Category Archives: birds

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.

 

A bird in the mountains.

I’m in the mountains, at my cabin, with my friend. It’s all lovely.
The sky is free of the smoke that has at times drifted south from Yosemite fires.

Myriah and I drove up earlier this week. She’s never been here before and hadn’t envisioned how remote and un-resortlike it is. We have been talking a lot, catching up on the last 65 years of each other’s lives, including learning how our respective parents met, details of our childhoods and college years and our children’s and grandchildren’s babyhood and wonderfulness.

We’ve been walking, reading, cooking, sitting on the deck. We saw strange large birds our first morning, that we haven’t been able to identify based on our brief glimpse of them thudding into the window and flapping in the trees. That was special enough, to have a close encounter with something other than a Steller’s Jay up here. But this morning while drinking my morning tea I saw a bright bird that quickly flew off, but that had such distinctive colors he was easy to identify from a “Birds of the Sierra Nevada” pamphlet: he is a Western Tanager!

I have no hope of getting a photograph of this fellow, if he even comes near again to sit in a pine tree, so I am showing a picture I found. He has been the highlight of my stay so far. I was as happy as if I had found a bag of gold under a hunk of granite.

 

Walking in the wetlands.

Here in the Land of Perpetual Drought, we still have wetlands! On Sunday Pippin and I found ourselves with a few hours for just the two of us, and we walked in a wetlands wildlife preserve. We saw snowy egrets, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and a few other birds we didn’t know the names of, as we walked a 2-mile loop in the afternoon.

I noticed that the docent-led tours of the site only go through June; is it because the birds aren’t as plentiful after that? Or is it the schoolchildren who are scarce then? In any case, the plants were easier for us to get close to than the birds, although they were also flying around in the wind, so I don’t have many good pictures, but I wanted to share a bit of what I did come home with.

These tall and long-stemmed plants were covered with little overlapping seed pods, in varying stages of maturity and color, from purple like this one to tan and near white. One of them was covered with black and green bugs who seemed to be close relations.

I got one focused profile picture of a green one, and my entomological identification skills are practically non-existent, so I am putting a blurry picture here, too, in case someone who knows things happens by and wants to instruct me.

It’s always a bit sad when one meets a fellow-creature and can’t greet them by name, or learn the name in anticipation of a next meeting. [Tipped off by a commenter below, I will call this fellow “Green Stink Bug” if I meet him again.] But I must prioritize, and probably should care more about that sadness as it pertains to the humans I meet…. Let’s see, what was the name of that woman I met at church Sunday?

The flowers above I had been walking briskly by, thinking unconsciously of Queen Anne’s Lace, and then suddenly I thought, No, they are most likely Parsley Family members, but the flower head is not the same, and they are so short… When I came home I looked up various hemlocks, etc, and didn’t come to any conclusions. 😦

In the process, though, I read on Wikipedia: “Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, is a family of mostly aromatic flowering plants named after the type genus Apium and commonly known as the celery, carrot or parsley family, or simply as umbellifers.” The word umbellifer made me laugh out loud; somehow it sounds like a group who would resist domination by naming and categorizing, and from now on I will just be happy if I can be on terms with them all friendly enough to say, “Hello, Umbellifer!”

Another mystery plant is this one:

…which did not always grow in a mound shape. It has long draping stems with bead-like buds:

At least, they appear to be about to open into flowers. I have to be content to remain ignorant and unknowing about more and more things, it seems, the longer I live.

Pippin is the perfect companion on a walk like this. She doesn’t mind my dullness or my stopping and staring; actually she encourages the latter, as she is always drawing my attention to something I was oblivious to. She had never been to this place before, and it had been years since I went with my husband. We were so glad to be together on a gorgeous and mild summer day in a natural oasis of sorts hidden away from most people — but the birds know!