BIRDS ON A MONDAY AND A THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY EVENT

Today is the day before Garry and my 30th anniversary. It’s been a long time a’coming. I spent the day taking too many Tylenol and finally going to the hospital to get a COVID test because I’ve been running a low-grade fever for weeks and I feel like my head is going to explode. Today is our 30th anniversary. No one thought we would survive a year, much less thirty of them. But as different as everyone thought we were, we were extremely similar in many ways. Stubborn, born fighters, never-giver-uppers.

Garry is far more given to that male habit of saying “Let’s talk,” then stalking out of the room as soon as you don’t agree with him, but that’s a guy thing. I expect him to understand … but husbands do NOT understand. They suffer listening to us, something Garry didn’t have to do until he got really much better hearing aids. And yet — we agree politically. We both read and write and research. We search for truth — and we find it. We have both worked hard for awful bosses and understand each others’ moans and groans.

Emotionally, we are a man and a woman, the two most incompatible creatures on earth, but intellectually we are exceptionally well-matched. You’d be surprised how far that can go in a relationship. And very attracted to one another too, which doesn’t hurt either.

We can’t go anywhere special for dinner, We can’t buy each other presents, though Garry made a special little video for me. I took some birdy and squirrelly pictures. Because the birds and the squirrels were very busy this morning.

OISEAUX DU JOUR

Another perfect day. Cool, comfortable, sunny. Not a hint of rain. Well, okay, that is I admit, a flaw because we really need rain … but it’s a holiday weekend so perfect weather doesn’t include rain no matter how much we really need it. These days, when I get up in the morning and come into the kitchen, the deck is full of birds.

Flock of Goldfinch

There was a cardinal and a goldfinch on one feeder and just the color combination was enough to make me happy. There were nuthatches darting in and out, Carolina wrens perching on the rail and a few squirrels poking their little heads over the edge of the deck. They fly around, each trying to protect his o her place on the feeder. We must have the best food in town.

I didn’t get the pictures I wanted because they all flew away by the time I picked up my camera. This is more typical than not. Even though I know longer believe that it’s a personal  issue, that is, the birds are not flying away because it’s me. But they are constantly in motion.

THE CHANGING SEASON – AUGUST 2020

The Changing Seasons, August 2020

So here we are with summer about to end. It’s Labor Day next weekend. Time to start school. Oh, wait, there is no school. Well, maybe there will be so crunchy leaves underfoot, if only we would get some rain. Everything is so terribly dry.

Personally, I’m a total nervous wreck. This whole refinance business is driving me crazy. My family seems to have the utmost confidence that we are going to be fine. They are sure I’ll manage to make this work while I’m in mortal terror that there will be a last minute glitch and we’ll be left with a complete disaste. I’m absolutely terrified. And apparently, the only one who is. How did THAT happen?

I haven’t taken a lot of pictures. Birds, mostly. Squirrels and red squirrels now. We seem to have more red ones than big gray ones which is very unusual since the red ones are being pushed out by the bigger grays. I put out dishes of water for the birds and squirrels these days because the rivers are running dry and it’s a long fly to the nearest water. It’s also apple season. This area is full of apple orchards, but there has been so little rain. Hard to know if we are going to get much of a crop without water.

I have a lot of trouble understanding people who don’t see the changes in the climate. Warm winters, bone-dry summers, no snow in winter, autumn vanishing almost entirely. We never did get much in the way of spring, but we used to get at least a few weeks of autumn and we always got a real winter. Now? We get sharks. Lots of sharks. Those warm coastal water attract seals and the seals attract sharks. Speaking of sharks, we got a new boiler. Now, all we need is a refinance to finish paying for it. If we run out of money, will they take the boiler back?

New boiler

And of course, no one goes anywhere. We don’t. We are the people the virus for whom the virus searches. We are ready-to-go victims. It’s a horrible way to feel. Sometimes I swear I can hear this unseen plague stalking us. It’s just a stupid virus. Not even a living thing, so how can it stalk us? Yet we feel stalked. I wonder if there will ever be a normal world again.

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About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):

Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them.

The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):

Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month

Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material! Note that this may be harder for those of us who are still quarantined! If it weren’t for birds, I wouldn’t have anything to take pictures of!

Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a ping-back to Su Leslie’s post, she can update it with links to all of your links.

THE PILGRIM’S LATE SUMMER DAY IN UXBRIDGE By GARRY ARMSTRONG

Initially, it was just a quick run to our local supermarket for a few items. It turned out to be one of the nicest afternoons I’ve had in a long time. An impromptu photo session turned into a brief lesson for this pilgrim who’s learned to appreciate our Valley’s place in this nation’s history. I was intoxicated by the weather – a lovely, comfortable day. Sunny, warm, minimal humidity with just enough breeze to tilt the grass, leaves and flowers still in bloom as we say farewell to August. Our town common could be out of Hollywood’s central casting. The town common that could have inspired Thornton Wilder’s romantic little town and other idealized small town in your favorite old movies, books, music, and paintings. On this day, you could even smell the fragrance of the flowers flowing gently over the green grass.

Uxbridge, America’s first free public library

I encountered a small group of senior citizens (look in the mirror, Garry!) sitting and chatting quietly under one of the biggest and oldest trees in our Valley.   I paused to tell them I’d snapped a few “wide shots” that would not invade their privacy.  A few grunts and snorts and their conversations continued. I persisted, asking how everyone was doing in these crazy pandemic times. They nodded “okays.”

One woman told me “We’ve been coming out here almost every day during the pandemic unless the weather was bad. We won’t let our lives be dictated by this “thing.” We are very careful, very safe, and know our responsibility to one another. No silly stuff here, young man/” That made me smile.

She continued: “It’s so peaceful and quiet. We can hear each other talk. You know that’s important, young man. You have to listen to what people are telling you. No one listens anymore.”  I nodded. Listening was the “secret” of my success.

I received a flurry of ‘where do you live?’ and ‘how long have you lived here?’ as well as other queries about my presence on the Common and in the Valley. Standard stuff from long-time residents. The questions turned into an impromptu history lesson, probably to find out if I was a resident or just a nosy outsider looking for local color. I blurted out a quick response about my old professional life and the history lessons continued.

No one was impressed about who I used to be. I noticed the sun was getting brighter and everyone seemed more relaxed among my inquisitors. The history lesson came to a quick jolt for me. We were on politics and I had briefly faded. The feisty lady looked at me sharply, “YOUNG man, did you know about Robert and Lydia Taft, two of our most distinguished predecessors”? I nodded yes.

Feisty lady wasn’t convinced. “Well, young man, did you know that Lydia Taft was the first woman to vote in the continental United States on October 30, 1756.”?  I looked blank.  “No, I didn’t think you knew that, Young Man”.  No, I didn’t. It was a jaw dropping piece of historical trivia for me. I smiled. Feisty lady smiled. The history lesson continued until I begged off, saying I had to get home with my groceries.  I thanked everyone for their time and courtesy.

I looked around at the Common, trees, statues, flags, and the small group of wonderful senior citizens who had absolutely made this young fella’s day.

As I drove home, I looked at the beauty all around me.  I could hear, amid the toys in my attic, my “Uncle” Louie Armstrong singing, ” … and I think to myself, what a wonderful world, oh yeahhhhh!”


ABOUT LYDIA TAFT

In Colonial America, women were not allowed to vote.

The Town of Uxbridge allowed Lydia, “the widow Josiah Taft,” to vote, because of the landowner and taxpayer status of Josiah’s estate and that Bazaleel, Caleb’s younger brother, was a minor. On receiving his proxy, Lydia Taft became the first recorded legal woman voter in colonial America when she cast a vote on October 30, 1756 in an official New England Open Town Meeting in Uxbridge, Massachusetts as noted in the records of the Uxbridge Town Meeting. 

Her vote was in favor of appropriating funds for the regiments engaged in the French and Indian War. Taft’s historic vote preceded the constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage by 164 years. She appeared at and may have voted at two other official Uxbridge Town meetings, in 1758 and 1765.

Taft died at Uxbridge on November 9, 1778, at the age of 66, during the American Revolution.

Via a mutual ancestor, Captain Seth Chapin, Lydia Chapin Taft was the great-great-great grand-aunt of the 27th United States President William Howard Taft, also his first cousin, four times removed, by marriage to Josiah Taft. By their mutual ancestor, Samuel Chapin, she was a second cousin, seven times removed, to celebrated songwriters and musicians Harry Chapin and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Taft’s role in the history of women’s suffrage was recognized by the Massachusetts legislature in 2004, when it named Massachusetts Route 146A, from Uxbridge to the Rhode Island border, in her honor.

WHAT WILL BECOME OF OUR VALLEY?

Growing up in what was probably the very last unsullied woodlands in Queens, NY, we used to find arrowheads in the woods. My mother had insisted we buy the wooded property adjacent to our house. It wasn’t connected to the street and in those days, they didn’t build houses on lots that weren’t on a street. It was just woods. With big trees, flowering dogwood, lots of plants. We didn’t need the property because our lot was big already, but the woods contained huge white oaks. the very few that had not been used to make the masts of ships as had all the other white oaks in the area.

Along the Blackstone in Rhode Island

The Department of Agriculture used to come by and care for the trees because they were the last ones in New York — at least the southern end of it. I never saw any in the northern part of the state either. Red oaks aplenty, but not white oaks. So it was oddly familiar moving to the woods here. You wouldn’t think so since I technically grew up in the big city of NY, but it was a little lost pocket of city which had remained untouched until finally, my parents had to sell it. Now, of course, it’s full of condominiums.

Here, where we now live, used to be farmland. You can tell this because we can see a corner of the stone house that was just behind ours and because there are stone fences in all the woods. A hundred years or so years ago, that stone house behind ours was surrounded by stone-fenced fields. Those fields are full of red oaks, all about 100 years old, give or take a few decades.

I don’t know what was grown here. Not corn because the land isn’t flat or open enough. Probably dairy cattle, goats, horses, sheep, and apples. There were a lot of apples and produce such as summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, basil, and other spices. We are more rural today than we were in the 1800s. The population is smaller. Once upon a time, this was an major city in the center of the Blackstone Valley complex — the heart of the manufacturing and mill business in New England.

Today, Uxbridge is a sleepy town with virtually no industry. With the quarantine, much less business than before and we didn’t have much before. Many people are moving to wherever the rest of the family is living (Florida? Arizona?) because their jobs are gone. We haven’t been rich in business resources since the 1910s ended, but now there is almost nothing except a couple of lumber yards, grocery stores, hairdressers, barbers, and a few food chain places.

As an underfunded small town, Uxbridge will get worse. Young folks won’t be able to see a future here. They are right. If we had an opportunity to build up some business, it disappeared in 2020. I wonder how many other small towns are shrinking from small to barely there? I’m sure it’s not just us. The future is looking a bit grim.

It is possible that our lovely Valley will return to what it was in the 1970s and 1980s … a near-to-NY and Boston vacation area. The only thing we have left — as long as our climate changes don’t overwhelm us — is natural beauty. If we get autumn back and no one pollutes the rivers again, maybe we can built up some tourism. It goes well with horse-breeding and the many equestrian schools in the area.

We could suddenly go upscale … or we could disappear.

THE CAMERA I DIDN’T BUY – AND THE ONES I’VE ALREADY GOT

I got an “on sale” notice from Adorama about the Olympus OMD M1 Mark II, down from $1300 to $900. I know from long experience that if Adorama has it on sale, so does everyone else. That’s because the Mark III is out, though as far as I can tell, there’s no significant difference between the II and the III. But I wanted it. I lusted for it. I yearned. I even put it in my basket both on Adorama and on Amazon. Then, I took it out of my basket and consoled myself with a nice goat leather case.

Camera lust. It’s a thing. It’s accompanied by an endless passion for camera bags, lenses, filters, even camera straps. Not to mention spare batteries and chargers. I’m not sure anyone can help themselves.

Not all that long ago, I finally got the camera I’ve always wanted, the Olympus Pen F and I love it as much as I knew I would. I don’t really need another camera. I have three great cameras, each fitted with a lens that does a particular job, My M5 Mark II has the 100-300 birding lens on it and I don’t change it since there are always birds and squirrels out there. The M5 Mark I has a 30mm 1.4 Sigma lens on it which is very good for general shooting and flowers. Not bad for portraits and shoots in very low light.

The Pen F has a 12-200 lens on it. That’s as “all purpose” a lens as I’ve heard of that isn’t part of a superzoom — and it’s an f3.3 — a lot faster than the longer lenses. It shoots wide and long and everything in the middle. It’s a very hefty lens. I have a Panasonic all-in-one camera that has a 24 to 750mm. My problem with the camera is I don’t have a clue how it works. I downloaded the “manual,” but it doesn’t explain anything. It takes brilliant pictures … when I can get it to work. I’ve finally just set it to automatic because the menu means absolutely nothing to me.

Then there are the cameras I don’t use. I say it’s because we haven’t gone anywhere, but really, it’s because I’ve moved on and I’m using something else. I gave my best one to my granddaughter. She told me she was going to give it back, but then, after a while, she discovered what I already knew: that’s one great camera. It’s not compact, but it has a fantastic lens and it’s fast. And while it’s big, it isn’t heavy. It’s the best all-purpose camera I’ve ever used and I miss it, but my granddaughter is happy. What can a grandmother do? You have to make the kids happy, right?

I’m betting that the OMD M1 Mark II is going to go down by another $100 soon and maybe I’ll be able to buy it then. But not today.

BIRDS OF AN ORANGE FEATHER

Nothing could have startled me more than realizing there was another orange Cardinal! I got more pictures, but I my camera was set wrong and the others didn’t come out, but at least I got one. You’ll have to trust me that she is most assuredly a lovely orange lady cardinal. I am going under the assumption that both of my orange cardinals came from a single nest. Either that, or we have a new breed of Cardinals growing up in our woods which would be fascinating and exciting, but I’ll go with the simpler explanation that both birds came from a single nest.

So here they are:

When I first saw Miss Lady Cardinal, I thought I was looking at a parrot. Such a big beak! And such a big bird! So what do you think? Are we breeding a new kind of Cardinal here in the woods of Uxbridge? Or are these from the same nest and whatever made the boy orange also made the girl orange? All birders, please throw in your vote! I would love to discover we’re breeding a whole new species of bird. That would be too cool.

BIRDS OF ODD AND ORANGE FEATHERS WITH BABIES

Hard to tell in this picture, but the beak is very orange, not red. And when the light is right that red is awfully orangy. These are hard birds to ignore!

This is the way he looked last week.

Big orange Cardinal

I’m still wondering if we are breeding a new kind of Cardinal here in Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Yesterday, I met the lady of the family and today, the babies showed up. Yes, orange babies. I think we were their first eating appointment post-nest. They still had their dark baby spots and pokey, pointy feathers on their heads and necks. Meanwhile, Orange Dad is turning red, but his beak is still orange. Do I know what this means? No, but I’m not sure anyone knows what it means. I do have more pictures.

With raised crest, orange-beaked dad laying claim to the black sunflower seeds
Dad? Orange beak, but the rest of him is pretty much all red now.
He’s red now, but not the same dark red as other Cardinals. He may not even be full grown himself because I’ve seen other males in the area and they have not tried to fight which is how two normal male Cardinals behave. I’ve seen them fighting in the air like World War I fighter planes
Orange-beaked Cardinal

Next, yesterday’s shot of Mama Orange cardinal who has a really huge beak. I almost thought I was looking at a parrot with a beak that big. Maybe she is a recent nestling too? She has pointed little feathers on top of her head, so she may be very young. But look at that orange beak and wings!

Orange Mama. I saw her again today, but I just missed getting her picture

And now, introducing a baby orange Cardinal. Most baby animals are adorable, but baby birds are not very cute, especially not these guys. It’s hard to believe that these awkward baby birds will grow into either great big orange Cardinals, or big red Cardinals with orange beaks … or some combination of the aforementioned. It was one of those days when I was shooting directly into the sun. Yes, I know that a polarizing filter would help, but when you are shooting birds or other wildlife, you don’t have time to screw your polarizing lens onto your lens. By the time you’re done, your photograph has flown away. Two shots came out acceptably well. The rest were all burned out on top. There is a time of day when it’s nearly impossible to shoot at that angle, and this was it. It always seems to be right at “dinnertime” at the feeder.

So now we have two generations of orange but maybe turning red later in life Cardinals. Is this just a color aberration or are we breeding a new species of Cardinal? Well, it wouldn’t really be a new species. It would at best be a color variation on a standard Cardinal. But that’s still pretty cool. Our very own color variant. Can we name him after me? Or maybe just name them Serendipitous Cardinals. That would fit on several levels.

HALLWAYS OF MEMORY

Every night, I fill up my cup, grab my bag of medications, give the Duke his nighttime treats, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house. After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed. Garry watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my Blue-tooth speaker. I never remember to do everything that needs doing before bed. I almost always forget to turn off the fans in the living room. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t. “Ah,” I think. “Fans.” I hike to the living room. Turn off the fans. Assure Duke that he already got his treats and no, he’s not getting more. Then I feel guilty about it.

Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. I have to refill the antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the huge bottle is stored. I ramble back to the bedroom. I have the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else. Oh, right. I didn’t close the kitchen door. It’s a dutch door and we leave the top of it open during the day to catch the breeze. Tonight, it’s supposed to rain so I should close it. Back up the hall to the kitchen. Close the door. Back to bedroom.

Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. Forty-five minutes later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy and everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic is setting in. That is when I realize all the pills are still in the cup. What with all the hiking up and down the hall, I never took them. It probably explains why they aren’t working.

I laugh. Continued laughing. Garry took off his headphones long enough for me to explain why I’m laughing. I got to the punchline, he looked at me and said: “You didn’t take them, right? Yup, that’s classic.” He smiled. Nodded. Put the headphones back in place.

As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines and calendars. I take one of my medications only once a week, so I have a calendar reminder. All appointments are on that calendar, Garry’s and mine, because otherwise, we will forget. No maybe. Forgetting has become normal. If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re much less likely to forget. Still, it can be pretty funny.

Yesterday, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy. If I can remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog. But they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be. I wish they’d stop fixing stuff that isn’t broken.

I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same as the dog Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it. (Search: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.”) Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show, either. So I first had to find the name of the show. (Search: “long-running comedy on TV about psychiatrist.”)

Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first showed up as a character, but I couldn’t remember its name either. One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.

BIG WHITE HORSES IN THE VALLEY

We grow a lot of horses in the valley. Many are saddle horses. Quarter horses. Morgans and Tennessee Walkers. But mostly, we grow big horses. Belgian Draft horses and Percherons. They don’t do anything much. No circuses for these horses. They lounge in pastures and hope someone will bring them an apple or two. Big friendly horses, like those the knights rode into battle.

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HAIRY WOODPECKER AT WORK

I got up this morning and there was a hairy woodpecker working hard on a tree. He wasn’t where I usually shoot, but I managed to find a window that was clean enough to shoot through and I got some really nice pictures of a Hairy Woodpecker — that’s the medium size one — doing his job. It must be hard finding bugs right now because it has been so dry, but apparently he found quite the bonanza in this particular tree. He was beating up on it when I got to the kitchen and was still working on it when I moved on to coffee. Maybe he found a nest of something?

Portrait of a Hairy Woodpecker doing his job!

It was interesting getting sharp pictures because his little head was in constant motion, moving so rapidly you could barely see the movements. You’d think all that pounding would give him a headache! Don’t they have beautiful patterns in their feathers? Especially from the side!

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SPARROWS, WOODPECKERS, AND CAROLINA WRENS

We got a bit of rain yesterday and today, but not enough. Not nearly enough. We are in a stage called “serious drought, ” but we may move into “dangerous drought” by the end of next week. Not surprisingly, living in the woods we are being very, very careful about fire. It’s tinder dry pretty much everywhere and there are a lot of brush fires. Lucky we got some new fire trucks and Uxbridge has the biggest and best fire department in the area, though all the fire departments work together when there’s a big one. Even so, the biggest fire department pales in comparison to the number of dry trees which desperately need rain.

Hairy Woodpecker and incoming sparrow

I now put out water for the birds too. I didn’t used to because there are rivers and ponds all over, but many of them are dried out. Our own little pond, which we can see, but have never managed to physically get to is completely dry. The good part is that there aren’t many mosquitoes. The bad part is the trees are suffering and I don’t know how we are going to get much of an apple harvest with such dry weather. I guess we’ll see.