Friday, February 27, 2009

He'll Eat Anything


In a comment posted earlier, 'Anonymous' asked to see a photo of my husband. Well, as they say, "Careful what you ask for!" Here is David doing one of the things he does really well: eating. He is eating a raw Hen clam, a type of Quahog. As you can see, the clam is as big as his hand and David is a really big guy! He is a retired line backer with the Jets, so his hands are enormous. That's the guts of the clam hanging down around his wrist. In this next shot, he is eating a raw shrimp. We pick shrimp out every spring and put them in the freezer. This year, we picked fifty pounds which yielded twenty five pounds of meat. Twenty four hours after we had them in the freezer, the power went out for three days. Stick your head out your window right now and you'll be able to smell it from where ever you are. In the third photo, he's doing something illegal with a cooked lobster. David is on intimate terms with many things that come from the sea and most of them, he eats. He is a marvel of human engineering, eating constantly and eating anything. This makes him a delight to cook for, as he thinks I am a gourmet chef, no matter what slop I put on the table. This is one of the reasons I love him. He makes me feel heroic as I'm just carrying out mundane tasks of daily living, like cooking supper. He makes me feel talented, even when writing this blog, which is often at his expense. It's true love at work.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

POWERLESS


On February 22, Sunday night at 12:40 am, the electricity went out. For days before, the weather forecast had been dire. "Armageddon," that's what they said it would be. "Lake effect snow from the North West pushing ahead of a cold front will converge with low pressure from seaward resulting in high precipitation amounts. Post pone all travel plans and ready your storm emergency packs. Prepare for damaging high winds and power outages." We had heard it all before a hundred times. Our local TV station has a weather man named Kevin Mannix, but we call him 'Kevin Panics.' The day had been sunny and clear, so how bad could it get? "Besides, it will be spring soon. If it snows, it won't last long," we told ourselves. We did nothing.
After we had gone to bed, I watched TV. I often have difficulty getting to sleep, so that's what I do to shut my brain off late at night, while my dear husband is snoring blissfully away beside me (I envy his ability to sleep, honestly I do). I watch shows such as 'Trauma - Life In The ER,' 'Mystery Medical Diagnosis' and Discovery- 'An Asteroid Coming to the Earth Near You.' You might think this would be the last thing a person should watch while trying to fall asleep. It sounds like pretty scary, gruesome, fear mongering stuff, which I suppose it is. But, for me, it has the opposite effect; it's mind numbing and puts me to sleep. No nightmares, either (at least, not from that). When I watch that stuff it desensitizes me. Part of my mind believes that if I see enough of it, it will never happen to me, nor anyone I love. While I was absorbed in the medical aftermath of a multiple car pile-up in Nashville, Tennessee, the power flickered on and off three times. Each time the satellite transmission had to reset itself. That meant that I had to start the show over again. So, I got to see the same people intubated, chest tubed, rushed to the OR, and fully coded, three times. Talk about mind numbing! I got up and turned on the lights to see what was going on out the window. It was a total white out, blinding snow pelting horizontally right into the windows. It was an amazing spectacle since it had been forty degrees and sunny that day. Thinking, "well this can't be good," I retrieved a five gallon bucket from our cellar. Then, setting it into the bathtub, I filled it with water. We have a well, so if we lose power, we don't have water. You can endure quite a while without heat, but believe me, when there is no way to flush a toilet, well, THAT will flush you right out of the house pretty quickly. Then, I went back to bed just as the power went out for keeps (my husband continued to snore). When we awoke, the power still hadn't come back on and it was still snowing. There was a foot of wet heavy snow. Trees were creaking and groaning under the weight. The utility lines from the house sagged down into the driveway. We had been hit with a classic Nor' Easter and so, we knew we would be in for a long haul.
We have storms like this every winter and every winter, we lose electricity. Sometimes it's only for a few hours; sometimes it lasts for days. At the very least, it flickers off and on. This requires that all things digital must be reset which is an annoyance. Sometimes this happens several times a day which steps it up from an annoyance to a full blown irritation. Each time the power quivers, it makes me nervous. Of course, everything that matters here is on a surge protector, but still, I fear for my computer and the TVs (think of the gore I'd miss if the TV quit! I'd never sleep again!). But, most of all, I fear days of no electricity. Each time one of these near miss shots whistles across the bow of our little ship called Home, I imagine the pile of dirty dishes in the sink ballooning out like a cartoon, mountains of laundry pulsing near the lifeless washer, and worst of all: the toilets. But, let's not go there.
To some, I'm sure the idea of no TV noise, no ringing phones (that's right: no phone), cozy fires and inventive meals seems like a charming and inviting idea. Believe, me, after about 4 hours the fun is all out of it. I like to read, too. But there's too much of a good thing.
We have a small generator, but it isn't good for much. It takes miles of extension cords to plug anything into it and if it is cold enough outside it is reluctant to start. We only use it to charge my camera battery and run the refrigerator, unless it's cold enough to put things outside. At ten degrees, it was plenty cold enough this time. I had filled laundry baskets (since I wasn't generating any clean laundry to put into them) with the refrigerator contents and set them on either side of the front steps. UPS made a delivery to us in the midst of the outage. Richard (we are on a first name basis with our UPS guy) left his cumbersome, brown truck and walked down our road to our house. While holding the package for me as I came to the front door, he glanced around. "Geez, I'm sorry for standing in the middle of your refrigerator," he apologized. Very funny. "Thanks for bringing the package, Richard. Look out for live wires on the ground when you walk back to the truck," I replied. After all, I wouldn't want to lose such a dedicated UPS guy.
People might ask, "Why don't you leave? Go some place with power, a hotel or something?" The simple answer is that we have two dogs. To take dogs somewhere other than home is just a different kind of struggle to my mind. But, that's the simple response, not the true answer. The real truth is that we don't want to abandon our house. We want to be here to struggle along with it, feel the cold corners of the rooms closing in, hear the ice on the roof, angst about trees that may fall onto it. Our home is a living thing. When it's without electricity it becomes a not quite dead, ailing being pleading for help. So, we can't abandon it to the elements. We want to be here with it, maybe in its final hours. We understand people in other parts of the country who we see on the news (oh, the news, how I miss the news when the power is out!) who stay on through hurricanes or forest fires after they've been advised to evacuate. We have empathy for the conviction they start out with, the sense of control that dissolves into chaos then terror.
Every year we tell ourselves that we'll never go through this again. We will have a proper (synonymous with expensive) generator installed, the kind that goes on automatically and runs everything as if nothing is amiss, invisible life support for the home in crisis.
Why haven't we done this long ago? It's not about money. Money is an excuse, not a reason. It's about our own mortality. We want to believe that we are hardy, invincible souls capable of weathering anything. We want bragging rights that we toughed it out, again, as if putting words to that makes it true. "Three days without electricity is no big deal to us Mainers," we tell people, while actually trying to convince ourselves. The words create an energy that resonates through us like the electricity in our house, intangible while running everything. To have a generator is akin to admitting that we are dependent and vulnerable to the vagaries of a being greater than ourselves. It feels like giving in to something, a weakly defensive posture. Deep in our brains, to ask for help is to expose ourselves to the idea that we need it, and thus, that help might not be forthcoming. Not everyone survives in those medical shows, regardless of the heroic efforts of the trauma team. When an asteroid collides with our earth, there will be no help coming.
Yet another cold night, we go to bed in the dark. The dogs sleep with us shoving their way into the warm spaces between us. Soon, soon the power has to come back on. Lights and order will be restored. We will be liberated! I can't go another day without e mail, I'm an addict and I admit it. "I'll have to take my laptop to someplace where there is electricity," is my thought as I drift off to sleep. In my dreams my laptop is wrapped in a red bandanna suspended on a stick over my shoulder like a hobo. This can't last for long. Spring, the greatest narcotic of all, is coming.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Year Of The Owl



For Christmas,
my husband gave to me this lovely, delicate vase. It's only about 5 inches tall. It's a fragile, nearly ephemeral object. Little did he know, that a few weeks later, the Maine Audubon Association would have a talk about owls. Of course, we had to see that! There were 6 types of owls on display. They ranged from the smallest, this Saw Wet Owl that looks like a tiny monkey, and is no bigger than a soda can, to a huge, threatening looking Eurasian Eagle Owl. All of the owls were captive due to injuries and would never be returned to the wild. Nonetheless, they had the wild in their eyes, even the little guys. I've seen a few owls in my lifetime in the wild. One morning a year ago I saw a Barred Owl perched on our pier. The pier sticks 120 feet out into the ocean, so the owl looked quite out of place. It sat there for at least an hour before taking off into the sun
rise. About that same time, I saw a Barred Owl sitting atop a piece of driftwood at Popham Beach State Park. Sequin Island Lighthouse could be seen in the background of where the owl sat, another incongruous scene. An owl and surf on the beach just didn't look natural together. A couple of times at night, I have seen Snowy Owls fly low across the road over my head while I have been driving. Not just because they are white, but because they are so big, they look live living ghosts, mystical beings cruising the earth for spirits to take with them. The times I've seen them at night in the wild I felt as if I'd had some spooky visitation.
On January 4th of this year, a Northern Hawk Owl was first sighted near here in Bristol Mills. I've been there five times to see it and to take photographs. I'm thinking that maybe I should join some kind of support group for this compulsive behavior, "Northern Hawk Owlers Anonymous" or something like that. Northern Hawk Owls are very rare here. Hundreds of birders have made the pilgrimage to Bristol to see this particular owl. The draw is that it is rare and also that it sits in a dead tree right on the side of the road, so it's easy to view. One need hardly leave one's vehicle, though everyone seems to. We all get out of our cars, shielding our eyes from the sun as we peer up into the tree, enduring bitter cold and other inconveniences But I think that there's something else that draws people to birds of prey in particular. I think it's the wild in their eyes. They have an other wordly look as they stare at you and at the same time, look right through you. You could be lunch. This is at once, disturbing and unnerving, yet compelling. It's a look that makes us feel vulnerable and we are fascinated by that as much as we fear it. It's an edgy thrill to look into the face of a thing that at least thinks it could kill you. Once we've made eye contact, we can't look away from a snake, an ax murderer, nor a bird of prey. The survival of birds of prey, because of where they are on the food chain, are especially subject to the impact of man's hand on the environment. They are more vulnerable than they know. And, so are we, as a race and as individuals. We like to say that the owl has great wisdom, 'HOO, HOO,' "Who are you?" We tell our children, "The owl knows." And perhaps the owl really does know, after all. The owl may know that he and we will one day be gone from this earth. We will have stared right through every other living thing having regarded it all as fair for the taking, until it's all gone. I just wish that with one of the owl visitations that may be in my future, that the owl would pass on to me a dollop of wisdom like a coughed up pellet, the wisdom to change the course for us all.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pets and Personalities



Perry occasionally watches television. Here, he's watching Meerkat Manor on Animal Planet. He's only really into educational programming. Easy is more of a General Hospital kind of dog. Perry also dials the telephone. If he can access a handset, he will repeatedly punch in numbers then wait for the audible call failure signal. Then, he'll dial again. For the amusement of our guests, we put the phone on the floor and say "Hey Perry! Want to call your lawyer? Go ahead, call your lawyer." And dial he does, every time. When we leave the house we make sure all the phones are in their cradles. We realized that he might call Korea or Bali or someplace really far away. We are afraid that if we received a bill for a call like that that we'd never be able to convince the phone company to remove the charges because our dog had made the call. We do realize that if the dogs need to call 911 while we are out that it could be a problem. Easy would be completely dependent upon Perry for an emergency call. She could never dial the phone. She's just not intelligent enough in that kind of way. She's not a technical person. Perry is brilliant. However, he is sort of aloof. He's not an emotionally very connected dog. In fact, he's more like a cat than a dog (he's even more like a cat than our cat!). We've often remarked that if Perry were human, he would probably be diagnosed with Autism - Asperger's Syndrome or something. He shows clear areas of very high intelligence, but emotional detachment. He does not depend upon nor need humans for any reason. Easy, on the other hand is emotionally very needy. We call her 'Easy' because she is not easy at all. Her area of expertise is being cute. She really knows how to work a room full of people, sort of like a beautiful, neurotic movie star. She's demanding, needy, dependent, and clingy. She has to be with me at all times, under my feet. She barks incessantly. Perry rarely barks at all. He is only inclined to do so for some really compelling provocation like a turkey or a moose. Easy barks if the wind blows, or a leaf falls or the phone rings. In fact, when I try to talk on the phone she looks right at me and barks, demanding my attention. How dare I be talking to someone other than her! As a dog owner, it pains me to admit that many times, I've had to lock myself in a bathroom in order to talk with a girl friend on the phone. The dog will sit outside the door, continuing to bark at me, too. My kids used to do that to me, too. But, I was able to teach them not to, or at least, I waited them out, and they left home. So, I was eventually able to have peace while on the phone. But, not anymore. I know I should have more control over the dog, but truthfully, I don't. I never taught Perry to dial the phone. He just did it on his own. When I give him the phone and ask if he wants to call his lawyer, it's not a command from me. He already knew how to do it. It just looks like I taught him something tricky. It's actually he who trained me. I admire people who have perfectly trained dogs, hunting dogs, dogs that do agility courses flawlessly, etc. And, I've always felt that it is a positive thing for people to have relationships with other species (Personally, I gravitate toward mammals; I've never really understood the Boa Constrictor/Iguana/glowering Parrot attraction). But, I have to admit: I'm a lazy pet owner. I don't have what it takes to ride herd on them all the time, to be 'THE BOSS.' I'm a pack dog, not an alpha dog. And, I need them to love me, to look at me balefully with bottomless desire. I too, am a needy, neurotic star in my own mind with odd intelligences and bursts of inconsistent brilliance. And one day, I may need them to dial 911.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spring's a Comin'!



video This is a short (under 7 minutes) video I put together. It's of my gardens in Mid Coast Maine in the months of June and July. I do all of the gardening. My husband is my slave labor. I made this video because right now, there is snow all over the ground. Where there isn't snow, there is treacherous ice. It's the time of year when the sun is feeling really warm and inviting, but dare yea who ventures out! It's still very cold. The wind is biting and takes the fun out of the sun's seeming invitation. At this time of year, I have metamorphosed totally into a house fly. I become one of those fat, lazy ones that buzzes idly around, crawling on the windows. They always seem like they should be easy to kill, but they're not. I can attest to that having tried to swat lots of them. Plus, I'm still here. Like the swollen, blue flies, I don't like to go outside. I like to move around inside the house, following the path of the sun. Only to fill the bird feeders do I scurry out, mindful of the deadly ice, always there to claim a hip, a wrist or some other vital part of me lest I skid on it. That has happened to me before, too. I've slipped and sent buckets of bird seed flying into the stratosphere to rain back down on me as I cursed. I've yet to break anything, but my life passes before my eyes anticipating that I will. Long after my heart stopped pounding and I'd caught my breath, I was still picking the seeds out of my hair and from inside my bra. It's a good thing that Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld didn't live here. I felt like he looked when he'd fly into a room, arms and legs everywhere before he came to an abrupt stop. Had he tried that maneuver on the ice in my driveway he would have broken into a million pieces. And his hair would have held onto bird seed for perpetuity. I have hair like his. I know.
Today, I ventured out across the yard to fill a feeder and throw some corn around. As I minced my way across what looks like old fashioned boiled frosting, I noticed tracks of deer mixed in with turkeys. The turkey tracks are so big they look like teradactyls were stomping around out there. The deer have come right to the side of the house to chew shrubs, in spite of the dogs (aforementioned useless bums). They have stood on their hind legs to tip a suspended bird feeder on end to get to the seed. That's how hungry they are. I suppose that there is lawn under the glistening sheen where now, only a Zamboni should dare to tread. I have to take that on some faith, faith that the grass will eventually green up, faith that my chewed magnolia will recover, faith that the deer won't starve to death. I have to have faith that I won't be killed outright, or at least suffer a million broken bones, while out doing a good thing for creatures other than myself. I have to have faith that under the snow, the crocuses are squeezing their way upward toward the sun. That's really why I made the video. Sometimes, my fears overshadow my faith and I need a reminder.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

APRIL FOOLS!



April 1st, I was outside cleaning up yard debris after a storm. The night before, we had damaging winds which left branches, sticks and leaves everywhere. Using a leaf rake like a big claw, I picked up what seemed like the hundredth pile of leaves. All kinds of junk had blown into the yard like a cigarette package (neither of us smoke), those little annoying individual chewing gum wrappers, plastic bags, leaves from trees we don't even have here, and a beat up old soda can. My back was killing me. I was tired and grumpy and sick of doing it, but there was a lot more to go. As I studied yet another pile to pick up, I was trying to justify to myself that I could quit. But, instead, I bent down and took hold of one more load. And there it was in my hand - a dog turd. "Damned Dogs! Crap everywhere why don't you!" I bitched to no one in particular. As I stood up, the muscles in the small of my back screeched to me. Then, in my hand, the dog turd moved! I squinted at it. Definitely. It definitely moved. It was light weight for its size and sort of papery. I jiggled it. YES! It moved again and a scratchy, dry sound came out of it. Obviously, unless my excruciating back pain had mysteriously transported me to some other planet (a distinct possibility), this wasn't a dog turd at all! I suspected that inside the papery husk was an insect. However, in all of my years of gardening, during which I've picked up literally tons of material from lots of yards, I'd never seen a thing like this. I kept jiggling to make sure I wasn't imagining the life inside this thing. I sniffed it. No smell. Jiggle - Wiggle. If you put a golf ball inside a jar, laid it on its side and nudged it, that's what it felt like. When I turned the object over, whatever was in there kept righting itself. There was some struggling going on. I went inside and got a jar for it, punching holes in the lid. It would need air. Plus, I didn't want 'IT' to get loose in the house. I was beginning to imagine a possibly vengeful alien life form inside there, you know - the other planetary type. Sigourny Weaver would play the lead when 'IT' tore open its paper prison and came after me and my family and ate my dogs (poor dogs, the things I've blamed them for!). In spite of this frightening fantasy (possibly spawned by the back pain), I couldn't just heave the thing into the compost. After all, it was ALIVE! And life is not a relative value; alive is alive. Thank God for the internet, is all I've got to say! On a web site called whatsthatbug.com, I found out that my little blessing wasn't Rosemary's Baby, but a Luna moth pupa. My April Fools Miracle was a pupa, not a dog poopa, after all! The entomologists on the web site gave instructions for its care and in two months, I was the proud parent of a splendid Luna moth.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Government Oversight




A Bald eagle oversees a city worker delivering garbage to the Capital City dump. Er, ah, I mean Land Fill.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Useless Bum


I just wanted to point out that at least one of our dogs was not always a useless bum. This photo was a few years ago. We had not had Perry very long, so he felt it was necessary to impress us with his bravery. Now, he knows better. He stays in bed most of the time checking his watch to see how close it is to chow time. In this shot, he was at a full stand down, "Hey! You! Big dumb pony, get out of my yard!" This cow moose just appeared out of nowhere. Again, though I was in my underware and it was the crack of dawn, I had my camera at the ready for just this kind of moment. That was a 1 megapixel Fugi Finepix! Wow, how times have changed. Perry spent the rest of that day with his nose jammed into the hoof prints of that moose, snorting and huffing (Perry, not the moose) and strutting around. It would wear him out so that he had to take a lot of naps. The second he woke up, though, he was right back at it, just in case it came back. It never did, either! Perry behaved much the same way today when I finally let him out after I was convinced the turkeys were long gone. Perry wasn't convinced that they were gone and spent a lot of time checking in the underbrush and behind the statue. No luck. He's checking his watch again.

More of Ben's Buddies


While doing the dishes this afternoon, a dark form moving across the snow caught my attention from the window over the sink. Glancing up from the suds, I thought "What on EARTH..........???" There were about a dozen of them. Camera at the ready at all times, I was prepared. I did have my 100-400 telephoto zoom mounted which actually made it a little difficult to get a shot when they appeared in the slider by the grill as they were too close. They really do have a kind of stupid look in their eyes, but when my dogs finally sobered up and realized they were there, all hell broke loose. The turkeys were smart enough to vacate quickly. The dogs barked and roared while charging the glass, the turkeys tried to fly, crapping as they went, GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE - hysterical one of them flew into the side of the house! CRASH! More crapping. Wow, do they leave a mess! Next time we go out to the grill (we grill outdoors all winter long) we'll have to be very careful where we walk. Turkeys have become plentiful around here, but in the yard, in the garden, well, that's a first.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ben Franklin's Dilemma














On Friday, I went to the dump in Maine's capital city, Augusta. The citizens of Augusta also refer to what I call "the dump," as The Land Fill. Some of them are a little touchy about this, too. It seems to be a class issue. Actual garbage is deposited there in a giant heap. To me, that makes it a dump, not some gussied up, sanitized, less objectionable facility. All day, a man drives a huge bulldozer with crushing tracks to pack the stuff down. In the winter, the garbage pile sits in the middle of a pristine snow field. There isn't any stench and it's quite colorful. I live fifty miles from there, so I don't pay taxes to the city of Augusta. So, I'm not authorized to leave anything. I went there to see birds. Birds? BIRDS???? Yes. Gossip in the birding community had it that one could see as many as a dozen Bald eagles at a time at the dump. I saw eight. It was an even split between juveniles and fully balded adults. Eagles are resourceful about food. They hunt, fish, scavenge carrion and pick the dump. I noticed that an eagle's talons are sized just right to perfectly clutch a beer can. I wonder if this is evolutionary, too. I didn't see them drink beer, just snatch the cans and go. Also at the dump were European Starlings, Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls in abundance. There may well have been other species of gulls, but I'm not good a gull identification. Every once in a while, the bulldozer operator would let off a fire cracker to send the birds flying away from any vehicles dropping off trash. When the birds take flight, they also 'drop off.' There were 10 wild turkeys, too. The turkeys were feeding on garbage. I will never feel the same about 'free range' fowl ever again. Give me a good poultry factory produced bird that's been shot full of hormones and antibiotics. I'll know just what I'm dealing with; not some wanderer that's been filling up on rotten cheese and Pampers. Ben Franklin proposed that the Wild Turkey be our national mascot. Not the Bald Eagle. The turkey, though prevalent and an important food source for the pilgrims, just wasn't elegant nor fierce enough for our founding fathers' tastes. I can tell you that had the founding fathers seen them side by side dining at the dump, it would have been a harder choice to make, a dilemma for Ben Franklin, as it were. And no matter if the place is called the dump or The Transfer Station, it's one of the great equalizers, a factor that Ben and the founding fathers would have appreciated.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Things We Do For The Birds

These are some of the bird houses we have around our property. People give them to us, we bring them home from the dump and we get them at yard sales. Of the sixty or so 'units' available, not one bird has ever nested in one of them. Not ever. They do nest in the Baltic Ivy that covers one side of the house. They really fancy nesting right over the kitchen door so that when we come in and out they can dive bomb us, squawking and screeching for us to get away. Nice. Real nice.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Birds and Butterflies from Paraguay to Phippsburg





 Thirty years ago, I was in the Peace Corps. I spent three years in Paraguay. I was young and stupid then (now I'm moderately old and still stupid it seems), and I didn't know much about birds. Oh, I knew more about birds than most of the people I knew, but not what I know now. Today, I consider myself an actual Birder in the Audubon capital "B" sense of the word. I am a novice, but I'm dedicated. I spend way too much time and money in order to see birds, lure birds, count birds, photograph birds, anything to do with birds. I see lots of amazing, beautiful, and once in a while rare birds. Sometimes I get decent photographs of them, too. But mostly, I have a great time and it gives me repeated excuses for not doing the laundry or dishes or other mundane activities. I'm not employed so other than eating, sleeping and speaking to my husband once in a while, I can bird all I want to. Some would say I'm obsessed. Perhaps. I like to think that all this is keeping my mind sharp. I'm old enough that some of my pals are taking up crossword puzzles to stave off memory loss. That seems so dull compared to frantically thumbing through a Sibley's Guide to Birds trying to decide what some unfamiliar bird actually is before the memory of its identifying details fade away. Which brings me to another of my compulsions (I have numerous of them some of which conveniently overlap), photography. I'll discuss this particular neurosis later, but for now let's say photography helps me be a better birder because I can capture a bird in a photograph for later identification, and I actually see things about the birds in photographs that my withered naked eyes do not. I tell myself that this also keeps my mind sharp and that hefting my obscenely large telephoto zoom lens is stalling osteoporosis (osteopenia my physician says).
But, back to Paraguay. People often ask me if I want to go back there. No. The emphatic answer is no. I don't miss a thing about it. I was not happy. In fact, I was terribly depressed. I can't blame Paraguay or the Peace Corp for that; I was depressed before I got there. Paraguay and the Peace Corp just made my pre-existing condition worse. I never felt as if I was very productive while I was there and I wish I had more appreciation of everything I had seen. In short, I wish I had been a better birder, or even a birder at all! Oh, there were fun times, amazing times, and things I'll always remember (some of which I'll probably never share with anybody). I had a horse to get around places. Every day I rode the horse five miles from the grungy little village I lived in to the colony where I worked. I often saw Macaws in the trees and great flocks of parakeets and parrots. The waves of blue, green and splashes of red remain vivid in my mind. I can hear them squawking and chattering in the trees. I just wish I had more detailed knowledge, like specifically what species of Macaws , what species of parakeets and so on.

To get to the colony, the horse and I had to ford a small river. There was a strip of sand on the edge of the river where masses of butterflies collected to sip salt from the sand (so I was told). Most of the butterflies were soft, sulfur-yellow and there were hundreds and hundreds of them. For some reason they sat on the sand all headed in the same direction. They opened and closed their wings slowly and all at once like a practiced dance routine. I always stopped at the edge of the sand to watch them and to summon the starch to walk through them with the horse. Dozens of them were inevitably crushed under the horse's hooves no matter how slowly I tried to make the horse walk. The butterflies would whorl up into the air in a great cloud, scattering, then landing back on the sand, rising again, landing on the ears of the horse, on my hair, on my arms, on the saddle. Sometimes they would light on my face and lips and eyelids. It was a uniquely tactile event. I got goose bumps at their touch. There were so many of them that I almost felt like I might suck one into my lungs when I breathed. I hated to have to walk into them, disturb them, crush them. But, I also loved that feeling of being enveloped in the cloud of delicate yellow life. For me, nothing has come close to that same experience. Until recently.
For the past two weeks, the last weeks of January, the birds here have been abundant at my bird feeders. I've hardly been able to keep up with keeping them filled with seed. There is a flock of 10 White-winged Crossbills (which I had never seen before this winter), 40-50 Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, Rose-breasted Nuthatches, American Robins, assorted Sparrows, Dark Eyed Juncos, and more. When I go out to fill the feeders the Crossbills stay put. They keep eating until I am close enough to actually put my hand on the feeder. The Siskins whorl up into the air, settle on the feeder lid, on tree branches all around me, on the top rail of the deck, everywhere! They are tiny birds, stripey with patches of yellow on their wings and tails. They are very crabby and aggressive with other birds, some three times their size. When they take flight from the feeders on my approach though, I think fondly of Paraguay.