Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I just finished writing the most boring report ever

Very few people will ever take the time to plow through all 61 pages of text, figures, and tables, which is longer than my Master's thesis was. It will never get published in a professional journal. My laborious hours of data entry, analysis, and fighting with Microsoft Word (WHY does it insist on applying formats to everything?) will probably not add much to the body of knowledge or change the course of recreational fisheries management history. Do I care? Hell no! It's all behind me now, at least until my boss reads it and finds something he thinks should be said differently. Which he will.

The reports I write are results of creel surveys, which measure recreational fishing effort, catch, harvest, and various demographics of anglers on lakes or rivers. I have been analyzing similar data (with the same 1995 DOS-based software!) and writing similar reports for the greater part of ten years now. It should be easy, almost automatic, but for some reason this whole project has taken much longer and come along with more difficulty than any other. Not that the subject matter is any more difficult to deal with; in fact it may be the similarity, the repetition, that makes it more difficult. I'm the kind of writer who wants to be creative, I want to write new, interesting stuff, but even my writing guidelines for this type of report seem to specifically discourage any creativity whatsoever. I'm just burned out on this gig.

What's more, there is no incentive to do a particularly good job on these reports. My inner perfectionist editor gets picky about typos, wording, and table layout, but as long as the basic information is there, in a somewhat clear, readable manner (and I am better at doing this than many of my colleagues) the report gets signed, I get a satisfactory performance review, and I get my paycheck. My job does not operate under a real economy, such as gardening, where my yield is proportional to the effort and expertise I put into it.

So for now, blogging and music will have to be my outlets for creativity.

Monday, January 30, 2006

the cat that defies all odds

This is Dorf. Guess how old Dorf is. If you guessed in the neighborhood of eight months, you are right. And yet, Dorf looks like a kitten half his age, hence the name (remember the Tim Conway character?) The Hermit took this aesthetically pleasing photo of Dorf today, lounging in the woodpile in the sunlight.

Dorf, by all reasonable odds, should not be alive. He is the only surviving progeny of the year (thank goodness), of at least three female cats that had kittens here. He is a thoroughbred, that is to say Whiter Biter and his sister mated, and Dorf is the result. He does not grow, no matter what treats we leave out for the outdoor cats. He has been in the jaws of Togo, my husky, several times. He follows me out to my car in the morning and climbs up on one of the rear wheels, or else hangs out in the path of certain doom.

We have tried to have sympathy for this little waif. We have brought him inside on several occasions, but Puffball, who is roughly the same age as Dorf and four times his size, threatens to shred Dorf to pieces, and perhaps more importantly, Dorf does not understand the concept of a litterbox. When temperatures dipped to ten below (F) in December every night, we tried to bring Dorf in the cookshed, setting up his own food bowl with fresh raw eggs, and a litter box. Nothing ended up in the litter box. Dorf was back outside to fend for himself.

So Dorf survives, assuming his place in the small herd of outdoor cats that hang out here. I don't think Dorf could identify, much less kill, a mouse to save his life. Dorf is just, well, Dorf. He is cuddly and affectionate, but what does that get you in the real world?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

the (partly) homegrown dinner

This is one of two "Rainbow" winter squash that I harvested. They are rather small, about 6-8 inches, with medium orange flesh and a rich, aromatic flavor. They obviously store well, as I just used one last night in one of the unnamed, stew-like concoctions I like to cook.

With all of the posting I did last year about gardening and canning, I realize I have not posted much about the good part--enjoying the harvest. And with garden planning time at hand, I thought it would be useful, even to myself, to post about some of the meals that I enjoy from my own garden.

I don't have a name, or even more than a vague recipe, for last night's fare, but I noticed even the kids, who tend to eye my new creations with suspicion, enjoyed it. I started with some leftover ham and three precooked chicken/apple sausages which I cut up and heated in a Dutch oven. I put in a quart of canned tomatoes, drained, and half a pint of tomato sauce (all tomato products homegrown!). Then some chopped onion and garlic (not homegrown; hopefully my garlic crop I planted last fall will yield more this year) and celery, which I have never tried growing. Then I peeled and cubed the Rainbow squash, added some oregano and basil, a splash of red wine, and let the whole thing simmer until the squash was tender, about 30 minutes or so. The stew was served over organic brown rice. Delicious.

The Rainbow squash seeds came from Sand Hill Preservation Center in Iowa, although I could not find them in last year's catalog; I'll have to save the seeds from last night. I don't know if I've ever had a squash with such rich flavor.

Friday, January 27, 2006

a walk in town

I had to buy lunch today; normally I bring in leftovers from home but there wasn't much of anything left over in the refrigerator. The town where I work is along the freeway halfway between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Duluth, so there are several fast food options out by the interchange. However, my office is located over a mile away from Fast Food Row. Getting fast food necessarily involves driving, and I already drive nearly thirty miles one way to get to work, so I like to avoid any further unneccessary use of my car. The grocery store, three blocks away, has some pretty good deli sandwiches, so I walked to get one.

As long as I was out walking in the warm (40 F) January air, I decided to stop by the thrift store. As in many towns these days, you can't buy new clothing in town; it's all at Wal Mart, fourteen miles down the freeway. I like browsing in the thrift store, and occasionally I get lucky and find something nice. Most clothing is $3 or less, which is all the more reason to shop there. Today I did get lucky; first in the book section I found a copy of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, which I have been wanting to read, and a Garrison Keillor novel, Love Me. Then I found two pairs of jeans, Levi's and Eddie Bauer, my size (grudgingly admitted) and my style (none of this boot cut, low rider crack-showing stuff for me; I'm into the "relaxed fit" years!) For all of that I paid $7.50.

On my way back to the office, after getting my sandwich, I heard a cardinal singing. That's something I would not have heard as I was waiting in the drive-thru across the freeway!

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like, or even what this little town would be like, if more people chose to walk places instead of hopping into the car and driving across town for lunch.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oh yeah? DEFINE "lazy"!

I must give Calvin the credit for taking this fine photo of Whiter Biter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

post deficit disorder

I have come to one of those points where I feel I have nothing to say, so I have (probably wisely) said nothing. Until now. I feel like posting, just for the heck of it, and just because if I don't post, people will probably think "Why don't that gal at Sand Creek Almanac post no more?"

I could post about our new home computer. The old one, which we bought reconditioned a year ago with Windows ME or something like that, was starting to go really slow. It always sounded like it had hamsters running on little wheels inside, but I think one of the hamsters maybe died. At a very inopportune time, since The Hermit had some important e-business going, so he went back to the same shop and traded for something with faster hamsters, like many gigahertz of them. Also many gigabytes of storage, Windows XP, and a DVD/recordable CD drive. I like the look of it, but I do miss the sound of those hamsters running around on their little wheels.

Or I could post the gory details of my 24 hour flu bug, which hit at work on Monday, but...I've already posted a photo of me in a towel headed for the shower. Enough for one week.

Nothing new on the nature observation circuit, except maybe the pair of eagles I observed yesterday while I was lying in my bed recovering from the flu bug. I guess it doesn't get any better than that.

OR...I could post about the strange phenomenon of cat blogging. Somehow my picture of Puffball lying in the sun got posted to the 96th Carnival Of The Cats, and the needle on my Site Meter was buried. I got a record 150 hits on Monday, about 3/4 of them were referred from the cat carnival. There are people who post pictures of cats from time to time, and there are people who actually spend time looking at other people's pictures of cats! This blogging world continues to amaze me. By the way, whoever was responsible for that, it's quite alright, just next time post a picture of Whiter Biter instead; he's getting quite jealous. :)

Monday, January 23, 2006

the do-it-yourself shower, Northwoods style

Step 1: Obtain water. This is our main water supply, a sandpoint well with electric pump, insulated in this pump house and kept from freezing by a space heater on a timer.

Step 2: Haul water to shower and to water heating system (see Step 3). In the summer this step can be eliminated by running a hose to the shower.

Step 3: Heat water.

Step 4: Fill the shower tank. The tank is a plastic laundry tub with a drain. The Hermit fitted a pipe valve and a shower head to the drain. It takes about ten gallons of cold water, plus six gallons of boiling water, to make a ten minute hot shower.

Step 5: Enjoy a hard earned shower. Yes, I am walking barefoot in the snow; it takes too much time to put on and take off slippers, bathrobes, etc. And it's a balmy 20 degrees so I don't mind. :)

note: this obviously takes a lot of preparation and work, so to conserve energy, The Hermit and I shower together.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

downy woodpecker

one year ago...

...Sand Creek Almanac was born. I started it after I read a post on a message board about blogs. I had never even read a blog before, and I was pretty vague on the concept of what one was. I thought it maybe was a way for self-centered people to say "Look at me! Look at me!" :) And now, well...look at me! A certified blogaholic.

What I didn't expect about blogging, aside from the fact that I'd be still doing it one year later, is the community of people I've gotten to know through their comments here and their own blogs, many of which I read daily. Just this week The Hermit got to meet Madcapmum personally, and even though I wasn't there I felt like I'd in some way connected with an old friend. I've gotten to know about different parts of the world, through the daily experiences of people and their eloquent words and beautiful photos.

Blogging has also been a way of communicating with real-life friends whom I do not see every day. Just yesterday I stopped by the organic food store in town and a friend was working there. "I've been reading your blog, Deb," she said, "and I just wanted to let you know when you posted about how hard it was doing the chores alone, I know just how you feel!"

So to all of you who read this, thanks for your interest in what I have to say! I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.

Friday, January 20, 2006

strummin on the old banjo

This quaint little instrument is a banjo mandolin, which sounds like...well, probably the worst of both. Remove the strings and head, and it doubles as a saucepan. But I can take it places I wouldn't think of taking my LaPlant, and Mr. Attitude can strum away as he pleases. He was singing the most fun, totally original song last night; wish I had an audio of this!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

yellow goldfinch in winter--new photo!

After teasing and taunting me all morning as he came and went with his flock, this very yellow American goldfinch finally paused long enough for me to get a decent photo. See my previous post for background information on this unusually colored (for winter) bird.

I've been thinking about possible explanations why this male did not molt to olive drab like most of the flock (there are a few individuals with varying degrees of yellow; this one is the most striking). Either he, for some reason, did not molt completely in the fall, or perhaps something caused him to start molting early. I had not noticed a goldfinch with a black forehead patch before yesterday, although I've had an unusual amount of time to sit and look at the bird feeder this week, so maybe it's the result of more observations. But if it were a molting issue, I would think maybe the yellow would be far more patchy. The normal time for males to begin their spring molt to yellow is around mid March here.

Or it could be an odd genetic trait; maybe this fellow's feathers just do not know how to be dull in color. That would put him at a disadvantage with predators, as his bright color contrasts with the muted colors of winter.

In other feeder observations, I observed Common redpolls at the feeder for the first time this winter, although they've been reported elsewhere locally. And very briefly a female Evening grosbeak came to the feeder. I've seen small flocks of them, but this is the first one at the feeder.

Lest you think I've come upon some fortune and now have nothing to do with myself but sit and watch birds all day (don't I wish), Calvin has been feeling under the weather so I am staying home with him and Mr. Attitude. I may be getting the bug myself, but at least I don't have to go out and do chores tonight!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I know, there should be support groups for people who compulsively post photos of their felines. But, come on, this is classic! Cat in a southwesterly facing window in full sunshine! It doesn't get any better than this!

Actually, Puffball was being quite the bad pest kitty in the AM, but redeemed himself by being irresistibly cute in the sunny window. This is the same cute kitten I posted pictures of in July, now an obnoxious adolescent. Or, perhaps, a college student (Thanks, dharma bums, if I wasn't on my slow dial-up I'd link to your post!)

unusual winter male goldfinch colors

The American goldfinch is one of the more common visitors at my bird feeder. Male American goldfinches are bright lemon yellow with black and white wings and tail and a black forehead patch in the summer. Normally they will molt and look like the much more drab females in winter, with olive gray replacing the yellow. However, I have noticed several males this winter that look abnormally yellow. Two of them even have the black forehead patch, which is usually absent in winter males. I had the opportunity to photograph one of these today, although I apologize for the poor image quality. The camera with 10x optical zoom is currently traveling with The Hermit, so I had to resort to digital zoom, through a somewhat dirty window, in a very unstable position for me. Nevertheless:

The black forehead is clearly visible in this head-on shot.

Blurry, yes, but look at that yellow!

I'm not sure whether there are regional differences in goldfinch coloration in winter, or even if there is a range of normal for winter color. Does anyone else have more information on this? My bird books are fairly old; I must get a copy of Sibley or one of the other latest ones.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

soaking it up

After a long day (or night) of tomcatting outside, Whiter Biter enjoys a good fire. Any closer and we would be smelling burned cat fur.

My major accomplishment of the last couple of days (besides surviving chores) is becoming good at building a fire in the woodstove. Believe it or not, in over three winters here, I have hardly ever had to start a fire; usually that's the Hermit's job, and exactly how he does it has been a closely guarded secret. I have had some miserable attempts before; not enough kindling, not enough paper, too large of wood to start. My first couple of tries since The Hermit has been away were far from perfect, and very frustrating.

Like anything else, it takes practice, which you don't get if you refuse to set yourself up for possible failure. You gotta take a chance. When the incentive is warmth in the house (although I do have a Plan B, a propane heater), risk taking becomes essential. So this morning I hopped out of bed in the darkness and sat in front of the stove. It got down to 9 degrees F outside last night, and the fire probably went out about 2 or 3 AM, but it was still comfortably cool in the house; I don't like sleeping in a too-warm bedroom. But it was time to start a fire, so I placed a thick piece of kindling down, crumpled two sheets of newspaper over it, arranged about five sticks of thin kindling over that, lit a match, and held my breath. The paper ignited, blazed, died down a little, and...success. The kindling was burning nicely, in no danger of going out. I put in two larger sticks, and soon had a perfect fire going.

Shortly thereafter, Whiter Biter came indoors from a night out and about, and settled in his favorite place.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

the reality of the "simple" life

The short answer: It's anything but simple. It ain't pretty. And what I wouldn't give for a hot bath and a dishwasher right now.

The Hermit is away for a few days pursuing a job opportunity at a location disclosed only to one of my blogging friends. Too much explaining to do otherwise. So I have been living something like the Zen proverb of "chop wood, carry water". The Hermit chopped enough wood before he left that I should be spared the first part, but I'm getting my fill of carrying water, to critters and to fulfill my very hedonistic needs of personal cleanliness. Oh yeah. Add to the first paragraph, A drain, and some very luxurious water-holding fixtures. And some plumbing to fill them. Except a toilet, I still think I don't need to waste water on crap.

I have already decided I'm not cut out to raise animals, other than cats and dogs, for food and/or pleasure. Okay, maybe a FEW chickens for eggs, but I don't want to try to feed anyone else. And don't get me started on horses...

I'm rethinking this whole homesteading thing. Actually, I'd like to be a rich heiress who lives out in the woods by choice, and strives to leave a smaller ecological footprint while enriching the world with my music and writing, but at the same time having the (carefully chosen for their impact) modern conveniences. I don't mind tending a garden, just for the reason that homegrown tastes better and I know where it's coming from, but...and this is the big revelation: I don't think I can be totally self sufficient, nor do I want to strive to be. I would rather have a network of local growers and animal farmers who I can trust to supply my food. That is not a reality here, unfortunately. But it is a nice vision.

Meanwhile, I'm just trying to get through the daily grind here. I hate to sound like I'm complaining, but it definitely has me thinking.

p.s. I want to be in my new house so bad right now. Can you tell?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

in January?

Yes. Pussy willows already budded out. Unreal.

I was feeling well enough, aided by a few drugs, to venture out this afternoon with The Hermit and Mr. Attitude to our storage shed, which is about twenty miles away, to put away Christmas decorations and get a few things. On the way back we were looking at the landscape, commenting on the unseasonably warm January weather (normally we'd be looking at a major cold spell of -20 F right now) and how global warming will affect our winter weather. We were driving by a large shrub swamp, and The Hermit commented how by late February we'd be seeing the pussy willows budding out. I looked out the window, and what did I see...but pussy willows budding out. Not a lot of them yet, but a few scattered bushes.

Oh well, all is not bad. I adore tufted titmice, which venture as far north as southeastern Minnesota, but we're predicting within ten years we'll be seeing them in our neck of the woods.

pain in the neck

I have a big pain in the neck today, and it's not just my spouse. ;)

Normally my life is fairly pain-free. I'm not befallen by illness too often, and aside from the occasional offspring hurling themselves into my lap and scratching my corneas, I've not sustained any major injuries. But this morning, as I sat up in bed to check the time, I suddenly had the most horrible, sharp pain in my neck. It's been aching the last couple of days, but the way I slept and/or sat up suddenly really did it in. I fell back on my pillow, and literally could not move for the longest time without suffering.

Driving to work was out of the question, so I popped a couple Tylenol codeine that I had left from the eye incident and propped myself up on the couch to watch a couple Northern Exposure episodes we got from Netflix. I'm going to be at the computer just long enough to finish this, then I think I'll pick up Bernd Heinrich's The Winter World, which I'm reading with the gang at Whorled Leaves, and try to catch up with Ontario Wanderer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

we don't need no stinkin' ID

The USDA is currently developing a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that, when fully implemented, would require livestock owners to register all livestock, including poultry. Walter at Sugar Mountain Farm has written an excellent summary of the implications this program could have on small-scale farmers, or even people who want to keep a few chickens in the backyard for eggs or meat. You can read his post here .

My first reaction to this possibility was "forget it. Why bother raising chickens at all if you have to go through all the government paperwork?"

Which is exactly what the government, and industrial agriculture, want me to think. Self-sufficiency is under attack.

white pines, part 2

what a difference a sunny day makes. We hadn't had a clear day like this in weeks.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

wildlife observations

I took a little drive today at about 3:30 in the afternoon, mainly to see if the great gray owl I'm absolutely positive is hanging around here would be visible. No such luck, but I did see a coyote about a mile from my house. I knew it was a coyote, and not a timberwolf, because there was an inch of fresh snow, perfect for observing tracks, and the tracks were not big enough to be a wolf. The coyote had beautiful reddish/tan fur.

Tonight I was treated to the sound of two great horned owls calling to each other; I presume they were male and female. Are they starting to mate already? They were so near I could even hear them from inside the cookshed; probably in the aspen woods just across the swamp. A beautiful, haunting sound.

skating pond

I took this photo from what would be our swimming beach in the summer. Now, on the other side of the year, I spent the morning trying to get the ice in suitable condition for ice skating. In an ideal year, there would be a week or more of below freezing temperatures, without precipitation, to build up some good clear ice, then after a snowfall it would stay cold enough that the snow would not turn to slush on the pond before it could be shoveled off.

This year we had the cold weather, we had the snow, but then the day before I was going to shovel the pond, Christmas eve, the temperature went above freezing and we had over a week of unseasonably warm weather. Our driveway turned into an ice slick, but the several inches of snow on the pond turned slushy. The best thing to do in that case is to wait until it is cold enough to let the snow crust over, then try to shovel it. It helps if, once shoveled, there is a sunny day to melt the surface a little, and then refreeze it nice and smooth.

This morning I decided the conditions might be right to shovel. I certainly got my exercise, as pushing the steel shovel through crusty snow takes a lot of energy. I got the ice cleared in about an hour. It's not perfectly smooth, but if there is good weather and not much snow in the next day or two it will work. Although note the snowflakes in the photo. As soon as I laid the shovel down, it started.

The kids came out to the newly shoveled pond and had fun playing "penguins", after seeing March Of The Penguins. I figured after enough video games, they would be ready to seek out some outdoor fun and fresh air on their own.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Will play for beer, etc.

I spent a good part of today undoing the effects of the Christmas frenzy. That is, the house should be clear now of stray bits of tinsel and those annoying wire ties that come bound to every present these days. The kids have been doing video games all day; another cloudy dreary day, the 13th in a row, not much incentive to go out. I myself ventured as far as the mailbox. A flock of about ten evening grosbeaks taunted me with their cheery calls from the top of an aspen, but as soon as I pointed the camera at them they disappeared. Why don't they come to my feeder?

The Hermit went to Duluth to buy some dress shirts for upcoming job interviews. He informed me that on the cross road about a mile from our house, he saw three spruce grouse. Spruce grouse would not be unheard of around here, but definitely uncommon. I saw a spruce grouse once, when we were cross country skiing near the Gunflint Trail on the Minnesota/Canada border. It was sitting in a spruce tree (what else?) at about eye level, and didn't mind that I stopped and stared at it for about five minutes while the rest of the group caught up with me. I'll say that again: While the rest of the group caught up with me. Did you get that? ;) By the way, I was four months' pregnant with my first offspring at the time! Spruce grouse are very tame birds. I'll have to go out tomorrow and see if I can see them. Dang it, The Hermit is winning in the bird sighting category so far this winter. Something must change.

Last night's gig was probably the most fun so far, although for some reason I always had the sensation that the pick was rotating and about to fly out of my right hand during the mandolin duets, and my guitar sounded perpetually out of tune and my capo wasn't always tight enough. Besides that...as if anyone noticed, we had some groups there that really seemed to get into the music, and really appreciated the Irish flute/mandolin duets we added to the set list. It's a strange gig; mostly a dinner crowd, not really a stand-alone bar, so you want to do your stuff but not encroach on someone's dinner too much. But I noticed that, as each party left, and they had to walk right by us to get out the door, they attempted to make eye contact and smile as if to say thanks. Some even left thanks in the tip jar, which was nice.

That said, I have one complaint. A big complaint. The past two times we have played there, beers were on the house. That's kind of standard; If you don't pay someone to entertain your dinner customers, the least you can do is give them free beer. But last night, during our break, I stood at the bar for about ten minutes before this snarky looking blonde gal bartender finally looked at me and said, "umm, did you want something?" I ordered a Summit Pale Ale on tap, what I've had there before. As she gave it to me she asked "Did you want to start a tab?" A tab? Did my music suck that much? At the end of the night, we had a couple more, and ended up being charged for every one. I felt like The Blues Brothers at Bob's Country Bunker: "Your pay for the night is one hundred dollars, and you guys drank four hundred dollars worth of beer..." I don't know. I like playing there, but before we play there again I think we need to work out some sort of agreement. Will play, for beer.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Irish flute

I have been playing the flute since just before I turned twelve; that is, more years than I care to count. It wasn't my first instrument, piano, guitar, and violin (surprisingly) take those honors, but it is the one that I got to know the best, and at which I became most proficient. I have public school music programs, which favor "band" instruments, and college "band", now known as "wind orchestra", to thank for some of that. After college, I played in church, for community theater, and in a community orchestra, trying to keep my music alive.

But at the same time, I was discovering folk music. The 1992 Telluride Bluegrass Festival was a major turning point for me; I fell in love with bluegrass and roots music. I was inspired to learn the mandolin, and rediscover the guitar. But my flute, which I knew so well, was somehow foreign to all of that. It was not welcome at "bluegrass" jams. I had to find a way to work it in to the music that was now a part of me. It was then that I happened to purchase a copy of "The Fiddler's Fake Book".

It's not a fake book, it's a real book filled with really good roots music, intended to give primarily fiddle players a resource for learning the rich tradition of tunes that can be described as "fiddle music". I, having abandoned my violin/fiddle long ago to pursue the flute, used it as a resource for mandolin tunes. Then, I happened to discover something. There were some Irish tunes in there, and they were really fun to play on my flute. I became proficient at a few of them, just playing by myself. I thought it would be really fun to play this stuff with others some day. I listened to Altan, The Bothy Band, Matt Molloy, The Chieftains, and The Gaels, thinking "wow. this is FUN!"

Today I finally bared my Irish soul to another and shared the sound that had previously just served to annoy my cats. I played some Irish tunes on my flute, with Fred on mandolin, and it sounded really good. Incredibly fun as a matter of fact, so fun that we are playing some of them tomorrow at our now-somewhat-regular gig at the Hanging Horn. We have gotten to be rather eclectic; we do everything from Bill Monroe to Greg Brown to Townes Van Zandt to Kate Wolf to John Prine to old fiddle and Irish tunes. With a little practice we are ten times better than our original recording of "Early" that I shared. And I'm having a heck of a good time doing it.

2005 Christmas Bird Count results for Pine County

The Pine County Christmas Bird Count was done last Wednesday, December 28th. Unfortunately I was not able to participate; Patty had invited me but I had to stay home with the kids that day. The results were recently posted on the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union listserv. In keeping with my goal of having this blog be an almanac of local natural phenomena, I'll share some of the findings, and how they differ, surprisingly, with my own observations.

A total of 33 species were seen. The top ten, by numbers, were:

1. Common Redpoll - 383
2. Black-capped Chickadee - 284
3. European Starling - 218
4. Evening Grosbeak - 212
5. Blue Jay - 122
6. Rock Pigeon - 108
7. American Crow - 80
8. Pine Siskin - 71
9. House Sparrow - 68
10. American Goldfinch - 55

I have yet to see a single redpoll at home or at work! And those elusive Evening Grosbeaks; I hear them in the treetops occasionally but so far they have stayed away from my feeder. The chickadee numbers come as no surprise; I have seen groups of ten to fifteen chickadees every day at my feeder. It seems there are more chickadees around this year than I have noticed in other years. I have seen one pine siskin sporadically, but goldfinches are regular visitors and number nearly as many as chickadees. Fortunately starlings, pigeons, and house sparrows are not common at my house; they prefer the barn loft and plentiful hay and manure at the place across the road.

The report goes on to say pine grosbeaks and purple finches were common at feeders; I have one lone purple finch that has been visiting, but no pine grosbeaks as of yet. I tried to photograph the purple finch without much success; the 10x optical zoom should be arriving shortly!

An interesting note was that downy woodpeckers were hard to find this year. I have at least one male and one female that have been visiting the feeder every day.

Uncommon species included one black-backed woodpecker, and one boreal chickadee in an area about twelve miles north of me. I saw a black backed woodpecker three years ago here, but have not seen one since. A boreal chickadee is on my list of birds I would like to see. The report said it was "called in"; I'll have to learn how to do that!

Another notable sighting was that of five golden-crowned kinglets. Ontario Wanderer has provided some good information on this species over at Whorled Leaves, the group nature/writing blog I'm a part of.

No northern owl species were reported; I have been scanning roadsides and fields on my way to and from work, although the light is still pretty dim then, hoping to see a great gray, northern hawk owl, or snowy owl. And I just know that great gray is hanging around somewhere near my place!

I had told Patty about my robin, and since then The Hermit has seen a couple of robins at a different location, but no robins were noted in the report, at least in the summary, which does not give a complete species list. Also, we have a ring-necked pheasant hanging around our horse pasture, very unusual for here.

I'll have to try to make it for the count next year. I could probably learn a lot from the more "hard-core" birders that participate, like how to call in a Boreal chickadee.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

different stuff here!

Two major differences when I arrived home tonight. First, the one I could perceive when I walked in the door, was the heat. It was not wood heat. The Hermit had hooked up our new propane heater, and now we don't have to feed a fire every two hours if we don't feel like it. And we can be gone from the house for a day or so and not have to come home to a cold house and the prospect of building a fire. I like my wood stove, but I also like the convenience this heater will offer.

The second was the Game Cube. Yes, video games. The kids hardly took time for dinner. They are enthralled. Usually, while we're in the cook shed preparing dinner, one or more of the kids will come out and encroach on our small space more than once. Not so tonight. i'm thinking I may even be able to play some music.

I know, I've thought long and hard, but I think as long as we adults impose some reasonable limits, video games are not necessarily a bad thing. For once they are, all three of them, focused on one thing, cooperating a little, and giving each other tips. The games will not replace a sunny day outside in the snow, but since the sun has not shown its bright face here in about a month, no one feels like venturing out, and I cannot blame them. It's downright dreary out there!

I just returned from a trip out to the composting toilet/outhouse with Starflower. When it is dark, I must accompany. We encountered a mouse that had fallen into the near-empty wood shavings bucket. Starflower freaked, I dumped the offending vermin outside. Such is life here!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Sand Creek, 3:30 pm, January 2nd

Looking east from our road

Looking southwest from a tributary about a mile directly across the swamp from my place. You can just barely see the outlines of the white pines at my home.

Note: I edited the original photos for color saturation and reposted them today. They look much more like the original lighting now, way less blue. Digital photography is so fun!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

didn't Bob Dylan mention something like this?

Puffball, being a pest kitty. As usual.

Towards a joyful 2006

New Year's Day seems at the surface to be a superficial reason to have a holiday. After all, what's to celebrate about the turning of the calendar, which after all is just one more turn in the endless wheel of time?

But there is something different about this day, something contemplative and mystical. It is a time for inevitably looking back at the previous year, analyzing its successes and downfalls. But it is also a clean slate, a time for looking ahead, a time for realizing that every day is a new one full of hope. Perhaps this feeling is also brought on by the as-yet subtle but increasing amount of daylight. We have been under cover of clouds for way too long, so the increasing light is not noticeable, but maybe it's the idea that counts.

It was in this spirit that I celebrated "out with the old, in with the new". The family celebration reflected this. The loss of my mother was the major event of the old year, but time is passing and we are healing. Our belated Christmas was certainly more festive than Thanksgiving. My dad even laughed and joked about the thoughtful gift of new bath towels that my brother and sister in law gave. I remember every single towel in that house; Mom would never throw any one of them away, nor splurge on new ones. There is memory, and there is life that goes on.

I don't make a habit of making resolutions, but a few "revelations" came to me on this turning point. Simply stated, they are:

In the coming year, I want to:

1. Live a more joyful life. Appreciate the joy there is every day, while not wasting time on every negative thing that happens. Find ways to reduce the feeling of living day to day drudgery.

2. Do things that really make me happy. I won't elaborate too much, but in the past I have made way too many excuses why this has not been done as much as it should.

3. Be more adventurous. Beyond, that is, the daily adventure that is living with three vivacious children. I want to go cross country skiing, canoeing, traveling, exploring, camping. That we did not use the tent once during 2005 was a tragedy.

2006 was certainly brought in joyfully, in the company of friends that are THE BEST gift of 2005. We shared good food, some music, laughter, and conversation as the kids got a chance to "run wild". Calvin and Starflower ended up spending the night with their friends, while The Hermit and I went home with Mr. Attitude to tend the home fire, but we returned in the morning to collect offspring and once more share in a relaxed meal and conversation. A wonderful time was had by all; we were almost sad to see it end. On the way home we kept scanning the bare trees, hoping to perhaps see a great gray owl. In the days of winter, we miss their presence that was a joy starting about this time last year.