Tuesday, January 30, 2007
It don't cost very much, and it lasts a long while
Won't you please tell the man I didn't kill anyone,
No, I'm just tryin' to have me some fun.
Words and music by John Prine
I had an illegal smile today. It happened about four miles north of work after I'd slipped out early to pick up Mr. Attitude from daycare so The Hermit could get home from a meeting on time to start up the fire in the house and warm us all up. This time of year, leaving the house for any length of time takes planning.
Anyway, you may ask yourself, what is an "illegal smile"? Well, I got to know the term belatedly from a circa 1970's John Prine song of the same name. Many assumed he was talking about a smile elicited from illegal substances. Prine defended himself on numerous occasions, saying the smile he mentioned was obtainable by legal as well as illegal means. I'll side with Prine.
I have come to think of an "illegal smile" as any personal pleasure that comes from means that are not commercially controlled, or that are largely ignored by most of the population. That is, if I laugh at a line from an NBC TV show, that is "normal". If I laugh at something I discover on my own, that is what is known as an illegal smile.
So I had a great illegal smile today. On my way home from work I had just gotten over seeing a red tailed hawk. Suddenly, there was a flock of brown blobs getting up from the right side of the road, heading towards the left. Sharp tailed grouse. I'm glad one didn't hit my windshield, they were that close. There were four of them.
The rush I got from that experience was incredible. Which led me to thinking, how much is a personal encounter with a bird worth? To me, a lot. And, to anyone who doesn't gain a thing from a bird encounter, I suggest you need to lighten up. A lot.
Every time I encounter a bird, I have an illegal smile. That is, I don't smile based upon what the entertainment technology of my age has produced. I smile because I see something that makes me happy.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Birding, I've come to think, is 99 percent luck.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
We bought half a grass fed Angus beef last week from a local rancher. It's a big chunk of change to shell out all at once, but the freezer is full of good beef that didn't spend any part of its life in a feedlot, didn't have to endure the indignity of a large commercial slaughterhouse, and didn't have to be shipped from a thousand miles away to a distributor, then again to a grocery store, to appear on pink Styrofoam platters wrapped in plastic.
A bonus from this purchase was a box full of suet. Suet is a great food for attracting birds, but it is getting harder to find, and more expensive, in grocery stores. I've heard the reason is they are now getting more money to render the suet and put it into animal feeds or...well, I don't want to know. But this producer doesn't ship away the leftovers. He also asked if we wanted any liver; he personally does not like it and was willing to give us as much as we wanted. We got about three pounds; I've never eaten liver before, but I'm willing to try.
I put up the suet in a feeder this afternoon and was instantly mobbed by over a dozen chickadees. It's cold out, and they somehow know that this has the energy they need to make it through the night.
By the way, the heavy chain in the background of the photo was one of Calvin's ideas from last summer. I still don't know what he was up to...
Friday, January 26, 2007
I just took this photo a few minutes ago out the back window at work. The poor lighting in this photo does not do justice to what was probably the best view I've ever had of a brown creeper (Certhia americana). It does, however, show what this sparrow-sized bird's exquisite brown/gray markings do very well. When the creeper saw me as I edged closer to the window, it froze, and had I not been fixed on its location I may have missed it altogether against the bark.
Because of their cryptic habits and coloration, brown creepers are rarely seen although they are a regular year round resident in this area. They prefer mature woods, where as their name suggests, they creep up the trunks of trees gleaning insects from the crevices in the bark.
The close up look I got today showed me, for the first time, the detailed beauty that can be found in such an inconspicuous little brown bird. Nuthatch from Bootstrap Analysis has noticed this beauty as well, and even included a much better picture than I have here, courtesy of Cindy Mead of Woodsong.
Now I'm glad I didn't leave work early, as I had been contemplating; I would have missed this wonderful close up view!
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I also had my 35,000th visitor yesterday. Didn't check who it was, but judging by the Site Meter it was probably someone Googling "calvin and hobbes decapitated snowmen" or "snowball launcher" or something like that. Seems to be a lot of that going around lately.
I also missed a dog-o-versary. According to my calculations, Sally's first birthday was the 22nd. I could look up the paperwork to find out the actual date, if I knew where it was in my precise filing system. So a belated happy birthday, Sally. You can stop being a puppy now. You can stop chewing everything and start spending more of your time lazily curled up in front of the woodstove. You can tell that younger orange-spotty Hopi thing that you're an adult now and you're way too mature and sophisticated to engage in her puppy games. Okay Sally? Good girl.
Our Internet service was down Monday night, and amazingly I made it through the evening without visiting blogs. Tuesday morning, bright and early, Mr. Attitude wanted to get on the computer to "check my 'Bay". He's probably the youngest eBay fan I know of, but he's only bid on--and won--something once. Luckily it wasn't too expensive. ;) Anyway, I told Mr. Attitude the Internet still wasn't working, and he went into a fit of withdrawal. I went out to the cook shed to get my lunch ready, and when I came back he was sitting at the computer, happily watching Cartoon Network...online. "I fixed it, Mom!" he said. I congratulated him, although I had a nagging suspicion, later confirmed, that the problem was at our local server 20 miles away, and when they showed up for work in the morning they rebooted or said some magic chant and all was well. But I'll just let Mr. Attitude think he did it. :)
Sunday, January 21, 2007
There is nothing like getting out of bed on a cold January morning to a nice fire in the wood stove, coffee ready in the coffee maker (I could live without a bread machine, I guess, but not the coffee maker!) and a pile of seed catalogs alongside my notebook. While I watch chickadees get their breakfast, I plot the garden of my dreams, compare tomato varieties, ponder what it is I really want in a potato (flavor/texture, storage, and scab resistance!), and make up the rough draft lists of what to order and from where. I have about four or five catalogs I try to order from each year, just so I stay on their mailing list and so they have my support for their efforts to keep an abundance of seed varieties available. I believe they are all listed in the sidebar, except maybe Territorial and Pinetree.
While I pondered seed catalogs, with the kids still asleep, The Hermit left to do some Christmas shopping (hows that for last minute!) My extended family, due to various factors, had not yet gotten together to celebrate Christmas, but the shindig was scheduled for this afternoon. Two minutes after he walked out the door, he called me from his cell phone to tell me there was a bald eagle perched in the neighbor's tree across the road. I hadn't had my eagle "fix" for over a week, so I walked out in my pajamas with a jacket thrown over just in time to see not only the bald eagle, but also a dark morph rough-legged hawk in a nearby tree.
That impromptu birding adventure took me out to the pond, which had about an inch of snow over mostly smooth ice. I thought how great it would be to clear off the pond and get in some skating with the kids before we had to leave for my relatives' house. I ran in and got more suitably dressed for the weather, and got my exercise clearing snow off the pond in less than an hour. Of course, as soon as I was finished, it started snowing lightly. The kids and I were still able to enjoy a short skate on the pond, but now I have my work cut out for me, another inch of snow. Oh well, the kids are improving with every skating session, and with my new skates I am rediscovering some of the moves I used to do. They really make a difference.
We made the hour long drive to my aunt and uncle's lake home where we exchanged gifts and news, and cousins played together. It is good and necessary to get together with family once in a while, but to tell the truth I would not have minded at all to stay home, do some more skating (or shoveling), watch birds, and get the garden planning done.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Quick quiz: this is a) my brain on beer; b) a relief map of some mountain range that Calvin made for geography class; c) my first bread machine failure.
If you guessed "c", you are correct. Usually when I try a new recipe, or mess around with a recipe as I did here, I watch the machine for a while to see if more liquid or more flour needs to be added as it mixes. In this case I was making a whole wheat flour bread and I optimistically substituted ground flax seed for oil, as the flax seed package claimed I could do. What the flax seed package did not tell me was I may need to increase the amount of water during the first kneading. And, because I followed directions and set the machine for the "whole wheat" cycle, there was a thirty minute warming/resting period which supposedly allows the whole wheat flour to absorb the liquids, which supposedly makes for a lighter product. But during that thirty minutes I got distracted, went away from the cook shed, and did not return until some time between the first and second kneading. What I found then looked a lot like what you see here; a mound of crumbly, dry dough. I added more water, but by then it was too late to affect the texture of the bread. It still smelled nice as it baked, however, and the birds or squirrels or rabbits or deer might enjoy it.
Ideally, I would not leave the task of making homemade bread to a machine. In the kind of life I want, I would not spend nearly fifty hours of my week away from home, earning enough money to buy my bread from the store. I would knead the bread by hand, and gradually learn the intricacies of bread making.
Despite what they say, machines don't always make life easier or simpler or create more free time.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
The first thought that came into my mind was, "It doesn't look quite as bad as I expected." Really. They left a few trees standing, they followed property lines, and this is the extent of how my view has been altered. You can't even see it from the new house.
But saying "It really doesn't look that bad" is like attending the wake of a friend that's been brutally murdered, staring at the body in the casket, and saying "My, the undertaker did such a lovely job!"
It used to all look like the extreme left side of the photo. The foreground is the shrub swamp, a haven for sedge wrens and song sparrows and bitterns in the summer. The aspen woods in the background are what was cut. It would have looked a lot worse if we had been foolish enough to grant an easement for the logger to build a road across the swamp.
Ah well, this is but a tiny paper cut (unintentional pun) compared to the cancer of destruction we humans have brought upon the planet. But paper cuts hurt, too.
A while after I wrote the first draft of this post, I went outside and heard the hooting of a barred owl, coming from somewhere in my woods. Which reminds me, The Hermit told me last night he had a dream, kind of like Hitchcock's "The Birds", except The Birds were great gray owls getting revenge on the loggers. After the carnage, he said, the owls roosted in our trees by the hundreds. I guess our little woods is a refuge. I like it that way.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
So, back to the stagnation thing. I have no intentions of quitting, or even writing one of those "I'm thinking of quitting because I feel I have nothing left to say, please talk me out of it" posts. I have not yet, in two years, scratched the surface of what I have to say, and I'm loving the blog community thing. I just feel I have to renew a personal commitment to focus on the original mission of this blog: "Notes on nature, phenology, environmental philosophy, gardening, music, and the pursuit of the Good Life in the northwoods of Minnesota."
That means I should be blogging more often. Although gloating after new windows has its place, I should devote equal time to exploring how much those windows, and our construction decisions, mean in the overall picture. (Energy efficient windows, if you can afford them, are a must here in Minnesotarctica. Anything that lets in valuable light in winter, and prevents heat loss, is a plus.) I should post more frequently about my bird sightings. I saw a pair of cardinals as I was going out to fill the bird feeder at work today. I also sighted a red tailed hawk, over a quarter mile away perched in a tree, on my drive home.
It also means the quality of my writing should never be compromised. I feel I have made a lot of mediocre posts about what could be amazing life revelations lately. I fully intend to commit to making this blog a pleasure to read as well as an invitation for thoughtful comment and discussion. I am so grateful for all of you readers out there, whether you comment daily, occasionally, or never, and I want to make sure it's worth your time to check in here.
And, since there seems to be a lack of knowledge, or the willing to share it, about gardening here in the northern latitudes, where frost can hit any month but July, I feel I should at least share some of my successes and failures in the garden department so I can remember them and others can learn from them! My garden is becoming more and more an integral part of my life, and I intend to share more of what I am learning.
So there I have laid out the challenge for myself. Please, in your comments, feel free to make sure I am living up to it!
Monday, January 15, 2007
The incessant whine of the cutters and chippers and shredders penetrated my dreams last night. Yes, they're that close, I can hear them inside the house. I dreamed over and over that I looked out and the view I knew and loved was completely gone. I even double checked when I woke up for real, just to make sure the trees across the swamp were still there. Now, strictly following property lines, they should not log anything directly across the swamp from the new house, and there should be a thin buffer protecting the view where the logged land adjoins the neighbor's land to the south. But how can logging machines see property lines in the dark? I am still concerned.
But I don't think my dreams last night were entirely about my pretty view; Nature, after all, has a way of taking care of those things in swift and unpredicatable ways (remember the Boundary Waters blowdown of 1999) and I should not be selfish enough to demand that my particular view remain intact. Rather, I think my dream represented my fears about the bigger picture: losing the natural world that I love. Whether it is lost bit by bit to development, or in a bigger way by human-induced climate change, or by extraction-based practices such as clearcut logging, I am scared that the landscape I love is disappearing. In the case of logging, they say it is a renewable resource, that it will grow back. But when they shred every little bit of wood and leave nothing to the soil but tread marks, will it?
I told The Hermit tonight, if I didn't have kids that depended on me, I just might go out and confront the monster and tell it what I think of its greedy, short-sighted practices. But what I would do might be classified as "eco terrorism", which carries with it harsher sentences than would the assault and murder of a fellow human being. Even if I didn't harm a single human soul. Is it wrong to protect, or protest against the destruction of something I love if that something is not human?
I hear more than the whine of the machines. I hear the cries of a thousand trees as they die a violent death. Excuse me for being dramatic.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
This view will be lookin' out Mr. Attitude's window. He can check the garden for deer at night!
If you look closely, you can see the beveled edges set into the inside layers of the glass. This is a fairly new offering in the world of windows, and being the fashion-conscious people we are, (Ha!) we wanted to have the current "look". Seriously, when The Hermit found that these were available as an option at Menards, we thought they somehow looked so much better than clear windows, or windows with blocky "panes" built in. They are somewhat reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's "Prairie" style. Anyway, we liked 'em, and they only cost a few bucks more, and my dad was very generous before Christmas, so this is what we got.
Here is how you will first see the house when you come to visit. (You are planning a visit, aren't you?) The house is pretty much oriented east-west on the long side. The entry door faces west. Just to the left, the master bedroom, unless we can convince one of the kids to give up a loft bedroom!
This is inside, looking over the construction mess from east to west. On the left is an entryway that will have a substantial closet, as well as its own window, yet for energy saving purposes in winter it will be separated by a door from the main part of the house. On the far right, the master bedroom. On top, a very nicely sized loft bedroom for a very lucky child. In the foreground, our great room, the center of which will be the wood stove.
And here at last is the lowly north side of the house. Because cold winds tend to come from the north and west in winter, we wanted to minimize the north window exposure. The left window is the bathroom (with hot shower and bath, pablo) but composting toilet (it's wonderful to build where there are no strict codes!) The right window is a utility room, which will probably have washer and dryer (Yes! No more trips to the laundromat!) and freezer and shelves for my canned goods. This side of the house has a good 100 feet of yard that could be smoothed out before it meets up with a beautiful tamarack woods, which should host some amazing birds for the feeders I will have here.
I am so looking forward to moving in THIS SPRING!!!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
WE HAVE WINDOWS!!!
This is just a preview; by the time I got home and got done oohing and aahing at the views from inside, it was getting towards sunset; I'll probably have more photos on Saturday when I can get out in the middle of the day.
I just love how The Hermit designed the peak windows. If you look in the lower right hand corner you can even see the one on the other side of the house.
It's amazing how much wood siding weathers in a year. But with a good stain, the upper and lower parts should come out matching pretty closely.
It's beginning to look like home!
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
So she came home with a worksheet that had questions about the story of Ruth and Naomi. My Biblical knowledge is not that extensive, so I told her to find the Children's Bible on our bookshelf and look it up herself.
She ended up finding the Game Cube disk, Cabela's Dangerous Hunts, which has been missing for several months. It was within the pages of the Childrens' Bible. I had looked for that disk everywhere.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
The meeting was...well, a planning meeting, one in which I felt entirely out of my league and with not much to offer, but folks in my field are not too high strung and competitive about stuff like that. Or I don't care if they are.
I could have hung around for the happy hour/too much beer/catch up on Department news gossip session, but...and this may be news to some...I just didn't feel like drinking beer and sitting around all night! I'm normally not much of a shopper, and I rarely get the opportunity when I actually feel like it, the nearest good shopping aside from the thrift store being sixty miles away. So I hopped in the car soon after the meeting ended and braved the heavy (for me) traffic to hit a big box store across town. I found my favorite brand of athletic shoes (New Balance) on sale, and I needed some new all terrain runners for all of the all terrain running I'm going to be doing in the near future. :) Then, after grudgingly deciding I look ridiculous in low-rise boot cut jeans, I found a sensible pair that fit well. It was nice to be able to try stuff on without wondering what the kids were up to somewhere else in the store.
Then, after a stop at a discount liquor store (gotta have a little fun) I headed back for a salad delivered room service, a vodka tonic, a long hot bath followed by a shower, and a refreshing yoga session, refreshing because I didn't have dogs and cats getting in the way! I tried to do a little reading in bed, but I was so relaxed I turned out the lights before 10. The sound of traffic all night took some getting used to, but not having a dog curled up in my spot took some getting used to as well. Sometimes there's no place like home. Sometimes.
Speaking of home, an exciting new house post will come shortly. The carpenters were here today, and the upper story ends are framed in, and on one side, the outer siding is up and WINDOWS are in! More Windows updates will be ready for installation tomorrow, and I will have photos as soon as I can get them in daylight.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Where does one end and another begin? Who knows. But I do know, I took two photos of these cats up in Calvin's bed, and a cat was sticking its tongue out in each photo. I thought this one, with little Blue Flame's tongue visible, was the least offensive.
Awww! Aren't they sweet?
Thursday, January 04, 2007
A parcel of land that includes a forty acre square that is kitty corner from ours on the southeast is being logged. When all is said and done, part of the view across my swamp will be altered considerably. And 120 acres will be trampled, cut over, and left to new succession. I should not be so concerned; it's just third or fourth growth aspen, which is regularly cut on a thirty year rotation around here. It will grow back, and ruffed grouse thrive in early succession aspen forest. The Hermit even earns his paycheck now encouraging land managers to manage for early succession aspen for ruffed grouse. It's what a certain group of hunters want.
I'm all for the local person making a living off logging. However, I can't help but think this sale-driven model of forestry is short sighted and dangerous. Far too much of the public forest land around here is managed for aspen, cut on a thirty year rotation, at the cost of diverse forest habitat. Sure, a few species might thrive in early growth aspen, but so many others, which are declining in numbers, require a mixed hardwood/conifer landscape with varying degrees of maturity. The county administers the majority of forest lands around here, most of it tax-forfeited since the 1930's, when people gave up on this area as farm land. But the county, in my opinion, lacks vision in managing this valuable resource; if it benefits a logger in the short term, it's good business. Never mind that other low impact logging models have shown good promise elsewhere.
Where is this timber going? Minnesota's timber industry has seen a slump as of late, so most likely it will go to foreign-owned mills in Duluth and Cloquet to be made into specialty high-gloss magazine paper. Great. Just what we need to see more of!
I knew this was coming. The logger who is doing the work stopped by a couple months ago, to ask if we would be willing to sell an access easement across the southern boundary of our land. This would have meant clearing at least a 15' wide road across high land, plus filling in that width of wetland 500' across, not to mention us having to listen to logging trucks driving across it. That in itself meant no thanks, but I detected a certain unscrupulousness on the part of the logger. He never gave us a name or phone number where he could be contacted with questions. Furthermore, he said that if we refuse, he could get the county to force an access across our property. Never mind that he had reasonable access from a county forest road to the south. I think his motive was to log the land, then sell it for deer hunting property "with deeded access". If he wasn't willing to be up front with us about this, then no thanks.
The management of the land, our only and greatest resource, is left to people like this.
Oh well, it's just trees. If there are any rare species there, they will most likely be driven onto our land. More birds for me!
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I can't remember which bird I saw first at the feeder in the morning; a black capped chickadee would be a likely guess, but I think I remember seeing a red breasted nuthatch at the suet feeder in the early morning light. White breasted nuthatches and American goldfinches showed up early, then a large flock of pine siskins, perhaps thirty individuals, took over. I think the heavy snow must have brought them here because I haven't seen that many at one time yet this year. Several of them hit the windows, but none too hard, and I had to free one that somehow got stuck inside the feeder. Both downy and hairy woodpeckers took turns at the suet, and a blue jay hung around but didn't come to the feeder. The other feeder bird for the day was a single English (house) sparrow; surprisingly, this one gave me the biggest identification trouble because I'm not used to seeing them alone, eating at the feeder.
It was still eary in the day when, as I was watching the feeder, I saw a large form soaring behind the white pines. I looked up just in time to see the white head and tail of a bald eagle. Those of you who are familiar with this blog have probably figured out that whenever I see a bald eagle, I consider it no less than a blessing. On New Year's Day, it is an extra special sign! Later I saw an eagle, probably the same one, perched in a large old spruce on the other side of the creek.
The most unexpected, amazing sighting came in the afternoon when I was getting ready to drive to Calvin's friend's house to pick him up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the flock of chickadees that had been hanging around the feeder suddenly scatter. A large bird came swooping over the feeder at high speed, then perched in a pine in the woods behind the feeder. I grabbed the binoculars just in time to get a good look at an adult Cooper's hawk. I very rarely see this species here, but maybe I've just never been around at the right moment.
On the way to Calvin's friend's house I added crows and ravens to my mental list. I half expected to see a rough legged hawk somewhere along the way, and I was not disappointed. Then I was pleasantly surprised to get a good look at a northern goshawk. As I passed through town and started heading south towards home, I watched the sun set over an open bog where I have seen a northern shrike before. I was just thinking it would be a good end to my day to see a shrike, when I sighted a bird perched in a tree top, which took off in a very rapid flight. How shrike-like! It landed in another tree top, and I stopped in the middle of the road (obviously not a busy road) and got a positive ID on a northern shrike, with a flock of common redpolls flying around it no less!
All in all, my first unofficial New Year's Day bird count was satisfying. Oh yeah, I did see one other species, actually five more if you count chickens, domestic geese, guinea fowl, and one domestic duck. The bird, sighted coming out of the oven, cooked according to Floridacracker's recipe, was a domestic turkey. But I won't count it, since there's barely any recognizable evidence left!
Monday, January 01, 2007
New Year's Eve started with heavy rain, a dark and dreary day. Then around noon, the rain started changing to snow. Soon big, fluffy flakes were falling, instantly transforming the landscape into a wintery world.
We didn't have any plans to go out reveling anywhere, but if we had they would have been cancelled by slippery roads. Just as well, I had been battling a nasty cold and didn't feel much like partying. Mr. Attitude and Starflower made their own outdoor fun.
The snow should mean increased activity at the bird feeder. Which is good, because I'll probably be sitting inside watching the feeder most of the day, drinking green tea and trying to get rid of this cold.
Happy New Year, everyone!