A few days ago I took a short walk in the refuge, just a small break from the digging, planting, and painting I’m doing at the little house I hope to move to one day soon.
Most often I walk in the early morning, when the songbirds are loud and cheerful. On a hot July afternoon they quietly hide from the sun. I only knew the birds were there because of a soft rustling in the bushes and the occasional burst of Chickadee song, though I never saw the singer.
The bunnies barely seemed to notice the heat, or my intrusion, as they nibble on the undergrowth.
The herons didn’t move at all as they napped on their feet at the edge of the pond.
A couple of large nutria were unfazed by the heat while they dived and played in the pond. They reminded me of a morning two weeks ago when I’d watched a young family exclaiming over a couple of beavers. There are beavers at the refuge, so I didn’t risk disappointing them by telling them they were watching nutria..
How could I have imagined that I was too busy for a walk in the natural world?
The Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge is also a refuge for me; but lately I’ve been working on my new little “fixer-upper” home and I’ve been preoccupied with the state of the world, living a little less in the present.
For the first time in weeks I visited the refuge again yesterday.
It takes a lot to distract me from the birds, the bunnies, and this year’s fawns, but yesterday it was blooming wildflowers that earned my undivided attention.
We’ve all been dealng with serious issues this year, but we need to take time to do whatever it takes to maintain internal calm and peace despite the chaos. Taking care of ourselves will keep us grounded as we face our issues head on.
Whatever it is that makes you feel whole, make room for it in this strange year of 2020 – and be well.
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.
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.
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.
My walks always begin with the expectation that I am about to discover a “gift.” I am never disappointed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now you are ready for years of bird watching without the mess.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The highlight of Sunday morning? I saw a Western Bluebird! Maybe.
“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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry.
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.
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.
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.
I wouldn’t want that foggy gray silence all the time, but it was eerily beautiful for a morning walk.
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.
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.
As Teddy and I walk the neighborhood and trails, he keeps an eye out for fire plugs and tree trunks, places to leave his calling card. I watch for local wildlife, friendly faces, and the occasional litter to take home and throw away. What little trash I find is almost always plastic: protein bar and candy wrappers, empty water bottles and many, many, plastic grocery bags.
I’ve never thought too much about litter because it isn’t a major problem in my neighborhood. My perspective has changed, however, after seeing plastic grocery bags snagged high up in trees, caught deep in the bushes on local trails, or lying in a muddy puddle on the street. Plastic litter is just one symptom of our addiction to plastic.
Recently, I was jolted by photos of baby albatross who died because their bodies were filled with plastic which their parents had mistaken for food. We’ve all seen pictures of sea turtles and other wildlife tragically trapped in plastic or dead from ingesting it. I can’t say why the baby albatross suddenly made me want to take action, but the young birds were my tipping point
This time I realized the plastic those babies had eaten might as well have been mine.
Not that I litter the beach with plastic, or toss it where it will be carried to the sea, but I’ve contributed to the problem with a great deal of complacency. My own plastic trash is in a landfill somewhere, and in our waterways. Some of it, no doubt, is in the form of tiny microplastics that exist in waterways the world over and have now found their way into our bodies.
Since the 1950’s, the use of plastic has grown so great, that when we look at pictures of suffering wildlife,or images of the Great Pacific garbage patch, we forget we have the power to do something. We once thought recycling was the answer, but very little of the plastic that we drop into our recycle bin actually gets recycled. In fact, tons of it is hauled from recycle facilities to landfills.
The largest collection of plastic in the world, the Great Pacific garbage patch, covers a huge span from North America to Japan. Filled with floating plastic trash, it is only one of seven such garbage patches in oceans around the world.
Why don’t we just stop using plastics?
Total elimination of plastic may be a pipe dream today but imagine what 70 more years of carelessly using and tossing plastic will do to our earth.
Anti-smoking campaigns that began in the 1960’s gradually changed our culture around smoking. Campaigns aimed at plastic, particularly single-use plastic, could bring about a massive shift in our culture.
On November 1 this year, I decided to quit plastic, starting with non-recyclable single-use plastic.
Within days, I realized the impossibility of quitting plastic in a day. Nearly everything is plastic, and what isn’t plastic comes to us wrapped in plastic.
Every day we face news of climate change, pollution, and problems that seem beyond our ability to help. It can feel overwhelming. Honestly, it’s easier to look the other way.
Plastic is different; it’s a problem we ordinary souls can tackle because, as consumers, we have to power to vote with our wallets. I started small in November and I plan to make progress each month in eliminating plastics. Every month I’ll share what I’ve learned. I hope others will join me in this effort.
Here are the baby steps I took, and the lessons I learned, in November:
*Cloth and Net Bags
I began faithfully shopping with my washable cloth bags and net bags (for my fresh fruits and vegetables). If I forget the bags in the car, I walk back to fetch them (the extra walk helps me remember next time).
Lesson: The bags I bought on Amazon are washable and attractive. I love them, but each bag was unnecessarily wrapped in single-use plastic and they came in a large plastic mailer from Amazon.
I’ve no longer buy packaged, pre-washed greens. Now I buy unwrapped and unwashed fruits and veggies, use my own net bags, and wash everything at home.
*Less Consumer Product Packaging
This will be an ongoing effort. As I run out of items, I look for suitable products that aren’t packaged in plastic. For instance, I replaced liquid shampoo and conditioner with bars. I love the product, by the way.
Lesson: I ordered the shampoo and conditioner from Amazon the same day I ordered the grocery bags. They came in a recyclable box packed in shredded cardboard, but they were mailed in a large plastic mailer, cushioned by a plastic pillow. See why reducing plastic is so challenging?
Only a day or two after committing to a major reduction of plastic in my life the family decided to order Thai for dinner. Without thinking, I ordered chicken satay which arrived in a hard, plastic container with an additional plastic container for the delicious peanut sauce.
Lesson: Old habits die hard. I’ll need to think about all food packaging, including take-out food.
Fresh fruits and vegetables were fairly easy to figure out, but every trip to the grocery store, every decision about what to buy, what to eat, and what personal and cleaning products to use, is challenging.
Plastic is a huge part of our lives. It’s in our cars, our computers, our phones, and our homes. Drastically reducing plastic means looking at everything with fresh eyes. There may not always be alternatives and then I’ll have to decide what foods and products I can eliminate from my “must-have” list.
Globally, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year (10% is recycled). Seven million tons of plastic end up in the sea each year.
The fact that cutting out plastic is so challenging tells us just how important it is.
Please consider joining me in taking small and large steps to drastically reduce plastic in our day-to-day lives and in our environment. Stay in touch and share the things you learn so that we can all benefit.
There is much in this world that we have no control over. My small efforts won’t make much difference, but if many of us decide to be part of the solution, we could start a peaceful revolution.
Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry. Ms. Terry is a well-known leader in the movement and has already done much of the work of finding alternative products. Her book is full of sensible information and it is written with humor and humility. Even if you are not ready to commit to reducing plastic, you will enjoy her writing.
Plastic, a Toxic Love Story, by Susan Freinkel
I’ll add more books and blog sites in future posts as I read and learn.
Last 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.
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.
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.
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.”