THE PEOPLE, PLACES, CRITTERS WHO MATTER … Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Things that Matter Most

There are quite a few more people who should have pictures than I have room for but suffice to say, I have forgotten no one.

It has been a hectic year, at end of which — Garry can hear. Our deck is full of birds. The Duke roams the woods at will. Short of rebuilding the fence, which is out of the question, I have to hope he’s not planning to go anywhere — like the road. He doesn’t go anywhere. Duke roams the front and backwoods, then jumps into the yard and come home for a treat. He’s been good, hasn’t he?

Garry and Dr. Remenschneider. When your doctor is not much older than your grandchild, you know you’ve put on a few years.
Chef Owen, master of turkey
Bonnie with Garry
The Duke
Gibbs
And let’s not forget the birds …
Home

There’s not enough room to include all the friends and family and everything … but you are all remembered and loved!

TIME FOR A SNACK! FLYING SQUARES FOR BECKYB – Marilyn Armstrong

Time for a Snack – A Flying Square for BeckyB!

I need to talk about the lens I used for this shoot. I am now the proud, impoverished owner of a beautiful, new 100-300 mm lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.

Olympus makes a 75 – 300 mm lens, but its low-end is f4.8 and high-end is f7.3 — which if you know photography, is pretty slow. I should add that the Olympus lens isn’t native to the micro 4/3 either, requiring an adapter which cost half again as much as the lens. You can buy cheap ones, but they don’t work. You need the Olympus model and that costs almost $200. They are never on sale or available second-hand.

This lens is native to the micro 4/3. Panasonic uses the same format as Olympus, which is good for both manufacturers since, in micro 4/3, there are plenty of lenses from which to choose. This one opens at f4 and ends at f5.6, which while not really speedy, is definitely faster than the Olympus model — and without an adapter, it will also work better.

The price of the Panasonic lens is higher, but since you don’t need the adapter, the price is not far apart and the Panasonic is a better lens. It’s silky smooth and sharp.

Having never bought a long lens for the Olympus, I’ve been using my Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ-1000 for anything that required a long lens. It was bothering me to so rarely use my best camera.

Well, okay, the FZ-1000 is a good camera too. Just a very different camera. It may even be a great camera, but I prefer the color and fine finish of the Olympus. I wanted to work with it.

I really wanted that lens and finally, against all logic and reason, I bought it.

The Panasonic 100-300 mm lens costs as much (more?) than the camera. Most good lenses cost as much or more than the cameras they work with. Good glass is expensive, with good reason. Cameras wear out, but lenses, properly cared for, last forever.  You can get many new cameras and keep using your original lenses.

Lenses are an investment. Cameras are temporary.

I don’t have a lot of high-end lenses. It’s a poverty thing — but then, I saw this on sale for $100 less, supposedly “used” on Amazon. My experience with “used” lenses from Amazon is that they are actually new lenses, unopened and never used. This was true for this lens too. Brand new, never opened, never taken from its original packing. Just $100 less, making it barely affordable.

Warblers

I took it out of its container, fitted it on the camera … and there wasn’t a bird in sight. Disappointed, I played with the focus and suddenly, a slew of birds shows up including a woodpecker, another bird I don’t recognize, a bunch of warblers and Chickadees. As I shot, they actually got into quite a little tussle over who got the next seed.

You’d think we were running out of birdseed, but there’s at least a couple of pounds of seeds in the feeder. Various birds are getting possessive about who eats first, second, next.

Meanwhile, the lens is a winner!

It’s good for exactly the purpose for which I bought it. Birds. All the reviewers talked about birds. That’s what you do with a lens that long. Shoot birds. I suppose you could also shoot airplanes or drones, but birds are more fun.

I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to finally get a long lens for the Olympus. I’ve been using one Olympus or another for a long time … more than a decade and this is the first time I bought a good lens. Not a great one, but a really good one.

The birds showed me their best sides and they are all squares, too!

ARE WE THE ONLY BIRD FEEDERS IN TOWN? – Marilyn Armstrong

When Owen came by earlier to replace the flap on the doggy door, he said it was like Hitchcock’s “The Birds” all over again.”

Two warblers in a row

“You’ve got flocks of birds everywhere, did you know that? On your roof, in the trees, in the driveway. Dozens of them.”

Now three warblers …

“Look out back,” I said. There was a big Hairy Woodpecker surrounded by Warblers, Chickadees, a few Tufted Titmouses and the odd Junco. In the trees and along the railing, there were at least a dozen more birds, all waiting for their turn at the feeder. Up in the branches, more birds. A lot of them dive in, grab a seed, and fly off.

“I didn’t know,” said Owen, “That woodpeckers eat seeds. I thought they only ate insects.”

“In this weather,” I pointed out, “They will eat pretty much anything. Besides, there isn’t much insect life in the winter, so I expect they eat what they can when the bugs are dead. ”

Warblers and Woodpecker

It occurred to me for the first time that maybe no one else in the area has a feeder and we are the only free buffet in town. We certainly have a hoard of birds and a huge variety. At least three or four kinds of warblers and no, I still can’t tell one from the other. At least three kinds of woodpeckers, but the big guy doesn’t come to the feeder. The Pileated Woodpecker is, despite his size, quite a shy guy.

Chickadee and Woodpecker (a warbler half hidden by the feeder)

If we really are the only food bank in town, no wonder we have so many birds! The warblers come by the flock. The Juncos come in pairs. The woodpeckers are always solitary, but you can tell the boys from the girls by the red patch on the back of the head. In the course of the day, various kinds of birds take over the feeder. It’s a big feeder and you can fit quite a few birds on it at a time.

From top to bottom

I wonder who is going to fly out of the woods as the weather gets colder and snowier. So far, it has been cold, but whenever they promise snow, it warms up just enough. Instead, we have rain.

I’m good with that. Sometimes, we don’t any snow until the end of January or February. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get snow, only that we get a lot of snow very quickly!

SATURDAY BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

I cannot help myself. There are birds, there is a camera, there are windows.

Incoming warbler and Hairy Woodpecker

And, I filled the feeder yesterday and I was curious to see if the birds sense that I had downgraded the mix from ultra super fancy to “value feeder.”

Painting of a Hairy Woodpecker
Hello, fans! I’m a warbler. Want to guess which warbler?

Answer? Not so you’d notice. I was actually at the window taking pictures of pocket watches and realized I was going to have to hold the watch and shoot with the other hand because the only spare surface near the window was now outside, my having dragged it there yesterday in my short but womanly attempt to get the bird feeder down to a level at which I could fill it.

Big bird, little birds
Delicious seeds!

I was so exhausted by the time I finished filling the feeder, I didn’t have the strength of character to drag the small table back inside. Also, it was raining, so it isn’t coming in until it dries off — whenever that might be.

The good side of a Hairy Woodpecker
A warbler and a woodpecker. Note the size difference!

And as I was putting away The Good Camera, I realized “Ooh, look, there’s a Hairy Woodpecker.” I’m pretty sure it is a Hairy Woodpecker because he seems to have a longer beak.

Looking up?
One Chickadee and two Warblers

If you weren’t clear on the size difference between the usual feeders at the unending trough, seeing the woodpeckers and warblers together on the feeder makes it really clear.

I got one with a warbler flying in for a quick nibble. Special!

Drawing – One Woodpecker

Until the woodpeckers stand next to each other, the best I can do it guess which is which. The only difference between a Hairy and a Downy is their overall size and beak length. A big Downy and a small Hairy look exactly the same. I’m not sure the difference isn’t some kind of internal birding joke.

I have decided the birds think our feeders are a trap. Because they up and fly off even just seeing me through the doors.

Three (the third is in the back) little birds

If they really think it’s a trap, they should eat less. They are definitely plump and perfect for stuffing. With a sprig of parsley.

I took pictures. It’s what I do.

WHICH ONE OF ME IS ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #5

Behind the words for this prompt is a blurry, but genuine picture of a rare Pileated Woodpecker, the “you better believe it” Woody Woodpecker. I have seen this guy a few times and they are rare, but we have one living in our woods. He doesn’t come to the feeder. I’ve seen him working on a nearby tree and this time, I saw him fly past the deck and deep into the woods. I have a 900-mm lens on this camera, but that Woodpecker was WAY back in the woods and there were a million twigs and branches in front of him. So this is as good a picture as I could get. It’s pretty blurry, but at least I can say with some surety that I’m not delusional. We really have a gorgeous Pileated Woodpecker living in our backyard. If ONLY I could focus on him!

Another sort of view of our Pileated Woodpecker.

Is there anyone who is the same all the time? I know I was different at work than at home. Different at home than when out with friends. Different writing than not writing. Different talking to strangers than chatting with family.

Garry had two almost opposing personalities for work and non-work. He was aggressively outgoing in his professional life. He had to be because that was what the work required. Personally, he was quiet and sometimes shy, though over the years the two parts have fused and become more alike.

We all have more than one face, whether we realize it or not. I think writers notice it more than non-writers. One of the great joys of writing for me is having the opportunity to clean up reality. Not scour it smooth, but get rid of the dust on the edges and smooth out the lumps in the middle. I figure we all tidy up reality as we write.

This isn’t a diary. I see no reason to expose everything going on in my sometimes very wacko brain.

The writing “me” is a more thoughtful “me.” In real life, I’m crabbier and more tired. Writing is painless; reality isn’t. Real me is in a lot of pain most of the time and could use a good night’s sleep. On the other hand, real and writing me has a great sense of humor. Even when I believe I’m dying, the idea is too hilarious to ignore. I almost tore my newly reworked heart out because I couldn’t stop laughing. Did you know it really hurts to laugh after major surgery?

Besides, I can’t be dead. Who’d write my blog?

I work at not talking about what’s bothering me. No one likes a whiner. I don’t even like me when I whine, so I certainly don’t want to put it all into print.

Sadly, the pain is probably the thing I spend the most time cleaning up. I wish cleaning it up as a writer would make it go away for real.

What might be the most interesting change since I began blogging 7 years ago (without the foggiest idea of what I wanted to do — or why) is how much clearer I am in my writing goals. I know what I’m writing. I know what effect it will have. I even know when what I am planning to say is going to piss a lot of people off.

Sometimes, I just need to piss people off. It’s part of the wacko thing.

I AM MY CAMERA – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Camera

Ever since I got a couple of bird feeders, I feel like I really am a camera. Because almost the entire east side of this house is windows — and that’s where I’ve put the feeders — the first thing I look for when I open my eyes in the morning are birds.

When I walk to the kitchen to click on the coffee, there are birds. Flocks of them, regardless of the weather. Apparently, birds get hungry even in the rain. Even hungrier when it’s particularly cold.

My little Chickadee
A very fat Slate-colored Junco. I’m amazed he can still fly!

The east end of my dining room table has three cameras lined up on it. I don’t even put the lens caps on them because when you are shooting wild birds, you shoot now or that shot may never come again.

I keep intending to not take any pictures this morning. I’ve got things to do. Stories to write. And all of the pictures I took yesterday still waiting to be processed and turned into a post or story.

Three American Goldfinches unless they are Magnolia Warblers. It takes a lot longer to write about birds when you first have to figure out which bird you are discussing — and so many of them look so much the same!

But there are the birds and there are the cameras and there am I, so … I shoot.

Nuthatch sharing the feeder with a Goldfinch

Yesterday, my new bird field guide came in. I had begun to realize that my book was out of date when I was seeing birds that, according to my guide, don’t live here.

I finally bothered to look at the publication date on my Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds and realized it was 1979.

Magnolia Warbler

There have been a few updates since then, the most recent in 2010. I found a used copy (it looks new to me!) and it arrived yesterday.

Philadelphia Vireo? Looks like it (and they are certainly common enough) … but a lot more yellow than shown in the guide. It turns out all birds do not look exactly like the guide’s picture.

I’ve been mesmerized ever since. Phooey on politics. The hell with the news. Pass the camera and I will take bird pictures.

Hello Tufted Titmouse

Mind you when I’m done with the birds, the news is still waiting for me. There’s no escaping it, but at least for however many hours I’m spending processing photographs and trying to figure out which warbler I’m looking at, I’m at peace. I didn’t get the feeders to buy me peace of mind, but oddly enough, that’s exactly what I am getting from them.

Not quite as fat Slate-colored Junco

Just a little bit of peace and the joy of watching things on wings chomping up sunflower seeds, flax, and bits of corn.

I really am a camera.

WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? – Marilyn Armstrong

The heat went out. Again. Third or fourth time since the temperature started its plunge past zero. This was going to be the coldest night of the year to date so of course, the boiler went out. I called the company — and the guy who fixes stuff was supposed to call back and let me know when he would get here.

He didn’t.

Sometime around eight, I realized it wasn’t chilly. It was cold. I looked at the thermostat and it read 59 degrees. The heat was set at 67. Bit of a drop, there. I went downstairs and it was even colder.

Today, toasty warm!

I pressed the red button on the front of the boiler and it whooshed into that delicious little roar we love to hear in the winter. Then it got a lot quieter as the flame went out. After which, the chilly silence of a non-working boiler.

Two weeks ago, we had them here to fix the identical problem. I had delicately suggested that the “new” igniter might not be working but maybe no one heard me and anyway, why would a new igniter not work? It was new, right?

In the middle of July, the service fellow was here and tuned up the boiler. He replaced the igniter, which was reasonable. The heating system is not a child bride anymore. It needs regular servicing. But since that replacement, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it stops. Normally, I press that red button (it’s really the only thing I know how to do on a boiler) and it restarts.

It’s okay, at least for a while. Other times, it just stops and won’t restart. We’ve got almost 3/4 of a tank of fuel, so that’s not the problem.

By now, it was 9:30. We’ve been working with this same company since we moved to the valley, 19 years ago. The contract includes 24-hour service because it gets very cold here and no one can survive long without a heating system. They always get back to us in a few minutes, at least to tell us when to expect the fixer. This time, the phone did not ring.

By 10:45, I was getting worried and cold. The dogs didn’t care. Let’s hear it for fur coats! I got really ON that phone call. They seemed a bit at a loss and they said they really WERE trying to get hold of the guy.

“Have you lost him?” I asked. Can you lose your service guy? He’s a pretty big guy.

Maybe the truck broke down. Maybe the cell phone battery punked out. Maybe there’d been an accident. These are dependable people and this was most unlike their usual way of operating.

Finally, I got a call back from the woman who owns the place (she just inherited it from her father)  and she said: “He fell asleep. Didn’t hear the phone. I told him to not explain, just get in the truck and GO.”

Last night? Cold toes, but warm quilts!

It took almost an hour an a half. Where does he live? Not in the valley. You’d have to travel the length of the valley two or three times to need that much time, so he must live north or even further into the empty lands than us.

At 11:45, I called again. Mainly, what I didn’t want was to be sitting and shivering by the telephone waiting for someone who would never arrive. It turned out, he was on our street and in less than five minutes, full of apologies, there he was. I told him I didn’t care what happened. All that mattered was that he was here. He’d made it, praise be.

Please, sir, make the boiler work!

Shit happens. People oversleep, get lost, lose the phones, drink too much. I don’t care what happened. I’m just glad when they arrive.

I told him my personal theory that the newly replaced igniter was the problem. “I don’t know anything about boilers except where to push the red button, but I know when I fix the computer and everything stops working, I have to do it again because something went wrong. I’m betting the igniter is bad. Until it got replaced, we didn’t have a problem. Mid-July, someone replaced it and nothing has worked right since .”

The igniter was bad. He replaced it. Heat arose. Sometimes, parts arrive already broken, direct from the factory. It has happened with cars, with the house, with the computers. It just happens. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does.

This was another “I don’t care” moments for me. How the igniter went bad? Not my problem. All I want it that the new one works and I don’t discover I need a new heating system. Heaven forfend from such a grim possibility!

Three goldfinches. Lunchtime!

Then, after he hung around another half hour to make sure it was going to continue to work, he packed up and went home. I had already hauled a second down comforter upstairs because I was pretty sure we would need extra insulation this evening.

The dogs still didn’t care.

Today, the house is all toasty. Oh, blessed be the service people who fix our broken homes, even if they do sleep through the phone call for the first three hours.