Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Summer Of Crows

After I waxed Nostalgic and Reverent in my last post about birds, J. in Comments reminded me that a great many birds (as well as all sorts of other species in Nature) can be real assholes. It reminded me of an incident that I wanted to share with you. Several, actually, and as I began thinking more and more, I wondered if I was actually a Nature Appreciator after all.  Many times Rick and I have had to wrest control away from the animals, and it has not been pretty. Especially when Rick gets involved.

(In any case, I am still Deeply Committed to my resolution to name all pesky critters after republicans, and I will photograph them and share them in a post later.)

But I digress.

One summer many years ago, we were awakened at an ungodly hour by the raucous and persistent screaming of crows. It wasn't even quite light outside yet, and the noise was jarring. It kept up, back and forth and back and forth, for over an hour. It was close, too, and I had it pegged to the huge evergreen in the yard catty-corner behind us. We shut our bedroom windows, but it didn't really help; our house is tiny, and the rest of the windows in it were open. That sound rocketed around the whole place, and we couldn't go back to sleep. I really felt bad for Rick, who was not on summer vacation like me and the boys. He had a full day's work ahead of him. We could take it easy all day. The boys, by the way, slept through it all the way children often do.

We had never seen a crow in the neighborhood, so we figured it was an anomaly and that there wouldn't be a repeat performance. We were wrong. For days and days, we were awakened at first light by this screeching serenade. Rick was exhausted; I was frustrated and angry. We were able to see our tormentors in the boughs of the pine tree, just as I had thought. What sounded like a whole gang was only two crows. With horror, I contemplated the idea of them nesting there.

Finally, one Saturday morning, Rick had had enough. "That's it!" he said. "I'm done with this bullshit." He bolted from our bed, clad only in his boxer briefs. I sat up. "What are you going to do?" I asked, more than a little fearful. He looked weary, grim, and to be honest, desperate.

He didn't even answer me. The next thing I heard was his heavy footfall on the steps to the back door. I heard the door open, and I leaned to look out the window. What I saw next must have made me turn into the embodiment of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

There was my husband, on our deck in the back yard, lying on the chaise longue in his underwear, aiming the Daisy BB gun rifle up into the towering pine, and calmly firing at the crows. After each shot, he quickly cocked it, returned it to his shoulder, lined up the sight, and fired again. Over and over, he repeated this, never changing his expression until once he said, "Got him" with satisfaction and a brief, one-sided smile. I knew the little Daisy couldn't kill a crow, especially at that distance, but I knew it could sting it, and it could definitely discourage it. I hoped our birdbrained alarm clock was finally broken.

It's probably worth noting that our neighborhood in a tightly-packed little suburb is an old street where houses are separated only by the width of a narrow driveway. We can hear one another sneeze inside our homes, and our neighbor to the west had an elevated deck, flush with the top step out of her back door. She probably wouldn't have been the least bit surprised, however, to have come out and looked down upon that particular tableau. Her son used to call my husband "Funny Rick." (But my sons were his babysitters.)


The Boxer Brief BB Gun Caper did solve our crow problem. The pair left, and we have not had a crow landing since. No neighbors witnessed the event, and as far as I know, no wildlife was harmed in the process. This time. But because Rick is often called upon to rescue us from Wildlife, he has tangled with many, many varmints. I think this may have to be a series.


Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bird Book

The Actual Book!
My elementary school, which has now been torn down and rebuilt into a bigger and more modern building on the very same block, did not have a library. I mean to say, it did not have an actual Library room. Instead, we all trooped into the gymnasium, which also had in it a stage. We carefully mounted the steps, and there behind the curtains were the shelves and shelves of books. Looking back now, there couldn't have been very many, and I don't honestly know how the whole thing was managed. After all, we had school programs and concerts, too, but I think they were held on the floor of the gym at the front of the stage on risers. None of that mattered to me, of course. I just loved going to the library and picking out a book.

Heck, I don't recall there even being a librarian. I doubt there was one. It was probably the teacher's job to take care of all of that in our Gym-Stage Library. As I've mentioned here many times before, I was completely oblivious to so much Reality as I was growing up. I completely trusted all Grownups to take care of everything, and I was happy to let them.

Since I was already reading well into the middle grades when I arrived at kindergarten, I burned through the little library pretty quickly, at least the books I was interested in. But I didn't mind. I was--and still am--an avid ReReader. I also took out the books no one else cared too much about, like the Bird Book.

I was pretty excited about bringing home the Bird Book to my mother. St. Patsy started me on my love of backyard birdwatching, and her knowledge of bird songs, nests, habits, mating rituals, and everything else is almost encyclopedic. When she trimmed our bangs, she put the hair out for the robins to use in their nests. When she heard a frenzy of robin and blue jay calls, she knew they were feuding for nesting territory.  She knew why we got chased by the blue jay--it had a nest in the rose arbor by the door. And it was my mother who called for the BB gun every time she saw the neighbor's Siamese cat slithering around the back yard, low and slow, its eyes intent on the chubby baby robin listening at the wet ground near the bird bath. St. Patsy could noiselessly slide that gun barrel through the open storm window, draw a bead on that cat's butt, and ping it precisely to the right or left of the tail. The next thing we'd hear was a pained screech from a cat jumping straight up in the air before it scooted out of the yard. "All right Mom!" we'd hoot, and she'd simply nod, satisfied.

My mother and I would look at the Bird Book together, and I would look at it endlessly alone. I still remember its bright pages, each one about 4" x 6", bearing an illustration of a bird. They weren't photographs, like most bird books have now, but drawings. Underneath was a brief summary of its habitat, call/song, what it ate, how many eggs in its nest, type of nest, etc. I had seen a great many, of course: robin, blue jay, cardinal, grackle, starling, Baltimore oriole, red wing blackbird, all ten million sparrows, chickadees, juncos, mourning doves, and more. But as I looked at some of the other birds, I felt jealous. Some were so exotic, so colourful, so unusual. Why didn't they ever come to our yard? What if I never saw a red-eyed vireo? Or a pine grosbeak? Or a scarlet tanager? I had never even seen a hummingbird, let alone a painted (rainbow) bunting! And I had never gotten to see a bluebird, either.

The only flamingos I had ever seen were my late grandmother's old wire and concrete ones in my dad's rose garden. And the ones on Florida postcards we had been sent. All of our birds were boring. I still loved them, however, at least most of them. I learned my mother's disdain for starlings and grackles, both messy birds who were pigs at the bird feeders, ate all of our cherries before we got any, and who crowded out the other birds.

My father had a special affinity for the cardinal. He loved its red plumage, black mask, and the way it feeds and keeps company with its mate. It brightens up its surroundings, and it often waits until other birds are gone to feed. It likes to feed at dusk, when things are cool and quiet. It is a bit solitary, and he was a lot like that. My mother thinks of my dad whenever she sees a cardinal, and I think the rest of us do, too.

If I had to pick a favourite bird, I would pick the blue jay. It is a very beautiful bird, not shy at all, with a variety of songs and calls. It is a misunderstood bird in that many observers think it chases small birds away from feeders, but once it makes its "clear out" call, it gets a seed and flies elsewhere to eat it. In fact, blue jays are planters because of this. They often take seeds, bury or place them to eat later, forget about it, and the seeds will sprout. So, blue jays might have a big mouth and seem bossy, but they do a lot of good behind the scenes.

When I adopted EmilyCat so, so many years ago, I felt a twinge of guilt. She was mostly Siamese. We all grew up as Cat Haters, so devoted we were to birds, and we especially hated and mistrusted Siamese cats. One of the few times I ever heard my mother swear was when she referred to the Bird And Baby Bunny Eating Siamese as "That Damn Cat." But puny, sick little EmilyCat needed us. And it all turned out fine.

I'm happy to report that I have added considerably to my list of Birds I've Seen, even though some still remain elusive. Hummingbirds regularly stop at my feeder, and I did see a bluebird. A nesting pair of cedar waxwings cavort in the branches above the deck. Sunshiny goldfinches seem to be everywhere. A Carolina wren kept the kittens and me company all winter, pecking around on the front porch. Those are only a few examples. And I see a brilliant red cardinal, it seems, wherever I go.

bird book image

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Adjusting The Waistband On My Cranky Pants

Yeah, yeah, I'm still here, someplace amid a mound of fleece blankets, fleece-lined spandex exercise pants, longsleeved tee, and fleece hooded sweatshirt. Welcome to Ohio, where we like to celebrate the coming of June by having temperatures in the forties overnight and the fifties during the day.

I wish I were kidding.

And let's make sure we add wind and rain in there. So that I can also run my furnace to dispel the damp.

Holy crap. I am hereby lodging a Formal Complaint. Can someone out there see that it gets to the Proper Authorities?

Yikes. Someone is, I fear, a Little Bit Crabby. And a little Snarked Out. Not quite Centered or At One With Her Zen. I'm too cheap to pay for therapy, and even though I could use my Dr. On Demand app and get a free introductory session, I'd rather use all of you. Will you be my therapist and listen to my Issues? Then you can counsel me in Comments, and we can all do likewise for you. Here we go.

::Where Is The Real News?:: What passes for News these days is no less than a farce. It's as if People magazine has taken over journalism. I can feel/hear Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow spinning in their graves. Celebrity births, cutesy dog videos, and marginal events like charity drives and soldier homecomings are common stories on the national news (I'm looking at you, NBC Nightly News). Is there really nothing else occurring of note in the world, even in the realms of science, politics, government, technology, or finance?

::Is This Really Style?:: I sat (somewhat) stoically and quietly by while the Eighties neon colours came back into fashion, and I shut up a lot when everyone made a big deal out of the rope wedge, peasant blouses, and all the other crap that I used to wear back in the seventies as being so fresh and wonderful and Right Now On Trend. But there is No Way that I am sitting still for H&M selling this for $39.95 and even outright calling it The Mom Jean. It's a travesty. Worse yet is this assertion that the once-reviled, touristy and androgynous fanny pack is now de rigeur for all fashion mavens. Listen; the idea of being able to zip around on my errands without my purse hanging off my arm sounds like heaven to me, but if that comes at the expense of having a pelvis goiter, then no, No Thank You. I am old enough to remember the Playtex Girdle commercials and their admonishments about Midriff Bulge. I work hard not to have any Unsightly Bulges. The last thing I want is a Bulge that I paid for. (Oh, and for the record, I am still not wearing these. Certainly you can; I'm not judging.)

::Is This Real Life?:: In the next several months, it is expected that Donald "The Donald" Trump will announce his bid for the republican nomination for President. Of the United States. Where I live. Rather than be gleeful and entertained at this prospect, I am instead irked and irritated. Honestly, I'm not sure why. Probably because I know he's doing it just as an act of shameless self-promotion, and I'm annoyed that he's able to make such a mockery of a serious office to aggrandize and publicize himself and his empire. He's such a full-scale goofball that his own party will roll its eyes and sigh a lot, but the media will give him a ton of coverage and that's going to be excruciating.

::Real Quick-like:: How much do I need to care about the following things? Right now, I don't care about them at all even though they seem to be Everywhere: Game of Thrones, McDonald's "new" menu, Pinterest (I still don't get it), Sepp Blatter, Kelly Ripa's cleanse, the crazy Tasman Peninsula Dusky Antechinus, Windows 10, and Rand Paul. I will say that I find the name Sepp Blatter to be absolutely terrific. It belongs in the novel Cold Comfort Farm or perhaps something by Flannery O'Connor. Imagine:

"This here guy'll hep ya," said the cop, and he spat dryly into the street. He was indicating a slight, overall-wearing man who was ambling somewhat crookedly around the corner. "Name's Sepp Blatter. Owns the farm up the road. Has all kindsa equipment. He can getcha out." The officer raised his voice and called sharply, "Sepp! C'mon over here'n talk to this guy! He needs a tow." He pitched his voice lower and leaned in a little. "Now here's a little advice, 'n it's free. Sepp don't care much about money, but he ain't stupid neither. Them Blatters ain't livin' high up there, so make sure you offer him somethin' for his troubles. Do it up front, too." The officer winked broadly. "Get whatcha pay for that way."


My session is over; your turn in Comments.

pants in image for sale here
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