Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yellow Bird Day

It's such a beautiful day. The clouds occasionally drop a half dozen fat drops of water here and there, in between it's brilliant sunshine and soft, humid breezes. The air is filled with the fragrance of lilacs and a hundred other blossoming plants. I looked and where there were apricot blossoms a couple of weeks ago there are now bean-sized fuzzy green fruits, some still wearing petal collars.

I was outside washing some goo off the trailer, and heard a bright little song behind me in the "feeder" tree. I looked and there, only a few feet away, sat Mr. Goldfinch. He wasn't a bit shy, though he was a bit perturbed, as I hadn't yet filled the feeder tray, so I expect his song was actually a series of bird curses, complaints about the service. "Gimme dat seed!"

I went in, got a scoop of seed and filled the tray, and within a minute he was back. He didn't care that I was standing four feet from the feeder, and that I had a camera in hand. He was interested only in sunflower seeds, which he shells very adeptly with his beak and tongue.

I'd had the presence of mind to grab the camera while I got the seed, and thus have a series of yellow bird pictures to share. Oh but he is a beauty! What a cheeky Charlie he is. He couldn't help but put a bright spot in anyone's day.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Twenty Four and Rising

Degrees that is. I can still see snow on a nearby mountain top, but looks like warmer weather has officially arrived. I say that, knowing that tomorrow's forecast is for 11 degrees and rain. Well, I could do without the 11 degrees but we could use a good rain.

Yesterday I grabbed the camera and took this poor shot of one of our male American goldfinches at the feeder. It's taken through two panes of glass, so it looks a bit hazy.

The next blossoms in succession are arriving, as these apple blossoms will attest. The little peach trees are all but done, and beginning to fade, but it has been so windy I've never been able to get a picture of them while they were at their prime.

And now the lilacs are beginning to bloom. These are the deep purple variety I love so much. I just remembered that there are some deep purple irises in the front beds. I have to go out there and get a picture of those before they are finished.

We're packing up to move. Our books, CDs and DVDs are in boxes. The shelves are empty except for a few incidentals which can be put on the bunks at the last minute. I'm not sure how much more we can do until Mike comes to move us, and as of yet, we don't know when that will be. If we disappear from sight for a few days, it's because our cable internet connection will go down when we move. It has to be set up again in our new spot. That may take a few days.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Visitors

The excitement for the day was the presence of two male American Goldfinches in the apple tree this morning. They are in breeding plumage; brilliant, glowing yellow, and are spectacular additions to the year's bird list.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

June Callwood, National Treasure

June Callwood, Journalist, Activist, Feminist and advocate for society's poorest and most reviled, referred to widely as Canada's Conscience, died this morning at the age of 82.

I came to know of June when I arrived in Canada in 1971. By then she was not only one of the most prolific and versatile writers in the country but a social activist.

Her career spanned over a half a century. She'd worked at the Globe and Mail before having her first child, but in 1947 she took flying lessons from Violet Milstead, Canada's first woman bush pilot. She wrote a story about Milstead and sold it to Liberty magazine, which began her freelance writing career.

In the late 60's while covering the hippie movement in Toronto she noticed that the middle-class hippie kids went home to the comfort of their families, but those without support, "whose teeth were all rotting out of their heads and were shooting speed," were shunned by society.

In 1964 June was a founding member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a non-profit, non-government law-reform group devoted to defending civil liberties and human rights.

In 1968, while covering the police bust of a hippie gathering Callwood reprimanded a policeman for abusing a young boy. She was arrested and shoved into a packed paddy wagon, and spent the night standing in a filthy jail cell, where she couldn't sit because everything was covered in excrement. She was devastated. "In my generation you didn't get arrested unless you were an awful person."

She said afterwards "I thought, if that's how they treat a middle-class, respectable, decent housewife in her 40's, how are they treating the poor and powerless? That politicized me; that did it," says Callwood.

June was a doer, not just a talker. In 1973 she helped found Nellie's, a non-profit women's organization which helped women and children in crisis. In 1972 she founded Jessie's Centre for Teenagers, a drop-in centre for teenage mothers. In 1988 she helped found the first hospice in Canada to provide support and palliative care for people with HIV/AIDS. And in 1983 she helped found PEN Canada, a group of writers defending freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At the age of 53 she became host of a CBC Television program called In Touch, a show about "empathy." She was at ease with her age and her stage in life. Even under the glare of the harsh TV lights, she refused to wear makeup, or get a professional stage persona "makeover". She was just herself, explaining that it was a part of her philosophy of being truthful

She went on to host many TV programs. My favorite was a series called, June Callwood's National Treasures where she interviewed Canadians who had made a difference. No fawner over celebrityhood, she talked to guests about the big questions, their purpose in life, their feelings about pain, bereavement, tragedy, faith, passion, and death. It was compelling TV, and none have done it so well as June.

June's capacity to empathize may have stemmed from the personal tragedies in her life, including her own depression, her husband's alcoholism, one son's muscular dystrophy and her youngest son Casey's death at age 20 after he was struck by a drunk driver.

Before Casey's death, she said she had a constant happy hum in her head. "I haven't had that since he was killed." His ashes are buried under the apple tree outside Callwood's home. Casey House, a Toronto hospice for people with AIDS, is named after her youngest son.

June was a passionate, compassionate individual who died of cancer this morning. She was not afraid of death. She told a Rabbi friend who was sitting with her shortly before her death that she had just dreamed that he had opened the gates of the park to let the children in, and the old people out.

She was an inspiration to me, and I am so grateful to have been able to know her, even at a distance, through a screen and her words on the page. We should all be so wise, so kind, as June Callwood.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bird Brain Two

This time it is I who is the birdish-brained one. I was making dinner last evening when suddenly in the apple tree sat a beautiful sharp-shinned hawk! Quick, get the camera. I got off two shots before the hawk flew the coop. In the first it ducked its head behind a branch, in the second, the poor thing lost its head. I am reduced to using some one else's photo of the sharpie.

But other new sightings at the feeder, or nearby, in the last few days include:

A red-winged blackbird - love their song!

Several Cassin's Finches - hard to tell from the purples, but a little less red and a little different tail. This link has good drawings of Purples and house finches as well as Cassin's.

A Say's Phoebe who has staked out a nearby cedar tree as home territory and tells the world every morning.

A hummer - against the setting sun so I couldn't tell what kind but we have only the Rufous and Calliope, so I'm betting one of those. I will buy a feeder when we go to town next time.

And a little house finch who is vivid tangarine where the purple finch is red. Boy, he is bright. At one point there were hoary redpolls, purple finches, yellow warblers and the tangerine house finch, all on the tree or feeder at once. Looked like Christmas lights.

Wish I was a better foh-taw-graw-fer. I have never gotten a picture of the wee birds, but they are just too far away, even though they are only eight feet from the window.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Doing the Impossible

Out today to take photos of the many beautiful flowering trees and flowers. What a gorgeous day. A couple from Alaska pulled in beside us last night. He said they'd been out six weeks, up the California and Washington coasts, across the western states, and this was the first place they'd been tempted to stop and spend more than a day. The beauty of the valley is growing by the day as the cherry trees begin to bloom, magnolias bloom, forsythias glow, and the maples bloom. I'd never seen a maple tree bloom before. I got a good picture of the flowers.

The rest of the photos are ones I took as I strolled around the park this afternoon, including one of our neighbour Dave, who was here helping James ready the swimming pool for the season.

I've joined a "Tiny Homes" Forum on the web, and one of the first messages I got was in response to someone who is purportedly selling all her excess stuff and moving into a "tiny home". The response was, "Wait til she sells all her stuff and then finds out it's not possible to live in a small space - at least not a satisfactory one. I'm beginning to feel like I don't live in a free country." So at last we've done the impossible! I always said that if you want to do the impossible you just have to work a little harder.

It's certainly not possible to live satisfactorily in a tiny house if you insist on stuffing 2800 sq ft's worth of accumulation into it. But, shed the extra stuff and it's possible indeed.

The way we hang onto stuff you'd think it somehow shielded us from life's trials and tribs. But it doesn't. Piling up stuff we don't use or need is like hanging a millstone around our necks. We have to have buy or build extra rooms to house it in, then work extra hours to pay the rent or mortgage for the extra rooms to house the extra stuff we don't really need. This is not "freedom" but enslavement.

We buy things that catch our eye, or to ease anxiety. Why does spending money ease anxiety? Even the super-wealthy spend themselves into poverty, trying to buy peace of mind. Then, not surprisingly, all the claptrap we've bought brings us anxiety because we look at it and wonder why we bought it, or we hide it away, like someone who drinks secretly, we buy secretly and hide the evidence. We need to learn that buying and possessing doesn't bring peace of mind, even though every media message tells us we must buy to fit in, to be accepted, to be one of the gang, to be our true selves, to be loved, to be above the rest. Ads say, "Follow the crowd" or "Lead the way", because everyone does one or the other, or wants to.

Then there are those of us who buy because we are just plain daft and disorganized. All my life I've bought duplicates of items because I had no idea where the one I already had was. The theory is, "To find something you've lost simply buy a replacement".

I remember once, we needed to trim the goat's hooves and couldn't find the hoof knife. We tore barn and house apart, trying to find the knife. We finally gave up and drove the 40 miles to town to buy a new hoof knife. $1.98 for the knife, $5.00 for gas, even then, and half a day's time wasted.

On the way home Ian (eight or nine at the time) poked his hand in the space between the seat and back cushions in the back seat of the van. And pulled out the old hoof knife. bah humbug! I'm always too embarrassed to go back to the shop and say, "I found mine, can I return this?"

I needed the tweezers a couple of days ago and had misplaced them. But within a few hours I ran onto them again. Things don't have as much room to go astray here. And there's less to go astray to start with.

Perfection is not achieved by adding to and adding to. Perfection is achieved by taking away and taking away until you are down to the purest, most simple and most efficient. The beauty of the small. Or so I tell myself.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Wild Wild Wind

What a beautiful day. This is one of the things I love most about Tinpalace; there are 14 windows and two skylights. We can throw them all open, and when we do we are as much outside as in. It's warm and the wind is wild, rattling the blinds and flapping the dishtowels on their peg. If you can buy a more exquisite joy then grab your pocketbook and rush to do it.

Outside the spring flowers are erupting into small volcanoes of colour. I took Salvador outside, but the wind was too much for him. He demanded that we go right back in, where he could lie on the cool bathroom floor and not have ruffled feathers.

After he was back in I took pictures, and will post a few, but the wind is so strong I couldn't get a clear picture of the barely open cherry blossoms. The branches are whipping back and forth so quickly the camera couldn't catch a clear picture. In their place I start with a picture of the quail in the apricot tree, taken at dusk a couple of days ago.

The cherry blossoms are just starting to open, so I have plenty of time to get a good picture. I did get a nice picture of what I think are pear blossoms, narcissus, daffodils, and one tiny blue flower on a creeping plant. The blue hyacinth was dancing with the wind as well, so she's a little blurred. When you can get back a foot or more movement ceases to be a problem, but with the three or four inch distance you have from these tiny flowers, the least shiver destroys your focus. We have some new bird arrivals. I saw a cedar waxwing yesterday. I love the sleekness of their feathers. Hard to describe the almost metallic quality of their grey gown, with its yellow-apricot breast and head with its tuft of feathers is very distinctive. It's little black eye mask cannot disguise its identity.

The rock doves are back. I haven't seen them, but I have heard them cooing back and forth. And speaking of hearing but not seeing, between a snoring husband on one side and a snoring cat on the other, about 2:00 am a couple of nights ago I heard a boreal owl very close at hand. He was probably in the apricot tree just outside. And from only a slightly longer distance the booming hoot of a great grey owl. Just one series of three or four hoots, each hoot lower than the last.

Yesterday a trio of crows mobbed the neighborhood goshawk, who was out looking for an afternoon snack no doubt. This time it was the female, probably the mate of the hawk I saw at such close range last fall.

We took the skirt off the trailer yesterday and discovered that something had drug a quail under the trailer and eaten everything but piles of feathers and just enough skin to make a terrible stink. Could have been anything but was probably the cat that roamed the park through the winter. Fat and well-cared for, wearing a collar, but still not averse to a nice meal of quail if presented with the opportunity. That's reason enough to keep a cat indoors.

We talked to Zak and Mandy last night. They have acquired a new pet, courtesy of their cat Roxanne. It is a teeny house mouse. Now you come down off that chair this instant! Zak caught the mouse, which he is thinking of naming "Dog", because when he was a year old he went through a phase of calling all animals "mouse". We got an enormous puppy, a Mastiff cross, which Zak took one look at and cooed, "Oh, MOUSE!" And "Mouse" he became, all 150 lbs of him. Now, a mouse who weighs less than a penny is in danger of being called "Dog".

But said Mouse is providing a good deal of entertainment as it demonstrates the cleverness of its kind. I love my kids. Who else would catch a mouse by the tail and make a pet of it? (Besides their mother?)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Thievery, Plain and Simple

I admit to having stolen the photo featured in this post. It was taken by Lin Martinson and is featured on a new website about Oliver. Oliver is down there somewhere, in the middle of all those rocks. I think it's the white area. But the photo is spectacular and reminds me of Monument Valley, where I spent several of my childhood years. The landscape here isn't really like Monument Valley, it's much more like the high desert country of northern New Mexico and Arizona, where I also spent a good deal of time as a child.

It was 24.4 degrees C today (75.9 degrees F). Our first really warm day of the season. It would have been blissfully perfect had it not been for Mr. Organics next door, who spent a second day spreading fish meal joy throughout the neighborhood. At least the wind was not carrying it right into our faces most of the day, though by dinner time I had a stinker of a headache from the stench. Hopefully he will have finished with his soil enrichment program, or the tractor will blow a gasket before I do.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Put Yer Shoes Back On!

Phew! The farmer next door was busy fertilizing his fields today. Rumbing across the field on his tractor, towing a spreader filled with dried fish emulsion. Okay, just in case that penny didn't drop - fish emulsion - rotted fish heads, guts, fins, etc. processed into a slurry, dried and then shipped to farmers who wait for a day when the wind is blowing away from their house.

The clouds of stink began to drift across us at about 1:00 pm and by 2:00 we had found several reasons why we had to go to town. Gag gag.

By the time we got home at 4:00 he'd finished spreading, so there were no clouds of rotted fish blowing through the windows, but the "smelody" certainly lingers on. Enough to make your eyes burn and your stomach turn.

Of course the cat insisted on a long walk as soon as we got home. He doesn't mind the smell.

I think I'm gonna be sick now.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bird Brains

The quail kept coming around the end of the Tinpalace with what looked like popcorn in their beaks, which they then proceeded to eat, after playing a bit of "keep-away" between them. I couldn't figure out where they were getting the popcorn. We'd fed them some in the winter, and they loved it, but we've not even popped corn in weeks.

Then I looked out the window above Tony's bunk. The apricot tree, now with half the buds open and in resplendent bloom, was also full of quail. Quail, busy pulling off and eating buds and blossoms. There goes the apricot crop. :(

The quail are beginning to pair up. Let a single bird come too close to a paired couple and there's hell to pay. Every quail views his neighbour with suspicion. They still move in coveys, but are more scattered, a pair here, a pair ten feet away. Only late in the day do they settle down and run in the usual herd.

The male finches are almost neon red in color this last week or two. Spring has ramped the power up in their marketing campaign. Out the front, where the feeder hangs, a pair of rosy finches are well and truly in love. She feeds him, then he feeds her. They rub beaks and cuddle. He gets another sunflower seed from the feeder, shells it and feeds it to her. She does the same. Ahhhhh, young love, or at least young hormones.....

The Flicker has found a mate and is proclaiming both his love and his territorial imperative by drumming on the metal transformer box high on the power pole. He's quite the drummer. Somewhere in a garage some pimply teenaged boy would give his D grade in English to be able to drum like that.

A pair of English sparrows were courting in the apricot tree mid-day yesterday. He was doing his, "I'm much cute than those losers over there," dance. Male English sparrows impress the girls by lifting their wings up at the shoulder, canting the tips down slightly, and shaking all over like the King of Rock 'n Roll - while singing up a storm. His female admirer seemed pretty taken with him, for when another female landed on a nearby branch the first female went after her like a housewife with a broom goes after a rat in the cellar.

Competition for girlfriends is obviously pretty fierce. Gangs of male sparrows square off and have it it like barroom brawlers, smacking each other with their wings, kicking, pecking, swearing in sparrow and generally causing a ruckus. Four or five will get into a fight in a tree and fall right out onto the ground and roll around in a ball of screaming flapping feathers, just whaling the daylights out of each other.

Somebody forgot to tell them that we have romanticized their reproductive drive and we expect them to behave in a civilized and polite way. In other words we want to see lovebirds in the spring, not Termifeather III.