Tag Archive | Nature

Inside the Kaleidoscope, Driveway Edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Valentine’s Day at Mirador

 

IMG_5820It was a long, slow, cold, dark winter. A few days of sunshine sprinkled amongst weeks, months of clouds, fog, and snow. Driveways in our neighborhood drifted more times this winter than in the full decade past’s winters. These photos are sequential, from Valentine’s Day through last week, showing just some of the excitement of this turning season. Some have days between them, others only hours.

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February 16, drifting in progress

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The next morning after neighbor’s stealth plow job

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February 20, evening

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… the next day

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Inside, warm and sleepy

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February 23, early; the most spectacular drifts of the season

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An hour later, neighbor Joe deep cleaning the driveway

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Pooped again

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February 28, warming fast

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24 hours later, one whole snowbank has melted…

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March 5, the first crocuses opened at last! More than a month later than last year.

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March 9, flurries overnight. This time of year the snow has ceased to be a threat. No matter how much comes, it will melt soon. There is a sigh of relief with mud season, knowing that snow won’t stay long, and even though the firewood is low, it won’t be needed much longer.

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Walking the mammals, a nearly daily joy.

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Meanwhile, inside the sunroom

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… and outside, full-on crocus patch, with the first honeybee!

 

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Day by day, snow melts away

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Inside, orchids and geraniums in full bloom…

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Iris reticulata in full bloom outside, while tulip leaves get nibbled by deer. Those worthless dogs don’t chase them off anymore, so I’ve had to cover them with scrap wire and sticks.

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Snowstorms turn to rain, and after rain…

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Good Neighbors

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Grateful the Ecofan on top of the woodstove is working again…

Speaking of thanking things, I am so grateful to my little Ecofan that sits on top of the woodstove and pushes hot air through the house, using only the temperature differential between incoming air and the heat underneath it to power itself. It quit working about a week ago, and I fussed with it a little, talked to it some, looked up repair options on Youtube, and suddenly it started working again last night. I have been thanking it out loud when it’s blowing every time I add wood to the stove.

Another thing Marie Kondo did for me was validate my tendency to speak to everything. I’ve been chatting with houseplants all my life. If everything has some sort of spirit, it’s not crazy to speak to everything. I do it all the time, but almost never in front of anyone else. It’s one reason I live alone except for non-verbal animals. I feel really good about thanking the Ecofan.

I’m grateful for everything in my life, including the fact of where I live. Not only is it beautiful, it isn’t 50 degrees below zero tonight. It hasn’t been much below zero for twenty years. This winter, just a couple of nights in negative single digits. When I first moved here, there were multiple nights each winter in minus double digits, several each year of 20 or more below. When I lived in northeastern Utah in an 1880s two-room log cabin, we had five nights in a row around 40 below. I’d get the temperature up into the 90s and pack the woodstove before I went to bed. When I woke, it was 50 inside. I’m grateful I no longer have to work that hard to stay warm. I feel for those who do.

So while others in our great, big country struggle to survive this polar vortex spill caused by ‘global warming,’ or as I prefer to call it, Climate Chaos, I sit here at my desk cozy and content, appreciating where and among whom I live.

Even if I don’t agree with my neighbors about some things, there are a couple of things we all seem to have in common: We care about the landscape in which we dwell. We have some reverence for place, no matter how differently we manifest it. And we care about each others’ animals, feeding one another’s cats or filling birdfeeders when someone’s away, catching cows or horses that stray. The other day I went to water a friend’s plants and spooked a flock of rosy finches.

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Audubon has a fascinating map feature that shows how the range of gray-crowned rosy finches, listed as Climate Endangered, has diminished between 2000 and now. I’ve heard about these birds, increasingly uncommon winter residents in western Colorado, but never seen one until this flock last week. It was thrilling! An unintended benefit of being neighborly.

Another Life v. Death dilemma entered my life this week. A guy called, I recognized his name as a long-time local family who are outfitters. He said a mountain lion had gotten into his herd of horses down in the Smith Fork, and might have killed one of them. “Once they’ve done something like that they’ll do it again,” he explained. He wanted permission to track the lion across my property. I said, reluctantly, ok. I suspected he was exaggerating the alleged lion attack. But what else could I have done?

I said, “I would prefer that you don’t kill it on my property.” He had no reply. We hung up. My land is a recognized wildlife sanctuary. I can’t give just anyone permission to kill on it. But if livestock is at stake, and people are courteous enough to ask permission, I can’t very well say no. That is the unwritten code of where I live: We are neighborly. We try to help out each other. I have seen these guys putting chains on their tires and taking them off at the top of the field in the canyon where their horses are right now. They work hard. They are attentive to their animals. Their way is not mine, but I don’t begrudge them.

The next day, I ran into one of them. They were searching for two hunting dogs they’d lost track of whilst tracking. I called James that evening, and said “I’ll sleep better tonight knowing they’re home warm and safe, but if they’re not I’ll keep looking out for them.” They had been found, they were fine. I was relieved. He was grateful that I’d asked. Ultimately, they did not find the lion, but they did get all their hounds back. It was a good outcome, as far as I’m concerned.

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Later that day we ran into a traffic jam on our way to Delta.

 

img_5342Another highlight of the week was finding a new home for a sweet old cat. Which reminds me, people have asked for a Rosie the Dog update: It’s a long story, but Rosie is in a foster home in Ridgway where she gets to live in the house, and cross-country ski almost every day. She is available for permanent adoption through the Second Chance Humane Society. You can meet her here if you haven’t already:

Bringing Rosie into my life generated a big awakening. Her joyful, loving energy lifted my spirits immensely, just as my latest round of PT has strengthened and toned my body. The result has been an enlivening perspective on making the best of what already is in my life, and relinquishing all that I must in order to live mindfully within my limitations.

The biggest gift Rosie gave me was the realization that I was taking my own precious animals for granted. Despite having all along a painful awareness of the shortness and mystery of each of their lives, I wasn’t putting into practice that awareness. With four of them, and my limited energy and physical constraints, I wasn’t spending enough time loving each of them, one on one, eye to eye, heart to heart. Since the kittens came, the two old dogs have loyally done whatever I’ve asked of them, patiently savoring any morsel of my undivided attention as gratefully as they do the tiniest last bites they wait for at the end of every meal. 

Since Rosie left six weeks ago, I’ve engaged more with each dog and cat, and even had a session last week with an animal communicator. It was amazing and exhilarating. The understanding and bond with all of my animals is stronger, in both directions. The cats are both more affectionate, and coming on more and longer walks with me and the dogs. Raven has stopped licking her groins obsessively, and is much more relaxed. Stellar is even happier than he’s always been, and said he likes the pumpkin on his food.

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The cats are especially grateful that sweet Rosie has found a new place to live on her journey to a real home. Now they can walk with us through the woods or up the driveway, and come through the mudroom unchallenged. Ojo has stopped biting me, and started purring again.

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We haven’t been to the canyon since we snowshoed out there on New Year’s Day, taking our walks up the driveway instead. And there have been plenty of days this month when we didn’t even do that! We’re all getting lazy in our old age. Or maybe just more particular about what weather we want to go out and play in.

And then there are days like these: The sky remained cloudless all day. Late sun sliding below the ridge, lighting snowbanks, treebark, mountaintops, cats’ eyes, dogs’ fur, deep bright cold gold.

Air warmed to almost freezing from nine overnight. We went outside late morning. Dogs and deer have carved trails intersecting with paths I’ve shoveled, and I could get around the yard a little more for rounds. Under some trees ground has warmed enough to melt snow. It’s time to think about pruning some shrubs while they’re free of leaves. Dormant buds already pulse with life on fruit trees. I hear a chainsaw.

Stellar and I walk into the woods next door as neighbor Ken stops his saw. He’s clearing a dead tree for Paul’s firewood. He offers me a chair, a beautiful round from the dead juniper, and is happy for the break. We chat about this winter, the marvelous snow, our miracle girl next door, recent bobcats and mountain lions in the neighborhood. Paul pulls up in his 4-wheeler to collect the wood, and we catch up for a few minutes, while Ken plows him a track to the tree pieces. Stellar and I leave them to their wood work, and head happily home to our own.

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He really does want to help.

 

 

In Defense of Marie Kondo

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Before the neighbor plowed my driveway, and below, after. Completely unrelated to Marie Kondo, but I don’t want to share pictures of all my STUFF! Hard to believe under all this snow that in just three or four weeks we’ll have flowers emerging again.

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When I first heard an interview about Marie Kondo on NPR, years ago, her very phrase “spark joy” sparked joy in me, then and there, as I drove along the highway. I remember exactly where on the road I was, just over that crest beyond Kwiki, where you can look down into the river, across the river, over the fields, to the mountains. There’s a pullout there. Just east of that pullout I heard the phrase spark joy for the first time. 

Marie Kondo is a Shinto priestess. Those who deride her approach to things, (gentle, respectful, connected, grateful) are the product of separation from the natural world enforced by the military-industrialist culture that pervades the globe. Transportation, weapons, communication, myriad insidious tendrils of technology wrap around this living planet like so much tangled fishing net, choking the life from her, drowning her in her own effluent as she is pumped dry and belched into a finite bubble of atmosphere. Only the scum of the earth would make a career out of destroying the planet, and so the scum rises to the upper echelons of corporate domination. 

But I digress. I felt the truth of Marie’s philosophy in my bones that day, and tingled inside my skin. It reflects the way I have always felt about things, from obviously animate things like Raggedy Ann and my stuffed animals, the orchids in my sunroom; to less obviously inspirited things like rocks, firewood, a brass pelican, appliances, toy plastic spiders, bubble wrap, even nail clippings. Growing up in this dominant “consumer” culture, I’ve had to unlearn the reverence for all things with which I was born. I resent being called a consumer. I consume as little as I can from this planet, and do my best to give back to it. 

I have a lot of stuff because most of it came to me, and I attached to it, and couldn’t pass it on through my life. My ancestors, parents (grandparents, great-grandparents) spent time in the Far East, as they called it, Japan, China, the Philippines, from the early days of US colonization well into my generation of cousins. I was raised among oriental antiques and taught the value of good things. Other than that, though, we were a throwaway family like everyone else. 

It’s taken a long time for me to even face, much less begin to unravel, the web of stuff that surrounds me. There are obviously enough people who suffer from their inability to organize stuff to make Marie Kondo a superstar. I’m one of them. Generations of things have reached a dead end in me. There is no one to inherit in my line. Generations of things, which I have because each piece speaks to me, holds an association, belongs to some story or person in my life. And/Or, because it’s functional, so why spend money on new materials? I’m a keeper.

But each thing connects to me with a cosmic invisible strand, enmeshes me in a culture of things as surely as the techno-web entangles the earth. Marie gives people like me hope. There is a way out, by cultivating discernment, and a better understanding of ourselves and our values, and learning some simple storage techniques. People embrace the KonMari method because it works.

It’s the age-old adage I was raised with, A place for everything, and everything in its place. It’s appreciating what you have, it is in fact, wanting what you have instead of getting what you want. Is this the fundamental objection some people have to the Konmari method? That they can’t continue to consume everything they want, if they even think about her approach? That they can’t stand to look inside themselves and feel and think about their belongings, and whether, maybe, they need to own so much stuff?

My friend Dawn has helped me with my stuff-culling struggle before, and was instrumental in helping me reduce my ancestral inheritance from one storage unit down to a quarter of a yurtful. Not long after I first heard about Marie, Dawn gave me her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. While I haven’t been able to commit to the process entirely, I have used its philosophy of respecting and thanking things that no longer serve, and its spark joy criterion to help me clear a bunch of stuff from my life. Every time I take a box or two to the thrift store I feel lighter. Every year I resolve to git‘er done once and for all. Maybe this year.

I am learning. For example, all my tea towels bring me joy, and when they age out of the kitchen, they go to work as animal wipes for wet coats, muddy feet, weed seeds. I enjoy every one of the cotton dishcloths I’ve knitted, and they last forever; when one finally gets too old it’s recycled into the tool box for a small work cloth, or into the rag bin for a scrubber. I finally have rag mentality: natural fiber clothing gets used long and hard for its initial purpose, and then it gets shredded into rags to use for cleaning, dusting, and eventually compost.

What Marie teaches is that if we value stuff more, we have less of it. It’s a lesson capitalist, consumer culture would do well to learn. It’s the lesson my friend Jerry knew forty years ago and I failed to grasp completely. I had more of that feeling living in an 8’x40’ trailer when I first landed here, with the bulk of my world outside that one long room, than I do now. More and more stuff accrued after the house was built, the bulky edifice in which I now dwell most of my waking hours instead of outside. Inside, surrounded by stuff, much of it inherited, which overwhelms me. 

I’m grateful to Marie Kondo and her method, which is grounded in a deep sense of spirit. Maybe someday I’ll have time and energy to tackle everything all in one month, but meanwhile I’ll just keep on decluttering one drawer, one bookshelf, one file drawer, one windowsill at a time. And still, I’ll have a full house; but everything in it will spark joy. Then I’ll finally have peace of mind. Right?

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Grammar Gripe

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I can’t do it any longer. I can’t not say anything. I don’t want to offend people, or sabotage their world views, or judge them. I just want to enjoy being a living incarnation of the magnanimous force that created this universe and keeps it in eternal unfathomable motion. I just want to be a good person.

My dear friend gave me a shirt last year that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I am. Even though sometimes the rules are ridiculous, like punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks. I can’t help myself. It’s the one thing I can do. It’s the one thing that I love. I learned grammar like a fish to water, and therefore, I can play with it. As a writer, I can play with grammar.

But you? You news writer for NBC who wrote for Miguel Almaguer to say, “Downloaded more than a hundred million times, prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Prosecutors were NOT downloaded more than a hundred million times.

Yet that is is actually, in fact, what Miguel said, with his grammar. There is no dispute about it, if you agree with the laws of English grammar: the prosecutor was not downloaded more than a hundred million times, The Weather Channel app was. That sentence, if you want to be educated about it, should read, “Prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App, downloaded more than a hundred million times,  was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Now, how hard is that to understand? You should have learned that in sixth grade, NBC writer.

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My contribution to Christmas Dinner was peach pie. 

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I pulled whole peaches from the deep freeze and microwaved them for two 30 second hits, mixing them up between, rolling the bottom peaches to the top, letting the top peaches slide down the inside of the bowl. 

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Peels and pits to the side for compost. Their skins really do slip right off, and they practically break in half. Still partially frozen but juicy, they’re so small I can put them in the pie shell in halves, pit-side down, round shining essentially fresh peach halves.

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I did bake the bottom crust first. Having finally figured out to add a little more water at this altitude right off the bat, and mix fast but not too much. 

My friend’s husband Steve was right: you have to use your hands; a pastry cutter won’t result in the right size butter inclusions. You need tiny, uniform pockets of butter (or butter/lard) to make the pastry flaky. That’s science. I don’t get it exactly but I’m beginning to experience it, and I believe experience is what makes a pastry chef, or anyone, an expert at something, whether they can explain the physics of it or not.

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A nearly perfect peach pie: enough peaches to fill and round the pie plate, mixed with some sugar (not too much), and a palm-full of tapioca, stirred, and left to sit. Crusts mixed, chilled, and rolled; the bottom crust baked for around ten minutes with parchment paper weighted with beans; filled, topped, and baked, like, forever.

I think my new oven is not quite calibrated for my altitude. I think ten minutes at 450 degrees would be ideal. Then filled and quickly covered, crimped, and replaced in the oven for another ten minutes. Then, the book says, bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. 50 minutes came and went, another ten, another ten, it took forever to even start to brown. Once the peach juice bubbled up inside the edge I took it out of the oven. Mmmmmm, the aroma.

Pastry baking science aside, how hard is it to comprehend that United States President Donald Trump flat out lied? He promised during his campaign, and was elected on the promise that, Mexico would pay for the wall.

It infuriates me that people, whatever their alliance, are not outraged, are not bombarding their Senators with phone calls and emails, exclaiming that this Shutdown is not good for America, and that Trump promised Mexico, NOT WE, would pay for any wall. He lied to you!

If every one of the nearly one million Federal workers who are working without pay, or not working without pay, would call their Senators and tell them whether or not they favor this Trump Shutdown, maybe, he says, for years, I bet that Congress would hear a whole lot more NOs than they would YESs. Every one of these people, whether they support or oppose Trump, counts on the income, purpose, and dignity of their job with the Federal Government. Trump does not speak for them. They speak for themselves.

This is a broken promise masquerading as some other closet monster. It’s monsters all the way down. The squirrelly (no offense to squirrels) course that this person’s chicanery and abuse takes is exceptionally skillful. The guy is a magnificent manipulator. And I’ve come to know some damned skillful manipulators through the years, even as recently as last summer.

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Thanksgiving’s pie was apple/plum, both from last year’s harvest, in the freezer. I figured out the crust mixing physics that time, but not the cooking science, so it had soggy bottom, ick. Also, the apples were undercooked, too al dente for my taste. Otherwise, a good mix of cinnamon, sugar, tart apple, and more tart, but less of, plum, just a layer on the top.

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Sorry friends, I didn’t ask your permission. But you kind of have to assume, knowing me, you might show up here one day. I love this picture. It expresses to me the ultimate in community. When I moved here almost 27 years ago, I could never have imagined how lucky I would become, how grateful for so much in my life. Every day that I wake up, I thank my lucky stars. For waking up at all, for the day ahead in this place, for community at ever-deepening levels.

So, that’s grammar and the president’s lies out of the way. Back to the allegation that TWC, our go-to weather source (and admittedly a drama queen of a station), has been illegally stealing our private information. “The app deceptively collected, shared, and profited from private location data of millions of consumers….” Miguel went on. Then he introduced the LA City Attorney, who said:

‘Think how Orwellian it is to have a third party you never had contact with know where you’ve gone for a therapist, for a date, for what you did last night…’

“Banking on TWC brand, the Weather Company, owned by IBM, operates the app… which manipulated users into turning on location tracking, using valuable personal data, for commercial gain.” Owned by IBM? Why should this be surprising? We’ve all signed those agreements we never read. We’ve all been complicit in so many ways in the prostitution of our privacy.

I’m sick of it, I tell you, sick of it. All of it. It is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning some days. But there is so much to live for, so much to get out of bed for, that I can sometimes set aside the incessant enervation of our species’ chatter, to enjoy the day.

Today, “another bluebird day across the state,” said Colorado Public Radio. It was spectacular. Blinding in its perfection. Every second with eyes open was a calendar photo. And the minutes and hours or portions of hours spent indoors with friends, or alone, were succulent every second. I could not be a more lucky human being.

IMG_5246.jpgSo much I don’t have, yet so much more that I do. Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day.

 

 

 

Why I Didn’t Report That Rape

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… a spoonful of sugar… 

It was the only one that happened to me, let’s get that out of the way. Was it violent? Sure, in a way; no knife or imminent gun, just brute force, and my willingness to submit without escalating the violence. There were plenty of guns in the house, though, and a temper that took them out on rabbits in the desert: the guns and the temper, he took them both out together, and with them took out some rabbits. Taught his little four-year-old how to do that, too, so I often wonder what kind of man that poor kid grew into. Maybe as macho a one as his dad, who, though, still retained a soft spot for his college (occasional, accidental) lover, another macho athletic man. But that kind of hypocrisy is another issue. (Or is it?)

I was raped in my ex-boyfriend’s bed within minutes of making it clear that I was breaking up with him. So why didn’t I report it? Well, I could just hear the arguments, because they were and still are pervasive in our culture. They’re already in our heads. (If you aren’t aware that you’re hearing these patriarchal voices in your head, you’re in even more trouble.) So that while I knew this was rape, I also believed that no one else would think it was ‘a serious rape.’ And we lived in a small, intense community in a rural outpost. I wasn’t willing to fight about it, it was best for me to just lie there and survive, then walk away.

In that case, the argument would have been similar to a wife claiming rape, maybe more insidious, and it was this: You went over to his house. You’ve already fucked him a hundred times, you can’t claim rape. Something like that. “It wasn’t really rape,” or “It wasn’t really rape.” The idea that if she’s already your woman, it isn’t rape. I say maybe more insidious than the argument against a wife’s claim, because an entrenched idea of ‘ownership’ remains a sad condition of marriage; with a girlfriend, the idea that no doesn’t mean no expresses an even deeper level of gender-based ownership, i.e., men rule women.

We saw this gender-based entitlement on vivid display in the second half of yesterday’s hearings. I personally could not watch, the heartrending snippets I heard in the morning having sent me into flight mode. But I listened and watched some evening news coverage, and saw the tempers explode and the spittle fly, and the ‘snarls of hatred and contempt,’ from Kavanaugh, Graham, and other angry white men. Somewhere in here is where the hypocrisy issue lies, claws nestled in those dark hearts. Are these really the people you want making the decisions that will affect your children’s, and your grandchildren’s, lives?

Women, if you live with a bully for a husband, or boyfriend, or father, you are living with abuse; if the man or men in your life belittle, degrade, threaten, slap or beat you, you need to see it for what it is. You don’t deserve it. You may not be able to argue or stand up to your abuser right now, but you can step into the privacy of your secret ballot this November, and every election, and say NO to the prevailing culture that now sanctions this abuse of a nation.

And now for some gratuitous beauty:

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Life goes on, turn, turn, turn….

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It helps to make time to appreciate beauty and the company of friends.

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It helps to walk with dogs.

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It helps to allow both joy and sorrow, love and rage, faith and uncertainty, in your heart at the same time; to practice equanimity… with ferocity, when necessary. 

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Living fire in the back yard, and in the ‘extended’ back yard.

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Hummingbirds: an Ongoing Commitment

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This Gaura has been as delightful a plant as any I’ve ever grown. Catching a glimpse out the window this morning I marveled at it again, dancing in the breeze in early September sun. I planted this a couple of times in the ground, but it wouldn’t overwinter, so I tried again this summer in a big clay pot. The combination of pink, white and red flowers has been spectacular.

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It draws hummingbirds as well as bees, even though the hummingbird feeder is just five feet away. Nothing is better food for these tiny dynamos than actual flower nectar.

I’ve mentioned some tips about feeding hummingbirds in previous posts, but I’m motivated today to just tell all. A friend asked me the other day, When should I take down my feeders? She asks me this every year. Every year, I tell her, About ten days after you’ve last seen a hummingbird.

Really? I thought you were supposed to take them down so they don’t miss their migration. Somehow this Myth resurfaces every fall instead of the answer I’ve given everyone who asks me for years. The birds won’t stick around late just because you have your feeders up: in fact, even after your summer population leaves, migrants passing through will benefit from your feeders staying up and clean.*

It’s not just the feeding schedule that matters when you commit to sustaining a hummingbird feeder through the season. Every summer, I inevitably encounter ill-kept feeders at the homes of people who should know better. Some of you have learned to keep your feeders clean, and some of you haven’t. Next time I have to say something, I’m naming names! And yes, I am scolding. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature. I’ve been subtle about this issue long enough.

COMMITMENT

Everybody means well when they put out feeders. Despite our best intentions, as frail and fallible humans, we don’t always follow through. Feeding hummingbirds isn’t something you do at your convenience, because it’s nice to have the pretty birds around. It’s a commitment: You commit to serving the welfare of the birds daily, because otherwise you contribute to their demise. There are so many ways to do it wrong, and the consequences are dire.

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Blue and red salvias planted in pots around the patio, when fed and deadheaded regularly, provide bountiful food for young hummingbirds migrating later than their parents, and learning to trust my garden as a reliable resource. I’ve learned it’s worth it to buy these tender perennials annually and tend them well, for the bountiful beauty they provide with both their blooms and their pollinators.

IMG_7334-131IMG_7300-132Caveat: exactly when to take down feeders is an art as well as a science; some people in the far north take them down at the first hard frost, or even earlier. This may be where the Myth originates. Places with year round hummingbirds obviously don’t need to stop feeding at all. I could send you straight to Audubon for all you need to know about feeding hummingbirds, but that would leave me nothing to say.

Here in the central latitudes of the continent, experience tells me to leave my feeder up for at least ten days after I’ve seen the last hummingbird, cleaning and refilling it as needed.* There is always a last hummingbird, sometimes after I’ve taken down the feeder, so I keep a jar of nectar in the fridge for a few weeks even when I think I’ve seen the last one, just in case of an exhausted straggler. I’ll make one cup, and if I don’t use it in a week I may make another cup. A small waste of sugar is worth a hummingbird’s life.

This time of year, I see mostly summer’s youngsters in my garden. They’re learning what’s good food and what’s not. They check out all the flowers, and don’t use the feeder nearly as much as their parents did earlier in summer. Many adults, especially males, are already moving south. These juveniles are exploring, gaining insight and wisdom, as they check out red honeysuckle berries and rose hips as well as salvia and snapdragons.IMG_7225-128IMG_7329-130Tending hummingbirds demands dedication. When you put out a feeder you initiate a real relationship with a particular population of little beings, the closest thing to fairies in our remaining wild world. Connie and John used to feed hundreds of hummingbirds of four species just a few miles south and a thousand feet higher than I live here. They were committed. They brewed gallons of fresh nectar a day, and their feeders never had a chance to get cloudy or moldy. The sound was amazing! They moved to Wisconsin.

NO RED DYE!

That shit shouldn’t even be legal to sell. Would you add an absolutely unnecessary red chemical to your every meal? No, you wouldn’t. Red food for hummingbird feeders is a sales scam, and hard on their tiny kidneys. Yes, they’re attracted to red, and that’s why feeders are usually red, but the food in them should be clear.

Once and for all, the best and cheapest nectar takes just a few minutes of your time. One (1) part refined white sugar to four (4) parts water. One to four, sugar/water, nothing else. You can put them both in the pan together, bring to boiling, and boil for a minute or two (no more!), or you can boil water in your kettle, pour it into the jar with the sugar, and shake the bejesus out of it until it settles clear, and you can’t see any sugar residue. The reason you heat the water is to increase its absorption of the sugar granules. There’s no need to cook it, as long as you make sure the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Then let it cool to room temperature before pouring into clean* feeders.

I hear that hummingbirds don’t like to drink cold nectar, so maybe when you have refrigerated nectar you want to change your feeders at night. When they come to feed in the morning, the nectar is ambient temperature. On super hot days, nectar can spoil quickly, so change it every day or two even if they haven’t finished it. In early spring or fall, if it’s going to freeze at night, bring feeders in for the night and put them back out early in the morning so the food is there, not frozen, when they wake up.

*ALWAYS CLEAN FEEDERS!

You don’t have to scrub them every time you fill them, but you do have to rinse thoroughly in hot water, and swish away any sticky residue with a bottle brush or your fingertips, depending on the design of the feeder. Audubon recommends no soap, as the residue can harm them. Clean your nectar storage jars the same way you clean the feeders, every time you empty them.

You do need to rinse and refill more often during hot weather than in cool weather. And if there’s any sign at all of cloudiness in the nectar, or debris, or black or grey on the feeder, you DO need to scrub with hot water or a light hot water-vinegar solution, and rinse really really well. By the time you see that black stuff on the feeder, you’re already killing birds. It’s that simple.

An adult hummingbird who acquires fungus from your feeder carries it home to her tiny babies in their nest. She could die from it and leave them to starve, or she could transmit it to them. Or both. So keep your feeders clean. Invest in a bottlebrush or two, and get a pack of these perfect little brushes for the ports. It doesn’t take long for nectar to spoil in hot weather, and it doesn’t take you long to keep the feeders clean if you have the right tools for the job. I use really hot water if I’m cleaning a glass feeder, and less hot if I’m cleaning a plastic vessel.

OH, AND… CATS

I got rid of the feeders I kept for seed-eaters the summer before I started letting my two new kittens outside. It isn’t fair to bait the birds in when I’ve got cats that can’t help trying to catch them. I compromised on hummingbird feeders, cutting my three down to one, and kept that one mainly to supplement the flowers, which don’t always bloom at the right times anymore, another consequence of climate chaos. Last week I found the first dead hummingbird ever at my front door, and I think it was the one I photographed the day before, struggling to fly and feed.

IMG_6813-147You almost never see a hummingbird sitting still to feed. This little one was crashing about in the flowers all morning, clinging to stems while trying to feed, and tangling in the potted plants, most unusual behavior. Was she too young? Or too weak, or injured, or what? IMG_7016Another hummingbird kept diving at her, and I first thought it was the usual mine!mine!-aggression they all display while protecting a food source or territory. But the struggling bird didn’t seem to mind the other one, and when I followed them into the honeysuckle (with binoculars) it looked as though the strong bird was trying to feed the weak one. Were they migrating together?

IMG_6857-145Everywhere she flew this other bird followed, at times flying up underneath her as though for support or encouragement. Something was very wrong. It looked like the little slow one had a tuft of feathers sticking out where there shouldn’t be one, as though she might have an injury. It’s possible that this bird was snagged by a cat claw, or perhaps hit a window, or was in some other way compromised. IMG_7086It was one of those heart-wrenching moments when you wish there was something you could do but you know there’s not. Though she was flying badly she was still too fast for me to catch. And if I had, what then? So I left her to her fate, which I suspect was to be brought to my doorstep the next day, intact though darkly damp from cat saliva. I feel bad about that. These are the complex paradoxes that keep us dancing on our ethical toes.

Every choice we make has consequences, some (or most) of which we never fully know. Know that if you choose to put out hummingbird feeders, there’s only one right way to do it: Keep the feeders sparkling clean all summer, and keep them up til all the migrants have flown through your area. With habitat fragmentation, compromised migratory routes, and climate chaos all throwing anthropogenic challenges at these energetic little jewels, the least we can do if we choose to feed them is to do it right, helping rather than harming them.IMG_7232-140-141

 

Just Peachy, Really

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One of my best friends this summer has been the peach tree.

With James and the Giant Peach entrained early in life, there has always been something special to me about peaches, and this tree itself holds such meaning. Maybe that story is also why I love bugs and all other living creatures. That story, and “Are You My Mother?”

One of the first fruit trees I planted here, over the graves of a dog and a cat, I planted in memory of a woman I loved, Daryl Ann. She died of breast cancer twelve years ago, and lives in my heart for all time. So it’s a special tree, the peach tree.

It took a few years before it made more than a few peaches, and even since has only produced a bounty of peaches once before. This year, against the freeze odds, it made so many! I thinned, as I’ve been taught to do, a few weeks after the tree itself shed almost half its first flush of tiny green fruits. I’ve paid particular attention to it since then, nurturing with extra food and water, watching the growth and ripening of fruits closely, monitoring it daily for the past month in order to catch the most peaches as ripe as possible before the birds get them all.

On cold snowy days in spring, hot sunny days in summer, the oppressive smoky days of high fire season, cooler ripening days, I’ve spent time with the peach tree, dusting early for aphids before they could cripple early leaves, thinning, communing, watering, weeding around, photographing; generally keeping company with the peach tree, hanging out with and appreciating it.

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early summer

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mid-summer

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A month of smoke from wildfires

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and finally, ripening!

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Cocktails with the peach tree before first harvest

 

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This summer’s first peach harvest, about a third of what was on the tree. I watched and waited every day, until after a big wind I saw a couple of peaches on the ground. That evening I picked every peach that would let go easily.

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Plenty of peaches left, growing brighter every day.

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The August Manhattan includes a dash of peach bitters in addition to the regular Angostura and the secret ingredient, and is garnished with chunks of fresh peach.

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We made a peach pie with the last frozen peaches from two years ago, in anticipation of a fresh harvest. Thawed slightly sitting out, or 20 seconds or so in the microwave, the peels slip off easily and flesh pops right off the pit. Thanks, cuz, for taking pictures!

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Silicone mat (thanks, neighbor!) makes crust rolling easy.

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The second harvest from the tree, a bowl to share and a bowl to keep.

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And STILL peaches ripening on the tree, irresistible after a light rain. Altogether I picked three big bowls, and a few in between, always only pulling those that gave up easily. 

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An early sign that I’d better get the last of them off the tree…

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… and after birds, just a picked-clean pit. I did leave a couple of dozen on purpose for the birds, including one with a perfect view from the patio, so I could catch someone in the act.

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Last peaches, gifts for birds, glowing in the August sunset.

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… the best part of the August Manhattan.

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The peach tree finally at rest after a fruitful season.