Friday, March 31, 2006

The Hummingbird

We have been staring at Bald Eagles for the past few months, so it has taken our eyes some time to adjust to the arrival of the Rufous Hummingbird. It surprises and amazes us that two creatures so unalike are both seasonal migrators over our backyard. This tiny energetic heart-speeding flyer comes all the way from Mexico to hang out here and drink our little 4:1 water-sugar mixture. Despite its size, the hummingbird is as fierce a competitor and territorial defender as any creature we've ever seen.
Last Friday, one forthrightly announced its arrival. It had traveled more than 3000 miles, came straight to our back door, stared in, and said, "Feed me." We gladly obliged. Rufous Hummingbirds make one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world, as measured by body size. Its 3,900 mi (6,276 km) movement from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 784,500 body lengths. In comparison, the 11,185 mi (18,000 km) flight of the Arctic Tern is only 514,286 body lengths.
We hung the feeder, and now every few minutes a hummingbird shows up and extends its long tongue to the nectar. We're glad to offer each one a place to perch while it sips its sugary treat. The photographer in me knows that photographs of these tiny birds with their wings beating while they hover before a meal are always stunning. It is also pleasing to see them at rest.
I sat outside on Thursday just to see if I could photograph them flying up to the feeder. For as long as I was out there, they buzzed and trilled at me. I was as unobtrusive as I could be, but they are absolute tyrants about their space. So, I've given up on photographing them outside. They're much happier when no shadow lurks anywhere near their territory or their food, And, I'm more pleased to have them eat than I am to have a photograph of their incredible wings. They're pretty cute even when they are just sitting! And I can get these shots from in the house.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

CNN Breaking News

We signed up for CNN Breaking News email years and years ago. It was probably right around the time the Supreme Court was appointing George W. Bush the winner in the 2000 election. We were glued to the news those days. Over the years CNN has abused its privilege of breaking news to us. They send us ridiculous stories about things that are shockingly unimportant. Still, whenever we get a CNN Breaking News email, even relatively interesting ones, like the one above, I always have the same expectation. I think I'm going to see the headline of my dreams:
There are variations on that headline. Usually, he's dead. He's choked on a pretzel. His plane has crashed. He's fallen off his bicycle into a vat of body crushing jello. I don't know. It's a CNN headline after all.

There are some CNN breaking news headlines that we really want to see.

1. George W Bush has... (you fill in the blank with your own heart's desire)

2. Dick Cheney finally succumbs to a heart attack. Some doctors argue that the Vice President never really had a heart to begin with. Autopsies are inconclusive and quickly classified.

3. Mars invades, pandemonium ensues. Some scientists still say that UFOs do not exist.

4. Peace breaks out in the world. Some world leaders are dismayed, while others rejoice.

5. Earth worship replaces the world's three big religions as the planet descends into environmental turmoil. Some scientists still argue that global warming is not responsible.

6. Half the world's population disappears. Crews are searching the Bermuda Triangle, while religious leaders wonder if it is the rapture, and they've been left behind.

7. Stunning breakthroughs in medicine. Healthcare for all-- simply and easily. Some insurance industry execs leap from tall buildings.

8. For one amazing day all of the earth's animals talk. A wildlife summit is called and presided over by two horses. A moratorium on all hunting and meat eating is declared. A haunting song emanates from the summit and all the world weeps together. Click here to see the horses.

9. Humans discover that they all have the same needs and desires. "Citizens of the world" declared for all earth's survivors.

10. Al Gore is President. In a stunning a do-over from 2000, things are finally set right.

Then sometimes, the news actually gives us the real photo and headline. Scalia says, "Vaffanculo!"

What is your fantasy CNN Breaking News Headline?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


about a week ago, just after dusk, we heard the first frog of the year. one lonely frog somewhere close to our pond. in subsequent evenings he was joined by others. it reminded us of last spring. the frog chorus at night is loud, and as we found out, sung by the kind of frog hollywood records for its standard frog sound. we spent some time last year, and last week, looking for the frogs. we did see some last year, but none last week. we were amazed that such a small frog, sometimes barely an inch long, makes such a loud noise.

i was doing a bit of pond maintenance this morning and looked down to see a frog hopping by, so i picked it up and called RD to bring the camera. mr frog wasn't going to sit still in my hand for pictures. i set him (guessing here about sex) down on the pebbled concrete and he hopped a ways and then stopped and held still for several pictures. we're tentatively calling it a pacific tree frog, Hyla regilla (also Pseudacris regilla). it's darker than the examples we found, but fits the other descriptive criteria which distinguish it from close relatives, particularly the round pads at the end of its fingers.

these frogs, as their name indicate, live in the forest. they don't apparently climb trees very much, preferring damp places under rocks or logs or forest litter, where they find insects to eat. in early spring the males find a pond, mark territory with ribbits, and start calling the females. so all that noise is either "c'mere honey" or "beat it bud, you're on my turf." we like the sound. from the quiet, one frog, the "chorusmaster," will begin croaking. then others will chime in and the chorus will go on for a while, til at some hidden signal they all stop. i'm impressed in the same way that bands impress me by winding up a big number with a final flurry of sound and all stopping on the same beat, or the way that a flock of several hundred little birds flies as a unit.

here is froggy in my hand, so you can see his size. the round pads on his toes show up nicely too. i dropped him in the pond and he swam away quickly to hide in the algae at the bottom

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Grey Stripe

My twin brother M and his wife K are avid birdwatchers and were the first people to teach us the joys of birdwatching. Here we are looking out the back slider at the wonders of our yard, when we first moved to the northwest. (Click on photos for enlargement)
M & K called us the other day to say they have a Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) that seems to have adopted them. M said that a very friendly jay that he remembered from last year had returned and seemed to be wanting to get very close and friendly. It flew around them when they went to their cars. It sat on their backyard railing and cooed to them. It moved stones from one place to another, while they watched. It was communicating with them, and it was saying it wanted their attention.
M started calling the bird Grey Stripe, and tried to accommodate the bird's food desires by placing almonds on the railing. The jay came and ate them and then hung around. It squawked and talked at them. It wanted more. So, M tried a few almonds in the palm of his hand, with his hand on the railing. Grey Stripe came and ate from his hand, and then flew off.
So, M thought Grey Stripe just wanted to sit on his hand and eat. He put a few almonds in his palm and held out his hand. K took the picture.

I am hoping that my brother will find some time to write about all of this bird's behaviors for us. It hides food. It uses tools. It has become a part of their family.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tame Trees

the people who built our house and lived in it for 7 years planted several ornamental trees. they liked this sort of tree, which grows up and then hangs down. we call it the lumpy bush by the pond. the birds like to sit right up on top, as does the squirrel.

this one is blooming. looks to my totally untrained eye like it could possibly be some sort of willow.

here is another hangy down kinda tree. we have no idea. there were two of these, but one blocked some of our view of the pond, so we removed it.

this is some sort of fir tree, i'm guessing, because it has short needles. the lower branches look like other fir trees and the whole thing has a conical shape, but the very top branches look strange.

another picture of the strange fir. it looks as though it's gonna start hanging down.

we do know this last one. it is a western larch, Larix occidentalis, a deciduous conifer, sometimes called tamarack. that is last year's cone in the middle.

all guesses, informed or not, are welcome about what sort of trees these are.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fevered Imagination

Being feverish for nearly three days left me with a lot of time on my hands. I didn't really want to look at blogs or even listen to music. Just wanted to lie there drifting, letting my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. We had been talking about shingling the house in cedar shingles. I liked thinking about that, about getting rid of the god-awful, ice blue siding and replacing it with warm cedar. I imagined how I might try to play with Photoshop to see if I could use Define Pattern and Fill commands to get some idea of how the house would look.
When I finally started to feel better, I taught myself how to use the Define Pattern command. It's very easy, if you know where to find it, which of course I didn't. It's right there in the edit menu. I went to the Pattern Maker command in Filters. Very interesting effects, but definitely not what I wanted to do. Once I got the pattern of tiles I wanted, I used the fill command to apply it to places I had selected on the house. I "painted" the trim in white and hung a few potted plants on the porch. Definitely a cozier house.

I spent a lot of time looking out the windows and skylights. There was enough life flying by to keep me engaged. On Friday a hummingbird came to our sliding door. We haven't seen a hummingbird since last summer. There it was staring in at us, as if to say, "I'm back, where's the food?" We filled the feeder and hung it, and within minutes this tiny bird that had flown all the way from Mexico or even further south, was back and enjoying a sip of nectar in the great northwest.

I'm feeling some better, and dread pirate roberts is quite the caretaker. As long as I don't think about how I managed to get such a virus I'll be fine. Nothing creeps me out more than thinking about the transmission of disease. Ugh. So, how are you?

The pirate sez: RD does not slow down for disease or infirmity easily, but she is a realist, so i knew that she was ill because she was a good patient. she sat or lay still. she let me do everything without jumping up to help. she ate two pieces of toast in two days, and no wine! a successful recovery with a recuperation moving along well. a model i should emulate, being a notoriously bad recuperator.

i had thought perhaps we would do a little video song and dance for our return to posting. record it and make it available as we have done before (though not singing and dancing). i recalled that we are both painfully shy, at least about singing and dancing (and talking) in public, before i even had to consider whether we could actually sing and dance. we might do so at home, but no peeking.

the house shingling project has more than cosmetic effect. the current siding requires painting periodically and is due soon. at least within my lifetime, maybe more than once, if things go well. also, it is a "composition wood product" and moisture will degrade it, sooner or later. number one cedar shingles, on the other hand, require zero maintenance, may well last longer than the structure and look nicer than painted siding, to my eye.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Dove and Tree

These are two images from Tuesday. I think they neatly provide the bookends for this post. The pirate and I are going to take a few days off from blogging. I'm feeling a little sick. If I had a job I would call in and ask for a few days off. I feel a little fluttery like the trilling song of the mourning dove's wings when it flies away. I am looking for something solid to anchor me, like this five-foot diameter tree trunk. Something I can crouch behind and get out of the wind, and the crossfire of too many ideas.
We'll be back soon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oyster Lovers

We are having some of our first daylight minus tides of the year. We love to go out and walk the shoreline, take a good look around. We planned on walking to a new beach on Monday, a place where a lot of broken glass has been tumbled smooth by the water and sand. It's a five or six mile roundtrip. A nice beach hike, or would have been on a nice beach day. It was sunny and bright, but the wind whipped in off the Straits of Juan de Fuca. It pushed back at us as we trudged toward our destination. After about three-quarters of a mile, we gave up, turned around to set the wind at our backs, and headed to the car. We decided to try a more protected beach at Chetzamoka Park. A great place for a minus tide walk, where the pirate had found some fine oysters last year.

While we drive between destinations, our car radio is tuned to Progressive Talk Radio. In the morning we hear Air America's Thom Hartmann (what an incredibly interesting and erudite guy), and in the afternoons we get Big Eddie. Ed Schultz is not Air America, and don't you forget it. If the left has a forceful answer to Rush Limbaugh it must be Ed Schultz. When we listen to Ed we get to hear the insane arguments the right proffers, because unsuspecting rightys call in and try to out-argue him. Today we heard some guy trying to suggest that spying on Americans was okay because, "Hey, you just know the government isn't spying on you." Oh really? said Big Eddie, while our car filled with the same bemused reaction. I do recall that our government expelled simple dissent from their gatherings, based on tee-shirts and bumperstickers. And besides, unwarranted spying on us is illegal, and I shouldn't have to wonder if somehow I've been caught in their obsessive crosshairs, now should I?

Before we could hear all of Ed's tirade, we reached Chetzamoka Park where the pirate was amply rewarded in oysters for his journey, but he did have some competition for the first time. While he was scouting the oyster beds, I noticed what at first appeared to be a tall crow with some large orange thing in its mouth. When I brought the view finder to my eye, and took a closer look through the telephoto, I saw that the bright orange was actually the bird's bill, and not only that it had a red ring around its eyes and was standing on white legs. What an odd creature, a Black Oystercatcher. It loves mollusks.

We walked on and found a pair of Great Blue Herons. We've always seen herons alone, so we suspected that these two have been struck by Cupid's spring arrow. Everything seems to be pairing up for the compelling lust of spring. It's just the way it is.

After the pirate gathered his fill of oysters, we headed back to the car and turned on the radio. The world came pouring in.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Paradise Lost and Found

nuclear sub shimmers
like a mirage of missiles
warheads on calm seas
seal scans the surface
quick look before vanishing
into the dark seas
import export ports
colorful freighters quietly
come and go unchecked
nothing goes unseen
in the domain of eagles
their wildness reigns

All photos taken at North Beach and Fort Worden, Quimper Peninsula. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


My twin brother emailed us an old piece of music Friday morning. Something by the Moody Blues. We listened, and it sent me on a journey back in time in an instant. Some music just does that. Suddenly it's 1969, I'm 17 and sitting cross-legged on the floor in my older brother's bedroom. I'm with my siblings, and we're stoned together. We've just smoked a lot of hash from Tangiers and we're laughing at everything and nothing at all. I look at them and realize that we share this moment like we share our parents' genes. There will never be anyone else that will have this combination of time and genetics. We look at each other. I haven't said a word, but I think they must know what I'm thinking. We're reading each other's minds, or at least we think we are. That makes us laugh even more.

Recently, I asked my mother about nostalgia and music. I wondered if the heart-pulling nostalgia I feel when I listen to certain songs is just a visceral longing for my young self. That seems a reasonable explanation, and I know that must be part of it. But my mom feels a tug on her heart too when she hears some music by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I say, "But mom your nostalgia can't be for your youth, so why do you think it tugs at you?" We talk about it. She tells me that she feels something about that generation of kids who thought they could change the world. She saw us march against the war, challenge authority, protect the environment; she heard us talk about living on communes; she watched us plant our first gardens, build cabins, and try to live our dreams. All of that floods her memory when she hears that music. She said that she feels like she has two sets of music that set her remembrances in motion, the one she shared with my dad-- all that Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and String of Pearls, big band sound; and the one her children listened to, while they were coming of age. They live in her like separate soundtracks, and both stir her passions.

I try to imagine what it will be like thirty years from now, and wonder if people will feel nostalgic for hip hop or rap music. Will their nostalgia feel like this? Or are my teen years irrevocably entwined with a time, a zeitgeist that was markedly different from other times. I had a good and crazy friend many, many years ago who told me that the way some eras are marked by particular artistic movements (classical, neo-classical, impressionism, etc), our time was marked by a movement in music. An era that is long over. What era do we live in now? What will people remember and be stirred by?

For a beautiful look at what the 60s embraced and encompassed, please check this post by our dear friend at the Secret Garden.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Some Like It hot

three inches deep and rising! that's the sauna door.
our favorite, and only, medical device is our sauna. we first built one eight years ago in a space under an outbuilding. it was on a lower level in our back yard, normally 15 feet above the creek. we would walk out the back door, down some concrete steps, and into our little hotbox. the creek did come up high enough one year to be six inches deep in the sauna. i rolled out of bed early that day and moved the electric heater up onto the benches before the water rose. we used that sauna for many years, until we replaced a crumbling rock retaining wall with concrete and did away with the steps. actually, we clambered down on temporary steps to use the sauna for 3 months. then i took it apart and rebuilt it in the same building upstairs, level with the upper yard.
our brand new sauna. 2 by 4s and plywood, not yet sturdy.
in preparation for our retirement and big move north we sold our house and rented for 9 months to finish jobs and let the pirate age enough to get social security. no sauna. boo hoo. so when we arrived here a new sauna was the first project. it is a six foot by ten foot stand alone building sitting on four cast concrete pads. the sauna part is six by six and the remainder, as can be seen in the picture, is a little sheltered area to sit outside. the exterior is cedar shingles and all the trim is cedar. the benches and ceiling are made from cedar fence boards. the walls are redwood planks which came from a very old house in capitola, california that i remodeled extensively many years ago. they were milled maybe one hundred fifty years ago. the same planks were the walls and ceiling in our first sauna, mentioned above. yes. we moved a stack of wood. but it is antique wood. for a modern finishing touch, i set up little computer speakers inside, and we take our ipod along for music.
we use our sauna two or three times a week in cold weather. kinda like an artificially induced high temp fever. something about body temp above 104 degrees killing pathogens. hope we got that right. could be a defense against bird flu. can't hurt. sure feels good.
that's a Tylo su 7 electric sauna heater. that means 7 kilowatts. it came with a box of rocks. genuine granite. the rocks are in the center section. it heats very well, although the timer doesn't work, but the thermostat does. so we can turn it on, set it to a desired heat level, enjoy it, and then turn it off. it takes 20-30 minutes to heat up. we spend a lot of R & R time in here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sloths and Harpy Eagles

You know how one thing leads to another? When I was writing about the raccoon that had climbed head-first down our fence, I wrote that it moved like a sloth. That made me google sloth to check why the slowness of the raccoon and its head-first descent triggered a sloth impression.
Turns out, sloths are bizarrely interesting animals. Who knew? They move only when necessary and then very slowly. They have about half as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator, but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort. While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep and even give birth hanging from limbs. Sloths are herbivores, and generally eat leaves, especially those of the cecropia tree (which is what it is doing in the photograph). They have a very low metabolism and a low body temperature so their food and water needs are minimal. In terms of their sleep, sloths are one of the laziest animals ever, sleeping from 15 to 18 hours each day. They are particularly partial to nesting in the crowns of palm trees where they can camouflage as a coconut. They come to the ground, to urinate and defecate, only about once a week.

While reading about the sloth, I learned that their sharp claws are their only defense. Despite their apparent defenselessness, predators do not seem to pose problems. Sloths have good camouflage and do not attract much attention. Their main predators are jaguars and the harpy eagle.

Harpy eagle? I had never heard of such a thing. So, as one things leads to another, I googled harpy eagle, and was utterly blown away by the photographs of this raptor.
The name Harpy Eagle usually refers to the neotropical eagle, Harpia harpyja. It is the New World's largest and most powerful eagle, and is found in lowland tropical rainforest from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.

The Harpy Eagle is 100 cm (3.5 ft.) long with a 200 cm (6.5 ft.) wingspan and weighs 8 kg (18 lb.). Females are larger and heavier than males. It is dark grey overall, with an ash-grey head, and white belly. Both sexes possess an erectile crest of long feathers. The talons are up to 13 cm (5 in.) long.
This species is an actively hunting carnivore. Its main prey items are mammals that dwell in trees such as monkeys, coatis, sloths, etc; it may also attack other bird species. It can be aggressive towards humans who disturb its nesting sites or appear to be a threat to its young.

Have you ever seen such a creature? I did read that one of the characters ('Fawkes the phoenix') in the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was fashioned after this bird. So, I suppose those of you who saw the movie will recognize this bird, but I have never seen such a thing in my life. Thought you might find it as interesting as I did. I always love when one thing leads to another. All of this because a tail-less raccoon climbed slowly down our fence.

Daylight in the Garden of Spring

well, i was trying for a play on "midnight in the garden of good and evil."

it has been warmish during the day lately. narcissus and crocus are up. all the trees and shrubs are showing buds. i planted early bush tomato seeds in greenhouse (what is he thinking?? it's march!) in starting pots, along with zucchini, chives, onions, kale, broccoli, and basil. the first three pictures are of plants outside, the rest are of plants in the greenhouse.

this is oregano that survived the winter under straw mulch. see the tender new shoots.

overwintered chives poking up through straw mulch.


now we're going into the greenhouse.

salad mix, called mesclun, with a row of beets between.

this is a collard plant i started from seed last november in the house! poor thing languished with some other starts. most died. i couldn't just abandon it.

chard, the other survivor from november's starts.

a row of carrot seedlings.

i am very optimistic about gardening. these are broccoli starts.