Saturday Night Wild

Saturday night I was sitting up in bed writing a few emails and thinking about how how excited I will be to get work started on the little house I recently bought.

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The bedroom window was open about two inches admitting a taste of sweet, cool, night air. Suddenly, the room filled with yips, barks, and howls, the sounds drifting in from somewhere out in the night. I might have been hearing a dozen animals all at once, maybe only three. I couldn’t tell.

Coyote song lifts me, makes me smile, and inspires me to imagine an untamed life even as it sends chills down my spine.

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Mind your cats and small animals. Respect the coyote as a wild, hungry, scavenger and predator. I do.
Even so, I sleep especially well when I hear them at night from my warm bed.

In a Time of Pandemic

On a recent Sunday afternoon the family took a walk trough Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville. The park was open and there were several small groups enjoying a  beautiful spring day while maintaining social distance and mostly wearing masks.
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We walked in sunshine for quite a while and then we walked in the rain. It was a short but delightful break before returning to home and quarantine.
More than ever I have been conscious that the only thing that matters right now is the moment. Where will we be tomorrow? Will the economy collapse completely?. Will we or our loved ones get sick?
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Though most of us are making sincere efforts to follow health, social, and economic best practices, we have no real control.
We have never had control. We only do our best and after that what happens is what happens.
What we can do is relax our expectations while holding on to our dreams and desires. Life really does happen in the moment and the terrain constantly changes.
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Living life well is doing our best at any given moment, not looking at the good times as the life we are striving for so much as being present for what is and for whatever comes next.
There is nothing new in these thoughts, but being reminded can help.
It really is about the journey, not the destination, and what a joy that is (when we remember), because we spend every moment on the journey – and the destination is the stopping place.

Presence

My walks always begin with the expectation that I am about to discover a “gift.” I am never disappointed.

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Sometimes the gift is a song sparrow enthusiastically singing his little heart out near the top of a shrub. Rarely it’s a glimpse of two bright-eyed baby raccoons hiding under a sidewalk drain, peeking at Teddy and I as we walk down the street in the early morning.

Sometimes the gift is the brief sighting of a doe or the mid-day surprise of a large Barred Owl staring at me through a tangle of branches.

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Most often the gifts I find are modest; a small patch of violets in the grass, or a particularly charming mushroom I’ve never seen before. I notice them because I’ve chosen to pay attention during my walks, to be fully present,  because I’m looking for the gift. These small experiences stay with me for at least a day, sometimes for years.

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From now on, I plan to begin my days as I begin my walks, confident that I will find gifts in the midst of cleaning the kitchen, folding clothes, watering plants, laughing with family, coping with small irritations and social distancing, working in the yard, visiting dear friends over Zoom, and watching the baby discover the world.

If we expect something delightful, we will find it. That’s what I learned on my walks, and it’s what I hope to remember more often.

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Feeding the Birds


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Feeding wild birds can be a delightful distraction in these days of social isolation; but not so much when you find yourself dealing with sprouting seed under your feeder, wet and rotting bird seed, and squirrels who hog what little is left. It took years, but I finally learned that it is possible to enjoy feeding backyard birds without the mess, the spoilage, and the waste, and without inviting rodents to share the feast.

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White Crowned Sparrow

I learned by making mistakes, many mistakes; none more disconcerting than the sunny afternoon I realized I was hosting a family of rats under the feeder (The Honeymooners). Having made so many mistakes, I’d like to share some things that took all the fuss out of what should be one of life’s small joys.

To get the most pleasure out of your yard birds you really only need a few things, a source of water, a good quality feeder and the right food.

Water
Whether you feed or not, consider a bird bath filled with fresh, clean water. Thirsty birds will gladly stop by, and the antics of bathing birds are endlessly entertaining. An inexpensive concrete bath is perfect, but a shallow bowl or ceramic container will do. Even a large rock with a natural indentation makes a lovely bath.

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Many creatures appreciate the bird bath

Most important is a clean bath and fresh water. The bath should be kept free of scum. I keep a stiff brush by the faucet to quickly clean the concrete bath as I replenish water. The best bird baths have a gradual slope so that the birds can wade into the depth they prefer. If yours doesn’t slope, a few decorative rocks of different sizes will enable birds to use it more easily.

Feeder and Seed
Your feeder should keep seed dry. Rotting seed, wasted seed, and the mess under your feeder, can kill the birds and will eventually make you feel like trashing the idea of bird feeding.

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I stick with a gazebo style feeder and keep it full of sunflower “hearts” (chopped sunflower seeds). Sunflower hearts are the only seed I buy. Since they are already shelled and broken up, even finches love them.

Don’t waste your money on bags of seed mixes. They contain a large percentage of “filler” seeds that the birds don’t eat. You’ll find sunflower hearts in the in the garden section of your grocery store, not the pet section. You can also get them at bird shops, and yard and garden stores.

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The gazebo style feeder is ideal for beauty and practicality. Food stays dry until the bird enters the feeder and coaxes the seed from the plastic center cone. A mesh floor keeps water from collecting in the feeder. Because the seed is dispensed in the center of the gazebo, and because it holds only shelled, chopped, sunflower seeds, not a single shell or seed hits the ground. There is absolutely no waste, no shells to attract rodents, and no rot to sicken the birds.

Placing your Feeder
Pick an open spot in your yard, about ten feet from overhanging branches, or any structure which will allow a clever squirrel to jump on top of the feeder. Don’t place your feeder near undergrowth where your neighbor’s cat can lay in wait. Mount your feeder about five feet high (a metal pole in a concrete block is ideal). Don’t forget to add an inexpensive metal squirrel baffle under the feeder, about four feet above the ground.

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Suet
If you are interested in attracting colorful woodpeckers, and delightful flocks of tiny Bush Tits, you may consider offering suet to the birds. Suet is fat from cattle and a delight to woodpeckers and other insect eaters. Directions for making suet are available online but I much prefer buying suet blocks at same place I get seed. It’s not expensive, and the birds have not complained.

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Flicker Enjoying his Suet

Suet can also attract more aggressive birds like Starlings, Crows, and Jays; birds that can quickly finish off a suet cake and discourage the birds you want to feed. The trick is to buy a holder that is only open on the bottom. Woodpeckers and Bush Tits are fine hanging upside down while they dine; crows and starlings don’t like it at all and will soon give up trying.

Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds are fascinating back yard guests. The often behave like ferocious little terriers of the bird world, zipping after each other like fighter pilots and keeping the area around a feeder exciting. The formula for food is simple, four parts water, one-part sugar. Never use honey or any other kind of sweetener and never add coloring. It’s important to thoroughly wash the feeders and give fresh food frequently.

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I’m hoping there is something here that will make your bird feeding simpler, less messy, and much more fun. Wishing you a happy spring enjoying the wild birds in your own yard!
Be well!

Close to Home

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Teddy

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Most of us have been sequestered during the last couple of weeks, preoccupied with the health and well-being of our loved ones and ourselves. Some have been busy providing health care and other critical services.

Thanks to wet weather,  Teddy and I have stayed close to home on our walks.  It’s been an opportunity to appreciate spring in the neighborhood. Waving at neighbors and greeting them (from 6′ away) is one way to hold on to a feeling of connection.

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Despite the human state of anxiety, the natural world has moved forward and suddenly it is spring.

Teddy stopped to examine pee mail the other day and I noticed tiny red maple leaf buds beginning to stretch and uncurl, ready to meet their season in the sun. Other trees are heavy with so many blossoms there is enough left over to carpet the ground.

Small white daisies adorn  neighbor’s lawns, and daffodils are already nearly done blooming.

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I noticed a robin, just one, sitting and singing from the most prominent peak of each house on the block. One robin for each house. I admire the robins for their equitable distribution of territory.

 

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Peace that comes from getting close to nature can be as simple as stepping outside and paying attention. I hope you are clinging to good things, the people and things that keep you grounded while we wait for this strange time to pass, and it will pass. Be well.

 

A Healing Pause

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It’s been weeks since I’ve been  outside, really outside, by myself, soaking up all the goodness of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. Finally, I went to the refuge last Sunday and it felt so very good.

A pair of geese met me near the path and a small flock of geese quietly strolled the grassland in the distance.

I’ve let other things keep me from taking the time to do the thing that keep me balanced and make me happy to my very core. It’s my own fault, I get busy doing the things I think I should do and forget to do the things I love. In this time of uncertainty, and fear, a quiet walk and connection with nature can set you back on an even keel, that’s what it it did for me.

Maybe there are places where the Tualatin River runs hard and swift,  but the vantage points I’ve had make it seem the very definition of a lazy river.

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AS I walked through the refuge, a small flock of Chickadees focused on their search for insects and paid no attention to me. Chickadees are always charming and  friendly,  never seeming to worry much about the presence of humans.

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Chickadee

While watching the Chickadees I was excited by a quick glimpse of bright blue wings and rosy chest. Was it a Bluebird? I haven’t seen a Bluebird for quite a few years. In my excitement, I wasted time unsuccessfully trying to get a picture, instead of just enjoying the lovely creature. I’m choosing to believe that I saw a Bluebird Sunday morning.

The forested part of the refuge was wet and muddy thanks to recent rain and snow. I made a mental note to take my shoes off in the garage when I got home. It was worth the mud to find this tall Oregon Grape brightly blooming in the midst of a tangle of trees and brush.

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Oregon Grape
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A Single Trillium

A fellow wanderer pointed out a small bouquet of Trillium deep in the underbrush. If Trillium are blooming, it really is spring!

My Sunday morning walk in the fresh air with birds, trees, the Tualatin River, Rock Creek, and the brisk cold wind for company was long overdue. I must remember not let other things get in the way.

Please take time to remember the small pleasures that give you peace, and stay well.

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The highlight of Sunday morning? I saw a Western Bluebird! Maybe.

 

False Spring

I’ve been sick and tired of the cold, gray, wet world we’ve been living in for weeks. Then, as though to answer a prayer, the sun came out to play for an entire day recently!

By early afternoon, I only needed a light jacket to be outside. The streets had filled with children riding bikes and scooters, tossing balls, and celebrating the arrival of sunshine.

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Grownups were walking dogs, and greeting each other on the street. There is a particularly friendly ambiance in the air when an unexpected sunny day follows weeks of cold rain.

Teddy and I eagerly left the house planning a long walk around Gettman Trail, but we were barely out the door when he began favoring his right front paw. For his sake, I opted for the shorter walk around Shaad Park. His limp  disappeared by the time we got to the park making me wonder if the little dog had a reason to fake it.

The last time we visited Shaad Park it was a cold and foggy morning (Cancelled Flights). Teddy and I were alone on the hill that day. there were no hikers and no children using the playground.

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This sunny day was different. Grandparents sat on a bench near the playground watching children use the slide and play in the sand.

With the fog gone, we found brilliant views waiting for us on top of the hill. Teddy and I stood by ourselves soaking up warm sunshine and fresh air, feasting our eyes on the  valley and the hills surrounding it.

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Blue Jays, perky little wrens, and Robins flew noisily from one large old oak to another. They were far too busy to pose for me. The ground was wet and sponge-like from recent rains. Muddy water threatened to fill my shoes but I took the soggy path anyway.

I knew it wouldn’t last of course. It’s not really spring just yet. That sunny day was just a short reprieve from the monotony of winter, but it did remind me to be patient.

In only weeks, the birds will begin the busy nesting season, daffodils will push through moist warming soil, and lipstick-red tulips will brazenly declare true spring. Thanks to a little taste of sunshine the other day, I’m willing to wait.

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There’s almost always a delightful collection of Tonka Trucks in the sand pit. They are only temporarily abandoned. The owners had been called home the afternoon I was there.

Baby Steps, Missteps, Next Steps

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”               Robert Swan, OBE, FRGS – First person to walk both poles.

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It’s easy to believe that we are helpless to make a difference; but we are only helpless if we surrender to apathy.

Recycling is even more complicated and less feasible now that China is not accepting our plastic waste. The New York Times reports that more than 300 cities and towns across the country have given up on recycling programs that were started in the 1970’s. Since recycling was never a good solution for plastics anyway, this is a great time to do our best to quit them.

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In early November, when I decided to begin drastically reducing my personal contribution to the glut of plastic trash, I promised to share my progress, failures and setbacks (Kicking the Habit).  Every change I’ve made has been a small step and every change has been challenging.

Challenging, but not impossible. Plastic is everywhere and I’m learning to question everything I buy; groceries and fast food as well as household and personal products.

Here are the baby steps I took in December:

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Bathroom paper – Retail outlets sell TP wrapped in plastic, though it is available on Amazon in large boxes of 48. I am excited about a young company called Who Gives a Crap (https://us.whogivesacrap.org).  Your choice of TP from this company is recycled or bamboo. Rolls are wrapped in attractive, recyclable paper and delivered to your doorstep in boxes of 48. This Australian organization uses half of their profits to help provide clean toilet facilities in areas of the world without them. As if all that weren’t enough, the company has a friendly and humorous approach to everything they do, and the product is gentle enough for the most tender tush.

Razor – I tossed a pretty pink plastic disposable razor in December. Hundreds of my old razors sit-in in land fills somewhere, refusing to ever go away, waiting for a future archaeologist who will seriously question the wastefulness of generations born during The Age of Plastic.

The greenest choice for my shaving implement would have been a used stainless-steel razor. They aren’t hard to find, but I’m only human, so I compromised and bought a pretty and feminine stainless steel razor on Etsy. It should last for a lifetime.

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Tea Bags – Yes, cutting down on plastic really is a matter of baby steps.  Millions of us use several tea bags every day and have for years. My favorite tea, Stash Double Spice Chai, comes in a plastic-wrapped box. Individual tea bags are wrapped in paper coated with aluminum on the inside and plasticized on the outside. The wrapping cannot be recycled.

I bought a stainless-steel tea infuser and loose chai tea at the grocery store. It was an easy, no-waste solution.

New Stainless Steel Mug with Stainless Steel Straw – Once or twice a month I enjoy a Diet Pepsi or Coke. I’m not ready to cure myself of that small vice, but haven’t had one since my November vow to reduce waste. Part of my January goal will be researching which restaurants will let me fill my mug with cola without using a disposable cup.

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Misstep: I should have bought this item when I was at the grocery store. It came from Amazon wrapped in plastic. My Amazon habit will be difficult to overcome

Next  Steps

January will mean more baby steps, replacing plastic items and containers as they run out. Saving glass jars for refrigerator storage in lieu of plastic containers and finding new products to replace old favorites sold in plastic.

If you are thinking about cutting down on plastics, or are in the process of making it happen, please share your valuable knowledge and experience with the rest of us.

Books

Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry.

Plastic, a Toxic Love Story, by Susan Freinkel

Cancelled Flights

 

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My little red dog was happy to inspect gopher holes and follow his nose at Schaad Park the other day. On the other end of the leash, I was disappointed that a cold, thick fog had erased the view from the top of the hill.

Schaad Park, on Eagle Street in Newberg, has a small playground with a sandy play area where neighborhood children often leave their Tonka trucks overnight. An impressive thirty-foot slide on the playground is said to be the longest in Oregon.

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Despite the discouraging fog that morning, I decided to climb the hill and walk the mile-long Schaad Park Loop, up the zig-zag path to the top of the hill, around the perimeter of the winter-yellowed grass and craggy trees that make up a slice of precious Oak Savannah.

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From the hilltop, the valley below had disappeared in the fog; the community, the hospital in the distance, and the green hills beyond. All of it temporarily erased. Sounds were muffled by the fog so that Teddy and I faced the quiet morning alone and in silence.

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I wouldn’t want that foggy gray silence all the time, but it was eerily beautiful for a morning walk.

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Scrub jays usually hang out on the hill but that morning not a single one could be heard screeching or seen darting through the trees. There was no bird noise at all.

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One small bird sat quietly in a bush not far from us. She took note of me and Teddy, turning her head to look at us, but refusing to be startled out of her perch.

 

A small flock of Juncos, usually such noisy little chirpers, sat quietly together in a large bush.

Yesterday, as the sun was shining, we returned to the top of the hill.  Scrub Jays flew and screeched noisily while Robins and Juncos flitted about and darted from tree to tree.

The fog was gone, regularly scheduled flights had resumed.

Happy 2020 to You!

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”