Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Sand Creek

There is plenty of snow on the ground here to guarantee a white Christmas. The creek is very much open, enough to attract waterfowl that have lingered in the area. Yesterday The Hermit saw an unusual, slate-gray duck on the creek. I went out with binoculars and camera but I did not see it. However, I scared up a pair of mallards- the first December mallards I have ever seen here. Later I saw a mammal swimming; from the size and color I'd say it was a beaver. The Hermit, after consulting Sibley's bird guide, said the duck he saw  looked like a black scoter. That would be the most unusual "yard bird" ever! I'll be checking the creek often.

The tree is decorated, the stockings are hung from the stairway with care, but I have yet to bake Christmas cookies and wrap gifts. The Hermit will take the kids to town to go sledding while I do some "setup" on certain gift items...I am just itching to use mine, and it's my gift to myself so I would be allowed to do that, but that would give the whole thing away, you know! Then I'll make a Christmas eve dinner of ricotta stuffed pasta shells, not exactly traditional but it sounds yummy. Tomorrow after the big unwrapping we'll head to my brother's house for the family Christmas. I hope this holiday finds you surrounded by people you love, with many blessings to share!

(for those of you who saw this post BEFORE I edited the egregious spelling error, in the title no less, I apologize! I'm usually so obsessive about spelling!)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

my first Christmas bird count

'Tis the season, and while my count isn't until the 27th, I'll give you a little tale of my first attempt at being a serious birder...

I was in my first year of graduate school in South Dakota, and I had dated a guy in my undergraduate ichthyology class a couple times. He was already a passionate ornithologist, while I carried a more casual interest in birds from my childhood. I always wonder why I went into fisheries instead of birds...the tradeoff between more jobs and more fun I guess.

He asked me if I would like to go on the Brookings, SD Christmas bird count, and I agreed. (at this time I did not even own a pair of boots rated for South Dakota winters!) A neighbor in my well-preserved historical Classic house, that was now divided into apartments, was also going. We went to the bar the night before. That's where the fun began...

Let me tell you this: Never go on a Christmas bird count with a hangover! I sat all day in the back seat of a car with a poor heating system, my feet frozen, with my cheap K-mart Focal binoculars, trying not to throw up. I tried to be interested in a flock of horned larks, and I reluctantly got out of the car in a small rare hardwood forest to see a couple of great horned owls. I was mildly amused when the group got together at the end of the day and some of the older birders vehemently disputed our duck sightings. ("They were in OUR territory!")

I did not go on another Christmas bird count for over twenty years. I met The Hermit right around the time this count occurred, so my ornithologist guy got dumped, although I don't think it was serious at that point. I probably went back to my studio apartment in that beautiful old house, got under the covers on my futon, and shivered it off. I had a bird feeder outside my window, and I got an occasional red breasted nuthatch that winter. Life was good.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

action: music

Okay, it was a good idea at the time, but I'm having trouble keeping up with Reverb10. It's a time thing, mainly, but I'm also not feeling particularly inspired by the writing prompts. Maybe it's because I tend to be a reflective person, and the prompts are usually for thoughts I've already considered. Like this one:
December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)
I took that next step on Saturday (the 11th). My "aspiration" in this case is to DO something with my music- to send it out there for the universe to hear, to write, to perform. I've been dragging my heels with the "doing" part of it; my inner critic can be powerful at times. But on Saturday, for some reason I felt the urge to sit down with my guitar and record some songs. Recording has been intimidating to me, maybe because it makes me more conscious of the act of playing and singing, and as soon as I'm aware of what I'm doing, mistakes happen. The only way around it: get used to recording; I can always hit "erase".

I did manage to get used to it enough to record a few songs. I made myself listen to them, and for once I liked what I heard. I liked it enough, in fact, that I wanted to share it. I have shared music before by making YouTube videos and on MySpace, but both are pretty cumbersome to use for music sharing, and people can't download an mp3 from them. (or maybe you can on YouTube? I don't know) So I did some Googling, and found out there are all kinds of file sharing sites available, most of them offering a couple gigabytes of free storage space. I decided on Dropbox based on a few good reviews. It's pretty easy- just drag files to a special folder on your computer, and they appear online!

I now have the songs I did Saturday, plus an older recording of "Amazing Grace" on flute, on my sidebar. To listen, just click on the title (or right click to open in a new window). Depending on your default media player, you can download the song by right clicking in the player window, or by clicking on a pop up menu.

The songs are old favorites that I have been singing for years, except for "Pancho and Lefty", which I just started doing recently after hearing Emmylou Harris' version. More to come soon!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Catching up on Reverb10

My friend "rayfamily" at Tilting at Windmills has been participating in Reverb10, a daily series of writing prompts designed to help reflect on the year gone by and set goals for the year ahead. I've been following, thinking "Yeah, this might be good for me, BUT...(enter excuse here)". Well, today when I looked back on my blogging efforts for the year and found a measly 65 posts, I decided this might be a good thing to get me back into the habit of writing. So I'm jumping in, but I have nine days' worth of catching up to do. I won't go into each prompt as much as I'd perhaps like to, but they have stimulated some good introspection. And I won't take the time to write out the entire prompts in this catch-up post, so if you're interested in the whole story, please visit the Reverb10 website. And, if I can get into the game this late, you can too if you want.

December 1- (One word that describes 2010): Motion. It seems this year I have constantly been in motion. From the busy-ness of everyday life, job, and kids' activities, to moving forward with some much needed house projects, to the inner sense of motion. Motion = the opposite of standing still. In the past I have had a tendency to stagnate, to avoid action. I think I have been much more in motion this year, always seeking, growing, sometimes spinning in circles, sometimes trying uselessly to swim against the flow, but always in motion.

December 2- (What do you do every day that discourages writing): Basically getting caught up in everyday life, and NOT taking that time for myself that I know I need.

December 3- (Recall a moment in 2010 when you felt the most alive): Okay, this is one that deserved a blog post in itself, and I fully intended to do it, but I got too busy...

The evening of Halloween I took Calvin, Starflower, Mr. Attitude, and a couple of friends trick or treating in the town of Sandstone, about eighteen miles from home. Calvin had no intention of trick or treating, but he had hoped a friend would come along so they could lurk around and scare kids. (Teenagers!) That friend could not make it, so Calvin and I had an hour or so to ourselves. I decided to drive down to the Kettle River, to an old dam site and some cool trails that go through rock crevices and over the sandstone bedrock by the river. It was near sunset when we got there. The river was raging from the torrential rains that had happened earlier in the week. For a few minutes we stood at the water's edge, just listening to the power of the water. Then we walked around, hopping over crevices, noticing rocks carved by years of flowing water, but now well above the river bank. The sky was pink and indigo, the paths were covered with fallen leaves, and the air was crisp. Calvin and I were noticing the same things, and appreciating them in a way we seldom get to do. We lingered there in the twilight, mother and son. I think we even hugged once or twice.

(Then I got the wild idea to drive down this small road that follows the river. I didn't get too far, and almost got our 2007 Suburban stuck in a gigantic puddle. Calvin and I could not stop laughing.) NOW THAT'S LIVING!

December 4- (What have you done to cultivate a sense of wonder this year?) I have tried to catch myself "in the moment", aware of my surroundings, turning off the internal noise. I have tried to see the lesson and gift in every experience and every person I encounter. I have contemplated the Tao te Ching.

December 5- (What did you let go of?) Tough one. Some things are easier to let go than others. I can think of more thoughts/ideas that I should let go of than ones I have. Perhaps the big one was letting go of my disappointment in politics after the election, and turning to working towards what I believe in.

December 6- (What was the last thing you made?) Those of you who follow this blog have probably figured out I'm not a crafty person. The only things I make are food and the occasional home brew, and I don't consider those "made" by me since I am only a facilitator in natural processes. I am a musician, but again I don't "make" music so much as I facilitate it.

December 7- (What have you done this year to connect with community?) That's easy. Surprisingly, Facebook has helped me connect with people, even a couple new local friends. That, and participating in community theater. It's been a good year for community.

December 8- (How are you "beautifully different"?) I'll take a rain check and give this one a think.

December 9- (What was the best party you attended this year?) I'm not a party person. I'd have to say camping out at the bluegrass festival, meeting up with some old friends and picking with Dick and Lloyd was my party event of the year.

Looking forward to tomorrow's prompt, and I will do my best to stick with this.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bragging about my bird watching son

When I arrived home some time after dark with my older two kids in tow (basketball practice), Mr. Attitude had some news for me. "Mom! I saw a big gray bird!" Cool! I asked him "Was it this big?", while approximating the size of a Gray Jay with my hands. That would have been a rare thing! "No", he said, making a smaller measurement with his hands. "But it was bigger than a chickadee?" "Oh yeah!"

Then he got out the camera. The boy, who just turned 9 on Monday, had taken PICTURES!

Even on the tiny screen of the camera, I recognized this Northern Shrike! I have been keeping an eye out while driving, hoping to see the first Northern Shrike of the winter, and my son sees one right out the window near the bird feeder. A lifer for him, and a proud birding mama moment for me.

Northern Shrikes are a rare, but pretty reliable winter visitor around here. We usually see one on the Christmas Bird Count, but they are solitary and you have to know what to look for. They are predators, and this one was probably scouting the bird feeder. I love their gray color and black mask.