures. There's little she loves more than seeking those in the company of her little family (me and Liam). With Liam now employed full-time in graphic design in Marietta (yay!!), we'd had a hard time blocking out time for a good, strenuous family bike ride. And Phoebe's days at home are coming to an end; she's moving on to her next phase in work and life.

Saturday was the day--cool and partly cloudy. We were ready. The plan was to head east to Ellenboro, WV, and ride on the rail-to-trail to Cairo, a round trip of about 16 miles. We started late, because Liam was planning a late-night rendezvous with his beloved Hailey in Maryland, and he'd be an hour along his way when we finished an evening ride. Well. 

Phoebe had never been on the North Bend trail, and what a delight it was to show her around. Liam and I were excited to see her through the three railroad tunnels, two of which are fairly short and moderately spooky; one of which is way too long and downright freaky.


There were so many wonderful vistas along the way--rock walls and shining creeks and steep slopes. Here's an inspired planting of Naked Ladies, an amaryllis that pops up in late July.


We had the trail practically to ourselves, as you can tell from this tunnel ride-through. Liam is a little too good at lunatic laughter! As a borderline claustrophobic, these sounds sum up how I feel about riding through pitch-dark tunnels. I'm OK as soon as I can see the light at the other end. Until then, I'm muttering and yodeling and just forcing myself forward into the unknown. 


We made it into Cairo around 7:20 pm, and couldn't resist poking around a bit, even though we still had 8 miles to ride back to the cars.

This completely untouched Italianate bank building now houses the "headquarters" of the North Bend Rails to Trails. 


This woozy shot shows the street outside, plus the perfect marble counters and teller cages, each with its own vintage typewriter! The bank operated until 1974, and is now a sort of standing museum of what it was like around the turn of the 20th century. 



Just look at that work station! Not a screen in sight. Oh man. It was enchanting, leaving noseprints on the windows of this elegantly narrow building. 



A peek around the corner of the bank building showed the Hughes River making its way through the community. No culverts for it! It looks a bit wild and floody to me, like it could make trouble if it wanted to. Cairo flooded a lot before the Hughes was dammed, creating North Bend's squiggly lake (one of my happy places for canoeing and birding). But the damage had been done, over and over and over, and Cairo now redefines "sleepy little town."



Another interior downtown. That's a sort of Mothman suit hanging on the left. There were masks, too. There's an interesting, funky energy about Cairo that I like.


I believe I saw Mr. Mullenix jingling his keys outside the meat market. The cartoon pharoahs got me!


A little street art. You're apt to find such things throughout this little town.


Too soon, we mounted our bikes and started the long ride back. This is the first of three tunnels we had to navigate to get back. We stopped to rest. The kids climbed up above the tunnel entrance (see them in the greenery?)


I took my pack off, leaned back on a bench, and gazed out at the dying light on Husher's Run.
Just the name, Husher's Run, slows my heart and gives me peace. It wouldn't have to be this beautiful.


Oh boy, was it getting dark! We pedaled as fast as we could, complaining about our sore butts--that part of a long bike ride I always conveniently forget until it happens. I was wearing my padded bike shorts, but they could only do so much for a fair-weather biker like me.


We rolled back into Ellenboro at 8:56 pm, as the sun painted the western sky an incredible coral color. What a feeling of accomplishment! 




We high-fived around the parking lot and I reached up to take my pack off to grab my car keys and...


I was not wearing a pack any more. And the car keys were in it, and I was sure it was lying on a bench, back at the picnic shelter by the first tunnel. 

Which meant that my car keys were five miles and two scary tunnels away, on an unlit bike trail in deep forest that is inaccessible by car. 

It took Phoebe approximately 40 seconds to assess the situation, take her bike back down off the rack, and announce that she was going to ride back to get that backpack. "What else are we going to do? Spend the night in the parking lot?"

She had 20% battery left on her ancient iPhone 10, 2018 vintage, that had been Bill's. She'd need its light for the tunnels, for sure, and to watch for the deadly bar gates that cross the path perhaps ten times along the way. They have reflectors on them, but without light to bounce off the reflectors, they're invisible in the dark. The first picture my mind conjured was Phoebe crashing, full speed, into a steel bar gate. It was not a good picture. Before I could object, she hugged me and then Liam, told him to hit the road and have fun, and she was gone, pedaling full-speed into inky darkness. 

It's hard to describe the anguish of seeing her take off, so resolute, so swift. My phone battery was dying, too. I borrowed a charger from Liam, who was already very late for his rendezvous, hugged him goodbye, and watched his taillights disappear, headed for Maryland. 

I walked over to a McDonald's, looking for an outside outlet, and found one, miraculously, at a nearby car wash. I plugged in my iPhone and commenced tracking my girl. Reception was terrible, but I found her little blue dot, inching deeper and deeper into the forest on that dark, dark trail. (I am in Ellenboro; she's at the square icon). 




The first thing I could think to do was call the Harrisville Police Department to ask if they by chance had a motorcycle that could navigate the bike trail, to escort Phoebe. They were as helpful as they could be, but they have no motorcycle, and they don't have keys to the bar gates so they could get a cruiser through. They promised to call North Bend State Park to see if they could get someone to meet Phoebe at the shelter. I told them to ask whoever might show up not to take the pack, because heaven knows what Phoebs would do if she got all the way to the shelter and didn't find the pack! 

After an eternity, which was about 25 minutes, I got a very brief call from Phoebe. "I got the pack. I'm starting back." She couldn't talk because each second she was using it, the battery on her phone was dwindling. She was at 10%. 

She rode as she'd never ridden in her life. Her FitBit clocked her heart rate. The blue and yellow is our ride together; the red and yellow is her nighttime rescue mission. 



Back at the car wash in Ellenboro, I watched her little gray dot get closer and closer to my blue dot.


I can't tell you what a comfort that was, as I fought to quell my primal panic at sending her into the dark. Here I have to give a shoutout to iPhones, because without them, none of this key recovery would have been possible. They have great flashlights, and the Find My function has saved my sanity more times than I care to admit. I'm grateful for that, and grateful that my kids don't mind my being connected and tracking them as they go on their way. At least, they haven't turned off the feature for me yet.

Almost an hour had elapsed. I headed back to the parking lot to keep watch over the car, realizing that someone could take my bike right off the back of my car if I didn't. A police SUV rolled up with a very nice young officer who had decided to make sure Phoebe made it back. Thank you so much, Harrisville Police Dept! He hung out with me until that blessed moment when her silhouette topped an overpass on the bike trail. I could see her, etched in black against the modestly lit Ellenboro skyline. I whooped in joy!


Here, she describes the ride. We thought she'd only have to ride through one tunnel. Nope. The gazebo where I'd left my pack was at the far end of the longest tunnel. In the end, she had to ride the two longest ones, including the freaky long one--and she had to do them both twice, in a ten-mile round trip! As she was describing the ordeal for me and the officer, her phone winked out, its job finally done. Had that happened on the trail, she'd have been forced to walk her bike, as she couldn't see her hand in front of her face. Imagine navigating the tunnels then.



This screenshot puts it all into perspective. At the right end is the parking lot in Ellenboro. At the left end is Cairo. The point in the middle is where Phoebe had to get my pack. So she rode 26 miles, 10 of them in the dark. This is not the first time, and won't be the last, that my kids humble, thrill and amaze me. More and more, they do things I know I couldn't.




We got home around 11:30 pm. I ran a hot Epsom bath for Phoebe; her hands were aching from holding the handlebars and the phone/flashlight so tightly. Well, her whole body was aching. She got her core temperature so high in the bath she couldn't go to sleep. Which is probably OK, for what was about to happen. Our night was about to get even weirder. I had fought myself to sleep around 12:30, and she was just turning off her light at 2:25 AM, when someone pounded hard on our front door. Silence. Then pounded again, nine times. Terrified, we both arrived at the front door together to find a police officer on the porch. You never, ever want to see that. He said he'd had a 911 hangup that traced to our address, for  William Thompson. Phoebe and I both gasped--had something happened to Liam? I thought fast. "What number did it come from?" 

The number he named had been Bill's old cellphone number. It wasn't Liam's. Phoebe called Liam just to make sure; he was fine (still up!) and as mystified as we were. We could only assume Bill's number had been reassigned by now, and whoever has it had made the call...but why does it still trace to our address?  Needless to say, neither of us slept much after that, much as we needed to. 

Well, Phoebe, you wanted an adventure. Be careful what you wish for!

I could not be prouder of you, my lion-hearted girl. I want you on my team come the Zombie Apocalypse!



 

The WarblerFall

Friday, July 29, 2022

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 What was your Pandemic Project? Did you clean closets? Learn how to make sourdough? Pick up an instrument? 

Mine was inventing the perfect bird bath, something so irresistible that it would draw birds from the woods into the yard: birds I don't usually get to see.  I've been thinking about this problem ever since I learned the Magnificent Bird Spa was no longer in production, which was sometime around 2011. Oh, have I had fun with this wonderful creation. There was nothing like it on a hot summer day! But now it's old and the resin-based material it's made of is getting more brittle every year.  I felt a need to find an alternative, for the inevitable time when it breaks. 


Every time I went to a garden center or a wild bird supply store, I looked for something like the Spa. I looked online, again and again, for years. I never found it. Somehow the manufacturers of bird baths have never gotten the memo from wild birds about what they like. I knew it was up to me to come up with it.

I wanted to invent a bubbling bird fountain that would be affordable and easy to clean. Much as I loved the Magnificent Bird Spa, it was expensive ($350 in 2007), and it was a pretty big production to take apart and clean the basin and its 8 gallon reservoir. There had to be an easier way to get water to my birds.

 I also wanted to build something that would appeal to small forest birds like warblers, vireos and tanagers: something smaller, shallower, and noisier. The sound of trickling water is how birds find a bathing spot. A light went off in my head when I found a large, shallow basin at White's Mill, my favorite garden store in Athens, Ohio. I bought two, brought them home, and commenced thinking about how to create a fountain around them. By midsummer 2021 I had it figured out, but I kept tinkering with the components until I got it just right. I set it in the shady bed below my studio window and was thunderstruck by the action it got that late summer and fall. Warblers, vireos, tanagers, gnatcatchers, kinglets--they were coming right up to the studio window, enticed by the trickling water music below.

Black and white warbler (imm. female)

A fall-plumaged scarlet tanager bathes.

An immature white-crowned sparrow takes a sip.

Those of you who read this blog or follow my social media feeds know that I share things that make me happy. Uncharacteristically, I kept this close to my chest, posted not a single photo of my perfect bird fountain anywhere. I knew I had something very special here, but I wasn't sure how to make it available. I had an idea that it would be worth paying a little something to access my plans. It took my awesome friend Kristi Dranginis (originator of For the Love of Birds Festival) to show me what I needed to do to make it accessible to everyone. I'd never even heard of a one-page website, but I have now!

And so I developed a pitch for my idea and condensed into an elevator speech. Then I wrote a script for the video and put together the plans for constructing the fountain, with detailed instructions and photos. And in September 2021, my friend Shila and I spent a wild afternoon making an instructional video featuring me demonstrating exactly how to make this bird bath. It was really fun, and I learned so much about how to develop, package and pitch an idea.  The whole experience was a crash course in online marketing, and it's really rewarding to see how it's being received.

I call it The WarblerFall. Because of the work and money I've put into developing the idea and its website, there is a modest fee to access the instructional video and detailed guide. I think you'll enjoy the step-by-step instructional video, which brings you right into my garden, and I guarantee you'll have fun making your own bubbling bird bath, at a very reasonable cost. The whole thing can be constructed without tools for under $60, but oh, the bathing bird beauty bang for the buck! Check it out at warblerfall.com

 I took a bunch of photos in the last couple of days to show birds enjoying it.
We're moving into late summer migration time, and I am going to get absolutely nothing done because this water feature is right outside my studio window and there is literally always something going on out there.
It's prime WarblerFall time! 

The 2021 iteration of my WarblerFall was on the ground. And that is really best, if there are no marauding mammals around. But the chipmunks in my yard developed the intensely annoying behavior of trying to jump the birds while they bathed, so the new setup looks like this. 



I put a LOT of flat rocks in the basin to give pools of varying depths. I absolutely LOVE playing with the rocks to create the prettiest water music I can!



Take yesterday, July 28, for example. Phoebe and I were watching two cardinals bathing together, and not one but THREE Kentucky warblers showed up! 



They peered down at the fountain, chased each other through the birches, and suddenly a worm-eating warbler appeared, also attracted by the trickling water!


To see these glorious denizens of the deep woods drawn into my yard, only inches away from my studio window, was such an affirmation, such a thrill! This is why I had to share my invention. 


But it took a newly fledged brown-headed cowbird to demonstrate all the delights of the WarblerFall. 
First, it stood in a shallow pool, squatted, and bathed there. 


Then it tried another shallower pool


Escalating, it stuck its chest right into the flow. 


I have never seen a bird stick its head right into the outflow


but this little cowbird was living large. 


I can't wait to see what late summer and fall migration brings to my WarblerFall. On October 13, 2021, I had my first-ever ruby-crowned kinglet come to bathe! Her bath was too quick for me to capture, but I got the tiny customer right before she took a dip.


If you'd like to see what all the fuss is about, and watch me going all Bobby Flay on you with a rapid-fire two-minute pitch, check it out at  



I've also made a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WarblerFall
where some fun stuff happens.


Brass tacks. If you decide to take the plunge and purchase the WarblerFall plans, and you don't get a welcome email right back, CHECK YOUR SPAM FILE. Many email programs see the links in my welcome email and toss it into spam/junk. 

If you still can't find it, email me at juliezickefooseATgmailDOTcom
and I'll be happy to set you up.

Thomas: A Very Useful Baby

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

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I've been reaching into my photobag, grabbing the sweetest moments as I find them. One of my trips during the New River Birding and Nature Festival in May 2022 was blessed by the presence of a young mother named Mary Luckini and her son Thomas, who was enjoying being toted around in a pack and frequently set free to mess about with pebbles and sticks on his own. I flashed back to Liam when I saw him head straight for a huge pile of gravel. Why, he could throw rocks there all day long! Just feed him and change him every now and then and he's good to go!

And it is here that I have to pause and marvel at the richness of blogging; it can be a window into others' hearts and lives. You see, I took some photos of Thomas that melted my heart, and Mary asked if I might send them to her. Oh yes, indeed I will!

Thomas is a little sobersides, with a steady and appraising gaze, who stole my heart immediately. 


He found some swallowtails puddling in a damp spot, as they do in West Virginia in May.


Slowly and very quietly he approached.  Low and slow, as we butterfliers say.  Well, he couldn't much help being so low! I always advise folks not to let their shadow fall across a butterfly--they'll take off. But the butterflies didn't mind when Tommy's shadow fell across them. Even his shadow was gentle.


There's something about baby hands that gets me--that little index finger, set to point.


The wonder and surprise--and restraint-- in those open palms.


The butterflies went about their business, untroubled by this sweet elfin person who came to sit down in peace with them. 


He never disturbed them. He just watched, occasionally pointing, then clasping his hands to his chest. 
He knew without being told that he mustn't startle or bother them. That right there is a Very Useful Baby. 


He's certainly had an amazing start, carried around like a joey in his mama's pouch, wherever she's gone. Hiking the Appalachian Trail at 34+ weeks, Mary was readying Thomas for the rhythmic cadence of her boots on the trail.

And when he arrived, she never left him behind. 

 This photo and the four following, all courtesy Mary Luckini.


After all, she was packing everything he needed.  She had breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. They were free as two birds. I'll never forget the joy of traveling with Phoebe and Liam as infants, when I had everything they needed. 



Mary tells me Tommy's favorite word right now is "OUTSIDE." Look at that impish smile! What a traveling buddy he is!


Mary and Thomas and his lovely grandmother Karen Luckini graced us with their presence at the New River Birding and Nature Festival in May 2022. That gal to the far left? Writer/avian rehabber/environmental activist Katie Fallon. Then there's Mary and Thomas in his casbah. Jessica Vaughan, BWD's Editor, is next (heart eyes emoji). That woodsman in the orange hat? That's Geoff Heeter, one of the founders and the stalwart of the NRBNF, 20 years strong. A lovely festivalgoer, then our friend Scott Jones, and bird trainer and educator Cheyenne Carter.  And the New River Gorge Bridge, currently the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the US, and the third highest bridge in the country, behind them all. A wonderful bunch!



This photo cracks me up. Click on it and you'll see the gaze Tommy fixed me with each time we met during the festival. 
I think my goofy grin set him off. He could tell I really wanted to get my hands on him.


About that richness that you get when you scratch the surface of others' lives: In corresponding with Mary, I learned that she and her husband had to work extremely hard to create Thomas. Seven years and the miracle of in-vitro fertilization finally gifted them with their beloved little boy. Imagine. 


Seeing a child so dearly wanted, so beloved, and being exposed to such beauty and richness at every turn moved me deeply. This is how a naturalist begins. 

Thomas, I hope I get to see you and your wise and wonderful mama and grandma as the years roll by. I'll look for a little boy with binoculars and an unblinking gaze. You are one lucky little sugarbean.





Phoebe is 26! News from Home (and Abroad)

Monday, July 11, 2022

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Dear Phoebe,

I thought you should know the important news from Indigo Hill. Through the magic of FaceTime, I happen to know that at this very moment you are stretched out on a beach on La Gomera beside your beloved, Oscar. And I know there's no place in the world you'd rather be, and that makes my heart happy. 

However, you should know that the liatris is conspiring with the butterfly weed to incite a riot of color.


And farther up the meadow, there is a gray-headed coneflower insurrection going on in the New England aster patch. Two years ago I scattered some seed (it didn't seem like too much at the time) from my Wisconsin prairie friend Laurie, and now LOOK at what it's done!


As long as the purple asters come through in the fall, I will breathe easy. But this seems a bit excessive. Do you think I should be worried?


Also. I took a look at the yard and decided the birches, beaten down by ice storms two winters ago, were a bit much. So I spent a good half day with my chainsaw, whose original blade is so dull it spews fine sawdust all over me. Time to break out the spare.
Don't worry. I didn't fall off the ladder. That's not why I'm writing.


It's just to tell you that every once in awhile you have to take a look at your yard and decide what to do about it. Trees grow over and lean and bend, and sometimes they need to be brought back into line.

You'll know this once you've had a yard with trees in it for more than a couple years.


Sometimes you have to let the light in. I've taken off half of the birch to the left


and one whole trunk to the right


and nobody would notice it but me and the Stewartia tree, which had 40 blossoms on it this June. 
We notice the light and air and visibility, and we are grateful for that dull chainsaw.
After this I tackled  the giant prune hedge and fought it and its thorns away from the garden again. Liam helped. Awful job, no photos.

In prettier news, the crape myrtle is the biggest it's ever been. Even though it stayed in the single digits for about a week of nights in January, it didn't die back! So I had to tie it up when its blossoms got laden with rain. It's been the MOST beautiful, lush, well-watered summer I can remember. Not too much. Just right. 



That silly crape myrtle is my little piece of Richmond, brought to Ohio. Curtis gives a sniff to the drainpipe in the patio bed every time he passes by. There might be a chipmunk in there.

    
We leave the lawn chairs set up by the evening primroses, because we're out there every single night, winding down, watching them. I'm going to gather their seed this fall, and sell it this winter, as this plant seems to be hard to come by. I got my plants from Elsa, as you know. The best kind of heirloom. Anyway, they're more beautiful this year than they've ever been. They've had plenty of water, and we groom the old flowers off them every evening. You'd be proud of us.


I realize that this deeply bucolic and virtually news-free letter from home may be of interest only to someone who cares about flowers and trees as much as your mother does (that would be you!)

 I'm sending it out as a reminder of what's happening here.  Your life is also full of flowers, especially today!


For once, you get to be with your true love on your birthday, and what could be better than that? He's taking such tender care of you!


I took these screenshots as we chatted this morning (afternoon for you). You and Oscar were headed to the beach! I can't imagine. We're at least 8 hours from a coast. 


You told me about how much Aráfo has matured


that he's not nearly as much of a pain as he used to be. That's good. He is such a sweet, cute gentleman.




and he has eye makeup that makes him look worried all the time. I don't think he worries much.


I can't tell you what joy you and Oscar bring me, in those too-short weeks you get to be together. Just look at my tiny face in the lower right corner! About splitting with a grin.

Don't you think it's time Oscar came to America?


For good?


I certainly do. I know, it'll probably take a year to get all the clearance, a visa and a green card, but you two have started pushing the boulder up the hill, and I couldn't be prouder of you.



Anyway, honey, there's a little pile of presents waiting for you when you come home, and I wrapped them yesterday so at least they'd be ready on your birthday. Even though you've still got some time with Oscar on La Gomera, that basalt rock way out there in the Atlantic Ocean.

Speaking of rocks...that castle out there on the sea-carved point off Bilbao, España, is some setting
for the best birthday present of them all: a life spent with your Oscar Bello Goya. 



Any time I want to remember what love looks like, I have only to look at you and Oscar. 
Thank you for that. Some birthday you're having! 

Love you and Oscar so much,


Mai
 

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