Saturday, August 29, 2009

Prayers And Casseroles

 “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
      John Lennon

We all know what happened to John Lennon. He was a talented, still young man when he was shot. The world was stunned by the sudden, unexpected event. “How could this happen” was the question on everyone’s mind. Some nut just appeared and took away all the love, all the talent, all the creation yet to happen. It was so random and unfair. No matter how people struggled to get their heads around it, it did not make sense. There were no explanations. For comfort, people joined hands and sang “Let It Be.” It was something to do.
I have looked at our group family photos from our Fourth of July reunions and asked myself, who might not be there next time. Numerous have had life threatening medical issues. When we have shared this with friends, they’ve said, “We’ll pray.” Sometimes a casserole would show up. I appreciated their intentions, but prayers and casseroles make me nervous. When people start talking prayers and casseroles, I feel like maybe things really will turn out badly. Maybe it’s worse than I think or out of control! Like the near miss of a whizzing bullet, each time one of the family has dodged a mortal catastrophe, my circuits jammed with terror. I’ve wanted to believe I could influence the outcome with substantial action; prayers and casseroles seemed so flimsy.
We recently got a call that this time, it wasn’t just a close call; one of us had caught the bullet. Our cousin, Nancy Lovetere had died. Of all of us, she was one of the most unlikely. She took fabulous care of herself and ran every day. She wore huge, silver starfish earrings, silly ankle-breaker, girlie shoes and hot pink lipstick. At sixty, she had a navel piercing and a killer body to sport that absurdity. She always had a big smile. She was a writer with plans for stories to tell and she had grandchildren. Her death was stupid and outrageous at the hand of a bungling surgeon. “The colon was nicked,” was the minimizing explanation. The senseless randomness of her death leaves me feeling vulnerable and small, so very small. I have thought about God and taking better care of myself. Maybe a prayer or a casserole would be just the thing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

American Painted Lady Not So Lovely

A great friend brought to me a jar of caterpillars of the American Painted Lady butterfly. They are beautiful in their own way. I like the geometry of the yellow stripes and red spots. They see a wider range of patterns and color, especially ranges of green than humans do. This may account for the highly defined striping and spotting. They feed on glaucous  leaved foliage, like this Pearly Everlasting. I once had Edelweiss in a garden because my grandmother loved it. She grew up in Munich, Germany. I found numerous of its dried flowers pressed into books in her house. Every year, my Edelweiss was consumed by these caterpillars and it eventually succumbed. The caterpillars spin a silk thread from the spinneret just below the mouth and hang from one end. The suspended caterpillar's skin eventually splits from end to end revealing the chrysalis. As a defense, the chrysalis shakes vigorously if disturbed. It's jiggling is unnerving when this otherwise inert object suddenly feels so alive. After two weeks, the butterfly that has formed inside emerges. The butterflies live about two weeks, then they lay eggs on the plants they have favored for food and the cycle contines again. The American Painted Lady is one of the most common butterflies in the United States and can be found in almost all of our states.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Plan For The PORKY

We live in deep, spruce woods. Porcupines are frequently a problem. They have denned under our house and eaten stored furniture; they have pooped foul mountains. As if that isn’t horrific enough, our dog loves a mouth full of quills. He can’t get enough of it, no matter what it costs him. It’s cost  us plenty in extractions and repairs at the veterinarian. A few years ago, we had a tribe of them move in on us. At night, they climbed into the few oak trees too feed on acorns. They chewed off the end branches, then went for the acorns that fell to the ground. We could hear them squealing, yowling and scuffling around. Falling acorns striking the roofs of our vehicles sounded like gunfire! We had a problem we would have to contend with. Shooting them was obviously necessary. We borrowed a friend’s shotgun which stood in the front hall, loaded for a couple of weeks. Neither of us could bring ourselves to pull the trigger. Then one night, we had been at a party and came home late. Shortly after we went to bed, the acorn missiles started coming in. Bam, bam, bam! We got up to see who was firing at us. From the safety of the front door, David turned on the exterior lights -there they were six baby porcupines. David looked at the shotgun and groaned, “What the hell are we going to do now?” “If we shot the parents last year, we wouldn’t be in such a mess now.” At the party, I had a few Martinis and was now in the mood to take action against the wildlife hoards. “Not to worry, dear” said I. “I’ve got a plan.” David peered at me with deep suspicion and nervously asked “What are you going to do?” Keep in mind that we don’t sleep with any clothes on (I know, I know - TMI), so this conversation was being had while naked. “Don’t you worry, Davie. I’m going to take care of them now. You just stand there and wait.” With that, I ran barefoot and naked with hair flying, arms flailing and screaming into the yard. Forgetting about the crushed rock driveway, I was suddenly prancing and yiping my way to the porcupines. I screamed and hollered, but they did not move. All of a sudden, I was standing bare-assed in the midst of a herd of porcupines. “Go away!” I commanded. I figured, as with dogs and horses, never let them see your fear. Still, they did not move. Naked in the midst of porcupines is about as vulnerable as a girl can feel. But, I had to save face. I turned back to the house. I walked calmly, slapping my hands together as if I had neatly dispatched them all. David’s mouth was agape. “You’re crazy! And look! They’re still there! They didn’t move an inch!” I told him not to worry, that I had taken care of them and they would not be back. Low voiced, he muttered something about nuts as we went to bed. The following day, an adult porky was dead at the head of our driveway. Some will tell you a car hit it. I say it ran away from me, had a heart attack and died. They never came back. And not a shot was fired. I’m sure that tales of horror were told around porky campfires about the mad woman with wild hair and flailing breasts. It was so successful that I thought I’d market my services to the community. I could hear the late, great pitchman Billy Mays hollering, “Varmint Control- Twenty-five dollars- Middle aged woman will run naked and screaming in your yard! Results guaranteed!”

(The little one in these photos was seen yesterday across the road from us. It was lying around on the branches of these locust trees and nibbling the leaves)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bon Voyage, Clarise And The Kids!

Right on time, they were gone today when I returned from Weeding For Dollars. I did take a couple of photographs this morning, before I left. I didn't get up on the ladder to look for the third chick. I just assumed it was in there, but maybe not. These two characters were looking out for their mother, and perhaps their sibling as it may have left earlier in the day. We have our kitchen door back, so David can take the trash out as an anniversary gift. Tomorrow, we will have been married for eight years. It does not seem possible anymore than it seems possible that the nest is finally, really empty. After my son went back to Colorado, it took me three weeks to straighten up the slip cover on the sofa. Each time I went to do it, I could see him sprawled out there and I couldn't erase that image with tidiness. My darling daughter left this summer, too. A few weeks before she moved to  New Jersey, she left a message on the wipe board in the kitchen. It's been almost two months, and the message is still there. I haven't been able to bring myself to remove it, like the slip cover. And yes, I keep their answering machine messages, too. What are any of us besides the impressions that we leave behind? The indentation of a body on a sofa, a hastily scrawled note, a voice mail - or an empty nest, literally. Some people leave huge impressions in the form of art, writing, recorded music, political offices and more. Some, just a dent in the couch which to the mother, means everything. I can hear Clarise chirping from the woods. I can hear the slightly frantic note in her calls. I'm sure her youngsters are out there and that she's saying, "Be careful! Drive safely! Wear a helmet! Floss daily!" I hope I left them with a good impression.

The Little Monsters, Day 12

Doesn't this one look like as if it has ears? They look like mad scientists, complete with singularity of focus and insanity in their eyes! "The worm! The worm, give us the worm!" Clarise has been bringing bundles of invertebrates and berries. There is a caterpillar and a grasshopper in this load, along with other stuff I can't identify. Feeding is really quick, no appetizers nor grace said. She stuffs it into those golden maws, grabs a fecal sac to discard and runs off to do it again. All three of them seem equally vigorous. Tuesday should be the day they begin to evacuate. I'm going to lay the ladder down on it's side on the ground, so that if any of the nincompoops falls to the ground, I'll get to them before some predator, hopefully.

Friday, August 21, 2009

DAY TEN, Wretched Little Hens!

Okay, I don't know if they are hens or roosters or what they are. They are looking like they could actually blow this phone booth on time, though! They have true feathers, now. They also look like they have ears when they are sitting down. Clarise is very vocal these days, especially if anyone is in the yard. She's got nerve! We don't have to be near her nest, just out of the house and she blats incessantly. She's gone from just aggressive to full on hostile!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not The Usual Suspects

       Sometimes, I make myself take photographs of things other than wildlife. I took three of these shots in the house while it was simply too hot to do anything else out of doors. It's amazing what the mind can come up with when it's 95 degrees and the brain feels crush. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DAY EIGHT, Give Back Our Gate!

Day eight,
And we can't wait!
To have back
Our gate!

Or kitchen door, as it were. This was yesterday, August 18th, day eight from hatching. As they saying goes, "you don't miss your water 'till your well runs dry." The same can be said for not being able to use the kitchen door. We have taken for granted the coming and going from that access. Cars park on that side of the house. It's the door through which all of our friends come and go. I warn them all repeatedly, "Do NOT come through the kitchen door!" The dogs favor that entrance. The trash barrels are on that side of the house. And the list could go on. I'll be glad when these little monsters get it together and move on! I want my life back, before adoption. I'm guessing poor, haggard Clarise feels the same. She's sitting on the roof of our trash shed. I am surprised that she is taking berries to her youngsters. What I have read is that robins feed their young invertebrates - caterpillars, and worms as most of us know. I have seen her ferrying those delicacies to them. However, at least half of what I've observed her to serve has been these honeysuckle berries. The juniors, quite suddenly, it seemed, sprouted pin feathers from their wings. I can see them moving without getting up on my ladder. They are exercising their wings when they reach for food. Get ready, get set - GO!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Atlantic Puffins

I can't believe it was a year ago that I went to Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine to see the Puffins. I'm struck by how much better my photography is now. I made this slide show back then and it shows! Even so, they are really cute and I think that comes across in the photographs, though technically not the greatest. Maybe one day, I'll get a do-over. The island is 10 miles off The Bold Coast. The seas can be rough - think about Boniva or 'The Patch,' at least, forgo a greasy breakfast. I left from Cutler, east of Machias. It was a foggy, misty day; rain nearly kept us ashore, but at the last minute, we went. I was with a clutch of my camera club pals. Cutler boasts the highest number of days of fog on the Maine coast coming in at about 33%. On arrival on the island, the group was escorted by conservation workers from Canada and the US. There is a dispute about which nation 'owns' the island. So, they all work there to keep their hand in. An advantage to this is that the standards of attention to the birds and care of the island may be higher than if there was a single landlord. The Common or Atlantic puffin is not endangered. In Greenland, they eat the birds like squab. At 3,000 birds, MSI has the largest colony in the world. Even so, human exposure is highly controlled. You must stay on a wooden plank-way, no going 'off trail.' Viewing is by groups of four people from observation blinds that look like outhouses. There are open slots, not unlike gun sights from all walls of the blind. There isn't room to sit, so for the two hours of viewing allowed, you get pretty chummy with your companions if you weren't already. If you need to leave the blind you are escorted back to a corral where you wait until everyone is done, never to return to the blind. Make sure you pee before you go to the blind or you'll feel like you're going blind before it's over! And don't even think about breaking the rules. The Canadian conservation worker is a great swarthy man with deeply calloused hands that could break your neck like a chicken. He tells you, "Don't even try to get away with anything to see the puffins or get a unique photograph. We've seen it ALL before. If you can't get a decent photograph while you're here, then there's something wrong with you." He's right about that. He also left no confusion that if you violated the rules, you'd wind up before a magistrate in Nova Scotia so fast it would make your head spin. There was nothing funny about this, but the chubby, little Puffins were comical as all get out!

Terns Being Fed As Promised

For some reason, I could not include these shots in the previous post. Suppose it was because I was being a memory hog? As promised, in the last shot the baby is being fed fish.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"To Everything Terns, Terns......."

In Small Point Harbor there is a boat mooring field. In that field is a float, on the float is a stack of lobster traps, on the stack of lobster traps on the float in the mooring field is a colony of Common terns. Can you say that ten times fast? I could not get enough of these terns and took scads of photographs. They are quite habituated to people as they are in the middle of the mooring field so I could get very close to them. The parents were bringing in little fish for the youngsters (click on the last photo to enlarge and you'll see that). Noisy, they utter a loud "kkkkeeeeey," as they swoop around. I love their streamlined bodies and sharply contrasted coloration. Plus, they are so gregarious! A bird after my own heart, indeed. I'm glad I don't own the boats that they favor for perching, though. What a mess they make!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Don't Fall In!

I took these photographs, yesterday, August 14th, day five from hatching. I have taken photographs every 24 hours. I've waited to update you though, because not much had changed. They have looked like newborn mice, pink and slightly downy. I've been surprised that the chicks have not progressed faster. I expected that they would have more feathers. It's supposed to take 14 days from hatching for them to leave the nest, so they've got some work to do! All three of them are alive and well. I haven't noticed that any of them are less vigorous than the others. That's good because it means they each have more of a chance. In these shots, you can see that their eye lids have a slight opening now. They have pigment changes in their skin. See the dark tipping on the wings and feet? They are stronger than when they were hatched and more demanding. They hold their heads up for food a little longer each day. That's a lot of work for them, like holding a bowling ball on the end of a noodle. Their necks are quite floppy. Their mom, who I call Clarise, is very busy gathering worms and caterpillars for them. She's on her own; the father finished his work long ago and disappeared. We avoid giving her reason to be aggressive around the nest, but nonetheless, she seems kind of stressed. She's okay, just really busy. As you can see from this open pit of a mouth, it probably feels like an endless job shoving food into that cake hole! Yesterday was my sister's birthday, the one who died. By the time my mother had three of us, she was at least as stressed as Clarise. My father wasn't much help either, after having gotten her into that mess. I know she was overwhelmed by her children. And, she would have two more, like a North American Robin that has a second or third hatching in a summer. I was the first hatching. Every one thereafter exhausted her further. My mother became like an ant that has fallen into a sand pit. There was nothing she could do but keep scrambling to get out, ultimately, to no avail. In the process of that, she stomped on some of her children, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


“But, you get what you need,” so went the Rolling Stones' song. It’s so simple, so true, yet so bogus. It has been my observation for half a century (now there’s a dismal thought!) that often, living creatures do not get what they need. The results can be catastrophically damaging. Take this beaver -it’s obviously dead. It was just beginning to cross the road when a car hit it. I have wanted to take beaver photos for a long time. When my scout called about a dead one on Route 209, I didn’t hesitate. Ideally, I’d prefer live beaver shots, but as a wildlife photographer and writer, I take what I need; I don’t always get what I want. In its death, I can still appreciate the fur, the hand-like feet and geometric scaling of the tail. I’ve never actually seen a beaver in the wild. All the beavers in my life have been dead and many of them in far worse shape than this one.
My father had a dog sled team when I was growing up. He never won any races, nor was he able to successfully breed his Siberian huskies. We had dozens of puppies, but by breed standards, none of them was adequate to sell. My father complained bitterly that he could not get a good dog out of the bunch. We did have a fancy Canary that sang prolifically. My father had traded it for a dog, somewhat appeasing my mother. Though they were “no good,” the dogs were nonetheless, expensive to feed. At the time, there were sixteen dogs and four of us children. Feeding us was business enough for my mother without the dogs. In his travels, my father was continually finagling food for his dogs. A couple of summers, he negotiated with a local summer camp for the dining hall slops. Three times a day, a truck showed up loaded with trash barrels full of macaroni, scrambled eggs, half-eaten hot dogs and other food based garbage. After the campers finished their meals, they slid the tray contents into the cans; it was clean food. The can contents were dumped on the ground for the dogs. After the dogs finished, my sisters and I rounded up the flatware that had been accidentally discarded with the food. It was the only thing the dogs did not eat. We proudly presented it to our mother, who washed and put it away in the kitchen drawer. We quickly collected a couple of sets, too. One winter, my father met a trapper in a bar. The trapper complained that the town wouldn’t let him discard his beaver carcasses at the dump any longer. He had accumulated a mountain of skinned beavers in his yard. They were frozen solid, but spring was coming. He’d have to rent a backhoe to dig a big hole into which he would bury them. “No way I can make any kind a money on them pelts if I got to eat that kind a cost, god damned town,” he groused. He wasn’t getting what he needed at all, other than another guy to complain with. But, my father thought he might be going to get what he needed: dog food. Some arrangement was made for the pile of free, frozen meat, though my father forgot to mention that to us. One Sunday morning, while my parents slept off hangovers, a dump truck arrived. Watching from my bedroom window, I saw a man climb into the back of the truck. With a pitchfork, he began stabbing and flinging out what I was sure were babies - human babies! Little, naked pink bodies were flying through the air and hitting the ground with thuds. Screaming, I ran to my parents’ room and pounded their door, “AAAAaaaaaagh! Get up! Get up! A man’s throwing babies into the yard!” It took eternity for my father to stumble out of the room, smelling like sweat and booze. He looked out of the window and vomited. I think our days of dogs concluded soon after that. I do remember that my sisters and I collected the teeth left behind, the only part the dogs did not eat. My father drilled holes in them and made us each beaver teeth necklaces. My parents were not the June and Ward Cleaver I wanted. But, they may have at least been what I needed; they didn’t just kill me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

They're Here! They're Here!

There is a show on 'cable' called "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant." It's 'real' TV, documentary style about women who have given birth, but did not know they were pregnant until the moment of delivery. That sounds ridiculous to most of us who have given birth. I would not have believed that a producer could come up with enough women to have a whole series based on this concept, either. But, I was wrong. Shows what I know about human nature and show biz, because there doesn't seem to be an end to the numbers of women that this has happened to. They are not all uneducated dunces and many of them were on legitimate birth control, honestly! Some of them had previous children, as well. Numerous of them rejected their newborns at first, as they hadn't had a second to contemplate being mothers. I won't walk you through all the scenarios, but I'm sure that at least one of you will secretly get cable some time soon just to find out how this could happen. I may appear in an episode myself, as I gave birth this very day and didn't know I was pregnant, either (well, maybe two of you will get cable, now)! I had posted recently that a robin had nested in a planter mounted on our house and had laid three eggs. I promised that I would watch for the hatching and report. Today was the big day. The first two hatched this morning and the last one later in the day. In the following photos, the first two are seen with the third egg still intact. In the other shots, you can see that one of them still has wet feathers. Only hours old, they already vocalize, though weakly. They raise their heads, mouths open for food, even though their eyes are still sealed shut. They are the homeliest things I've ever seen in my life! And I already love them. I've been caught off guard by my feelings for these little darlings, even though I didn't really know I was pregnant. I hope they all make it. I'll let you know as they progress. And I promise: I'm past rejecting them because they are ugly and I was unprepared. I'm hoping for a post delivery baby shower. If anyone wants to crochet a crib throw, make sure it's under 2" by 2".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Multiple Personality Disorder

Believe it or not, this is the same butterfly with its wings closed and opened. It is the American Lady butterfly, though this one is male. It spent most of the past two days flitting around on this blooming oregano in my garden. The topside and underside are totally distinct, as if this butterfly couldn't decide who it wanted to be when it grew up. I understand this entirely. For twenty two years, as a nurse I squashed myself into white uniforms, then pantie hose and business suits. On my days off, like Superman in a phone booth, I tore away my suits revealing my true self. Wings closed, wings opened to ripped jeans, T shirts and muck boots. I too, frantically shed the professional garb as if it were life and death. It was, indeed. The live kernel of my creative, primary brain would have perished completely had it not been able to bust out. Come to think of it, this sounds more like The Incredible Hulk than a switch-er-oo butterfly or a more noble superhero. But then, I could be all of them; I no longer have to choose between my multiple personalities. I can just breathe - wings in, wings out.

To find out more about The American Lady, or Hunter's Butterfly, see the May 6, 2009 posting in the archive of this blog.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Everywhere I turn lately, these Fritilary butterflies are flitting around. I don't recall seeing so many. In spite of the clouds and rain, could this be The Year Of The Fritilary? They are a bit of a challenge to photograph; I had to take lots of rapid fire shots as the butterflies close their wings nearly the second they land. Because they are skittish, I chose a spot in the garden where I had seen them feeding, then planted myself and waited for them to come. I also used a 400mm lens, so I didn't have to be too close to them, or them to me. Of course, the mosquitoes were also abundant but I had to let them bite me. If I slapped and swatted, that would have spooked the Fritilarys. To stand still while being bitten by insects requires a certain kind of Zen concentration. My mind wanders down the trail of West Nile Virus and Encephalitis, wondering if I'll know the symptoms in time. Afterall, a disciplined photographer can't go gettting all fritilarious, now can she?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's In YOUR Head?

This stone planter sits in the ivy beside our kitchen door. We call it unceremoniously, 'the Head.' I had a plant in it that was struggling and I couldn't figure out why. Now I know it's because this robin was stomping it down while making a nest. She has three, perfect eggs. I'll be listening for chick action. You know I"ll be taking photos of them, too. It seems almost a shame that these beautiful eggs will be cracked asunder and thrown out of the nest to accommodate bald, greedy chicks. Our kitchen door has become off limits for a while. Every time we go through the door she flaps and flutters away, even at night. So, to keep her on the nest as much as possible, we'll have to go the long way around. Some say it's good luck to have a bird nesting by your doorway. Some of you will say that since she's a robin (Turdus migratorius) nesting in my head, and I'm Robin Robinson, that once again, I'm just full of myself.