As I was watching the coffee brew, I watched our “least Chipmunk” skittle up our deck and jump onto the feeder. As her little cheeks got stuffed with seeds, she would run off to feed her babies, wherever they may be. She was back and forth for about and hour and between her travels, I got a few nice — square — pictures.
We are waiting on the appraiser to finalize this refinance which is pretty much set to go, minus the appraisal — which i think went pretty well. It takes about a week for an appraisal to come through and it’s just been three days, so I’m in waiting mode. It’s the pits. I’ve got contractors who want to start working and until the refinance comes through — or doesn’t — I’m just hanging on a hook and swinging with the wind. It is my least favorite activity. At least we’re paid through August for the boiler, so at least THAT can start on time. But if I lose the contractor for the backside of the house, he won’t be available for another couple of months.
So that’s where WE are. Waiting for the other shoe to drop — or not. I think it will. I have a good feeling about this, but a good feeling isn’t the same as money in hand.
Meanwhile, temperatures are up around 100 degrees with humidity to match, at least through tomorrow. After which it will drop into the 90s or maybe high 80s. This is the time of year when it usually is the hottest and most humid. A good time — in any other year — to vacation near the ocean. Get those cooling ocean breezes! Even the birds don’t want to come out. It’s too darn HOT.
Are you a clean or messy person?
I am painfully neat, but I was a very messy child. Proving that you actually CAN grow out of childhood habits. The dogs and the rest of the family are not nearly as neat as I am. So I try not to leap out of me seat every time something is out of place.
If I asked you to describe yourself in five words – what would they be?
I think I’m too old for five words. But writer would be one of them.
Do you enjoy being out in nature?
It depends on the temperature and the bugs. I am happier on cooler days, very unhappy on days like today which are extremely humid and very hot and full of mosquitoes and flying jaws. I have to admit, though.
My tolerance for things like outdoor toilets has diminished. I like comfortable beds, good wi-fi, and fresh coffee. I camped when i was younger but these days? I want my bed!
What could you spend all day talking about?
Anything, pretty much. I can talk the hind legs off a donkey when i’m in the right mood. But if I’m NOT in the right mood, i find myself trying to remember how to talk. I love talking about history, politics, and the last book I really loved. Climate change. Our appalling government. Science fiction. Bring up the right subject and I’m on it.
As for gratitude: I’m holding my breath for this refinance. I also have a plan B if it doesn’t work out, but I need things to move a little faster, please! I hope by the autumn I’ll be able to actually go out without worrying that the next person I meet might infect me! That would be a big piece of gratitude.
This week marks my first week as President of Mass Audubon. I had planned to introduce myself to all of you by sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. And I am extremely excited t…
It’s another grey, cold day. I’m not yearning for flowers as a dedicated gardener. I just long for color. It has been gray and often very dark gray almost all the time since last December. No snow all winter. A little in late autumn and very early December, then nothing until … April?
I cannot entirely blame climate change for our messy, cold, wet spring because spring is an awful season in New England. Everyone used to call it “Mud Season.” First, you’d get snow that lasted from Thanksgiving until late March or mid-April, then it would melt, often accompanied by torrential rains and a wet basement.
I also comforted myself by pointing out to me that at least we weren’t going to run out of water. Because from May or June through August, there was little or no rain at all.
We went one year with not a single rainy day in May to one of two in June, so by August everything was tinder-dry. We were lucky to not have any fires. We did have a pretty big one last month, but they got it put out fast. Afterward, it rained heavily for a few days, which really put the sodden finishing touches on it.
We had a ridiculously warm winter with the kind of torrential rain and wind we normally reserve for our so-to-speak spring. Then, it turned cold. Most of the winter was in the fifties and sixties and periodically, the 70s.
As soon as it became “technically” spring, the temperature at night dropped into the 30s and occasionally even colder and even in the middle of the day, it was only in the low 40s. This can be bearable if the sun would shine. I don’t need sun every day, but once in a while would be nice, especially if we got two days in a row without a storm!
Since our flowers are more than a little pathetic, I thought I’d find flowers of the past. Maybe I’ll feel warmer. You think?
– – –
All the names I know from nurse:
Gardener’s garters, Shepherd’s purse
Bachelor’s buttons, Lady’s smock
And the Lady Hollyhock
Tiny trees for tiny dames —
These must be fairy names!
Tiny woods below whose boughs
Shady fairies weave a house;
Tiny tree-tops rose or thyme,
Where the braver fairies climb!
Fair are grown-up people’s trees,
But the fairest woods are these;
Where, if I were not so tall,
I should live for good and all.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, I continue to hope that we will come to our senses and save our wild creatures. That being said, I have serious doubts that anything larger than a squirrel will survive in the wild.
I believe that all Earth’s large animals are doomed in their native habitats. Some will be gone soon. We will see the last of them in our lifetime. The remaining species will succumb eventually. Tigers, wolves, lions, jaguars — all the big cats — as well as other large land animals — elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, apes and many more –will no longer have a home on this planet.
There will be no wild places.
Humans will, for a while, maintain controlled populations of various species in zoos and special habitats, as if that could make up for their disappearance. As if warehousing is the same as having a wild kingdom. We’ll see the end of tigers and elephants in less than a decade. It’s possible the rhinoceroses are already gone. If wolves are removed from endangered species status, they will be hunted to extinction in no time flat.
Want to know why? Really? It isn’t the long complicated explanation you will get from environmentalists or public talking heads. Let’s skip past statistical analyses and the convoluted nonsense spouted by government officials and corporate stooges.
It’s simpler than that.
The animals will disappear because they are in our way. Animals don’t fit with human civilization. They are untidy. They eat cattle, goats, chickens, sheep. They trample fields, demolish gardens. They take up space that could be more profitably used for shopping malls and suburban subdivisions. They are more valuable dead than alive — and ever so much fun to kill.
Predators and large animals are inconvenient.
When humans find something — anything — inconvenient, we eliminate it. Kill it. Demolish it. Knock it down. Whether it’s a species, a river, a mountain, or a classic old building. If it’s in our way, we make it disappear.
There’s a moral to the story. We should all take care because we can be eliminated too. If we don’t watch our step, we will eliminate ourselves.
If you think I’m exaggerating, please check out the Durell Wildlife Foundation, which is one of many organizations desperately trying to save what is left of our wild creatures. Durrell is my favorite, probably because Gerald Durrell who founded it was the writer whose work first got me interested in wildlife and saving it.
BUT I KNOW WHERE THE FLOWERS IS …
Today is the day. The very first day of Spring 2020. The technical beginning of spring, though having not had much of a winter, it’s been fairly springlike since last December.
The birdies are blooming in breeding colors. There are crocuses in the garden and shoots for daylilies and daffodils. What else is up? The bugs are happy because they didn’t have a winter. They are alive and breeding. It’s going to be a very buggy summer.
Another odd couple — Carolina Wren and GoldfinchOur Carolina Wrens are back and the Goldfinch have turned bright yellow. The House Finch have turned very red. Squirrels that fly, squirrels who leap, and bandit bands of raccoons all eat at our place. There were half a dozen doves on the deck this morning, doing a daily cleanup.
It is not quite springtime in the Valley as it is in other areas, but for this part of the world?
This is spring. Or kind of springlike. More or less springlike. We’re working on it.
I wonder where the flowers is?
Ah, they are indeed here.
We knew we’d gotten a lot of pictures last night because a lot of food went missing. About 4 pounds of food from the big feeder and maybe another two from the smaller one.
We moved the camera from the tripod and attached it to the wall of the house. It was actually designed for that and came with a special plate for attaching it, probably because this isn’t just a trail camera but also a surveillance camera. As a surveillance camera, it’s not great.
Pictures taken in the dark are black and white, which would be fine if there were also enough detail to recognize a face. I can barely recognize a raccoon and all flying squirrels are just white. If it weren’t for their cute little ears, I’d never figure out what they are.
Back a little further on the wall, the raccoons look better. You can see that they have masks on the faces and stripes in their tails. As for the flying squirrels, you only know the squirrels fly because you see them in the air, a big white strip or patch of fur without any other sign of life.
Why do you take pictures? What makes you pick up your camera? Is it just the beauty of the scene? Or the smile on someone’s face?
I’m sure it is different for each of us, but this morning, I remembered what it is for me. Because even before I turned on the coffee machine, I grabbed my camera. The light was coming through the window and the Dutch door and I saw something. I remembered abruptly that this is what always grabs me. I take pictures of my granddaughter, my dogs, friends just like everyone else. You don’t need a degree in photography to take a snapshot.
Spectacular scenery is inevitable. Like any photographer, I’m going to try to grab it because I’m a sucker for a pretty picture. But that’s not it. In the final analysis, it’s the light. The color, the subtlety, the flare, the radiance.
It has always been about light. My very first roll of film, in black and white, about half the pictures were of light coming through trees. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to show just how light filters through leaves or the way it shines through a window. Reflected light on water or wet sand. The sun as it rises or sets. I love the subtleties, the minute by minute changes of color of the sky.
That’s why I almost never raise the saturation level in a photograph. I’m looking for delicate shadings and subtle colors. I don’t want everything more vivid. I am more likely to turn the color and contrast down than to push it up.
The changing colors of the light through the seasons: golden in autumn, nearly white in winter and how these annual color shifts change the way the world looks. Ephemeral, fleeting, soft. I love shadow, the brother of light and how these change with the time of day and the seasons. I can watch for hours the changing colors of the sky while the sun moves across until it finally sinks below the horizon to full dark.
Have you ever watched the sunset from the late afternoon until full dark? The light lingers even after the sun is below the horizon. The further north you are, the longer the sky stays light. Everyone shoots brilliant sunsets or sunrises. I favor sunrises, but I realize that may have something to do with living on the east coast.
Facing east makes sunrise more accessible. Yet even the most ordinary dawn or dusk contains its own beauty. It’s harder to capture it. Brilliant color is easy compared to incremental pastels. You don’t get nearly as many “oohs” and “aahs” from a photo composed of softer pastels.
I’m fascinated by the way shadows shift as the day ages. All the colors of the world change as the sun sinks and we move into artificial light — street lamps, candles, neon signs — each have their own spectrum and effects.
It’s all about light.
I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.
The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.
It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining mature white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.
I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.
First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.
“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.
A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.
“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.
Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.
“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends were inevitable.
Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined the lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.
Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.
In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battles raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and goodwill, there was neither.
A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.
“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”
I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.
We envied each other, thought each better off than ourselves. It would be long years before we learned each other’s secrets. By then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed as we grew up. Lonely in our big old houses, all those years ago.
Let me start by saying I do not want to rule the world. I don’t even want to rule this house. Not even a tiny corner of it. I get exhausted trying to manage dogs, convince them to go out to do their business and not steal my socks.
As custodians of the earth, we’ve failed. We have poisoned the water and air, brutalized the earth, slaughtered the wildlife, cut down forests, dammed rivers, and polluted everything with our garbage.
We haven’t been any better to each other than we’ve been to the animals we’ve driven to extinction or near-extinction. We’ve murdered each other and stolen the darkness. We’ve made privacy a joke, eliminated alone time, and somehow, lost respect for each other and life. If we could start over, maybe we’d do a better job, but I don’t see a “redo” in the works.
If indeed we were chosen to care for this world, we have done a poor job. Personally, I’d make a terrible ruler. Humans cannot be trusted. Even when we try hard, we just don’t seem to get it. I think we weren’t meant to be in charge. We need a better leader, one with the power to make things right and keep them that way.
See? I told you.
Don’t put me in charge. You won’t like it and I know I wouldn’t.
A kayak on the Blackstone River. Dressed in blue and in a blue kayak. And the water is blue … Just your basic blue day in early summer.
What better way to spend a warm summer day than in a kayak in the river, soft breezes blowing over the water.
Many of us have the mental image of nature as somehow kinder, sweeter, more gentle than the lives we lead. On a fundamental reality level, I knew that wasn’t true, but as long as all I saw were flying birds and leaping squirrels, I could ignore the rest. Even knowing that the large eat the small, and the strong kill the weak, that nature is fierce.
Nonetheless, the rattlesnake and snapping turtle have as much a right to their dinners as the bright yellow finch or the ladder-backed woodpecker. I didn’t realize how many of the creatures in my own backyard bore significant scars from hawks and foxes and bobcats until I got a distance lens and saw it myself.
With the camera, I see many of the animals I photograph bear significant scars and damage from attacks by other creatures. Some have healed, others have disappeared and probably didn’t survive.
This is a story about love and nature.
Clytemnestra’s Lament: The Story of the Swans – By Karin Laine McMillen
We bought our swans, as all the bourgeois do.
They came in the US mail, in boxes with pointed tops. We had a swan release party. Restricted beauty reigned as pinioned swans flew across our one acre, man-made, engineered and certified pond.
Relocating swans is a precarious commitment. An unexpectedly large rectangular enclosure needs to be built in advance, part of it in the water and the remainder on land. This is so the pair can acclimate to their habitat, lest they try to walk back to Illinois from whence they came.
Named Illich and Odette after the heroine of Swan Lake by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, they acted as guardians of my gentleman’s farm and performed their duties of chasing geese and eating the algae with instinctual vigor.
Every spring our female, distinguished by her slightly diminutive size, built a large, perfectly round nest which always reminded me of Big Bird’s nest from Sesame Street. The first year, she just built it. I don’t know if she had eggs or not, but if she did they didn’t hatch.
The second year, my family arrived for the weekend from New York to discover four baby swans on the pond with their parents. We quickly discovered, or more accurately researched, that baby swans are named cygnets. We disseminated that information to anyone who would listen.
The following weekend I was saddened to see only two cygnets. My toddler was fascinated by who might have “eatted” them. I grabbed my camera to be sure to capture the fluffy whiteness and inspiring family unit in action. I unrealistically fantasized about having two sets of swans forever gracefully adorning our pond.
I don’t remember how long the last two babies lived, but at some point in the spring, I heard that one of the cygnets had been dragged out of the pond and eaten by a snapping turtle. I was furious, and have been trying to kill those prehistoric looking creatures ever since.
The following year I became excited in the early spring as Odette started constructing her nest and proceeded to sit on it for weeks on end, for a gestation time I never fully researched.
On May 4th, 2007 the French National Orchestra was touring with Kurt Masur on the podium. The date stuck with me due to my bird-loving grandmothers anniversary of birth. New Yorkers turned out in droves to see their former popular conductor. I was seated in one of the side boxes at Carnegie Hall with a fellow musician. We were beyond excited to hear Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony as the highlight of the program.
Our familiarity with the work was such that we glanced nervously at each other when the horns flubbed their perfect fifths in the first movement. We knew that the difficult horn solo at the beginning of the second movement was extremely exposed, and would dictate the success of the evening.
I went to bed on a high that I am convinced one can only get from music and had an unnerving and unexpectedly feverish dream filled with violence and unrest. Black and white converged; blood, death, and fear prevailed. I woke in a sweat and shortly got the call.
It happened that the previous evening. My darling Odette was ripped to shreds by a bear. She was guarding her eggs.
When haunted by the violent passages of Tchaik 5, I still reflect on my culpability. Did I doom this mother by naming her after a heroine who dances herself to death?
Illich survived. He graced our pond for season upon season. I often wonder if he sang in mourning for his bride and offspring, while I sat ninety miles away in a red velvet adorned box at Carnegie Hall.
Years later, on a spring morning, I got a call informing me that the body of Illich was immobile on the land beside the pond. I envisioned him with his beautiful neck resting on the ground. I begged our sensitive caretaker to bury him appropriately on the property.
Last spring a single grey swan grace our pond for a little while. He did not stay. This spring another has been spotted and I am nearly desperate for him to stay. Precariously, I follow the new swan with my camera as I stroll around the pond on Memorial Day.
My nearly white golden retriever and the white swan seem to have come to an equilibrium. My retriever seems to inherently understand the complex relationships before him. My mind weaves restlessly between questions and wishes.
Do I dare name him? Will he find a bride? Will they stay?
Suddenly peace washes over me with the warm breeze and I hear a whisper: “Nature, as is her habit, will forgive.”