Friday, June 29, 2007

Paying Attention

There is a price to be paid for paying attention. From watching the big disasters like Supreme Court decisions that roll back the intentions of Brown vs Board of Education or curtail First Amendment rights to high school students, to the small things like noticing the Tree Swallows abandoned nest with six dead baby birds inside. The cost for both is exacted in outrage, shock, and despair. I've never known how to look away. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a rubber-necker, I can drive past an accident and avert my eyes, but these collisions on the political scene, or the ones in the yard where the cheeping and chirping from the nest box abruptly stop, these I drive past slowly and stare in disbelief.

In my former life, when I advised university students about their responsibility as young journalists, I always kept in mind the great tension between school administrators and their students, and the desire of one to curtail the first amendment freedom of the others. So, to see the Supreme Court hand down a ruling in a case that seemed so unbelievably frivolous, it sent shivers down my spine. On this, this ridiculous case of a sign that said Bong Hits 4 Jesus, the court took a tough stand, and showed how scarily far to the right it could veer. But for them to start dismantling Brown v Board of Education is a thing of such gravity it takes my breath away. It may be that Brown v BE is not the best way to achieve balanced racial integration in public schools, but without it there is no legal precedent or incentive to try. We are seriously being undone in our past battles, in wars we long thought were fought and won. Not so, simply not so.

The Robert's court is a cruel court (interestingly Justice Stevens agrees). It is more cruel than nature, which wields its lethal sword with no conception of politics or justice. The young and old, infirm and poor all fall, but never by design. After two days, I finally asked Roger to check the Tree swallow nest box. There had been so much activity. The sweet sounds of the babies, and the parents flying in and out all day long. Then it stopped. Or did it? Perhaps I was just tuning in and watching when the babies were quiet, and the parents were out hunting. That seemed a reasonable conclusion (not really) on the first day, but on the second that was just wrong. Roger opened the box and found six dead abandoned babies. Now why would that happen? I emailed Dawn, a friend who comments here, and she said it's possible that the parents may have gotten sick, or one parent died and the other just stayed away. Who knows? Not me.

If you pay attention you will be treated to horrors and beauty, to things you never thought you'd see, wished you hadn't or reveled that you had.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Furthest Thing From My Mind

Tuesday was a busy day in the yard. We had out of town guests over the weekend, not to mention a serious downpour on Sunday, so we didn't get back into garden or yard clean up until Tuesday. I spent most of the day out on the orchard side of the yard in one small area, pulling tansy, yanking volunteer coreopsis and lavender. Roger was working on the other side of the yard in the garden. He screened the compost and made beautiful rich soil for planting beet and carrot seeds.
It was quite a productive day. I found this snakeskin while I was weeding the coreopsis. I pulled a small bush from the ground and found these papery remains snaked throughout the small branches, as if the snake had slithered through the tight space allowing the stems to help it out of its skin. I thought first of Pablo, who had also recently found a snakeskin in an entirely different setting. I thought how great it is to read blogs from all over the country to get an idea of what people and snakes are doing out there in the woods. I also thought of Dick Cheney, although I felt bad for maligning the snake with such a connection. I've been reading three days of the Washington Post's expose on the man, it's hard not to think of Dick after finding the cast off husk of creepy, slithering, belly-crawling critters.

I came in the house wanting to write a post about the snakeskin, but I sat at the computer and just couldn't come up with the right metaphors. I gave up and decided to go out to see Roger and how things were coming along on the garden side of the yard. I walked out the door in his direction, but that's when I heard the crows making a blasted racket on the side of the yard where I had just pulled all those weeds and flowers. I thought, Oh shit, I must have exposed a nest. The crows have been raiding the song bird nests all over our yard. Damn. I ran over there shouting my fool head off at them. I heard the juncos making their click clicking sound. They're just like a neon sign pointing to their nests, so I took it as confirmation that their nest was in trouble. One crow was on the shed roof, two were in the fruit trees in the orchard.

"Get out of here. Go on. Shut your mouths and get out of here." Oh yeah, I was yelling and running straight into the orchard, and the crows were still cawing and cawing. That's when I saw it, a bobcat not more than 50 feet from me. It was standing still in the orchard next to the fence watching me. It nonchalantly tried to slip through a 3" x 6" part of the fencing, but chose a space that it couldn't quite fit through, so it backed out and tried a bit higher where the spaces are larger. I stood there with my mouth in mid-yell. It stopped on the other side of the fence, turned around and looked at me. I looked right back, and waved "Oh hi." It opened its mouth and said something back, but I was too far away to hear. Then it disappeared into the trees.

I ran into the house to get the camera, and then straight out the front door to the road. I thought I might catch it crossing the road, heading up to the hill on the other side, but it didn't go that way. I ran further up the road past our neighbor's house to where two new houses are being built. I stood there with a view of both roads. Sure enough, the bobcat came out of the trees far down the road where the new houses are. I clicked this one photo before it disappeared again.

The bobcat is obviously still spending more time in the yard than we're aware. If the crows hadn't alerted me, I would have never known. That's what I get for being lost in thought about Dick Cheney and really bad Supreme Court decisions. A bobcat was the furthest thing from my mind.

Do you have any really good metaphors for snakeskins and Dick Cheney?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tidbits of the First Days of Summer

The sun finally came out. Three days of it. Every bud, leaf, blade, and flower relaxed and drank it in. We've been out weeding, whacking, mowing, and clipping. Almost nothing is safe from our wild ministrations to tame the place.
All day long the swallow chicks chirp and cheep from inside the nest boxes. That, more than anything else, is the sound we hear when we are outside, and even inside when the windows are open. They are alternately demanding and satisfied, over and over they tell us their story. Their parents fly in and out, in and out feeding them on the hapless insects that have been enticed out by the sun.
We did get to take a long minus-tide walk on Tuesday. A four-mile loop around and through Fort Worden. It was the kind of day with a double halo around the sun and ospreys flying straight out over the water looking for food. We know in many ways it doesn't get any better than this.
But we also know it gets much worse. We watched Michael Moore's Sicko. It is such a profoundly good documentary that it takes my breath away. It makes me more ashamed of our country than I was before, and I was already pretty damned ashamed. It is a stunning look at our health care system and shows indisputably that the insurance industry exists to take our premiums and work tirelessly to give the very least in return. The entire system is geared toward denying benefits, with a shitload of employees who spend their time poring over records to find a single thread to thwart a claim. How can this possibly be a definition of health care? That we live in fear of illness, not because of its toll on our bodies, but because of the expense?
Moore goes to Canada, England, and France to talk to people about their experience with health care. Everyone he speaks with seems quite content with their national systems. No matter what, they don't really ever have to worry. Imagine that--No worries, and for less money than we spend.

Isn't it time for a revolution in this country? What will it take to get us off of our butts and out into the streets? What?


Hey, don't forget to send your Good Planets photos to susannah AT dccnet DOT com. The theme for this weekend is fragility and durability. Please send your beautiful photos by Friday.

Thanks everyone, and have a great weekend.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Outrageous Self-Indulgence

I've been feeling quiet and downright sorry for myself. Boohoo, I want my pretty brown skin back. I know what the future holds for me, a few years of crazy discoloration, like the opposite of vitiligo. Damn. Nothing makes me feel worse though, than people analyzing my diet, my behavior, my stress levels to see what I've been doing to make this happen to me AGAIN. It's the wine, the wheat, the caffeine, the spicy food. It's my attitude, my sadness, my my my. I've been reading Susan Sontag's Illness as a Metaphor, just to see why some illnesses get tagged as personal failures. All I know is that I haven't changed. I've always been this high-strung, quiet, reclusive woman with a bad sad attitude. Every now and then my immune system kicks into overdrive and kicks my sorry butt for months at a time. Sometimes there are no known identifiable causes, but I'm leaning towards an opportunistic virus.
Are you bored with this story line? I know I am, but I can't seem to take my eyes off myself. Me me me. What's really awful about this is there's nothing to say. Boring.

Roger and I weeded the front yard on Monday. A thin reed of non-native sawgrass, absurdly planted by our predecessors, whipped across my face and left a nice sharp bloody line from my nose to the tip of my chin. Damn. I ran over to Roger and said, "Do you think they call sawgrass sawgrass because it can really cut you? Look at this." We actually had a pretty good laugh about it. Compared to everything else, being whipped by sawgrass is nothing.
I went into the house to clean up a bit and devour some gluten-free rice crackers dipped into delicious dairy-free hummus. I sat at the table looking out the window, camera at hand, thinking about everything-- our atheism, their god, selling our house, moving to Oregon, growing old, making decisions about where we should live based on where it would be best to die-- when a crow decided it should take a look inside the Tree Swallow nest box in case there was a morsel there it would like to devour: A baby tree swallow, or an egg waiting to be one, no bad attitude, bad diet, or bad behaviors.

This is everything. No lie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

In an Odd Hint of Light

Those sheet strips we wrote about a few weeks ago really helped cut down considerably on the bird window strikes. We haven't had a single strike on any window where the strips are attached. It didn't occur to me to cover the sliding glass door, it's under an overhang, and a place of a lot of activity. So, the other day when the light was just right it really surprised us to see this winged smudge. (Click on pic to see this.)
It took us a while to figure out how to photograph it. Not the easiest ghostly image to coax from a piece of glass. We didn't see any birds on the ground nearby, so we're going to assume that this one took off and survived.
The weather has taken a nosedive right back into early spring. Cloudy and rainy, overnight temperatures in the 40s and daytime highs in the upper 50s. Not particularly good for getting out there and hiking around. It's hard to imagine that in a few days we will be celebrating the summer solstice, and the sun that we have hardly had an opportunity to bask in leisurely, will begin its long slide south. That doesn't seem fair at all. Still we make the best of it, and tease an impressionistic Monet from the rainy window and our wild lupin.

Some of our favorite naturalist bloggers-- Wayne, Bev, Doug, FC --have been showing grand photos of insects and alligators, all out there in the summery sun. I've been leaving comments thanking them for showing me all the critters I've been missing. Okay, I'm not really missing alligators, we don't ever have them here, so maybe there really is something to be said for living where the sun don't shine.
I've compiled a list of folks who have tentatively agreed to host Good Planets over the next few months. So far, there's sbgypsy for July, Liza of Egret's Nest for August, Yankee Transferred for September, and maybe Bev for October. If anyone else would like to sign on, please let me know. Hosting Good Planets means that for second and fourth Saturdays in the month, you will post photos that people send depicting the beauty of our good planet. It's a traveling gallery of appreciation. Susannah of Wanderin' Weeta will be hosting next weekend. Her theme is for photos that depict fragility and durability. Quite a lovely idea. I hope you'll send her something (susannah AT dccnet DOT com). Take a look at the Flickr Gallery to get an idea of what has been sent in over the past year.

Roger and I might host Good Planets in November. It all depends on my health. I finally have a diagnosis from the dermatologist I saw on Wednesday. I have an auto-immune problem that strikes 1% of the population, with no known cause, no known cure. Oh yippee. I swear, I'll smack the next person who asks me if this is stress-related.

Have a great weekend. See y'all on Monday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tough Love

We took down our bird feeders. We weren't going to. We had planned to ride out the salmonella outbreak by keeping the feeders scrupulously clean. We were washing them in 10:1 water-bleach baths, and making sure that the ground under the feeders was raked clean every morning. We agreed that if we saw one more sick bird, after our ministrations, we would take the feeders down for the summer. That's when a very sick male Goldfinch showed up. The feeders came down.

I said to Roger, it's like tough love. It hurts to eliminate a reliable and good food source for these birds, but it's done with good intentions and to save their lives. Roger said, "Tough love? Don't parents usually do that when the kids have done something wrong or behaved badly." I said, "Yes. The birds are are behaving badly, they're dying. Not their fault, but still, I want to shout at them, 'Knock it off, or the food goes.'" Well that was that.
We still have the hummingbird feeders up, and these wild little half-bird half-demon creatures are merciless with each other. We're pretty sure we have three different species duking it out on the 4:1 water sugar solution we provide. When I look at these birds, I suspect they must have some kind of insect in their genetic makeup.

There are several other species of birds in our yard that don't rely on us for food, and still come by to sing, eat insects or fruit, and build nests. Tree and violet-green swallows, robins, cedar waxwings, crows, swainson's thrush haven't abandoned us. Well, really, neither have the finches, grosbeaks, chickadees, towhees, or blackbirds. They're still coming by and wondering what the heck has happened. I tell them we're saving their lives. Yeah, they give us the same look a teenager might give after we've just taken away the car, and told them it's for their own good.

Top photo is an adorable juvenile robin.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some Small Things

It's been raining and cold again. I think this happens every June. After a burst of nearly summer weather, temps in the 80s for a week, we get a week of chilly temps in the 50s and rain. We don't mind because the garden loves it, and we're collecting lots of rainwater that we'll use during the dry summer months.
Last week when it was hot and sunny, we noticed lots of ladybugs everywhere. There were fine little bursts of orange on every leaf and vine. This pair was in our closest flower bed. When I saw them all I could think of were these lines from Paul Simon's song,
"...couple in the next room
bound to win a prize
they been going at it all night long
i'm trying to get some sleep
but these motel walls are cheap..."
I am often surprised by how long insects and bugs stay entwined. We found this pair of red-tailed bees on the mailbox. When we first saw them, I was dropping off some outgoing mail for a friend, and I didn't have the camera. So I came home, got the camera and walked back down to the mailboxes. They were still there in flagrante delicto. When it comes to the birds and bees, I've noticed that the birds seem to have definitely gotten the short end of the stick.
When the rain lets up, we go out to pull the weeds. It's much easier to yank them out of the rain-soaked earth. We were pulling weeds by the pond when I noticed this rather odd thing. This fish had somehow landed on top of a pond lily leaf and died. We've seen a lot of goldfish offspring of varying shades and shapes, but this fish did not look like any of the other goldfish in our pond. In fact it looked more carp-like, which seems interesting in terms of goldfish genetics. All the other fish have their colors already (gold, black and pale white or some combination of the three), but this one was more silvery than anything else. I wish I could have seen the genes of this little creature.

Aside from these small things, I'm restless about doctors, naturopaths, and health. My displeasure knows no bounds. I could rant for days about the madness of health care in this day and age. But I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say I had a very thorough, hour and a half long consultation at the clinic and was given a hand-out of a gluten-free and dairy-free diet and sent on my merry way. Not even a soothing balm for my troubles. Tra la la.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Yardbird Update and a Rant

The Black-capped Chickadees have left the nest, all of them. What a rousing success that was. No sooner were they gone when a pair Violet-green Swallows showed up and moved right in. Roger checked the nest box, and finding it empty, removed the remaining little obstacle. It's nice to have another pair of these beautiful birds.
And speaking of another pair, it's true, Blanche's beau has arrived. I don't know what she was doing here for so long without him, but he is on the scene. He stays right with her, and he's quite magnificent. Blanche may be a bit of a high-strung thing, but her taste in partners is pure Marlon Brando in his prime.

This weekend is a Good Planets weekend. Susannah of Wanderin' Weeta has graciously offered to host for the month of June. I hope you all have fantastic photos of our Good Earth to send her. Her email is susannah AT dccnet dot com. Susannah says,"Again, the topic is wide open, although I did ask a "priming" question; "What makes you smile/laugh?" Send those pics by the afternoon on Friday, June 8th.

Thanks everyone for keeping this little carnival going. It is much appreciated.

Can I rant here? I've been avoiding writing about politics. A lot of our friends, fellow bloggers, family members stop by here to see our pretty pics or to read our musings about life. We haven't ranted in a while, but the time has come to scream a bit.

I do not want to hear another word from any politicians about their faith. I don't care which god they believe in, or if Jesus is their savior, or if they go to church once a week, or more. ENOUGH! I find it repugnant to hear this talk. To me, religion is a private matter. But more than that, their talk is insipid and uninspired. I hear banal literalism like a grade school child's rote lesson, telling us how faith sustained them through their personal trials. Okay, I get it, but how will your faith sustain the planet, cut carbon emissions, reduce greenhouse gases? How will your belief end the war? Give us health care? Improve education? Can't we all just assume that the candidates have their beliefs, that they are good and wholesome (unless proven weirdly otherwise) and put an end to this absurd talk? It adds nothing to the most important conversations we should be having.

By the time you read this on Thursday, Roger and I will be on the ferry heading over to Seattle. I have an appointment at Bastyr University, where I will be seeing a Naturopathic doctor for my relentless dermatitis. I cannot begin to articulate my overwhelming disappointment with allopathic medicine. No offense intended to anyone in the medical professions, but I think western medicine is simply on the cusp of knowing not much at all. They can set a bone, stitch a wound, wipe out a bacterial infection (mostly), diagnose an illness, remove an offending organ, and prescribe all the new medicines hot on the market; but chronic, systemic, or auto-immune problems sail right over their heads. Woe to us who suffer.

Man, I am just full of opinions. Thanks for putting up with it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


do they connect?

in the aftermath of the tragedy on 9/11 we heard much criticism that someone (?) failed to "connect the dots." apparently the requisite dots existed, but in a variety of agencies which did not facilitate connection of their respective dots. here are a couple of dots, with two views of each, that seem to beg me to connect them, though they appeared in public at differing times.

in the first dot, there goes the money. i picked just two stories about this because it has been reported rather widely, if sporadically, over many years.

'WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nearly $9 billion of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction is unaccounted for because of inefficiencies and bad management, according to a watchdog report published Sunday.

An inspector general's report said the U.S.-led administration that ran Iraq until June 2004 is unable to account for the funds."
from here.

another view of the dot.

a pallet load of bux.

"The US flew nearly $12bn in shrink-wrapped $100 bills into Iraq, then distributed the cash with no proper control over who was receiving it and how it was being spent.

The staggering scale of the biggest transfer of cash in the history of the Federal Reserve has been graphically laid bare by a US congressional committee."
from an article by david palister in the guardian on 2/8/2007. the picture is from this article. thank you Guardian Unlimited.


now the second dot. does the money reappear? does this dot have a line from the previous dot?

"There’s a lot of pools of black money around, a lot of money. Undoubtedly, some was, I’m told, came from Iraq. That is, as you know, there were hearings the other week that showed $9 billion in Iraqi oil money mysteriously disappeared and was unaccounted for. Some of that money was washed around. There was also a lot of money found after Saddam fell. We found several caches of huge amounts, you know, hundreds of millions, and billions of dollars in some cases, of cash. We also found money in various ministries. There’s no, really, accountability, and a lot of it could have ended up in black pools. It’s just not clear where the money came from, and it’s not supposed to be clear. What you do is you wash the money in. You get it to certain people."
seymour hersh, from this interview on 2/28/2007 with amy goodman

the context of the quote is a long explication of his suspicions that our own government, or the shadow government run by cheney, is funding sunni jihadist groups in many countries in the middle east as a counter to (shia) iran.

if you're feeling chipper and want to be depressed read the whole thing. or go here to read hersh's full article on this subject.

and another view of the second dot.
"WASHINGTON — A major CIA effort launched last year to hunt down Osama bin Laden has produced no significant leads on his whereabouts, but has helped track an alarming increase in the movement of Al Qaeda operatives and money into Pakistan's tribal territories, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation.

In one of the most troubling trends, U.S. officials said that Al Qaeda's command base in Pakistan is increasingly being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network's operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity."
the lede of an article by greg miller in the la times, may 20, 2007


i had noticed that a bunch of cash went missing a while back in iraq, and that now our own government reports that money is flowing from iraq to al qaeda in pakistan, but i had not read hersh's piece before i started looking for sources for this post. after doing so i smacked myself upside the head and said in my best homer simpson voice "DOH!" so the cia, or other "elements" of our government, took some of the dough to fund their secret operations. does that sound familiar? is ollie north catholic? does he shit in the woods?

so now, the enemy (sunni al qaeda) of our enemy (shia iran) is our friend. that worked out so well in afghanistan where the enemy (the taliban) of our enemy (russia) was our friend. until they weren't. but wait!!! aren't al qaeda and the taliban friends? are we friends-by-proxy with the taliban now? ok. i'll stop with this line of lunacy.

it looks to me that we are financing those who attack us because they hate us for our freedoms, with cash we threw around in iraq like beads at mardi gras in new orleans, some from iraqis, and maybe even some stolen by some part of our own ruling cabal.

who would benefit from permanent war, cold or hot? who has already benefitted?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Belle Reve

It's been hot so we're spending a lot more time outside. I can't say that makes Blanche Dubois happy. Oh, did we tell you that we've named our little Violet-Green Swallow Blanche Dubois? If ever a bird was leading a classically neurotic life, it is this high-strung swallow. It occurred to us, after her little takeover of the chickadee nest, to carefully watch her behavior. As far as we can tell, she's busy nest building, but she has no mate. She's alone, but she has big plans. We think she'll have a pretend clutch, and go through all the motions. Blanche is just that kind of bird. She flies at me every time I walk past her nest box. She hasn't come to terms yet with her reliance on the kindness of strangers. We are thinking about naming her nest box Belle Reve.

We're glad to report that she has stayed away from the chickadee nest box, where the chicks are progressing very nicely. On Saturday we noticed for the first time one of the chicks was sticking its head out of the box. That means they'll be fledging soon. We are looking forward to their leap. Once they are gone I can go back behind their box and start pulling some of the weeds. Part of what makes the yard attractive to the bobcat is how tall the weeds are back toward the fence. The chickadees scold me every time I go back there, so I will wait. But once they're gone, we can reclaim that part of the yard.

Another important reason for wanting the chickadees fully fledged and independent is our need to rethink our bird feeding strategies. Two weeks ago, we read in the local newspaper about a salmonella outbreak in the Pine Siskin population in British Columbia, which was heading south. We hadn't noticed any sick Pine Siskins until last Thursday when I photographed what looked to be a lump on the platform feeder. Bummer. Another sick one showed up on Friday. We took down our large three-tube feeder, and brought out one that does not have a tray and therefore has nowhere for the birds to defecate directly on to food. We bought a second feeder today that is a single tube and is small enough to fit into our sink where it can be cleaned thoroughly, once a week. I really wanted to just remove all the feeders, but the birds are feeding their young, or bringing them here, and I didn't want to stress them any more than they already are. We will just be that much more vigilant in keeping things clean. The white tray on the platform feeder is a plastic cutting board. We put that up two years ago because it is easily removed and can be cleaned, which we did regularly. We've taken that down and removed the wooden platform that held it.

It is a heartbreak to see sick birds, and fortunately we only saw two. Everyone else looks rather fine. The parents are bringing their babies around to see where the good seeds are. Sometimes they stop and feed them right outside on our gravel drive, where there's just natural wild seed that comes from all the crazy plants that push up. Just seeing that parent feed the baby makes all the efforts absolutely worth it. Even if Ms Blanche Dubois never learns to say thank you.