Thursday, December 24, 2009


Merry Christmas, Everyone

My husband informed me this morning that it's politically incorrect to say "Merry Christmas." So as not to offend anyone, the proper wish is, "Happy Holidays." He's a lapsed Catholic, so I suppose he would know. I wasn't raised with any conventional religion. We did have a god, the vengeful and frightening god, Dad. My mother was his number one apostle, or hench-woman, depending on how you looked at it. We children were the flock of devoted followers. When people ask me about my religious background, I say I'm a fundamentalist hedonist. Nonetheless, I say "Merry Christmas," and oddly, I mean it. I can actually tell you quite a lot of facts about Christianity, historically speaking. But I can't tell you anything about belief in Christ. I've never understood it and long ago fell off the belief wagon when it came to reverence for mythological beings. People's religious beliefs neither improve nor lessen how I regard them. It's their behavior toward others that concerns me. I would feel more connected to someone who was a caring, thoughtful, honest person, who happened to believe in unicorns, than I do to those who profess to be Roman Catholics, and yet can't be trusted. I had an acquaintance tell me recently with some reluctance that he is Baha'i. When he told me this, he prefaced the information by saying "Now I'm going to tell you something that may really put our relationship at risk." Not so. I know the person to be a deep thinker with terrific regard for other people. I feel safe with and even loved by my Baha'i friend. And yet, I know nothing about that religion. I just recognize human goodness and love. When I say "Merry Christmas," I mean it from deep in my heart, in a naive, childlike way that has nothing to do with Christ. It's a code for the genuine, deep warmth and love I feel when I say it. I say it with belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Leprechauns, and the Tooth Fairy. Though I draw the line at unicorns, that's with the understanding that maybe I'll see one on the side of the road one day and change my mind. When I do, I'll write about it, you can count on that.
Thanks to all of you for your support this past year. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts, post your comments and your public and private following. Happy holidays, happy Hanukkah, jolly Kwanzaa, happy Festivus and, yes, merry Christmas.    

                                                                        This could be God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I OTTER Be Thankful

A few days ago, I was "driving to town," as we say around here. That means going to Bath, which is fifteen miles north. During the winter, it's where we have to go for all supplies, food or a restaurant meal as everything in Phippsburg is closed. I was on a mundane mission to a medical appointment and then to loiter around at a pharmacy for a prescription. Christmas is upon us, but I had done very little shopping. My mind has been elsewhere. While driving in a dismal funk, I turned on the radio. I was really annoyed to hear Christmas music. I knew I had to drag myself out of this mood eventually, but I was so deep in my personal wallow that I didn't know what could wrench me off my glowering mark. I have very little to complain about in my life, honestly. But that fact sometimes just makes me feel even more petulant and  bitchy, like a child that won't let go of a toy it doesn't want to play with, but only possess. I was feeling very sorry for myself, "It's mine and you can't have it, so leave me alone" my toddler brain grumped to myself. Then, I saw them! Three River Otters were cavorting on the ice of Center Pond. I wheeled the car around deftly executing a smooth u-ee. I watched them for a minute and saw that they were jumping into the water then back on the ice repeatedly. The seconds they were under the water would give me the chance to get closer for better shots. I began to move down the embankment each time they submerged. Tangled raspberry canes pulled my clothes and raked my skin; burdocks adhered to my pants as I creeped toward the ice edge. Positioning myself, I held stock still, camera aloft, waiting. It was eight degrees with a ten mile per hour wind. The below zero wind chill quickly turned my cheeks, lips and fingers numb. I wanted to get closer. "I wonder how thick this ice is......." I mused, looking at my feet on the edge. Peering through my view finder, I saw that the otters were making their way along the ice line as they fished and frolicked and were progressing in my direction! Great luck as the ice was way too thin to support my rolly-polly middle aged self. They came to within about 100 feet of me. My heart was racing I was so excited! I had never seen otters before and that I was getting to photograph them was almost too much to bear! Then, one got up onto the ice. It looked directly at me and vocalized repeatedly, a rasping, throaty cat's hiss. Its whiskers were enormous and so were its teeth. My delight shifted to anxiety as, hissing, it advanced toward me. At about four feet long, it was big, big enough to take me down if it wanted to. I looked away from the view finder to see where the others were. Looking like dogs, they were swimming around and peering over the edge of the ice at me. If the curious one decided to run at me, I was at a real disadvantage for escape having clambered down the brushy embankment to the ice edge. These members of the weasel family are fast on land and can run at 15mph. River Otters are solitary unless a mother is with her young. This was probably mom up on the ice investigating me while her youngsters were swimming. They have big teeth for eating aquatic organisms, fish, mollusks, crayfish and the like. Otters have a high metabolic rate so have to eat a lot every day. They will stay in an area as long as they can get food and where there is open water. I will continue to look for them at Center Pond as there is a race of open water where a stream comes in all winter. Their presence speaks to the health of our pond as otters will leave a polluted area. In the wild, they live about 10 years, so they could be with us for years to come. I can tell you that there's nothing like a little otter to get you off your pity pot if you are feeling sorry for yourself. I know I "otter" be more thankful for the richness of my life than I sometimes am.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


 I will be presenting this short (under 10 minutes), slide show of our October trip to Aspen, Colorado to my camera club, The Capital Area Camera Club. Click on that link for the club's web site and information about us. We've got a really snazzy web site thanks to our Webmaster and club member, Tim True. My presentation is Tuesday, December 15th at about 7Pm at the Pine Tree State Arboretum in Augusta, Maine. It's free and non fattening! I hope you enjoy the slide show. It's full of scenic landscapes, wildlife and birds. For the full screen viewing option, click on the little rectangle between the speaker icon and the triangle icon on the bottom of the video screen. Remember to give it a minute to load (buffer) so it will play smoothly. Let me know what you think, too!  

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Not Too Sharp, ARE Ya!"

    In New England, we often phrase questions as if they are statements of fact. We say things like "Not too sharp, are ya?"  almost daring the subject to challenge what we already know to be true; there is no doubt in our minds. My father used to say that particular thing to me when I had done something he thought was dumb, which was often. It's usually nice to have company when you do something dumb. Even if you can't totally shift the blame to the other person, it feels a touch less lonely if you can share the corner on stupid. In this case, I shared my lack of sharpness with this Sharp-shinned hawk. "Oh ya! Who's stupid now? He's got the name, not me!"

     Yesterday, I was working on a slide show for a public presentation. I was under a deadline, so of course, the electricity went off and on five times in twenty four hours. This scrambled my computer in a big way making it very frustrating. Deep in concentration, I was chewing my cuticles, swearing at the computer, and bashing keys against my better judgment. At least once, I'm sure the computer spit back at me. I hunched over the keyboard, haggard with a glazed look in my eyes. I was so  absorbed in getting my project done that I hadn't tied my crazy hair back nor had I put on a bra. I don't think I had brushed my teeth, either.
     All of a sudden, there was a thunderous crash into a living room window. It was so loud I thought for a second the glass had broken. The magnitude of the sonic boom was such that I couldn't tell just which window had been struck, the confusion compounded by both of my dogs barking like maniacs. Leaping up on the surge from my last frayed nerve, I ran outside and found this Sharp-shinned hawk on the deck. It was alive, but disabled. It glared at me with one wing askew, its beak open and panting, clear signs of bird stress. It had the same look I did!
     Empathy kicked in and reflexively, I went to reach for it, but stopped myself.  Its hooked beak and talons made me think better of it. I had to act quickly before the dogs showed up or the poor bird became hypothermic. It was about forty degrees out and the wind was blowing, but I pulled my shirt off for the hawk. Having watched enough shows on falconry, I knew to cover up its head. The cold wind whipped my hair into a cyclonic disaster and reminded me that my amply bosomed self was totally exposed out in the yard, so in I came with my feathered friend in a bundle. My hands were shaking. Mind racing, I wondered aloud if I had a box somewhere to put it in. "Where would I have put that phone number for the avian rescue people," I asked myself.
     My address book was on the dining room table, so I laid the hawk down and reached for it. Suddenly, the Sharpie extricated itself from my shirt and zoomed like a rocket into the living room. "Oh shit!" I screamed dashing in pursuit, leaving my shirt behind. The commotion incited the dogs to start a snarling fight provoking more screaming and yelling from me. My living room is thirty-two by thirty-two feet wide, but not adequate as an aviary for a bird with a two foot wing span, I can assure you. Grabbing a towel from the nearest bathroom, I booted the dogs out of the room, then closed the doors. Towel in hand, I scanned the upward bound perches like the ceiling fan and chandelier, but no angry hawk. "Where the hell could it be........." my eyes roamed the room. And there is was, perched atop the open lid of my laptop computer.
    I tossed the towel over the bird praying it did not poop on my keyboard which would have served me right, and took it outside. If it had not flown away immediately, I would have then gone looking for a suitable container and called avian rescue. Thankfully, it swooped away to the branch of the tree where it's perched in these photos. It took a minute to collect itself, just long enough for me to grab my camera for these shots. I'm hoping that it is okay out there. I'm sure it's better off than with me, no matter how kind my intentions. When it came to the Sharp-shinned, I was, as my father would have said, "Not too sharp." Now, where did I put my shirt?
(By the way, I think the hawk was chasing a Blue Jay when it struck the window, which wasn't too bright. It did fix whatever was ailing my computer, though. Remember, it is unlawful to possess hawks or their parts. All wild birds in Maine are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA). If you need help to rescue a bird, click here on AVIAN HAVEN. Let the professionals handle it. It's better for the bird and better for you, too. You could go to jail.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What A Hog!


I took these photos yesterday from the end of our pier. This Common Loon in non-breeding foliage was enjoying a crab it had plucked from the bottom. It tossed it around the same way that Eiders do. It tore off the claws and legs as it flung it so as not to get pinched until it reduced it to a crab Rangoon then gulped it. Sometimes it had to dive back down for the sinking remains. It's impressive how the loon's throat will expand to accommodate that big a bite! I think that's the same technique employed by professional speed eaters, the ones who are able to eat a thousand hot dogs in ten minutes.

"Boy, a beer would be great about now."

Clematis In Snow

In case you thought I was kidding about flowers in my yard under snow, check this out! This clematis always blooms late into the fall. This year, it was still blooming and had nice fat buds visible in the photo on December ninth. In fact, it still does have nice fat buds, but now they are buried. You can see from the little brown dots on the petals that their tender flesh had frozen. If the sun came out again and it warmed up, I'm pretty sure that those buds would bloom. As it's blowing a steady fifteen miles per hour with horizontal snow from the Northeast as I write, I'm afraid there's not much threat of that. I'm not sure what the variety of clematis is. I probably picked it up from a nursery center clearance bin and got it cheap for lack of a tag. When a plant loses its pedigree, it no longer commands the same price. This clematis could be 'Prince Charles,' based on the color and petal shape. Do you suppose the Prince Charles would be offended to know that if he lost his tag he would be relegated to the orphaned plants bin? Would he continue to bloom under the snow, regal, frozen, abandoned? 

Monday, December 7, 2009

First Snow

Every year, the first really cold days of winter seem too soon. I always think, "I'm not ready," as if  there could possibly be a good time for it. This year, we haven't had much cold weather at all. There are still flowers in my yard to prove that. As of Saturday, they are buried under the first snow fall. Here in Phippsburg, we got a solid seven inches and it's here to stay. More is forecast for Wednesday. When the snow comes early enough, the apples haven't all fallen from the trees. Apples in snow are especially beautiful. The red ones shown here are crab apples. The yellow ones are some heirloom type in the yard of an antique cape in Parker Head. The house dates to the seventeen hundreds and I'm sure the apple tree is at least a hundred years old. The ducks are American Black ducks hanging around in the west side of Atkins Bay by Popham. They seemed to be enjoying themselves even though ice was forming there. By this time of year, the Great Blue Herons have migrated. It is unusual to see them now. They require open water to fish. This one was at the end of the Sam Day Hill road working a small pond. You can see in the photo that its fishing was successful. 

Cat O' Nine Tails in the snow

American Black Duck

Great Blue Heron fishing

Friday, December 4, 2009

On The First Day Of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me......Dusky Grouse?

    Tis' the season when even grown adults hope for things for Christmas from loved ones. If I had a billion dollars, I'd give all sorts of things to the ones I love whether it was Christmas or not. Over the course of the year, I often see items that make me think "If I had money to throw around I'd get that for (YOU fill in the blank.)" Seemingly inevitably, when Christmas rolls around or that person's birthday, I can't think of a thing for them or can't afford what I want to give to them. I can't quite bring myself to buy just something to fill that void hoping that the thought will count, even if the gift isn't ideal. I hope you all know that I love you anyway and think fond thoughts throughout the year, not only on the quintessential christian holiday. When a reader of this blog requested that I change the banner photograph from the Wild Turkey tail, I thought it was a moment to give a gift right then and there, because I could. I thought the turkey tail was beautiful, but I do listen to you - Santa reads your letters, even if the gift you receive isn't quite what you had in mind. The reader's request was for a photograph of a  swan or a Partridge or a Turtle dove which I do not have. If I did, rest assured, I'd give them to you. The last Partridge I photographed was while I was driving. No, I didn't hit it! I had my camera in the passenger's seat as I always do when I saw the bird flush from the edge of the road into the bushes. I was able to get a couple of shots through my grimy windshield before it disappeared, but not anything to write home about, as they say. Partridge and Grouse are all in the same family of Phasianidae or Upland Game Birds. The Dusky Grouse photograph was taken in Aspen, Colorado on October 5th of this year. We have Spruce Grouse and Ruffed Grouse in Maine but not Dusky Grouse. They live in the Rocky Mountains. At seventeen inches tall, they are bigger than the Grouse we have here, but no less chicken-like. Dusky Grouse are more easily spooked than our Grouse, so I think I'm lucky to have gotten photographs of it. It didn't seem too bothered by me and I think I could have had it for lunch if that was my motivation. I could well imagine it braised in red wine with garlic and leeks. Wild rice flavored with ramps from the forest would have made a glorious side. I could almost smell it!
   Once, in 1989 before I was a photographer, I saw a Mute Swan in the wild on the New Meadows River in Bath. It was so unusual to see one here, that it was in the daily newspaper. To this day, I regret that I didn't photograph it though I didn't own a camera. I have never photographed a Turtle Dove, nor have I ever seen one. Ringed Turtle-Doves are a European introduction to this country and do not fair well in the wild; I'd know if I saw one. These lovely Mourning doves, which we have in abundance in Maine, are as close as I'm likely get to a Turtle Dove. I hope they'll do. While thinking of the words to The Twelve Days of Christmas and birds, it occurred to me that I have given to you in this blog hens, though they were not three nor French - they were German, and at least  four calling birds of various kinds. Then, there have been geese - there were more than six, but they weren't a-laying; they were a-crapping on a golf course. Though the birds I've presented to you over the past year may not have been the birds of my dreams or yours, they have been the birds I've seen and have had to give to you. If I had been Santa reading your letter when you had asked for a watch, I would have given to you a Timex, probably not a Rolex. I hope you like it anyway and know that I love you. It's my version of a Christmas carol.