Monday, January 31, 2005

An active weekend

I probably got more exercise over the weekend than I have in the last four months total, and I'm paying for it a bit today with sore muscles, but it's great to get outside in the middle of winter for some fresh air! I took some time off of work Friday afternoon and went cross country skiing with my husband at a nearby state park. Between having the kids, moving around, and a general lack of snow in the last few years, we have found many reasons to not go skiing. My husband figured it had been well over five years for him, and at least two years for me. So I waxed the skis in "slow mode", putting a layer of kick wax further up the ski than normal, so I wouldn't find myself zooming out of control down the slightest incline.

While I was waxing the skis, my husband managed to lock the keys in the van. A moment of panic ensued, for we were parked in a remote area a few miles from the nearest help. I contemplated how much it would cost to fix the window I was about to break, then I remembered: the front passenger side window has a habit of slipping open on its own. The power opening mechanism is broken. So I started gently pounding on the window with my fists, and voila! It slipped down about a quarter inch, enough for me to hook my fingertips and pull it down halfway! Another reason I prefer used vehicles to new. Although if for some deranged reason someone might want to break into the van, perhaps to steal some Happy Meal toys to sell on ebay, it would be an easy job.

The skiing was fabulous. Both of us were a bit awkward at first, but the trails were freshly groomed and fast, and had I waxed the skis in "race mode" we would have been flying along. I spent one season, my junior year of high school, competing with the school Nordic ski team, and somehow even managed to earn a varsity letter. That experience gave me the technique I needed to make the difference between merely walking along on skis and gliding.

On Sunday morning my husband cleared some of the snow off of our pond with the snowblower, then I shoveled the rest. I have always enjoyed skating, and now we have our own 50 x 100 pond to use, that is if we can get the snow cleared off. It had snowed over a foot since I last shoveled, so it was a big job for the half hour the kids and I actually spent skating. And for their purposes I probably didn't have to have every square inch of ice cleared off, but I happen to be a perfectionist about my ice.

I heard a great gray owl hooting the other night. They have a low, loud call, very unlike a great horned or barred owl.

It seems the winter has turned around a corner; the chickadees are singing their two note song more, the crows are flying together in raucous flocks, and the days are noticeably longer. I know we are still in for a couple months of snow and cold, but somehow winter has loosened its icy grip.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

On the mailbox!

The owl count on my drive home is ever increasing...twelve yesterday! I haven't had this much fun commuting since the fall migration, when I see sandhill cranes and tundra swans. It makes my day whenever I see a bald eagle as well, and I have been seeing them all winter around here, but this owl irruption is simply amazing. My husband called me at work to tell me there was a great gray owl hanging around the front of our property along the road. He took pictures until he ran out of film, but he missed the ultimate picture. As I approached our driveway, I saw the owl swoop across the road from the neighbor's fence, and it landed on our mailbox! I slowly turned into the driveway, so the owl was about ten feet away from my side window. I stopped and looked, and the owl just gazed at me. There's something about the look on a great gray owl's face; there's the common myth of the "wise owl", and I can see where that came from. There is a sense of wisdom and serenity. And I cannot fail to see the irony in that a wild creature, one that flew hundreds of miles from its native range, one that makes its home in spruce bogs and conifer forests far from human civilization, now sits on my mailbox and just stares as I drive past.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Fourteen owls yesterday

I saw four great gray owls while I was on the way to work, and TEN on the way home! I'm starting to recognize areas where I usually will see one. They don't like dense aspen or hardwood forest, of which we have plenty around here; I am more likely to see them in spruce/tamarack bogs or open pastures with scattered small trees. They seem to have staked out individual territories; many times I will see an owl in nearly the same spot every day. One of them has been in the same tree, along a fairly busy highway at the entrance to my kids' school, for two days now.

These owls obviously have little to no experience with cars or roads. While I was driving along slowly last night, I saw one swooping low, back and forth, across the road. At sunset, even though these owls have an enormous wingspan, their dark color makes them difficult to see against an asphalt road. There was a vehicle behind me, driving too close, and I was looking for a place to pull over so it could pass and I could enjoy my owl watching in peace! The driver, not noticing the owl, passed me and nearly hit the owl, which landed on the road right in front of me! I was driving slow enough at that point that I could stop. Owl did not move. I carefully pulled over to the other lane to drive around it, and it took off, flew in front of me, and landed on the side of the road, about six feet from me, staring with its yellow eyes.

I know far too many people who would hear this and say, "What a stupid bird". As if animals were supposed to have an innate knowledge of human inventions that have been around for only about a hundred years.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Winter of the great gray owl

This winter I have had the privilege of seeing numerous great gray owls near my home. I had only seen one once before, a long time ago while grouse hunting. Now I see at least two or three of them each day on my drive to work. It does not require any particular act of birding bravado to see one either. They hunt by day, perching low in trees or on utility poles or fence posts near forest openings or bogs, often near roads. How easy can birding get when you don't even have to leave your car?

The owls are here due to low numbers of small rodents, their main prey, in Canada. Owls have been seen hundreds of miles south of their usual range, in search of prey. According to Laura Erickson , who produces a very informative radio segment called "For The Birds", the owls are not finding many mice here either and are resorting to larger prey such as snowshoe hares and squirrels. If they do not die of starvation.

A week ago, I thought I had found a victim of starvation. It was up in a small aspen, dead with its head lodged in a crotch. I even took off of work early and waded through deep snow to photograph this unfortunate bird. Its image, wings dangling awkwardly, blank face gazing out at an unlikely angle, haunted me, a visualization of the harsh realities of winter. Only after I got the photographs I wanted did I tell my coworkers about it; I work in natural resources and I didn't want the local wildlife biologist taking my subject away for examination before I got it on film. Today a coworker brought the owl in to the office, and I was horrified to see very clearly that this owl had died of a gunshot wound. Not only is shooting this species of owl illegal, it is so downright IGNORANT and DISRESPECTFUL. And it totally changes the artistic meaning of my as yet undeveloped photograph.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Welcome to my blog! I'm always telling myself I want to write, want to record everything that is going on in my neck of the woods, work on my writing style and composition, but somehow I keep putting it off; I don't feel like writing on the computer, I can't find a pen that feels right, I don't have a journal that looks right, etc etc. Enough excuses! WRITE!

I am interested in phenology, the recording of natural phenomena and when they occur: the first chorus of frogs in the spring, the dates wildflowers are in bloom, the first spring green of new oak leaves. It keeps me connected with the natural world around me. Living in the country, I am now more in tune with the natural rhythms than I am with professional sports seasons (is the World Series over yet?) or what's on sale at the mall. By the way, I have not set foot in an enclosed shopping mall in over TWO YEARS! Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Wal Mart. Some day I will post the effect Wal Mart has on me, which is very interesting, to say the least.

I am planning my biggest garden ever this year, hoping to produce a good percent of our own food, all organic. I am crazy about tomatoes. Last year was a bust for them, I mean, when you have frost in early August what can you do? So this will contain some of my garden notes as well.

Those who know me well, and there are precious few, would not exactly describe me as outspoken. I am an introvert and I am at peace with that. Just don't call me shy. Anyone who can play a flute solo in front of a large group of people is not shy. I can even speak in front of a group of people and not turn forty shades of red. I'm an INFP if that means anything to you. I like to call myself an "earth hermit".

And, I must warn you, I like beer. Home brewed or microbrewed with lots of hops. Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA is the nectar of the gods to me. I'll settle for a good old Leinenkugel's as well, but please no Budweiser!



I just noticed that my profile says I'm an Aries. Which is strange and disconcerting to me, given that all my life I've been raised as a Pisces. My career even involves fish! So what do I do now? I don't even know how an Aries is supposed to behave. Is there some reprogramming therapy I can undergo in order to accept my new astrological identity? A twelve-step program for recovering Pisceans perhaps?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

favorite quotes

Belief? What do I believe in? I believe in sun. In rock. In the dogma of the sun and the doctrine of the rock. I believe in blood, fire, woman, rivers, eagles, storm, drums, flutes, banjos, and broom tailed horses.
A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.

Life without music would be an intolerable insult. -Edward Abbey

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approoval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not yet destroyed...

...As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

-Wendell Berry, from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

"There's nothing in the world like a woman with an axe in her hands."-Eleutheros

"Deb, you are a blogging goddess, and anything you have to post is golden to me!" -Pablo

"I like to hike and ride bicycles,and I drink good beer & cheap wine..." -Jim

From the Ancient Chinese, 2500 B.C. "When the sun rises, I go to work, When the sun goes down, I take my rest, I dig the well from which I drink, I farm the soil that yields my food, I share creation, Kings can do no more."

Everybody's looking for answers. Hard times will bust a chump! -Everett Ulysses McGill, O Brother Where Art Thou?

Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us. - Calvin and Hobbes

All the religion we have is the ethics of one or another holy person.Random Quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, courtesy of The Transcendentalists

"You got time to breathe, you got time for music!" - Briscoe Darling, The Andy Griffith Show

(more to come; this post is a work in progress)