Thursday, June 29, 2006

Empty Nest: A happy ending

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Mama and Papa Cardinal, I'm happy to report, have succeeded this time around. After losing their first clutch of eggs to whatever lurks in my Lady Banks Rose, they were able to finally not see baby birds hatch from their new nest in the mulberry tree, but grow and fly free.

I knew they were gone as soon as I walked outside yesterday and heard the parents calling from the tangle of trees on the ditch bank between our yard and the fields beyond. Mama was in front, feeding and coaxing the babies to follow. Dad brought up the rear, keeping watch for danger, his red crest raised like a flag of warning.

I braved the thorny vines, holly trees and magnolias to venture nearer, hoping to get a shot of the babies. But every time I got one in focus it would manage a bumbling flight to the next tree. I did learn a bit more about cardinal vocalizations, though. I'm convinced now that this one sharp note the father kept repeating means, "Quiet!" because he had yet to utter it when the babies would all fall silent. As I backed away, the communication began anew.

In other good bird news, the eggs in the shed have hatched an now we have Cup-o-Wrens. The mother is tiny, hyper and very protective of her discarded Pepsi-cup home, so the most I can manage is one shot at a time. But here's the one I shot yesterday, with three eggs hatched and one to go.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Red, White and Ruse

Nice going, self-serving right wing assholes. Nice move to try and tweak the constitution for your own political gain with this self-serving flag amendment.

Nice job of wrapping yourself in the flag while continuing to tear down what it stands for -the rights of a free nation. Nice job of continuing our national decline into a nation that idolizes symbols over standards.

Right now things are going your way. People are afraid to question anything for fear of being branded An Enemy of the United States. Patriotism abounds. Hurray for war! Hurray for bloodshed! Hurray for God as long as it's your version of Him! Hurray for passive acceptance of what our leaders tell us!

But what if the tide turns, we get fed up and you hypocrites finally get what you deserve? What if the country becomes something you no longer recognize? What if a new foreign policy makes you embarrassed for your country? What if you are shouted down when you try to speak out?

What if you find your country has so departed from your values that you feel it's doomed, or dooming others through its recklessness? What if you still love it, but want to display how grieved you are through the dramatic act of burning its symbol?

It could happen. And if it ever does, your right as a sniveling conservative weenie to burn the flag should be protected. Why? Because as long as the United States flag stands for a nation of freedom, that freedom should include even fiery displays that make us uncomfortable.

The fact that this amendment even got to the Senate in the first place is shameful, and should serve as a wake-up call to those of us who favor freedom over symbolism.

Your failed, right wingers, but your very attempt to amend the constitution as an election ploy shows what you really value - political power. Under the guise of protecting the flag, a handful of holier-than-thou politicians have wrapped themselves in it, and by doing so, dirtied it in a most disgraceful manner.

We might as well burn it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Overnight changes

What a difference 24 hours makes, but when you have a mere 21 days from hatch to flight you have to grow very, very fast. This morning the little cardinals are looking more like birds and less like Marvin the Martian. Nearly gone is the spike "hairdo" as the waxy shafts covering the feathers split, allowing them to open.

Father Cardinal expressed great impatience with me this morning. First he flew to the top of the chicken coop and gave me the "evil" eye, so out of respect I took just one shot of his children. As I walked away he flew to the mulberry tree, where he kept watch on me, raising his crest and warning me away with his sharp cry of "chip-chip-chip"!

He should be nicer to me, I think. Nuisance that I am, there's a chance I may end up saving his brood.

The Weather Channel is showing an ominous storm system coming our way, packing winds and toreential rains. So far the nest has held up. I'm hoping for the best, but getting my emergency Baby Bird Rescue Kit ready - just in case.

I've had some experience raising baby birds; I can't count the numbers I've taken in over the years. I primarily have worked with hawks and owls for the last decade, but like most wildlife rehabilitators started with the little guys. Now and again I'll still take songbirds in.

If the nest gets blown down tonight and the babies survive, I'll fashion another nest from a basket, secure it to the crook of the tree and hope that the parents will continue to feed their young. If they don't, I'll finish raising them myself.

But we won't think about that now, will we? For now we'll just prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Monday, June 26, 2006

After the storm

All night it poured rain.
But still there in the morning
four feathered faces

A person who never stands in awe of nature is a person who simply hasn't looked at it hard enough.

We had torrential rain all weekend and last night it drove hard against the house. I looked out at dusk to see the wind lashing the banana trees, which bent against the force. As I watched, I tried not to think about the little cardinals, huddled in their nest. Would they survive the storm?

This morning when I went to the mulberry tree I looked under it first, expecting to see tiny bodies. But there were none. The nest and its inhabitants had survived.

They've changed a lot since their last photo session. Their feathers are coming in, and instinct now tells them to lay quietly and not to pop up and gape for the first thing that jiggles their branch. Note the quiet but wary expression of this little guy. His parents have no way of telling him to be cautious; he just knows.

And consider the nest.

How is it that a bird can build something like this - something that looks so delicate but is so strong - without hands? With just their beaks, the parent birds weave pieces of sticks and grasses together into a crude cup they secure to the crook of a tree. By miracle, by design or by both it survives rain and wind.

In a cynical world where nothing seems to surprise us, for those who look carefully nature still does.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Noteworthy Posts

To those of you new to my blog, and unimpressed by pictures of baby birds and horrifying cockroach stories, please don't get the wrong idea. From time to time I am capable of more interesting fare.

To prove it, I've added a section highlighting my favorite posts. You'll find them on the bottom left hands side of this page, and while they are listed in no particular order, I suggest you start with This Is Porn, as it nearly got me burned at the stake.


Also, if you'd like to be added to the blogroll, I'd love to exchange links. Just drop me an email at and let me know.

A second chance

Do you remember that mother cardinal, the one who abandoned her nest outside out bedroom window after something - most likely a snake - ate her eggs?

I discovered this morning that she's built another nest , this one in a little mulberry tree back beside the chicken coop. There are four lusty, demanding baby birds that look to be about a week old.

Of course, I couldn't resist taking some pictures, including some managed from a "birds eye view," shot from above and down into the nest.

If you're worried that such activity will disturb the parents into abandoning their offspring, don't. Birds are more fearless than you think. If you must photograph them, though, do what I do and keep the sesssions short and infrequent.

Now, this shot isn't the best. I snapped it from across the yard, but if you look carefully you can make out the male cardinal feeding the babies. Englarge it for a better look.

I showed the nest to the kids, and when I told Larry he said, "Didn't I tell you about the wren's nest in the shed? Let me show you."

So here's a shot of that, too. It's takes a pretty creative bird to build a nest inside a drinking cup, but Carolina Wrens are notorious for building nests in peculiar places. Years ago my neighboring farm wife left a pair of overalls on the clothesline while she was away for the weekend and when she came back there was a nest of wrens in the front pocket. They also build in hanging basket, open mail boxes and the inside of abandoned lawn equipment.

There are four speckled eggs that should be hatching pretty soon. I'll keep you posted.

Larry said the mother is usually sitting on the eggs in the early morning hours, and dive-bombs him if he gets too close. Today it was warm so she must have been out to lunch for a bit.

Friday, June 16, 2006

My Night of Terror

I have a harrowing story to share with you, a story which I initially considered not sharing before deciding that it may be therapeutic. But before I begin, let me preface this by saying that I am not generally a fearful person when it comes to animals. I think nothing of catching snakes with my bare hands - for fun. I’ve been known to enter thickets to retrieve large, injured hawks while wildlife officers stand aside with sheepish expressions. I’ve broken up terrible dog fights and have kept my cool on runaway horses.

But I’m not above being scared senseless, which is exactly what happened last night.

It was late, and after a tiresome night of writing headlines at the newspaper I was ready to relax. Larry, who had to get up early, was already in bed . But I wasn’t sleepy so I sat down on the couch to enjoy a stiff, post-work drink and read a bit.

When I felt something tickly on my head I didn’t think much about it. I thought at first it was the cat playing with my hair. I brushed it away and when I didn’t feel a paw I looked around and there, on the back of the couch I saw it.

A cockroach.

Let me say at this point that nothing - nothing - creeps me out worse than cockroaches. So it’s an understatement to say I jumped off that couch. Flew is more like it, and it’s probably good I had a drink in my system or I probably would have had a heart attack right there if I’d not been a little tipsy.

My first instinct was to run and get Larry, but I was afraid if I left the roach alone it would scurry away and hide somewhere, and ambush me anew when I re-entered the room. So keeping my eye on it, I ran and grabbed the can of Raid.

I guess the roach sensed something bad was about to go down because it dived behind the couch. But I wasn’t going to let it get away. The can of Raid was about half full. I sprayed the entire contents behind the couch and then stood back, gasping from fumes and fear.

I was literally shaking, knowing that the cockroach had to eventually come out but not knowing where. My rational mind kept telling me it was already a Dead Roach Crawling, but my irrational mind kept butting in, telling me this might be some sort of Super Bug with a special Raid-resistant gene.

I decided I needed another drink, so I poured one and downed it in two gulps. I felt a little less shaky, which comforted me, so I poured another one and drank it, too.

Then the roach came out. It was crawling - well - staggering up the wall. It was huge - at least ten, maybe fifteen inches long. I tried to spray more Raid on it but the can was empty. So I threw it at the roach. I missed. So I picked up a chair and threw that. The vibration from the chair knocked the roach off the wall and it lay there on its back, kicking its ugly little legs.

I picked up a vase but even drunk I knew that probably wasn’t a good idea so I picked up the empty can of Raid and - mustering courage from some hidden reserve - beat the roach to death.
How my family slept through this I don’t know, and you’d think that with the roach dead I’d have felt better. But the shaking was back. So I had another drink, polishing off what was left in the bottle.

By now I was beyond drunk. I think a better term might be wasted, so forgive me if my recollection gets fuzzy here.

I vaguely remember putting the roach in a Zip-loc bag. I do remember writing the note to Larry. It wasn’t until this morning, when my husband - between fits of laughter - read the note, that I found out all I’d written. In a drunken scrawl, I’d said if he wanted to know why the furniture was overturned, the house smelled like Raid and all the liquor was gone he could just look at Exhibit A, neatly laid out in the plastic bag on the table. Overnight the roach seemed to have shrunk. It wasn't ten inches long. By the light of day it was more like two or three inches long. As for me, I was still on the couch, where I'd passed out clutching myempty can of Raid after sitting up for several hours with the lights on because roaches are supposed to fear light.

I can’t account for the profanity in the letter, either, except to say I was upset. Why else would I refer to the thing as a “cocksucker” instead of a “cockroach”?

At least the note ended politely. “P.S.” I’d written. “I’d feel a lot better if we could spray the house.”

Larry said he would have happily gotten up and killed the roach if I’d just asked him, which probably would have been the best thing for both of us. I wouldn’t still have a residual hangover and he would have no doubt gotten the best Gratitude Sex ever.

We've decided that the roach likely came in via a box of bulbs given to Larry by a local gardener. I can't be angry with him for not checking it. Who knew?

So that's my story. Words of support or virtual hugs of comfort are welcome. But please keep snide remarks to yourself. I’ve got a fresh can of Raid and I’m not afraid to use it.

Model Mom

Well, I'm not really a model mom. But Alex is learning photography and today asked me if I'd sit for her. So I did and she took this picture of me with Piper the Cat. I think she did an excellent job. Even now I sometimes get things off center and out of focus.

Alex is serious about learning photography. Yesterday she went to the library and came home with a book on the subject. She has a 35mm camera her grandmother gave her but asked me today if I'd give her my digital when I get a new one. She likes being able to see the photographs right away. We told her she could use it with supervision. She is, after all, only eight.

But she's an eight-year-old with an interest, and as interests go photography is a good one that can last a lifetime.

Besides, it's wonderful, being able to freeze those special moments forever in a shot. Like this one - me and my lovely little Alex, the budding photographer.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Blowing Cantore

It may not mean a whole lot to those of you living in land-locked areas, but those of us in coastal regions don't like hurricane season. We don't like having to board of our windows, tie up our lawn mowers and worry how we're going to evacuate the kids and pets in the event of The Big One.

That's why it irritates some of us when - as soon as any significant storm starts heading our way - the Weather Channel people come to town.

They're Storm Sluts, and they get all tingly over the prospect of what A Really Bad Storm may do for their career. Because let's face it. Droughts aren't sexy and in the summer nobody follows drought coverage. Hurricanes, with the looming possibility of death and destruction make for Must See TV.

The Weather Channel's chief Storm Slut is Jim Cantore. He pioneered the art of standing on the beach and braving the gusts as if the hurricane had come in to attack him personally.

Yep, Cantore can say he's been blown by the best of them. In fact, he can't be bothered with little hurricanes anymore. He only shows up now for nothing less than a Category 3 storm, which he and other forecasters now refer to as "Cat" 3's because they're too cool to say the word "category." I'm wondering how long it'll be before they'll just shorten "hurricane" to "cane."

"Looks like this may be a Cat 3 Cane! Thank god I wore waterproof makeup for those tight shots!"

What a bunch of asses.

It's not so much their presence that bothers me. If they want to stand on the beach and make a big deal about their hats getting blown off then that's fine with me. What really bothers me the most about these guys is how they are visibly disappointed when a roaring Category 4 hurricane peters out to non-cataclysmic Category 2 just as it hits the coast. You can see it on their faces. They were so hoping for more. But then again, it's not their property and lives at stake.

Those of us who do live here know the truth. Hurricane season really blows, as opposed to those who see it as an excuse to get face time on TV. Those people just suck.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This is Roland's fault (The duck made me do it)

I wouldn't otherwise direct you to something as irreverent as my all-time favorite Onion piece, but Roland has taken it upon himself to encourage me by reminding his readers how much I pride myself on being a member in good standing over at Landover Baptist Church.

And here I was, trying so hard to be a True Christian. I wasn't even going to post today. I'm supposed to be working. And we know this porn ain't gonna write itself.

Besides. I figured if Omar liked the Landover Baptist Web site, he'd love the Onion piece.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The big picture

I was so focused on getting a shot of this Great Blue Heron yesterday that I completely missed an even neater creature. Can you find him, swimming in the background? That's what I get for not stopping to look at the big picture.

Oh well. Seeya later, alligator.

I got a nice shot of this turtle, though.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How to see

In those moments when we are still
And take the time to dig and peel
Away the leaves and touch the sod
We still find there the hand of God
A special thank you to my lovely Alex, for reminding me. Again.

Happy Birthday

Lucas turned four today.

His big day has been the object of much anticipation, and misinterpretation. Not yet grasping the concept of an anniversary, he’s been asking me if his birthday meant he was going to be “born again.” So I don’t know if he thought he was going to start his day as an infant or with some sort of religious conversion.

But whatever thoughts he had, they were pushed aside the moment we rolled the presents out. And like any smart lad, Lucas gravitated towards the toys that were powered by imagination.

That’s not to say he didn’t like the Shake n’ Go Raceway. It’s a neat toy. The cars are sturdy and are powered by being shaken. Once revved up, they zip around a wide track as an announcer “calls” the race. With three sons, I’ve purchased my share of race tracks. This one is the best I’ve seen for little kids.

But after about thirty minutes, Lucas was ready to take his other gift - die-cast farm equipment - out to play with his favorite toy: mud.

I’ve never been the type of mother who cringes when her kids get dirty. It’s good for them, and they’re washable. It also makes for wonderfully candid photographs. Four-year-old boys playing in mud are oblivious to nearly everything else.

Sitting atop his dirt mound - which Larry and I have yet to bring ourselves to spread out - Lucas sang a little song about living in a “mud universe.” It made me a bit wistful. The universe of a four-year-old boy is indeed small. As he ages it will broaden, and with it will come responsibilities. But for now, it’s time to play.

Happy Birthday, Lucas.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Still think your day sucked?

Not compared to these poor people.

If you've been anywhere near a television or a newspaper in the last few weeks you may have heard about the powerful earthquake that hit Indonesia.

But apparently, in Indonesia, when it rains it pours. Aid has been slow getting to the region, people are forced to take shelter in filthy chicken coops, increasing the risk of bird flu. And guess what? There's a nearby volcano threatening to erupt.

So no matter how lousy your day was, just be glad that you're not huddled in a chicken coop with your starving kids, praying that the volcano doesn't blow.

If you feel like helping, you can do so here or here. There are lots of other charities helping out. I sent my donation to Doctors Without Borders, because I know one of the doctors and it's an awesome organization.

And if you're even thinking about writing to tell me that you don't care about the victims because they're Muslims, take it somewhere else, will you? This isn't that kind of blog.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Feeling bad for not feeling worse

Jessica called me last night to tell me she'd just learned that a boy she knows had been killed in an accident. Wesley had delivered the news with the unnerving sentence, "Guess who died?" Remind me to teach him the meaning of "segue."

The news was disturbing, especially for Jessica.

"I don't know how to feel, Mom," she said. "I want to cry but I can't."

There was a good reason for this. This was not the nicest kid. In fact, he had regularly harassed my kids in his high school years. That was bad enough, but a few months ago Jessica had called me very shaken to say a carload of boys had pulled up beside her at a traffic light and the driver - this boy - had yelled insults at her. She described him as looking "crazy," and said he then tried to cut her off as she was driving back to her apartment. For days she worried that he might know where she lived.

But nothing came of it, and she hadn't heard of him again until she'd found out about the accident that took his life.

It's easy to mourn someone you love. It's harder to mourn someone you never liked. We spent some time talking about that, and later she called me back to say that she and Wesley had passed the memorial service at his high school. Lots of people were there, she said.

"I guess he did have friends," Jessica said, and started remembering how this boy always seemed to be fine his own, but at his worst in the company of others. The picture she painted wasn't of a monster, but of a follower who liked to look tough for his buddies. I could hear Jessica's voice - along with her perceptions - softening as she spoke.

I reminded her of my friend and editor who'd died of brain cancer. When I was a reporter, he and I locked horns over everything and it was easy to dismiss the sweet, fun side of him and just see him as an obnoxious boss. Now that he's dead all I remember is the sweet, fun side of him. And I miss him.

This is a good lesson, I told her, for how we should do life. Instead of waiting for the death of someone to see the good in them, maybe we should do it when they're alive. Seeing the good in people would lead to friendships, and no ambivalence upon passing. Every death deserves mourning.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Good News, Bad News

I'm unabashedly happy this morning, having landed not one but two lucrative, back-to-back writing jobs. One I was expecting. The other just kind of fell into my lap. When I found out how much I'd be making, I felt guilty. But that quickly passed and left me just feeling extremely fortunate.

It's the exact same grateful feeling I got the day I received my first paid assignment. And each day since that I've been hired or received a paycheck for writing, I feel it anew.

If there's any advice I'd give fledgling writers, it's this: Be honest with yourself. If you're well-read you know whether you're a good writer. If you're still not sure, ask people who can be objective to review your work. Do not ask sycophants or people who are afraid to tell you the truth. If and when you do get hired, don't get full of yourself. The higher a pedestal you put yourself on, the harder the fall. Be grateful and remember that the job didn't have to go to you. There are a lot of writers out there; the assignment could have just as easily gone to someone else.

But these came to me me, so I am - again - grateful.

Now,that's the good news. The bad news is that Roundtable Wednesday is going to have to take a break. Shrub's already had to bow out due to demands of studying for the Colorado bar. That just leaves BillyD, who's probably just as busy as we are.

Later this summer we'll revive it again. But for now, it's going to have to sit on the back burner. To those who've taken part, thanks so much. There will still be stuff here if you like to comment, just probably not as involved as what you're used to.