Category Archives: birds

A happy hodgepodge.

Today was Goldfinch Day in the garden. It could be they were celebrating the rain; I know I am, for several reasons, not least that it’s warmer when it’s raining, and right now I have so many open spaces in my ceiling upstairs, it’s quite drafty when the wind blows through the attic. We had a very cold night and two or three suddenly wintry days.

A male goldfinch announced their event to me when I was standing near the sliding glass door: he flew right up to the glass and hovered, went away, came back two times looking at me. You say he was seeing his reflection? Well, whatever he thought he was doing, he did draw my attention to the dozens of goldfinches feasting, at the feeders and on the ground. I guess when they heard I was catering their convention, everyone wanted to come. I also stayed around so long I was almost late for church. I was trying to be the photographer, but they make it difficult by being so shy. And the rain that made their yellow brighter to my eyes only dulled the scene as a whole, and they look gray against the wisteria leaves.

It took me ages to get dressed for church; I was trying to find the boots I bought last winter, which were stored away “somewhere,” many moons ago when I was so certain that the remodeling project would be complete before another winter came along. I finally found them, and then other parts of my outfit. I am temporarily between dressing tables and have been just wearing the same earrings every day.

Granny Marigold asked how it’s going, the remodeling. A huge thing is that the floors are scheduled to go in a week from tomorrow. That means an incredible number of tasks need to be wrapped up in the next five days, if it’s all to be in the right sequence. My plumber doesn’t see how it can happen. He told me that gently when he was here this evening planning his part of the job; I was really glad he stopped by when he happened to be in the neighborhood. It seems he doesn’t use email anymore, and I’ve been writing him urgent emails. I’ve known him for almost 30 years, since he was in high school; we talked about his parents and his children before he left. He lives with his father and his son, and all three are named James.

Here is the floor plan of the changes in my upstairs. Three new rooms are being created from one very large room that had never had much done with it. Maybe because the original builders saw that they didn’t have enough support to bear any more walls; one unfortunate time drain has been the addition of great beams to floor and ceiling of the room, what the contractor kindly calls “deferred maintenance.”

My master bedroom, bath and closet are at the bottom of the drawing. The new walls are shaded dark. The door has been cut that will open my bedroom to the sewing room, and all the framing is done. A few pictures from the last year, in chronological order:

First, after removing the “popcorn” ceiling, and when they began to add support in the ceiling for the new walls:

The first of my two new windows framed:

How it used to look between my closet and bathroom (although not quite that crooked):

How it looks now:

They have put up plastic film in that new doorway temporarily, but it doesn’t keep out the cold. I’m so glad I thought to hang the sheet on a spring rod, because it’s always warmer on this side when it’s pulled closed.

Below, an example of the extra support that has been added to that end of the room, where the weight of the roof was not resting on enough beams that went straight to the foundation. When the team was looking at the situation and brainstorming what to do, one contractor who works for my contractor said to me, “You’re learning how not to build a house.”

No one worked all these four days of the Thanksgiving weekend. On Thanksgiving I did two things I’d never done before on that day: First I went to Liturgy, which was quite lovely, and I took my new friend Kay who I’ll tell you more about sometime. Afterward, we went shopping at my favorite market that has a vast deli section, to buy a few things to take to the feast we were attending, at the little monastery in town 🙂 I’d never had Thanksgiving at a monastery before, either.

Maybe twenty-five people were there. They are on the old calendar, so they had just begun their fast. Unlike many Orthodox, they do not bend the rules, so we had no turkey, and I didn’t miss it. We had various sorts of fish, and so many many different dishes that people had brought, or the nuns had made. One of my favorite things was the beautiful salad I had bought at the market. It was crunchy and pretty and everyone loved it: Mango and Jicama salad, those two ingredients cut in long matchsticks, with Chinese cabbage and cilantro and strips of sweet red pepper. It was lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Before we came home the nuns gave us boxes and bags of pineapple guavas from their hedge and trees; as we went to our car we saw just how prodigious a crop they have. Theirs are certainly situated better than mine, none of which ripened this year.

I didn’t go to the Christmas bazaar that was at my church on Saturday, but there were a few things left that we could buy today during the agape meal, like this origami garland that I hung as soon as I got home.

After selling items at a discount for a while, they eventually were giving stuff away, at which point I accepted edible goodies, which I have put away for Christmas. Who knows if I’ll find time and concentration to make my own cookies this year.

 

I had many things to carry to my car, and it was raining, so I dug the napkin bag out of the trash to carry stuff in.

How was that for a hodgepodge post? I guess it’s only fitting that I publish at least one that reflects the scattered and nearly chaotic style of my life right now. As soon as those floors go in I will be sharing that bright news immediately!

Dancers in the wind.

My reward for eating breakfast in a civilized manner was a first-row seat at the birds’ impromptu gala. Every species of little bird I’ve ever seen was in my garden at once, even the titmouse and bluebird, and the Bewick’s wren, those three that I rarely see. In whatever direction I looked, one was hopping around a tree or a path or in transit across the garden.

Instead of carrying my bowl to the computer in the corner, I sat at the table looking straight through the glass across the patio where I could take in the chapel feeder rocking more violently than usual in the wind, and the wisteria vine above it, gently dropping long yellow leaves to pirouette all the way down. The birds who like seeds flitted and flew from their chapel to their fountain spa and made up their aerial choreography on the fly, riding the current of every sudden gust and gale.

Sparrows and juncos, house finches and goldfinches, scribbled wild and invisible designs in the air as they swooped from the plum tree down to the birdbath, and to pots under the fountain to peck around for a few seconds among the hens and chicks, and or newly-planted violas.

It seemed that even their pushing each other off their perches was part of the joy of the morning, and occasionally two or three would do a synchronized pattern of fancy footwork that carried them a distance around the fountain’s rim in a chorus line. One sparrow hopped off a pot down to the ground, but made the trip by means of a high arch — maybe just to feel the lift under his wings. Because it’s fun.

Enjoy the weather!

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.