Category Archives: birds

The darling juncos flew in.

Last month a man I barely know came into town and put a new roof on my playhouse. It’s a long story involving his grief and pain, and it was a long week while he was in town, but all in all it seems to have been a good thing for him who has been a carpenter his whole life to have this familiar but minor project to focus on.

When I bought the playhouse on Craigslist four years ago I think the red plastic roof may have been freshly painted by the previous owner; after the first winter it was peeling, and two more repaintings have also not lasted. For a long time I’ve planned to replace the plastic roof with something paintable, but couldn’t find the right person to help me, someone with the vision and the know-how and the time.

Carpenter Friend heard about my remodel and didn’t understand that I already have a team of younger people for that project; when he arrived from Idaho with his tools I pointed him toward the playhouse, and within a few days he had put on a real roof. He was going to paint it, too, but I could tell he was ready to move on, so I did that part myself.

This all happened at the perfect time, because somehow I was mostly available for that week, to listen to the stories from a long life, and to admire the work. Also, I am going to replant my matching strawberry barrels this fall, and will put a coat of the same color on them before I do. There’s a little trim piece that is supposed to go on the front of the playhouse, and which I haven’t yet figured out how to adapt without plastic. So the area above the door looks a bit plain still.

This month I want to put a coat of sealer on the rest of the playhouse, and then it will be ready for winter. After a cold snap that was a warning call, the weather has been milder again, but I don’t think we’ll be having the windows wide open anymore — the night breezes are too chill. The sunflowers continue in their enthusiastic blooming behavior, and the repeating irises never stop! I accidentally broke one off today so it is in the house.

High winds brought in the cooler temps, and blew bushels of redwood twigs cascading down from the tree behind me. You can see them all over the place in the photo above. I haven’t had the energy or time to rake them up.

It was because of their mess I had the little broom out where the Oregon junco could pose near it. Of course he didn’t pose – he and his friend only hopped about on the patio and this is as close as I could get to them, through the window in my kitchen and family room. Yesterday I gave up getting a picture at that distance, and began to look for pictures online, but they were not my juncos; this morning I managed to get (fuzzy) images that are much as I usually see them, with their signature little black caps being the most distinctive feature for sure. My husband first told me who they were, long ago, and it’s always exciting when they arrive in the garden and hang around the neighborhood for months.

Bit by bit little things are done toward the remodeling. Lots of demolition, and bags and bags of old ceiling and sheet rock are collecting in my utility yard, for the construction guys to carry off, soon I hope: that’s where I want to put the firewood I am waiting to order. But the area in front of my wood stove is currently taken by bathroom vanity parts ready to be installed. Here is one picture of actual construction going on, but it is only a small cabinet that needed assembling.

The fig harvest continues gloriously. I’m giving them away, and finding recipes that I can use to turn them into something freezable to use later. This picture below is of Honey Fried Figs, a simple sauteing in butter and honey, which makes a kind of preserve to serve on its own or as a topping for ice cream. 🙂

I also have my cook’s eye on a Martha Stewart fig cake. I did try a fig clafoutis but it did not please the palate, however pretty it looked just out of the oven.

My gardener’s eye will have plenty to keep it happy in the days to come, and the sorts of things I find outdoors are more certain to be satisfying to the whole person. So, out I go again, and maybe I’ll find a few moments to sit still and watch juncos for a while.

The birds and I find plenty.

A titmouse was clinging to the topmost branch of the juniper bush out front, when I came out the front door to take a walk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here before. I told him that I had some nice food that he would like in the back garden, and he should go try it out. He did fly off in that direction… Of course, this is not his picture at right.

I’ve been worrying about the crows that only this year have touched down on my property and pecked around a bit on the patio. Will they frighten off the songbirds? Will they start poking and plowing in my flowerpots the way they did on Joy’s deck in Monterey? They were one topic I discussed with the nice man at the Wild Birds Unlimited store I visited yesterday.

As we talked he pointed to the crows and doves and woodpeckers feeding outside the picture window at the front of the shop, and said that in his experience a few crows do not discourage smaller birds. He said that crows eat anything, so there was nothing I could leave out of my feeders that might be specially attracting them. I looked over the list of which seeds and nuts the various birds like, and brought home a slight variation on what I’d been buying elsewhere.

This afternoon I put a few peanuts with the sunflower seeds in the tray feeder, and it wasn’t long before a chickadee flew down and immediately flew off with one in his beak. Though lately I haven’t seen large flocks of finches and juncos swooping through the garden the way they did in early spring, a goldfinch did eat sunflower “chips” from my chapel feeder today, and at the same moment a few feet away the hooded oriole drank from the hummingbird feeder.

I haven’t tried in the last year or so to do much bird photography, but I found these pictures I did get when my new landscaping was still only sleeping and creeping. The background is much changed, but the birds look similar; probably at least the orioles are the same pair that have “come back every year from Costa Rica or wherever they overwinter,” as the man at the store led me to believe.

The chickadee only let me get close enough for a picture because — what I didn’t know at the time — he was concerned at my own threatening proximity to the birdhouse where chickadee eggs were incubating that year. No one seems to be nesting in that house so far this spring, though we saw bluebirds checking it out many weeks ago.

The garden is wet. We’ve had drenching rain day and night, with more to come. It’s strange to have this much rain in May; normally we’re getting the last of our garden planting done. There was supposed to be a break of an hour or two, which was my chance to get out on the paths. I was glad to be wearing my raincoat because plenty of little showers came down after all before I reached home again.

I have still been drinking in the roses wherever I find them. If they are within reach I will bend over and find out whether their olfactory gifts are rich enough to keep me standing there inhaling and blocking the sidewalk. This white one just down the block is quite plain in the color department, but it always makes me stop a long time to receive its “hello” with  my nose.

I walked into moist currents of other delicious smells this afternoon, and once looked up wondering what it was. I saw this honeysuckle — not what I was smelling — and though it seemed to have had a bit of its scent temporarily washed away, its posture was impeccable.

The sweetness I got from it this time was all in my memory, how when my granddaughter Annie was being pushed out of the womb, and I was taking care of her brothers, we came with trowels and a bucket to dig cuttings from this very patch to plant in my previous garden. That was seventeen years ago this month, and I’ll be attending her graduation from high school in a couple of weeks 🙂

The birds seem to like feeding in the rain. The male goldfinch sat on top of the penstemon for a few minutes as it blew in the wind, while rain poured down. Eventually he came up to the feeder for his seeds. Even now when it’s almost too dark, I can see the doves and house finches flying in for one more bedtime snack.

Soggy or not, whether full or empty of birds, my garden is my heart’s nourishment. I have missed the garden lately because of two aspects of my remodeling project. First, it takes time at this point to peruse options for flooring, paint, and bath fixtures. But the second distraction is greater: it’s my own attitude about these tasks. I don’t feel adequate to them, I don’t like making these decisions alone, etc. etc. I have worked myself into a tizzy more than once, and have lain awake with my mind aswirl, murmuring about these “problems.”

With the help of two priests, the prayer of the Optina Elders, and quite a bit of listening to the Psalter over the last few days, I have calmed myself and am trying to remember that God is with me at the paint store and helping me make decisions, just as He was with me in my waiting for the architect during Lent. All will be well. This is the Prayer of the Optina Elders:

O Lord, grant unto me that with Thy peace
I may greet all that this day is to bring.
Grant unto me grace to surrender myself completely to Thy holy will.
In every hour of this day instruct and guide me in all things.
Whatever tidings I may receive during this day,
do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly
in the firm belief that Thy holy will governs all.
Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say.
When unforeseen things occur, let me not forget that all is sent by Thee.
Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward everyone,
that I may bring confusion and sorrow to no one.
Bestow on me, O Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day
and to bear my part in its events.
Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe,
to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love.

This afternoon my neighbor Kim was going to come down to look at carpet samples on site, which my dear daughters can’t do. Kim couldn’t come today, so instead I took a walk, and watched birds, and I even did some more plant identification from a picture that Soldier sent me from Colorado, of what I think are bluebells.

Months ago I had started reading a book that Pearl gave me, Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively. Today I was so relaxed and focused that I had the good sense to know that it was okay, even good, for me to sit and read it, and I am loving it. I don’t know if it or the titmouse was the icing on the cake of this peaceful and satisfying day, but the book is more sanitary, so let’s go with that. A splendid cake, tasty icing, fattening only to the soul.

Jamie and a jay.

Hailstorm, thunder and lightning, only two days ago. Oooh, my tender plum blossoms!

The next day, I cleaned the bird feeders of seed that had sprouted or turned to nut butter. This morning they are both full again with two types of seed, and a blue jay came to eat black oil sunflower seeds. I hadn’t seen a jay in months.

Here is a little house finch I watched through the window for a full ten minutes last week, as he sat alone on the feeder, not eating, while his chapel perch swung gently in the breeze, in and out of the dappled sunlight.

Maybe he was debating about whether he was hungry enough to bother with the inferior food behind him. Did he see me through the window, was he pleading with me to freshen the offerings?

I wonder if he was the same fellow who flew right to the screen door yesterday and clung to the rail, seemingly trying to peer in and locate the human he held responsible for the mess of the tray feeder especially. Well, today everyone is jubilant, doves, juncos, finches, the whole bunch of my friends.

Pippin and family are here to celebrate Jamie’s birthday which was earlier this week. He is the boy who waited to be born until his mother had been able to participate fully in saying good-bye to his Grandpa Glad. It was the day after my husband’s funeral that he came into the world, and I had let you all know about those events with this post, “Death and Life in Springtime.” So, Jamie is four years old! We have lots of good things planned for the weekend, about which I might share afterward, including a visit to Grandpa’s grave.

“They say” we will have a few sunny days now before more rain comes. When I shopped for the bird seed yesterday I bought a couple more plants which I will set out as soon as possible. Here’s a picture of all the new things, with a couple of old things:

bacopa and calendula

And below, the ginger-scented geranium I bought at the big farm festival last summer:

It’s been hanging out in the greenhouse all winter. When it began to bloom I wanted to have it in the house where I can see it all the time and get a whiff now and then.

Happy Spring to all my dear readers and friends!

The sweetest flower is here.

This morning I wished I had gloves on my hands, as I looped my loop through the fog that was lifting as I went. It was the time when many mothers are walking their kindergarteners to school and pushing a younger child in a stroller. Middle-schoolers congregate in the saddles of their bicycles, and then speed off at the last minute to get to class on time. I encountered four neighbors with three dogs, Nino, Corky and Maverick.

And flowers! Maybe because the edges of the walking paths were sheared in September, a few Queen Anne’s Lace flowers have opened near the ground. This thistle caught my eye, the first I had seen all year, contrasting in color and development with pyracantha already in the berry stage. Above it, the shrub with yellow flowers is one I don’t know, but it looks like it may originate in the southern hemisphere… I say that only because the leaves remind me of bottlebrush. Does anyone know it?

Less exotic is the lower creek path and the creek, seen from the bridge, my “same ol'” favorite scene.

Birds are very busy in the runaway tangles of berries, vines and ripening seeds, such as in the patch of sunflowers in my front yard. I wish I knew who the little ones are that flit about there every day and fly away as soon as I get near.

I am listening to One Wild Bird at a Time by Bernd Heinrich, a man after my own heart, who spends days and weeks at a time in every season, tracking the behavior of birds in the Maine forest around his a cabin. He climbs trees to look into nests of woodpeckers and digs in the snow to count the fecal pellets of grouse, keeping detailed records in hopes of solving what to him are fascinating Why questions of the avian communities and society.

I also find this kind of detective work much more compelling to engage in or to read about than the kind of mystery novel many people enjoy, Agatha Christie or P.D. James or the current favorites. I don’t have the time Mr. Heinrich does to follow the owls and nuthatches through the woods, or to befriend and tame a starling; I also don’t have the vast background knowledge of birds and insects that informs his research, so I really appreciate his sharing the joy of his lifelong love in action.

Busy as my days have been, full as my house already is with books, when I returned a book to the drop slot at the library I succumbed to the temptation to look into the five ! 4-foot cube containers of books out in front, evidently what was left over from a book sale, books that were intended for thrift stores but — the truck had broken down, or what? We who were rummaging through only knew that the library staff had told us to take what we wanted, and yes, for free.

Wouldn’t you also have at least looked? I don’t know how much time I spent there, and I don’t know if it was the right thing to do… It was a strange situation, to be outdoors where several of the people were chatting as they tried to dig down at least a couple of feet toward who-knew-what treasures, the deepest of which were completely out of reach, unless someone wanted to dumpster dive.  One woman said, “These are some great books!” and later I heard, “These are all worthless.” Another seeker examined one volume after another and said to whoever would listen, “I never look a gift book in the mouth,” which seemed not the right proverb for what she was actually doing.

I talked to a third-grade girl who had come to the library with her grandfather. I showed her a few books I thought she might like, including Lemony Snicket and Beverly Cleary. She said about Cleary, “I only read the new books,” and told me she was looking for books for her baby sister.

I still had a bag of books in my car that I had taken from a box at church, left by a friend who used to sell books online and now is joining a convent. The picture above shows most of what I brought home from the two sources, less a couple of cookbooks I’d already put on the shelf; the book at the bottom right with the embossing worn off is How Green Was my Valley.

The Art of Loving I have an interest in because I had read it on my own in high school, and then at an interview for a college scholarship the interviewer wanted me to talk about why I liked it; I was completely unprepared for that and dumb. (I did get the scholarship anyway.) Many of these books I chose thinking of the possible interest of various of my very large and growing family. But I suspect I will end up giving at least a few to the thrift store myself!

I’ve cooked a couple of new things lately, first, some homemade dry cereal as inspired by Cathy and adapting the method she uses, developed by The Healthy Home Economist. I’ve made two batches now, and I really like it. I decreased the amount of maple syrup in my second batch and used both chickpea flour and rice bran in my recipe, and it was still good 🙂 Cathy’s picture made it look very good, and mine doesn’t seem as appealing visually, but here it is.

My housemate Susan taught me this summer to enlist the aid of Saint Phanourios when I lost something important.  The second time it was my keys, including the remote key to my car, that I lost, and when I found them I decided to bake the traditional cake in his honor, for both findings. It’s a yummy spice cake that Greeks might eat at any time, baked with orange juice and zest, and walnuts.

I was anticipating the arrival of grandsons Liam, Laddie, and Brodie this week, and decided to revive my traditional Oatmeal Bread recipe to serve them, which was our sandwich, toast, snacking bread for twenty years or so when we fed a houseful of us. For a time Pippin was the baker. We had to turn out a batch of five loaves a little more often than once a week. (Not quite as often we added a batch of the sourdough bread.)

This is Liam giving a sniff to the loaves that had only just come out of the oven when they arrived, with their mom and tiny baby sister — ta da! — Clara. She is my favorite fall flower of all.