Thursday, October 29, 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

A quick lap around the pond with sister this afternoon as the bagels "riz" on the kitchen counter. (It doesn't take much for me to lapse into Alcott-ese.) It had been raining earlier, but when we stepped out the sun was warm and bright. Fluffy white clouds dotted the bright blue sky and we again saw a number of signs that tricked us into thinking that November couldn't really be just around the corner.

A snake slithered through the grasses, a delphinium bloomed and nodded on the pond bank, dragonflies flitted and darted across our path, a bee worked busily over a tuft of clover, and robins sang in the tree tops, hopping from branch to branch.

We giggled once again over the odd behavior of the geese, for today they were bathing (or courting? or playing?) with unusual intensity. Usually a flick of the feathers, a splash of water, and a little grooming with the beak are sufficient. But today they actually turned complete somersaults in the water -- awkward, floppy, long-necked, ample-bottomed somersaults. I've never seen such a thing. As Alice would say upon entering Wonderland, their behavior grows "Curiouser and curiouser!"

Monday, October 26, 2015

To Run and Skip in the Woods

Yesterday was wet and windy. The rains fell steadily as I curled up on the couch under my blanket with a book in hand. I shivered a bit, batted my eyelashes at Jamie, and he took the hint. A fire was soon lit and I reveled in the crackle, glow, and warmth as I alternately read and watched afternoon football with the guys.

One of my current reads is The Journals of Louisa May Alcott. I found it fitting (and not at all surprising) that Louisa enjoyed rambles in the hills and fields of New England. Indeed, haunting the woods gave her time to clear her head and organize her thoughts. (She viewed her mind as a "room in confusion" which required much sweeping and dusting. Alas, "cobwebs [still] get in." I know, Louisa. Oh, how I know!)

Louisa's outdoor wanderings also fostered creativity, and many a manuscript took root in her mind as she skipped over the hills and explored the forests.

A visit to New Hampshire prompted this June 1855 entry:

"Lovely place, high among the hills. So glad to run and skip in the woods and up the splendid ravine. Shall write here, I know."

I was reminded of another book on my nightstand at the moment, Growing Up Social, which supports the idea that time spent outdoors strengthens the mind.

"Being outdoors is especially rejuvenating for the minds of children and adults. A series of psychological studies revealed that after spending time close to nature in a rural setting, people exhibited greater attentiveness, stronger memory, and generally improved cognition. Their brains were calmer and sharper." (p. 107)

Well, with these thoughts fresh on my mind, I decided to seize the ideal window in my Sunday afternoon. The fire had died down, the football game had ended and the rains had stopped. I stepped out for a quick lap or two around the pond, to clear the cobwebs and do a bit of mental house cleaning.

As always, the jaunt did me good. The wind whipped through my hair and filled my lungs with a generosity and intensity that said, "I've got plenty. Take all the air you need. It's yours."

I took, and was filled.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Something Old, Something New

A few years ago when our family lived in East Vancouver, we often drove by a wide, open field that was home to (or at least a playground for) a number of herons. We'd pass the tall grasses and crane our necks to quickly count the bobbing heads, chanting a little homespun ditty as we sped by:

We're goin' on a heron hunt,
How many will we see?
We're goin' on a heron hunt,
One, two, three!

It seems like we often counted seven or eight, which we thought rather impressive. In other locations we were lucky to see one or two.

Such has been the case in our new wetland habitat. I've only seen one heron at our pond, a Great Blue. (I'm assuming it's the same heron returning again and again, but I could be wrong.)

Little Sister and I circled the pond this afternoon under a warm October sun. Coats were left at home once again. We usually approach the pond quietly, just in case our heron friend is lurking about, and we were rewarded for our efforts today.

He was closer to the edge than usual, which allowed us to watch and whisper and take a picture or two. His sharp beak darted swiftly into the water from time to time, and his eyes were piercing, alert.

The nearby geese were cautious, but not as likely to bolt. We giggled as they dove, their white feathers exposed, their feet dangling awkwardly.

Yesterday I also noticed the briefest soar and dive of a kingfisher, the first I've seen at our pond.

I'll now be on the lookout for both of these unique, blue-tinted, solitary pond divers. I bet the frogs will be, too.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Like Mushrooms

This afternoon when I hit the path, I was surprised to see the number of mushrooms that had sprouted up overnight like . . . well, like mushrooms.

Mushrooms have always fascinated me. It probably stems from my childhood, when the idea of POISON potentially lurking in the backyard was at once creepy and irresistible. They looked so soft and pluck-able, and I could just imagine fairies frolicking beneath their protective domes. I obediently resisted them, but I've admired them ever since.

Over the weekend I visited a friend's home in Hood River, and as we traipsed about the woods, we often stopped and pointed reverently at the fungus among us. (Sorry -- I'm my dad's daughter.) Of course I took not one single picture.

So I was thankful to return home and find that I had plenty of mushrooms to photograph right in my own neck of the woods.

Apparently slugs appreciate their presence, too. Two of the mushrooms I saw served as banquet tables, as evidenced by the slowly creeping critters and the teeny-tiny trails of scraping marks left in their wake.

Another mushroom had more definite gnaw-like marks on it. Hmmm. Squirrel?

Or maybe . . . just maybe . . . the fairies have been here, after all.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Silly Little Goose

Monday evening's pond rippled in gold as the sun set. At least twenty geese were gathered for dinner at the local IHOP (that's the International House of Plants, of course), and I paused to watch for a bit. 

I will admit I found their habits to be a bit silly. They chewed loudly (is it called "chewing" when teeth are absent?) and they looked rather ridiculous when diving; their bright white hind quarters jutted up in the most unbecoming way as they strained to fetch at roots.

At one point, virtually every neck was bent beneath the surface of the water in search of a tasty morsel. I thought of a phrase that I often used when speaking to my children when they were small. "You silly little goose!"    

And then my eye caught the neck that wasn't bent. It was a male, off to the side. Motionless, he faced intently away from the diner. At first I wondered at his lack of interest, and then it hit me. 

There was nothing lacking in his posture whatsoever. He was standing guard. 

A month or two ago while I was walking the pond, I stopped to visit with an older woman. She was out watering her pond-side plants, and we naturally started talking about the ducks and geese that flocked to "her" back yard. In a heavy Russian accent, she told me about their various habits, one of which she very much admired. 

She happened to be out one evening, and the geese were quietly, contentedly feeding. Except for the male. He was on guard. And it was a good thing. For a coyote was nearby, watching every move, stalking, waiting. The male goose was even more vigilant and intimidating, and the coyote finally gave up and sauntered away. He didn't stand a chance against the watchful, protective Canada goose. The other geese -- the "women and children" -- continued to rest and feed in confident peace.

The woman finished her story with firm conviction, "This is what our men need to be like!"

Her story immediately came to mind as I admired the watchful goose. I started to look and listen more carefully, and indeed the pond was alive with other sounds. Sounds which are perfectly common to my ears, but probably terrifying to a pond bird. The air was filled with the yips and yaps of neighborhood dogs. Several were out walking with their owners, and it became perfectly clear that Our Goose wasn't going to relax any time soon. 

He was going to stand guard. And his family would spend another evening in peace and protection, trusting their lives to his care.

Maybe geese aren't so silly, after all.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Grey and Blue

I took piano lessons as a little girl, and many of the very first John Thompson lesson book song lyrics are still embedded in my memory. Lyrics such as,

Papa Haydn's dead and gone
But his mem'ry lingers on.
When his mood was one of bliss
He wrote merry tunes like this.

This, of course, was written to the tune of Haydn's "Surprise Symphony." (Significantly simplified.)

There are other songs (I could sing of Volga Boatmen, Rowing Merrily Along and Wigwams all day), but the piece that came to mind yesterday was the very staccato:

Pit-ter pat-ter goes the rain
On the trees and flow'rs.
Pit-ter pat-ter goes the rain
For so many hours.

(Oh, how I used to draw out the whole note "flow'rs" and "hours," rhyming them as I crooned so that they sounded more like "flahrs" and " 'ahrs.")

Well, we finally got our "pitter patter" in earnest yesterday. The sky was grey and foreboding as I stepped outside, but since there was only a drizzle I figured I had timed my jaunt well. 

In many respects it was well timed. I got to see the Great Blue Heron soar overhead and then land . . . on my neighbor's roof. Also, there were about half a dozen geese gliding across the pond. (I hadn't seen them since Avery last recorded them.)

And then the real rains came. I picked up my pace and glanced toward the floating birds. They didn't mind the rain one bit. They actually seemed to welcome it. I welcomed it at first because I was curious to see how my new rain jacket would fare. It did extremely well. My pants? Not so much. Aidan kindly brought me a towel when I sloshed my way in through the front door. 

It was a Jekyll and Hyde weekend, for today was mild and pleasant. The skies were blue overhead as I took a quick wetlands walk with half of the family ("and our little dog, too"). There are still spots of color where the Queen Anne's Lace, clover, and daisies refuse to stop their flowering. (Dear "flahrs.") 

The trees were noticeably more bare today after the winds and rains of yesterday, which made me pay close attention to the treasures tucked among the branches. (Although the Hawthorn tree doesn't look much different yet, I did spy a wee home. Can you see it?)  

I'll have to be on the lookout for more nests as the trees continue to lose their leafy coverings in both the grey and the blue days to come.       


Wednesday, October 7, 2015


We've been down with sniffles and sneezes this week, which hasn't allowed for much walking time. Thankfully, we have a number of birds that make indoor nature appreciation easy; they simply come to us. From the comfort of home (ah-choo!) we can watch the chickadees and finches gather around the feeders, while the jays, juncos and towhees skip around among the fallen leaves.

As you can see, the squirrels enjoy nibbling at -- and on -- this feeder, too.

Occasionally a squirrel will scamper by, lippity-lippity, in search of a nutty morsel. (We should probably refill the make-shift feeder with peanuts.)

Our nature collection also brings a bit of the outdoors in, as does my daughter's affinity for sketching animals.

It will feel good to be able to step out once again, but for now we'll enjoy the merry little chirps that issue from just beyond the school room window, reminding us that all will be well in due time.

* * * * * * *

*As I was typing just now, a hawk landed on our neighbor's fence and then flew to the roof, no doubt in pursuit of a tasty songbird. I tried to get a picture through the window, but it was hard for me to capture and identify. Perhaps red-tailed or Cooper's? Sharp-shinned? About the size of a crow, with a distinct brown and white mottled breast. Very exciting! A special, unexpected treat on a housebound day.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Always a Little Patience

"With the rich and mighty, always a little patience." I first heard the proverb quoted in one of my favorite classic movies, The Philadelphia Story, but I'm not sure of its origins beyond that. Today I extended the scope: "With the rich and mighty . . . and with nature . . . always a little patience."

Life happens when one is still, when one quietly observes. This afternoon I perched myself on the cement storm pipe (doesn't that sound idyllic?) to see if I might sneak up on one of the elusive squeaking frogs. As I sat, a dragonfly darted into view. It flitted about, captivating me so, that I focused my attention there for quite some time. It's hard to capture a mobile insect, but you can sort of get the idea:

While I focused on the dragonfly, I wasn't aware that I, in turn, was the focus of another marshy creature. Two beady eyes rose to the surface and studied me. We regarded each other. And then a bee landed on me, I swatted it, and that was the end of my stare-down with the frog.

Kinda murky, but the eyes and nose are just above the surface while the limbs hang limply below.

The little "rock" almost dead center? The squeaking frog.

My patience was also rewarded when I stopped to watch the habits of a mud dauber. The insect crept along the marsh, collecting mud for her nest. She made a buzzing, scraping sound, yet her wings were still.

Mud dauber at the edge of the marsh, center of picture. 

My dad recently found this wasp's nest attached to the roof of their home.
It seems to match the description of the mud dauber's habitats.

Another pond habit of late is the pairing off -- and showing off -- of the mallards. (I've read that mallards are only seasonally monogamous.) There is much preening, flapping, and diving, each motion intentional and showy. The males and females often travel two by two now.

One pair exhibited a courtship ritual this afternoon in which they bobbed their heads up and down as they faced one another. I can only assume that they are now (as we used to tell the children) "married." We will have ducklings come spring.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


If it wasn't for the slant of the sun and the diminishing supply of apples, today could have posed as a lovely, mild summer day in the Pacific Northwest. The temperature was nearly 70 when I made my way toward the wetlands this afternoon. A gentle breeze rippled across the pond as bees continued to frequent the clover, two snakes slithered across my path (one a good 18 inches long -- I jumped), the ducks dabbled, the dragonflies darted, and the hummingbirds hummed. October, you say? I don't believe it.

I peeked down my favorite log, still sprouting summer's Queen Anne's lace, and was met with another fall surprise. Usually it's a pair of ducks that peer back at me from beneath a verdant bower of cattails. But not today.

Next week promises to be another warm one. Even so, I have my new rain jacket ready and waiting. I know those days will come.


Thursday, October 1, 2015


October dawned in a shroud of mist. She extended her ample arms toward the earth, bestowing gifts upon the small creatures who came to her in frantic expectation. They scurried to receive, and were blessed.