SQUARED UP ARIZONA SUNSETS #12 – Marilyn Armstrong

ON THE SQUARE – ARIZONA SUNSETS #12 – Marilyn Armstrong

I was amazed at the sunsets everywhere in Arizona. Just when I thought they couldn’t be better, the next night would be even more brilliant.

And so it went from one night to the next night, glorious sunset after sunset. In the mountains and even from city streets. Some nights, the sunset was so red it turned the mountains red, too.

Sunset – Phoenix

In the Phoenix mountains

More from the Phoenix Mountains

Sunset reflected on the Superstition Mountains

WINTER BLUES – SWO8 BLUES JAZZ AND A NORTH AMERICAN WINTER – Marilyn Armstrong

 IT’S JANUARY AND WE’VE GOT THE WINTER BLUES!


First published Feb 15, 2015 – YouTube

My collaborator, Leslie Martel of swo8 Blues Jazz did the work. She composed the music and wrote the words. She also put the video together. Posted it to YouTube. I think that’s all the work. I merely supplied photographs.

This video is called Winter Blues, a unique, fun collaboration between me and composer-musician swo8 Blues Jazz.

Mrs. Cardinal

As Aldrich breaks off from Route 146A

Before this longest yet, ironically, shortest (by the length of day) month is finished, I hope to have more winter photographs. It’s not that I love snow. I just want my seasons back where they belong.

WINTER TREES TURN GOLD AT SUNSET #6 – Marilyn Armstrong

WHEN THE SUN TURNS THE WINTER TREES TO GOLD – Marilyn Armstrong

 

When the setting sun turns the trees to gold — in February!

I’ve never seen this before or since. It was February. The trees were bare and we were coming home from Connecticut. The sky was dark with clouds, but there was a shaft of sunlight and it lit up the trees and turned them to gold. I took pictures and I’m glad I did. I’ve never seen this happen before or since.

THE BONUS SQUARES – Marilyn Armstrong

BONUS SQUARES

There is actually a chip in one of my cameras, but there’s nothing much on it yet. I just inserted it. I’ve gotten into the habit of replacing a chip as soon as I remove one so that I won’t have one of those “moments” when you realized you removed the SD card, but forgot to put another one in. This way, I make sure there’s always a usable battery AND and card. Now, if only I would stop panicking every time I can’t see out of my lens and check to make sure I’ve removed the lens cap!

These are the last pictures I took on New Year’s Eve afternoon.

Squirrel on the feeder

Feeding time!

I should mention that both these squirrels were eating at the same time and two more were waiting on the wood railing.

 

I’VE LOOKED AT CLOUDS FROM BOTH SIDES NOW – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Clouds

A 360-degree sunset above the Housatonic River in Connecticut. If you stood on the dock and turned slowly in a circle, there would be a different color and formation of clouds in each bit of turning. I’ve never seen a sky like that before.

And then, there were clouds over the mountains in Arizona … and the mountains in Maine and Vermont. And sometimes, over the shore on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Ogunquit, Maine.

Sunset through clouds on the road home in Massachusetts – February

On the Housatonic River in Connecticut – September

In Jackman, Maine – October

Rockport, Massachusetts – July

Ogunquit, Maine – September

The desert near Phoenix, Arizona – January

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Housatonic River marina with reflections – September

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Housatonic River – September

Photo: Garry Armstrong: Route 146 crossing Chocolog Road in Uxbridge. Golden trees in a February sunset

A strange golden sunset on the way home in Uxbridge – February

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Attean View, Jackman, Maine – October

Sunset over the Phoenix mountains, Arizona – January

LITTLE BIRDS AND WELL-FED SQUIRRELS – Marilyn Armstrong

The squirrels were glued to both feeders. The birds were flying around trying to figure out a way of getting a seed for themselves.

Three little birds sat on the rail below the feeders, periodically looking up to see if, by any chance, one of both squirrels had decided they’d had enough and left. If you look you can see the snow falling. It was the middle of an ice storm.

Meanwhile, overhead, there are some very well-fed squirrels.

No one starves in our yard!

And finally, the birds get a turn!

Note the incoming Goldfinch! Finally, food!

Hungry birds!

Cardinal feeding

SQUIRREL ON A COLD, SNOWY DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Just as I feel the birds need feeding — because when the weather is like this, they starve and freeze pretty fast — I know squirrels need to feed too. I’m doing a pretty good job at letting the squirrels eat all morning and the birds eat in the afternoon.

Maybe they’ll get used to the routine and start to cope without human intervention?

Up to the rail having jumped from the tree

A quick taste?

A few more seeds

Yummy!

Dinner is better eaten upside down!

CANAL BOATING HOLIDAYS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m planning an exciting trip with another couple for next fall. It’s a boating holiday unique to England and parts of Europe, called canal boating. Everything about the English branch of this subculture is different from what most Americans think of when they think about boating.

The boat used is called a narrowboat. It’s like a long, thin steel barge designed for use as a houseboat. It can be 45, 55 or 65 feet long but it is always only 7- feet wide. It has a small diesel engine that can go up to 5 miles an hour. You steer with a single rudder in the back of the boat. This would not work well on the ocean or a lake, but you are floating on a totally calm, 20-foot wide canal that gently winds its way through the countryside of England.

Tom and me on our first canal boat

The boats are usually painted with colors and designs specific to the canals. They are surprisingly spacious, with a living area and kitchen, full bathroom and sleeping areas. The boats sleep from 2-10 people. Some have a separate eating area, like a banquette but the smaller boats just have a table in the living room.

Interior of our canal boat

Tom and I have spent three weeks on the canals of England for two excursions. Both trips were just us, which is easily doable and enjoyable. Many retired couples in England buy a canal boat and choose to live on the canals during the open season from April through October.

However, this kind of traveling lends itself to traveling with other couples or groups because there are plenty of tasks for everyone. My first canal boat experience was in 1987 with four adults and four children ages two, seven, eight and nine.

We brought bikes so anyone could cycle to a nearby town or through the countryside. The advantage of having at least 3 adults is that there are many locks throughout the canal system, which take physical work to get through.

Tom on our second canal boat

One person has to drive the boat into the narrow lock and it goes a lot faster when you have two adults manning the lock-machinery. It can be done with one person on the ground but it’s slow and tiring for the lock operator.

The experience of just puttering down the canal is peaceful and relaxing. You can go through all kinds of scenery. There are suburban stretches with beautiful, manicured homes along the canal; there are areas of farmland with fields and cows, sheep and horses. There are woods and marshes as well as more urban areas. Each route is different. This is a vast canal system that wends its way through much of England and Wales.

Once you are on the water, you’re fully independent on the canal. You can do what you want when you want. You can pull over and stake the boat down whenever you choose to eat, relax, sleep, walk along the picturesque canal or enjoy the local sights. There are numerous pubs to stop at for a drink or a meal (the food is really good).

There are nearby towns to walk around or shop for food. There are also museums and other local curiosities that are worth a stop. We toured the Wedgewood china factory, which was fascinating. We also saw one of the rare underground ‘bomb shelters’ from the 1950s which was designed to house the local government in case of a nuclear war.

When you pull over to stop, you’ll usually find other boats and end up chatting with other boaters. There are also lots of dogs and cats on canal boats and they are also very friendly. We had a cat come into our boat and sleep with us one night.

Driving the boat and manning the locks are a form of constant activity for people who like to be doing something all the time. But there’s also plenty of downtime for those who prefer to put their feet up and relax with a good book or listen to the fabulous BBC4 radio station. It has all kinds of programming, much like our TV stations. News, talk shows, game shows, dramas, sitcoms, continuing series, all high quality.

For the nature lover, you’re usually in the middle of nowhere but for the homebody, you’re always ‘home’ in your boat.

Canal locks

If you are traveling with other folks, make sure you can spend 7-days together most of the time. You have to make lots of decisions as a group. You need to decide where to stop, for how long, where to eat or what to cook. Someone has to be the driver and the others need to manage the locks, and so on. On my first, family trip, the 2 dads were both alpha males and spent most of the time arguing over everything! One of the kids asked why the dads were acting so childishly.

This can be an amazing vacation, with something for everyone. I’m planning my fourth canal holiday because I just can’t get enough of this immersive, unique vacation.

IS ANYONE LISTENING? — Marilyn Armstrong

I feel like I need to keep blogging on the off-chance that whatever I’m writing, someone is reading it and thinks a little differently because of what I wrote.

In the cave

The politics of the country are also getting painful. I can’t detach from them, but they give me a permanent headache. I wonder if this really IS the end of the country I’ve loved.

I don’t know whose country this is. I don’t understand the meanness, the hatred, the lack of kindness by those who are rich enough to really make a difference. Or, for that matter, how hard we tried to do the right things and seem to have failed on every possible level.


The weather is changing, my birds are dying — and regardless of whether or not our government believes it, it’s hard to not notice that many things about our climate have altered, with a lot more to come. It’s hard to be funny when everything seems so negative. Upbeat is a bumpy road.


Meanwhile, our littlest dog has a  lot of old dog problems. She, Gibbs, Garry, me, and this house are all suffering from aging. I’m also not convinced that trying to fix each problem is necessarily the right thing to do. Should Bonnie’s last days be full of surgery and pulled teeth? Is that how I would like to pass?

I don’t think she has a lot more time. I have been watching her decline as I have watched so many other pets. Do we want to put her through massive dental work — even if we could afford it — and eye surgery — which might or might not actually help? I have had many dogs move on from this world and every time we’ve tried to do something drastic to try and stop that clock, it has not only not improved the life of the pet we loved, but rather made their last months miserable and painful. We swore to each other to never do that again, but we always want to fix it. As if somehow, we can make time stop.

Maybe it’s more sane and kind to recognize that this bell is tolling for us.


So what’s the right thing to do? My current thought is that as long as Bonnie seems to be okay with life, that’s good.  I won’t put her through surgeries or procedures. She is 13, deaf, rather blind, and a wee bit into doggie dementia. Not deep into it. And despite all of this, she is quite spritely.

Meanwhile, do I have an obligation to keep on keeping on? To try to speak up about what I believe is right? To try to fight what I know is wrong? Does anyone care what I say? Is anyone listening? Do our voices matter?

The older I get, the more I realize no one is listening to their “elders” anymore — not counting the AARP crowd who are running for President. They appear to believe they will live forever.

The political reality that has gripped this country feels unreal. The only “real things” are solid. The house, Garry, the birds, and squirrels. Friends, family, and flowers are real. Everything else is … weird.

I’m going to write, so I might as well write here. What would I do with all the photographs no one will ever see unless I post them?

I also finally realized I am living in an American version of tyranny. I hardly know HOW to feel about it. How did this happen? I wonder how many people have felt like this for a long time? We became the Banana Republic, minus the bananas. What’s strangest of all — to me — is that it life is the same as ever. We have the same problems we’ve had for years. We hope for better days … or at least better days for our son and granddaughter. The young ones deserve a world they can live in.

What a peculiar and dangerous world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. I hope we get to fix at least some of it before it goes totally out of control. That the one thing we most need to do. Politics be damned, we need to make our world a safe and healthy place to live.

Or, as the Wicked Witch of the West (or is it East?) say: “WHAT A WORLD. WHAT A WORLD.”

SERENADE OF A SMALL BROWN BIRD — Marilyn Armstrong


A strange day, windy and warm

Trees bending and swaying

Our doors slamming up and down the stairs.

No storm. Just a wind, wailing until

A bird came and sat on the deck railing

He sang a song so loud and clear

We thought it was a computer, maybe a phone

Too loud to be real.

But it didn’t stop.

Irregular the song and ever louder he called until

I rose and went to see where the music began.

There he was. A tiny wren on the railing.

From his open throat, a song trilled pure and clear


He such a tiny thing. Feathers, beak and a big voice

Yet so loud the wind could not match him.

That was my day. Today.

Come back tomorrow songbird.

Come back to sing again.

MY WORLD GOES ROUND AND ROUND – Marilyn Armstrong

I was about to give up. Contractors have a weird way of vanishing just when you think you’ve got a deal. You have the money in hand. The house awaits some long-awaited repairs. Which is when your contractor slips into the mists of time and disappears. What happened?

But not this time — or at least I don’t think this time. We have a date. I have the money. If we don’t get typhoon-level rain for all next week, we’ll have a fixed side of the house and a repaired (and hopefully freshly painted) front door.

The deck Dutch door won’t make this year’s repair list. We’ve run out of time. The weather is turning, so that job will have to wait until our next not-winter. I would say spring, but spring is usually winter, but wetter. So the next time after the regular winter when we have weather in which a carpenter can work … like maybe May or June, the Dutch door gets fixed. Along with the rot around it.

I am thrilled. No, really. I know there are too many other things going on about which I seem unable to do much. So I send $5 to Elizabeth Warren and fill my bird feeders which somehow doesn’t seem nearly enough, but it’s what I’ve got to offer and I figure it beats nothing by a little something.

Oh, and I switched to all wind-powered electricity. Yes, I know it costs more, but I figure it’ll be maybe $5 a month … well, with Owen coming back and all his stuff, probably more but he’ll pay his way, so it should be fine.

Meanwhile, Garry is feeling better and Bonnie seems to be barking less. She now seems to require a biscuit from both of us. We have to both appear and bribe her and then she goes back to sleep. Don’t ask me. I don’t get it either.

I’m just really happy the house is getting 2/3 fixed. We didn’t really have the money for the Dutch door anyway, but I was going to try to “make a deal.”

Something I read today — I think an article in the Washington Post — the author said that by Friday, she can’t remember what happened on Monday unless she goes back and reads her notes. That’s just how I feel. By Friday, this world has whizzed around its axis about 48 times. I sometimes forget the morning news before lunch.

But at least I am getting a couple of major items cared for. So in case the world survives, I’ll have a great front door and won’t have that rotten side door anymore.


This song was written by  Tom Paxton, but I can’t find a copy of him doing the singing. This singer’s okay and he plays the guitar well. So he will have to do!

In case you may be wondering why, despite the fact that the door that opens onto the deck is not getting replaces, it’s because I simply love that door. I love being able to open the top and have the air blow through the screen in the door. It turns out that Dutch doors are well-loved and wildly expensive. I could probably make a fair bit selling it, but I just love that door.

Scrabbling Junco feet!

Today we had two rather hungry looking squirrels, our usual chipmunk who is beginning to become a teenage chipmunk … and a lot of woodpeckers. I wonder why the woodpeckers are so fond of our feeders? We have a woods full of trees and a fair number of them are old and hollow, so there ought to be plenty for them to eat … but maybe we serve a better meal?

BUT WHAT KIND OF BIRD IS THAT? – Marilyn Armstrong

We were up early yesterday (doctor) and early again today (dentist). This gave me the opportunity to get some pictures of the morning birds. I had been noticing unfamiliar birds this year. Birds I saw a lot of last year I haven’t seen at all this year … but there are birds this year I don’t recognize. They may be juveniles of birds I only know as mature birds, but I spent a lot of time going through the bird book and the only birds that look like what I’m seeing are rather rare birds.

With birds, the general rule is that if you see something rare, you’ve probably got the wrong bird. But whatever it is, it is some kind of sparrow.

It isn’t the Chipping Sparrow because they are quite a bit smaller than these. The only things these look like part of a group called “Grass Sparrows.” All of these birds look a lot alike. Some shade of golden brown with speckled or streaked wings. Some have a striped or speckled breast while others are solids. But all the juveniles look very much the same.

The only one of these sparrows considered “common” is the Savannah Sparrow. But there aren’t many of them in this part of the country. They do live here, but it isn’t one of their major regions. Mostly, they seem to be concentrated in the southern states.

Grasshopper Sparrow and a Hairy Woodpecker?

One more of the sparrows and a Woodpecker.

Climate change brings changes to all of our wildlife, so it’s possible that warmer weather in the north has brought more of them into our area. The bird looks rather more like a Grasshopper Sparrow. While these do live in this region, they are uncommon — possibly even scarce.

Take a look at the picture and let me know if you recognize it. Also, there’s another solid brown-orange bird that doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before. It might be a Tennessee Warbler which can be common in this area. You’d think from its name they’d be from the south, but I sometimes am baffled by whoever named the birds. Or maybe birds just move around more than we think.

A very fat Chipping Sparrow? Rather an odd color …

Something new or just a juvenile of something more familiar?

I know that between the older bird book I had from the 1980s  and the new one I got last year, there’s a huge change in the location of many birds. There are also a lot fewer birds than there used to be. As we ruin our living environment, we’re killing off birds, fish, and many small mammals that were once very common.

Good look at tail feathers of the brown sparrow.

The only things we aren’t short of are bugs — plenty of THEM — mice and rats. Even rabbits who used to sun themselves on our lawns and the chipmunks who used to chitter at us as we went into our house have vanished. The robins, following their death by Monsanto’s RoundUp weedkiller never came back either.

What a sad world it would be without the birds to sing us awake with their cheery morning calls!

FLIPPER WAS FLIPPANT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Flippant

I am one of those animal weepers that cry at anything when an animal gets hurt, dies, or is just so cute I can’t stand it. I’m pretty sure I was the only woman who cried while watching Flipper. Each time he clapped those flappers I shed a few tears. Little did I know that those tears were not wasted.

Flipper and friends

My birds are back. The big birds have returned. There are some big gray birds with white stomachs that almost look like “generic” birds, but some have a hint of pink or red on their stomachs, so maybe they are off mating season robins?

We haven’t had many robins since Monsanto told everyone to poison the weeds — and thus kill all the robins. We used to have flocks of robins. They were probably our most common birds. Maybe ten years back, we had a plague of grubs in the front yard. One morning, about 100 robins came by. They ate every last grub. It took them two full days, but they were the fattest, happiest robins ever.

Ready to go!

The next year, Mr. Poison sprayed his weeds and the two sets of robins nesting on our back porch fell over their bright blue eggs and died.

Since then, there are been very few robins. Monsanto has a LOT to answer for. Now their midwestern storage tanks are exploding and the local people are saying, “Monsanto says we shouldn’t worry but the air is nearly black and everything is covered in slimy soot.” They are definitely worried.

We aren’t learning much and we sure aren’t learning fast.

Sea lions at the Central Park Zoo, New York

I’d rather think about Flippant Flipper on television or the charming sea lions at the Central Park Zoo. They had a big beach ball and they bounced it out into the audience — and there was always an audience for the sea lions.

We’d all scurry to get the ball and throw it back. Kind of the reverse of playing ball with your pup.