TRIBUTE TO THE DETERMINED SQUIRREL – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Tribute

When I went to buy my bird feeders, some feeders were listed as “squirrel-proof.”

After I read the reviews, it proved what I pretty much knew: No feeder is squirrel-proof. What the feeder I bought said was that though squirrels would get to it, the feeder was sturdy enough to still be a feeder after the squirrel finished eating.

Squirrels really eat. They get up on the feeder, usually the flat feeder. It’s easier for them being nothing but a large, flat hanging piece of wood with a screen on the bottom.  Today, though, it was full of frozen sleet and I don’t think any of the critters could get into it. I was up early because I had to call UMass Hospital and that’s always a lot more effort than it ought to be.

I called once and clearly whoever I was talking to didn’t know anything, so … I called again. After which, I called my current cardiologist. I got the piece of paper my cardiologist sent. But it was a release to give the hospital access to all the material they already had.

I called back and I said, “How am I supposed to fill this form out, especially because I already transferred all my medical information to you folks more than two years ago?”

I finally got transferred to the administrator of the cardiologist group and it all got straightened out in about two minutes. All I needed was to talk to someone who actually knew what was going on.

She told me not to worry, that the cardiologists all had access to pacemaker checking equipment and it wasn’t in a separate lab (as had been true both at Beth Israel and with my previous cardiologist), but was in the doctor’s office. I could decide if I to do my regular pacemaker checkups in person or via telephone.

Telephone? You can do it by REGULAR and not a special smartphone. Just a regular telephone connected on WiFi.

I knew it was possible, but I figured it required some special equipment I didn’t have — or at least, an application I would need to install. But apparently, any telephone will do the job. Isn’t that amazing?

And when she finished explaining this — which really made me feel a whole lot better — she gave me HER DIRECT TELEPHONE NUMBER.

I said: “I’ve had the hardest time trying to get in touch with people at UMass.”

“We have far too many phone numbers,” she agreed. “But this one will get you directly to me. I work 6am to 1pm, so if you call in the afternoon, leave a message and I promise to get right back to you!”

Music to my ears. Truly, after the fiasco with AT&T (they actually sent me ” come back, we have deals!” last night proving they really don’t get it at all), to have someone give me a number I can call so I can talk to someone who  knows what’s going on and can give me an answer.


Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Please choose your favorite Deo or whichever individual, creation, or thing to whom (or which) you joyfully offer heartfelt gratitude. In my life, this varies dramatically depending on everything.


Anyway, that’s why I was up early and that’s how, having finished talking to the Cardiology Administrator (bless you, my dear) I wandered into the kitchen. I had brewed coffee and toasted an English muffin — and the window to the porch was easily visible from the kitchen and dining room.

There, wrapped around the hanging feeder, was a hungry squirrel. Eating. Not easily because getting seeds through the screen works better with a beak than a jaw … but he was doing it.

The squirrel looked at me. I looked at the squirrel. He went back to eating black sunflower seeds which all the larger birds from woodpeckers to doves love — and that includes squirrels.

I picked up my camera and took pictures and he moved around to make sure I had photographed his “good” side. I’m not sure he has a bad side. He hung in every possible position from which a big squirrel can hang from a feeder. He did, I noticed, have a nasty gash in the back of his neck, as if a hawk had tried to grab him. It was scabbed over, but it must have really hurt. I was glad he got a meal at my deck today.

Eventually, I got pictures from every angle and I wanted coffee. The toaster had popped. I wanted my muffin while it was hot.

So this is a tribute, a paeon to the determination of our creatures of the woods. Despite our destruction of so much of their habitat, they find a way to survive. Some of us put out some food for them because we think it’s the least we owe them. We can’t save it all, but at least we can make sure they get the occasional decent meal.

Here’s to the determination of squirrels who can always find a way to get a meal out of any bird feeder. Here’s to squirrels who escape from the hawk and to hawks who hunt the squirrels. Because that’s the way it works in the wild.

WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE? – Marilyn Armstrong

“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers usually know the answer and non-photographers don’t think to ask. It gave me pause to think about the arts and what they mean to us.

I remember when I was teaching tech writing to graduate students and someone asked me “How do you know what to write?”

I was flummoxed. How did I know what to write?

I just knew. I never thought about it. I sometimes had to struggle for finding the right organization for a document, but I never failed to know what had to be there.

This flower really is pink!

So I went home and asked Garry “How do you know what film to shoot or what script to write?” He looked at me like I had two heads, so I explained what had happened in class and how I realized I knew what to write because … I just knew. Apparently, it was the same for him. You see the story and you know what you need to do with it.

I realized if you needed to ask, you were probably in the wrong place.

To me, it’s obvious why a picture was taken: the photographer saw something: light, shadow, image, color. Something spoke to the photographer and said: “Shoot me.”

I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows.

A Junco and the Cardinal

If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

 

You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.”

Maybe this is true for some stuff, but I don’t see how it can apply to the arts. Or sports. You need to be taught, but you also need some ability. I spent years trying to learn to ice skate and I got to the point where I didn’t look too bad … but I was never really good at any of it, not even the simplest things. I had years of training and it was a complete waste of time, effort, and money.

 

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer.

Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. It’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some chance of success. Not everyone has a talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something.

The challenge is determining what it is.

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY … AND HE IS US – Marilyn Armstrong

“We have met the enemy… and he is us”

Walt Kelly – Pogo cartoonists

I receive many inquiries concerning this quote, so perhaps this page will answer most questions, and explain the origins.

From the foreword to The Pogo Papers, Copyright 1952-53

“The publishers of this book, phrenologists of note, have laid hands upon the author’s head and report the following vibrations:

Herein can be found that rare native tree, the Presidential Timber, struck down in mid-sprout by the jawbone of a politician. Pogo returns to the swamp from a couple of political conventions to find his unfinished business being rapidly finished, once and for all, by rough and ready hands.

Pogo – Walt Kelly – 1971

With that much information, you are about as well-equipped as anybody to plunge into the still waters of the Okefenokee Swamp, home of the Pogo people. The activities in this present book were spread shamelessly over the past drought-ridden year. Looking back across the fertilizer, small shafts of green can be seen here and there, while off in the distance wisps of smoke denote the harvesters at work.

Some nature lovers may inquire as to the identity of a few creatures here portrayed. On this point, field workers are in some dispute.

Specializations and markings of individuals everywhere abound in such profusion that major idiosyncracies can be properly ascribed to the mass*. Traces of nobility, gentleness, and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join the battle.

There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.

I receive many inquiries concerning this quote, so perhaps this page will answer most questions, and explain the origins.

— From the foreword to The Pogo Papers, Copyright 1952-53


This was true when he wrote it, it was true when he said the words that we still recite — because they are true. They are even more cogent and urgently needed today.

We have met the enemy … and he is us.

AND THEN IT SNOWED AND WE CANCELLED THE DAY … Marilyn Armstrong

I’m not afraid of winter. I’ve lived most of my life in areas with serious winters, the most serious of all here where we live.

This year, we’ve had the least snow ever recorded for any winter. It isn’t that there wasn’t snow elsewhere. It’s just the storms blew out to sea south of here, or took a path past us and went straight into northern New England and Canada. So we’ve been surrounded by snow, but it missed us.

Snowy Goldfinch

Not this time, though this isn’t exactly a monumental snowfall. In fact, it’s just a nasty little snow and sleet combination. It’s the sort of storm that makes the roads dangerous without adding any of the beauty of the season. It lands on the ground and gets sodden then hard as a rock. Not a really fun kind of snow. You don’t build snow people from this kind of storm.

Woodpecker in snow

What you do is cancel non-critical appointments and wait until they clean up the roads … or the rain takes care of it for you. Regardless, we live on a pretty lethal road. People drive as if their four-wheel-drive cars make them impervious to road conditions. Maybe (only maybe) on snowy roads, but 4WD is no better for driving on ice than any other car.

Goldfinch in snow

No one seems to have conveyed this to the drivers. We have more fatal accidents on this road than on any other road in the state … which is saying something because Massachusetts drivers are not known for their cautious driving habits.

Junco on the railing

Once we decided to not test the roads, we settled down and I made chili, my favorite cold-weather dinner.

As soon as we get “weather,” the birds get crazy as if this is going to be their last seed, ever. The moment it started to snow, there were dozens of birds on the deck, knocking each other off the feeders.

This was one of those days when many beautiful birds appeared and the moment I raised my camera, vanished. Sometimes, I think it’s personal.

This Junco has an attitude!

I’m sure Duke’s excursions into the backyard don’t encourage the birds to get friendlier, though to be fair, he showed no sign of being interested in hunting the birds. He was just curious about them.

Junco atop the Frog

And for the day, my favorite show. There were not only a lot of birds on the deck. They were also very active. Lots of fluttering and flapping as they knocked each other off the feeder. Normally, we’d have filled the feeder today, but it was snowing a bit hard and there are still plenty of seeds left if they’d stop banging each other around!

It’s difficult to show the activity, though. This picture shows it as well as I think I can!

Some fluttering in the snow