Little Lane

 

IMG-1849Last month I spent a delightful week in Arkansas with my brother Ken, and his wife Georgia. We had never met before this year. In fact, we hadn’t been aware of each other’s existence when Ancestry.com connected us.

I’ve much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. There is the family I’ve treasured all my life, and now the unearned bonus of warm and wonderful new family connections.

Life is good.

My brother and his wife live on Little Lane, a pleasant country road less than an hour from Little Rock. Little Lane must be about a quarter mile long. Five or six homes, each with some acreage, sit along each side of the road. One end of the road meets a smooth two-lane country highway that invites speed and has almost no safe shoulder for a walker. On the other hand, an old logging road at the other end of Little lane felt like a beautiful place to walk one sunny October morning.

IMG-1850
Little Lane

As I started down the dusty old logging road I noticed logging debris, and many birds  flitting in and out of the bushes I was wishing I’d brought my binoculars and tempted to follow one path that led into a small treed canyon where there might be a stream,  but I decided to save that path for another day.  Instead, I headed toward the pine forest some distance ahead. It was bound to offer pleasant exploration.

IMG-1851
Beginning of Logging Road

After strolling for a few minutes, I came to a fork in the road. As Yogi Berra once suggested, I took it, carefully noting the direction I was taking so I wouldn’t get lost on the way back. I  had walked for another ten minutes or so when I saw a small homemade metal structure. The legs of the structure supported a platform four or five feet off of the ground and the platform had old carpeting hanging down so that a person could sit there without being seen. I congratulated myself on recognizing that the structure was a blind. I’d seen them on National Geographic and other wildlife programs.

I continued on for a few feet as I contemplated the usefulness of a blind for observing birds and other wildlife.

Then I had a thought, “Hunters also use blinds. It seems more likely that was a hunting blind.”

Maybe I felt just a little bit uneasy then, but not very much. The blind was tipping over and the old carpeting looked like it had been hanging there for several years. It was probably something someone used years ago.

Just the same, turning around and heading back to Little Lane suddenly felt like the right thing to do.

IMG-1848

As I retraced my steps, I noticed two men walking toward me. One of the men had dark hair and a tidy dark beard. When I saw the stern look on his face, I was sure I’d made a mistake.

“You mind if I ask who you are?” the bearded man said, “This is my land, I recently bought it.”

Pretending I wasn’t at all intimidated, I offered my hand, “Hi, my name is Susan.”

I pointed to my brother’s house only a few doors away, “I’m visiting my brother Ken and his wife Georgia. I apologize for trespassing. I assumed this was an old county or logging company road. I won’t do it again.”

“My name is Charles, but people call me Coot,” the bearded man said. “My friend here is Gene.”

“Oh! “I said, “Gene, you must be Georgia’s brother-in-law. She told me you lived near here.”

Charles spoke up again and pointed to the nearest house. “We were talking together over there and we couldn’t figure out why a woman would be walking out there in the woods, not wearing orange, on the first day of deer season.”

“Deer season?” I said.

“Yes, you didn’t know?” Coot said.

“No, I didn’t. You can be sure I won’t be out there again.”

After that we had a long, friendly, chat about the neighborhood and Gene’s connection with Ken and Georgia. 

“I don’t mind if you walk in there,” Coot said, “just wear orange. You’re not legal if you’re not wearing orange.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll just come back another time – when it’s not deer season.”

“Are you a city girl?” Charles asked.

“I guess so,” I said, “Thanks for not shooting!”

 

 

Ghost Town

During my early morning walk, I stumbled across a small hazelnut orchard.

shutterstock_193913636

The trees in that orchard didn’t look healthy. Leaves that should have been soft and green were mostly brown and brittle. Great chunks of dead branches covered the ground. The dead branches still clinging to the trees posed naked and stark against the blue sky.

unnamed-2

The first day I visited the orchard, I saw  many sickly trees and dusty ground. Missing were insects, and small songbirds though there were plenty of birds in the green shrubs and blackberries surrounding the orchard. The only sounds in the orchard were the rasping screeches of a single Steller’s Jay and the eerie scream of a soaring Red-Tailed Hawk high overhead. I did see signs of predation on the path; coyote scat, remnants of bunny fur, and a sad pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the dust near the blackberries.

At home later that first day, I researched hazelnut trees and read about local orchards. I learned that many hazelnut orchards had been stricken by a blight in recent years. I wondered if that is what happened to the trees.

Despite the sensation of a lifeless graveyard for dying trees, there is something beautiful about the quiet orchard. I had to visit it again to see what I might have missed.

unnamed-1

The orchard offers no cover for small prey animals. Yet when I took the time to wait in silence, watching the long, wide path between the surrounding bushes and the hazelnut trees, a single bunny eventually popped out from beneath thorny blackberries to sit in the sun. Two or three minutes later a squirrel dared to run across open ground to a nearby tree. A minute after that, and twenty feet farther down the row, a small chipmunk, put on a burst of speed and risked his life to dash across the path to the hazelnuts. Without my tripod, and quite a bit of patience, it was impossible to capture a picture of the dangerous high-speed run from cover to hazelnuts.

IMG-1701
This little guy scolded me from his perch in one of the trees.

Sometimes first impressions mislead us. The weary little orchard wasn’t quite dead. A few trees still struggled. Life still stirred. As long as I stayed quiet and out of the way, one small creature after another bravely dashed from the brush to the small bounty of nuts.

All the while a Red Tail Hawk sat biding his time, and occasionally screaming, from a tall tree nearby.

 

Labor of Love

Lenda-daisy

David and Lenda Black worked side-by-side on their Woodburn home for thirteen years. As they worked, they turned a modest 1970’s home and lot into a one-of-a-kind garden showplace. They have artfully blended the tidy look of a formal garden with the relaxed warmth of home and garden; a place where one might wander and lose track of time for hours.

David & Lenda
David & Lenda Black

Tall fir trees surround parts of David and Lenda’s back yard, making a lovely backdrop for flower beds and providing home to a pair of large hawks (possibly Northern Harriers). While Lenda and I savored lunch on the patio, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, enjoyed sunflower seeds at their nearby feeding station.

 

IMG-1550
Partial view of back garden as seen from the screened patio (to see the back yard before the project began 13 years ago, go to the end of this article)

Although there is plenty of plant variety in David and Lenda’s yard, it’s not hard to guess that Hydrangeas are Lenda’s favorite.

fav flr
“Buttons & Bows” Hydrangea

 

“If I could have only one flower in my garden, it would be Hydrangeas,” Lenda said.

 

 

 

 

Hydrangeas bloomed in many colors that day, some varieties with flowers so unusual Lenda had to tell me they were Hydrangeas.

mophead
“Annabell” Hydrangea (Lenda sometimes calls them “Mopheads”

 

fav
Hydrangea with Lace Cap Flowers

Like most gardeners, Lenda admits that she sometimes sees only the weeds that appear overnight and forgets to appreciate what she and David have created.

Every corner of David and Lenda’s garden is well-loved. The side yards are tended and cultivated as lovingly as the back and front yards. Every bed is home to many happy plants, and flower beds have pleasing shapes and soft edges. The beds seem balanced, with each plant seeming to belong exactly where it is, though Lenda says they didn’t plan the garden in advance.

IMG-1342
Lenda calls this spectacular Hydrangea “Pink Spirit”

L. goldfinch

As Lenda and I walked, I realized what a generous source of life a well-loved garden can be. Everywhere I looked there was movement; hummingbirds, bees and other insects, tiny white butterflies moving from bush to bush, and huge yellow and black Swallowtail Butterflies. The garden was teeming with creatures dancing quickly from plant to plant, and flower to flower, while colorful Goldfinches took turns at the feeders.

 

 

 

side yard
One of many lush spots in David & Lenda’s gardens

As we walked through the yard, I couldn’t help but imagine the balance of heavy labor and tenderness that created Lenda’s garden.

 

L dasies
A portion of the side yard. Just beyond the daisies is the vegetable garden.

“I look to the garden for peaceful reflection and to keep the body in motion,” Lenda said. “David considers himself a Jack of all trades, master of none; yet he constantly amazes me with his ability to learn new skills.He has done all of the remodeling of our home and has built all of the garden structures.”

Lenda-structure
One of David’s creations built to support the huge Wisteria. On the other side of this structure is a play area for grandchildren and a strawberry patch for the children (and the birds!).

David created the door that leads from the house to the covered patio and the back garden. It is simple and lovely, made of straight grain fir, which I will admit means absolutely nothing to me. I only know that I find the door very beautiful.

looking out to patio incl ceiling
From Inside Looking out to the patio and garden.

The first time I saw that door it seemed to speak me, “Welcome, I am an invitation, a promise that you will be delighted when you walk through to the garden beyond”

IMG-1552
Looking in from the patio you can see the lovely doors and the cedar ceiling David installed over the patio.

David recently created a beautiful clear cedar tongue and groove ceiling for the covered patio. He also screened in the patio, which in no way inhibits the view of the garden, but did enable a delicious, yellow-jacket free, fresh air lunch the day I was there.

viiew grd rm
The garden structure from the screened patio

Lenda and David are modest about the beautiful home they have remodeled and the amazing garden they have built from scratch, though they confess it was, “an awful lot of work.”

2nd vie grd
Another view from the patio
L bunny
She was kind enough to pose for a minute

A few minutes before I left their home, David, Lenda, and I were admiring a large blooming white Hydrangea in the back yard. Only a few feet away from where we stood, a bunny was busy collecting grass in her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind us as we watched her carry the grass under a large bush where she settled down comfortably on her nest. She was just another example of the richness of David and Lenda’s garden, and she was a delightful end to a lovely afternoon!

 

 

The back yard before David and Lenda began their gardens:

 

 

Cedar Creek Trail

shutterstock_1055968616

The lazy, drone of bullfrogs follows Teddy and I up and down the Cedar Creek Trail during our early morning walks. Bullfrogs, merciless hunters of our native wildlife, are with us to stay, so I allow myself to enjoy their tuneless call.unnamed-6

Several weeks ago, my dog Teddy and I stumbled upon the Cedar Creek Trail behind the YMCA in Sherwood. Stepping into such a peaceful world so near the busy highway was a delightful surprise.

The paved trail is surrounded by lush greenery; lovely suburban homes sit on one side and natural wetlands and wildlife haven stretch the length of the other side. In quiet places along the creek, red wing blackbirds sing from the top of old snags, and impressive stands of tall fir trees create a forest habitat where chipmunks play amidst fallen logs on the forest floor.

unnamed-5

In the busy days since recently moving from Milwaukie to Newberg, I’ve missed the small daily adventure of immersing myself in the sight and smell of the outdoors and quietly observing the ordinary lives of suburban wildlife. Fortunately, I’m learning that this area has many opportunities for outdoor exploration.

unnamed-7

Our first morning on the Cedar Creek trail I kept expecting the path to end around the next corner, but it continued through several neighborhoods with side trails giving access to the main trail. I followed the path as it snaked alongside the natural habitat, stopping to listen to birdsong, smell the fresh air, and pay attention to occasional rustling in the brush.

shutterstock_15149689

Along the trail I heard the buzz-trill of busy Towhees calling and flitting about in the low branches. I’ve never seen so many Towhees in such close proximity, though it is the busy nesting season. The songs of many birds fill the air and every few feet a robin hops about carrying a worm or grub. We would marvel at the beauty of the robin if we didn’t see them so often.

The creek flows evenly and gently in some places then stalls for a while, flattening out and providing quiet habitat for water birds and other creatures before turning into a gurgling, free-flowing body of water.

unnamed-2

Three tiny bunnies hopped about on the trail ahead of me one morning, then they dashed toward the brush when they saw me. One bunny allowed me to stand only a few feet from him while he held still and silent, hoping he had become invisible. In silhouette he looked like a little piece of yard art. As soon as I tried to get his picture he made a dash for the underbrush.

Two weeks ago, I watched a pair of quail moving in and out of the bushes and, a week later, saw the older birds with several recently hatched babies.

unnamed-1
Towhee 

I have yet to see a dog loose in the protected habitat, though there are plenty of dog walkers on the trail in the morning. Joggers, and dog walkers, birdwatchers, and day dreamers all seem to understand the importance of leaving the habitat to the wild creatures.

I’m just beginning to learn about the Cedar Creek Trail and other remarkable ways that the community has integrated wetland and natural habitat in the middle of human habitation. It’s a unique and extraordinary sign of a healthy community.

 

The Honeymooners

August 2015

The water sparkled with reflected sunlight, deep pink water lilies covered much of the surface, and goldfish of all sizes casually toured their own little kingdom.  After a few minutes of relaxing and talking quietly, Laura and I noticed something stirring on the other side of the pond. Two adorable little noses poked out from under the Japanese Anemones. After a moment, two cheerful little creatures hopped up on a large rock overlooking the pond.

DSCN0115

They were only 20 feet away, directly across from the bench where we sat. Our presence didn’t worry them at all. They looked at us and went on about their happy business.  In fact, they seemed to be smiling when they glanced our way.

They began taking turns diving into the pond. First one would dive in, swim down a foot or two, then nimbly hop back up on the rock and shake it off. Then the other would take a turn while his mate watched and waited.

Unknown-1

Sometimes the little animals stopped for a moment and watched the pond, exactly as Laura and I had been doing.  During those quiet moments they would touch noses and stand very close to each other. I don’t think we were imagining the bond between them.

They ignored us and focused on each other, reminding us of honeymooners. Their shiny little eyes glittered with pleasure and the joy of a hot day playing together in the water. Again and again they dove, and smiled, and played. We were enchanted.

We set about trying to figure out what sort of creature these cheerful little souls were. They had charming little rounded ears, big bright eyes and comical faces. They were not squirrels. Though they seemed nearly squirrel size. Maybe they were something visiting from Kellogg Creek. We’d had Jeremiah the bullfrog living with us for a while. He came from the creek. Whatever they were, they were certainly welcome to play in the sun in our little habitat.

After watching them for fifteen minutes one of the little guys turned sideways. This is what we saw:

Unknown

“Wait! They can’t be rats! That looked like a rat when it turned sideways!” I said.

We watched for a few more minutes. They were rats, in broad daylight on a hot sunny day! They showed no fear of us. They were perfectly at home!

Right now you are telling yourself that you would have known they were rats from the first moment. Chances are you have seen rats slinking along a wall or running in front of your headlights at night. Maybe you once saw a rat in broad daylight in your own back yard; but if you did, the rat probably flew across the lawn and out of sight the minute it saw you.

Think about what we saw that day; a pair of sleek little creatures in broad daylight, seemingly relaxing at Club Med, flirting with each other, frolicking poolside in the sun, enjoying vacation in every way just short of ordering a Pina Colada, If you saw the same thing, you might not be so sure they were rats at first.

When you did realize they were rats, your prejudices against the creatures might be just a little bit shaken. When you look at a rat’s face head on, the nose isn’t so pointed and the little round ears and bright shiny eyes are darn cute.  For just a moment you might wonder why calling someone a rat was an insult!

Unknown-1

Friends have occasionally whispered that they had a rat problem. It’s one of those shameful things people don’t like to admit. The truth is, there are rats all over Portland and the suburbs. I’ve seen them in the ivy outside my doctor’s fancy office and running in front of my headlights at night.

The adorable little creatures visiting our pond that day were ordinary Norway rats, the plague of our cities (where food is readily available), and once the carrier of the fleas that spread the plague. Judging by their obvious affection for each other they were likely to live up their species’ reputation of producing fourteen litters a year!

Now that we knew, we could not allow them to stay.

A day or two later I found their den –a convenient hole directly under the bird feeder. I was feeding black oil sunflower seeds at the time, a perfect lure for rats. Even if seeds hadn’t been falling to the ground, I learned that the smell of sunflower shells alone attracts rats.

We tried driving them out from under the bird feeder. We ran water full force directly into the hole. It didn’t matter.  Our little lovers were still openly entertaining themselves in the yard. They had become used to moving about in daylight – and they did so love the pond.

A little bit of research convinced me I had done everything possible to make our honeymooners feel welcome.

Dave and I removed all the spent sunflower seeds under the feeder, bought a new feeder with a central cone, and moved the feeder to the center of the lawn. We filled the cone with shelled sunflower seeds to prevent sunflower shells covering the ground. The cone kept the seeds in the feeder and off of the ground. As a bonus, the cone also keeps the food dry in wet weather.

IMG_1562

The metal skirt we had already installed on the pole had kept both squirrels and rats from climbing up to the feeder. With no shells and no seeds on the ground we had cut off the rat’s food supply

Just the same, it wasn’t long before they were digging under the feeder at the new location. They hadn’t had time to do much excavating, so we forced them out. Laura stood over the new hole and poured water from the hose, full force. After a few minutes up popped a dripping wet little face wearing an accusing expression that seemed to say, “What in the devil do you think you’re doing!” They gave up on that hole.

Since making changes, to the bird food and the feeder, the neighborhood rats have disappeared. Maybe not truly disappeared, because rats are all around us all of the time. What they have done is return to their nocturnal secretive ways. With no source of food, they will struggle to survive, as wild creatures must.

cartoon-rat-get-out-vector-illustration-30595775

It was easy enough to stop feeding and encouraging the rats, but we learned something else. We saw them once without prejudice, with clear eyes. They are clever, opportunistic, and sentient creatures, like us. Given the opportunity they will become a genuine problem.

Just the same, if a single pair of them silently crosses the yard to the pond one hot summer night, plays for a minute on the big rock by the anemones, and decides to enjoy a midnight swim, I won’t mind.

 

 

Listening to the Season

pexels-photo-929386.jpeg

Several mornings lately I’ve taken my early morning walk intending to experiment with listening more. I wanted to pay attention to the sounds of spring.

As I walk, bird song and other natural sounds often fade behind everyday preoccupations. Last Tuesday I found the concentration to  sharpen my listening. It was a wonderful exercise.

I stood at the top of a hill and marveled at the variety of birds I was hearing.  Many of the songs and calls were easy to identify.  All of them together were wonderful.

Bird song was coming from four directions. Some was produced only a few feet away and some was coming from at least a half-mile away.  Using my phone, I began recording. I made four 30-second recordings.

All four recordings establish, without a doubt, that I breathe. I had held the phone near my right ear and the sound of my heavy breathing (I had just climbed the steep hill) drowned everything else out. A rookie mistake.

Never mind, I tried again. This time I held the phone as far away as my arm would reach. Playing that recording I heard a small quartet, not the symphony that was actually going on. I decided to simply enjoy the music and try to record another day.

On my way home I was able to capture the love song of a Song Sparrow . Turn the sound up!

 

A day or two later I stepped out our back door and captured the music of the

flicker, robin, bush tits, chickadees, crows, and many more. There was the symphony I’d been looking for– in my own back yard.

(Turn the sound up and pay no attention to the little red dog – he has a dog’s sense of decorum)

 

 

 

Misplaced Priorities

It’s twenty years since we built the pond and this was the first winter we’ve had a net over it. The net was great for keeping fallen leaves out, but we were mostly trying to protect our ten-for-a-dollar feeder fish from the Great Blue Heron.

IMG_0435

This makes no sense. We built the pond for the heron, not for the fish. The fish are food. We throw the tiny things in the pond every spring and they spend a relaxing summer eating and growing.  The heron always gets most of them before the next spring.

And when he does, I feel bad.

The problem is that the fish become pets. By the end of summer they have come to expect to be fed when they see us near the pond. We take pride in their beauty, their health, and their growth. Some of them have interesting and distinctive markings. This is where our priorities get confused. We start with the intention of nurturing wildlife but end up nurturing the food.

Dave wanted to protect the fish this spring and summer, but I thought we should stick to our original intent – welcome the heron and his appetite. Then we took the net off last week and I saw the fish! Tiny babies from last spring have grown. Some of the babies actually hatched in our pond. I recognized the gold one with the large black oval on his back and I saw the white fish that has been around for three years.

dscn0118.jpg

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let them be eaten.  The last several years I’ve been lashing four long pieces of bamboo together forming a tic-tac-toe grid. I toss several of the bamboo structures in the pond and hope they discourage the heron. It hasn’t worked so far.

I’m trying something new this year. I attached the bamboo to stakes in the ground near the edge of the pond. That way the heron can’t use his trick of pushing all the bamboo to one end of the pond while he dines.

IMG_0243

This morning we were delighted to admire a flock of robins bathing while standing on the floating bamboo.

When the heron comes, it’s a wonderful thing to see. He makes a deep croaking sound as he stalks around the pond. It’s a prehistoric noise straight out of  the Jurassic Park sound track. Once in a while one of our clever ideas slows him down for a while, but eventually he will outsmart us. He always does.

Until then, the fish are happy and the robins are loving the bamboo!

August 2015

Celebrate the First Day of Spring!

It was nearly freezing this morning, but it was the first day of spring! So I spent a few hours  on “safari” at the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.

I missed getting a picture of a couple of deer and the Blue Heron were huddled together in the sunshine – too far away to capture with my phone.

Wishing you a beautiful spring!

IMG_0264_1
This is a favorite of mine because it’s a bit of old Portland and today’s Portland in the same picture.

 

IMG_0373

 

IMG_0279

 

IMG_0269

 

IMG_0289

 

IMG_0285IMG_0275

Under the Influence

Last Saturday morning I drove to my daughter and son-in-law’s home in Newberg. The sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the thermometer was edging toward 65, warmer than it had been in months. I flipped the car radio from NPR to KMHD, my favorite jazz station and rolled my window down. I turned up the volume, and sailed down the highway under the spell of a beautiful early spring day.

IMG_0229

 

When I got to Josh and Laura’s house, I was a little bit high on the idea that spring had arrived, and I couldn’t wait to get out in the sunshine. I took Laura and Josh’s little dog, Oz, and my own small dog, Teddy, for a long walk.

Everyone seemed to be outside; walkers, joggers, and  some folks standing in their yards visiting with neighbors. One woman knelt in her front yard planting pansies. The air was filled with friendly good will. People smiled broadly and said, “Good morning! Isn’t it a Beautiful day!”

We were all just a little bit giddy.

As I passed a man and woman smiling and chatting in their front yard, the man looked up and said, “Good morning! Nice job you did ordering the weather today!”

“Thank you!” I said.

IMG_0230

Sunday was as beautiful as Saturday had been. Laura and I decided to visit Al’s Garden Center in Sherwood. We wandered the aisles for quite a while, enjoying the plants and flowers, inhaling the sweet, earthy smells, and sitting on nearly every patio chair Al’s was selling.

As we left Al’s and headed to the car we were startled by the loud honking of thousands of low-flying geese. They weren’t Canadian Geese, but neither of us could identify them. In dizzying waves, they passed overhead and spread out half of a mile in every direction.

We could have sought protection in the car but we just stood there in awe, directly under the large birds, taking our chances at what they might drop on our heads. I doubt I will ever again see so many geese flying at once.

IMG_0117
This picture was taken a few weeks ago. Imagine this sky filled with thousands of geese – that is what we saw last Saturday (I was too stunned to think about taking a picture).

When the birds had passed, Laura said, “If we had left three minutes earlier or three minutes later, we would have missed the entire thing!”

Later that afternoon I drove home from Newberg with the window down and the music playing.

With the sun, a fresh breeze through the open car window, the music, smiles from strangers, the urge to visit Al’s, and wild geese flying overhead, this must be spring fever.