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Lil’ Hussies when they truly were little.

Remember that I adopted chicks this spring? Well they are growing! It took me a while to find a way to protect them, and I lost another since I last mentioned my chickens. But these days they are thriving.

My original group of hens were dubbed The Hussies, and when my friend started calling my new babies the Lil’ Hussies, I loved it. I started with 4 Hussies, and I only have one left. The matron is Jamie. I saved her life a couple months ago when I heard her squawking and I sprinted out of the house and down to the chicken pen to find a raccoon chasing her in circles around the pen. The raccoon was not bothered by my presence, and soon had its teeth around Jamie’s neck and had her pinned to the ground. I was barefoot and unprepared, but I ran over and somehow got the raccoon to let go of her. I put the stunned Jamie carefully inside the chicken house and then turned to the arrogant raccoon, who was not leaving while there was still a chicken that wanted killing.

I was furious and tried to get it to leave by yelling and flailing and stomping my feet at it. It did not flinch. I picked up sticks and rocks and threw them at it, but it watched them approach and then swatted them to the side. I waited, but the raccoon didn’t budge. After a stalemate for awhile, I opened the chicken house door again to peep inside at Jamie, whom I had not yet inspected. She seemed ok.

In that 20 seconds while I wasn’t looking, the raccoon had somehow dashed outside the pen. I had wanted to watch it exit, to figure out how it was getting in. The only thing I could think of is that it is climbing the walls.

At the time of that incident, the Lil’ Hussies were getting big and I had been trying to decide when to bring them into the big pen with the adults – now adult. I realized that until I made the place safer, they could not live here.

First of all I needed to block the gap beneath the front door. I knew raccoons had come through there in the past because they dragged the rocks I placed, out of their way. I had to place a rock too heavy to drag. Concrete is a heavy rock! I bought a couple bags, built a form, then mixed the concrete and filled up the threshold beneath the door. There is no way a raccoon will either fit through or be able to move the concrete. I used the leftover concrete to reinforce the bottom of the walls of the pen in places where the chickens dig holes to take dirt baths.

New concrete threshold. My land is sloped here, so the slanted door and threshold follow the contour of the land.

Next I solicited advice from friends and family, and read articles online and watched YouTube videos, trying to figure out the most reasonable way to protect my girls from the raccoons who would still get inside by climbing the walls. The option I went with was a suggestion from a fellow blogger. The entry point for my girls for 4 years has been a chicken-sized opening into their home. No door. They come and go as they please. I think it was Maureen who suggested putting a door on the chicken house and locking up the girls every night. It was the cheapest and most reliable option.

“Cheeks” I called her for awhile

What’s all the activity about?

New door, held open by a bungee.

Close up of latch.

In the shop I found an old cabinet door from before I remodeled the kitchen. It had been smeared with blue paint at some point, but the chickens wouldn’t care.

Next I needed to get the right hardware. The Internet assured me that raccoons will be able to figure out any latch and the only guarantee would be a padlock. Well…that’s a bit much for now, but I did find a two-step latch with a ring in case I ever do want to use a padlock. I also bought hinges and screws and charged my wireless drill.

I had to remove the ramp and replace it farther down the wall, to allow the door to close. Then because the door was an inch thick and rested on the outside of the wall, I had to attach another piece of wood so that the latch could be mounted level. I needed to figure out a way to keep the door open during the day. I collected all my tools and began figuring it out.

Jamie, the only hen residing in the pen at that time, hovered around me. Like all chickens, she’s nervous of anything new, but also desperately curious.

What, exactly, are you doing to my home?

When it was done I put all the tools away. Now. How to get six excitable middle-school aged hens from the other side of my lawn into this pen? The easiest method would be to wait for nighttime, and that’s what I did. In their separate pen, my babies were still huddling into a cardboard box filled with straw each night. I waited till it was dark and they become paralyzed. I threw a blanket over the top of the box, and carried the whole box into the chicken house. I set the box into a dark corner, uncovered it, and quietly backed out and locked the whole place up for the night.

The next morning I was eager to find out what the Lil’ Hussies thought of their new home. I opened up the door and waited for them to come out and explore. I kept waiting. Then I peeked inside.

The girls had no interest in leaving their home at first.

The chicken house is a big place for the little girls to explore.

Finally they stood in the doorway and looked around.

Jamie is happy to share her home with other chickens again.

I gave up waiting after half an hour or so. I went back to the house and made some coffee and began my day. A couple hours later I went back down the hill and coaxed and coaxed, and finally got them to come out into the world. They were scared of everything, and kept climbing back up the ramp and going back into the house.

Two months later, the teenage Hussies are comfortable and have explored every inch of the new pen. One thing I find very amusing is that they love to climb the tree. Have you ever heard of tree-climbing hens?

Lil’ Hussies are tree-climbers!

Interested in the cedar tree.

Ok, I’ll show you the trick! The tree is sloped.

I think it’s so funny that my hens climb the tree.

The chickens include Easter Eggers (the ones with the cheeks, that were sold as Ameraucanas), Buff Brahmas, and Jamie, who is a sexlink (mixed breed).

The door has worked wonderfully, but the lives of my babies depends entirely upon me. One night, about a week later, I forgot to lock the door. In the morning, one of the babies was dead. Killed by a raccoon. Now there are only five Lil’ Hussies plus Jamie.

The next major challenge is what to do with them when I leave. You know me, I travel! So far, when I’ve only been gone a day or two, I leave them trapped in the house the whole time. I’d rather have alive chickens who feel imprisoned, than dead free-range chickens. Eventually, though, I will be gone a long time. I do not know what to do. I have two neighbors. The next door neighbors I do not want on my property for any reason. The folks on the other side of them are good people, but older and not in the best of health. They have offered to free my chickens during the daytime for an upcoming trip of four days length. But if I’m gone for two weeks in the future, I feel like that’s a lot to ask of people who have much more important things to worry about. I need a mechanical door on a timer!

I like to sit in the pen with my girls and watch them do their chicken thing.

 

I always assume the best when I find broken robin’s eggs like this. I imagine a fat baby bird in a nest somewhere, getting stronger each day.

I came across multiple nests this spring. I have learned a few things while watching them. Most excitingly, I can now identify the species of parents of those gorgeous blue eggs with brown spots. All three nests I found belonged to Dark-eyed Juncos. I see the Juncos all the time at my bird feeder. I also learned that Juncos have a habit of building their nests on the ground, and that it is just as bad of an idea as it seems to be.

I told you about the first one: I was cutting very tall grass with the trimmer and accidentally exposed a nest that had been built into a blackberry bush inside the grass. I realized immediately that I had exposed it, and picked up the tall grass and stacked it all around with only a tiny entrance hole. But it didn’t work. Three days later the branch was bent over and the egg was gone. It looked like the work of a raccoon.

The egg I accidentally exposed while working one evening.

Same nest, the next morning. I couldn’t tell if the parent had come back or not at this point.

Next I was pulling weeds by hand beside the house and vaguely aware of an angry bird flitting from the rooftop to the ground, to the garbage can, and back to the roof, all the while chirping angrily at me. The bird was on all sides of me, harrassing. I was getting closer and closer to a great big burst of weeds and tall grass beside my house when the bird finally got through to me, and it dawned on me that I was being scolded for my behavior. I stopped just in time, and peeked carefully into the weeds I had not yet pulled. There was a beautiful nest.

Perfect nest with gorgeous eggs, right next to the foundation of my home.

It was my opinion that building a nest on the ground in this forested area was simply not a good idea. But of course, Mother Nature is most times wiser than me. I gave the spot a wide berth from then on. For the next several days I tried to stay away, but sometimes had to be in the area and that’s when I would see the Dark-eyed Junco fly off the nest and resume scolding me. The Juncos are very common here.

The ground below my bird feeder. Two Juncos are there, with the black heads.

Sadly one day, not even a week later, I saw all the weeds trampled. I hurried over to check and there were no more eggs on the nest. Again, it looked like evidence of raccoon. So sad. I really had hopes for her, or him, whomever had been scolding me anytime I came near.

The worst nest location choice of all was the nest I discovered on the ground while mowing the lawn on my riding lawn mower. I happened to be looking at the ground beneath the mower as I was backing up and turning around in a wide open area. Somehow, I had driven right over the top of a nest twice – once forward, once backward – and it had survived. But now the freshly cut grass exposed it completely.

See the nest in the bottom left, out in the middle of my lawn?

I picked up the nest, trying to decide what to do with it.

There were no trees above that it had fallen from – it had been built right there on the grass. There were no trees or bushes close enough that I was sure the parents would find the nest if I moved it. It was a very bad location with no camouflage. At a loss, I laid the nest back exactly where I had found it. The very next day the egg was gone. I had known it would be.

It’s always a fight out here in the country. We are all battling each other for the same piece of land we believe is our own land.

While everyone else is battling for their lives, I have the luxury to sit here, sheltered from the rain, and think about it.

I’m most aware of my personal battles. I fight the deer that eat everything I plant, the raccoons that eat my chickens, the worms that are building webby nests in my apple trees, the moles that tear up my grass, the rats hoarding chicken pellets, termites in the wood pile. It’s not just me though. All I need to do is look around and see that the fight for a safe and comfortable life never ends. The heron eats the fish in my pond. The raccoons eat the Juncos. Opposums eat the frogs. The cougar eats the deer.

It isn’t personal; it’s just what life looks like.  It’s all about the battle to make a home and keep it. The critters aren’t targeting me, just doing what they can.

Pretty little chicklet before her head feathers grew in. I took this photo the middle of May, before I left for New England.

Even babies like to roost, as this one does in mid May. Look at her sleepy eyes.

I’m taking a break from telling what I did on vacation to update what’s happening at my place lately. It’s a cloudy wet day, so for a change I am not outside working hard. I wandered around with a camera instead, to supplement photos that I did not have already.

First of all, I want to talk about the chicklets, the Lil’ Hussies. They were tiny and cheepy when I left, with fuzzy fluff on their heads instead of feathers. I returned the end of May and almost all the fluff is gone, and everyone has big girl feathers. They eat and drink so much now! I am grateful to Tara’s dad, who housesat and kept all my animals alive while I was gone.

The growing chicks are filling up their cage, but so far still plenty of room for them. There is a box filled with straw in the top, and on cold nights they all huddle together there and stay warm.

The chick on the right is an Ameraucana. The chick on the left is a Buff Brahma. She has feathers on her feet.

The Ameracaunas can get a puff of feathers at their cheeks and neck.

The first thing I had to do when I returned was to mow the property. I should know better than to leave during May – the fastest growing time of year for grass around here. In the weeks I was gone, my land became a jungle. Then I had to mow it! And when I got the grass cut down in the flat areas, I began with the weed whacker and began hacking down the grass along the creek and around the trees, where I can’t mow.

Some deer grazed in the luxurious grass in the back of the property near the bee hives before I had a chance to mow down there.

Looking over the top of my riding lawn mower. What a job ahead of me! Oy!

Time for weed whacking. The grass was literally taller than me.

While fiercely hacking the 6-foot tall grass down to size, I unintentionally exposed a bird’s nest. By the time I realized what it was, I had cleared all the protective grass on every side. Thankfully I did not disturb the nest itself, or the blackberry shrub it is built in. Once I realized what I had done, I grabbed piles of the long cut grass, and laid them against the side of the nest, to provide shelter on all sides, with a couple small holes for the mama to get through to the nest. I hope I haven’t ruined this baby’s chance at life, but I certainly didn’t help. I hope mama comes back.

A bird’s nest in a blackberry bush.

Such a beautiful egg. I don’t know what kind of bird it is though.

I had heaps of laundry to take care of when I got back, obviously. I washed my sheets while I was at it. Racecar, who was not quite ready to let me out of her sight, wanted to be on the bed while I made it with clean sheets.

Racecar is nonplussed when I toss the sheet over her.

Likewise unperturbed when I tossed the comforter over her.

The next morning she burrowed under the covers for the delicious warmth of the down comforter. I got up and left her there.

I left the bed with Racecar still burrowed beneath the covers. I had been working at my computer for two hours when I detected movement. She emerged, and gave her paw a few licks. “Good morning!” I called to her. She immediately curled up and went back to sleep. Yeah, I’ve had a morning or two like that.

Racecar is not yet prepared to face the day.

When I left, the apple trees were blossoming, and the peach, and the plum. My little orchard is still there for me, with one casualty. I had not been able to recall what one new tree was, but it died over the winter, so now I don’t need to remember. I’ll have to pull it out and replace it with something else. I have a green apple, red apple, peach, plum, and pear. What should I have next? A cherry I think!

An apple tree in blossom before I left, and bees happily collecting pollen.

A close up of one of my wonderful honey bees.

The plum a few days ago. Look at all that fruit! (and all that tall grass in the background I still need to cut down)

While cutting the tall grass, I kept staring down the bank at my “dam.” It was created over time. Remember that winter when I lost so many trees? Well, a tree fell across the creek at this spot and is firmly lodged there. I don’t own a chainsaw or a tractor, and have spent the time since just fretting about it, and worrying that it could result in a dam and a flood. Well, it happened. Someone upstream of me must have had their woodpile flooded, because a bunch of cut wood came down the creek and stopped right there at the downed tree. Once the big holes were stopped, then all the little branches and weeds of winter creek flow got lodged into the big pieces of wood, and blocked it up. I had my dam.

As I swung the weed whacker back and forth cutting grass on the hill above the dam, I thought what I had thought twenty times already: that could be firewood if I could get it out of there. So the next day I put on shorts and water shoes and climbed into the creek.

Turns out, those water logged pieces of wood are a lot heavier than they look. I thought I would be able to lift most of it and hurl it from the water. Nope. They will have to be dragged out. And the big trees will have to be cut up. I suspect that I will not be able to put off learning to use a chainsaw forever.

First look at the dam.

After a couple hours of work, not enough difference to satisfy me. How frustrating. I did another hour of work after this and then gave up. All the rest is too heavy for me to lift.

I had to take a shower. All that wood and plant debris held in situ in stagnant water. Phew!

And finally today the rains came, so I had permission to stop working. Instead I ran around taking photos of flowers in my gardens.

Buttercups are supposedly a weed, but they are so pretty. And the deer love them!

Foxglove is one of my favourite wild flowers.

Groundcover doing well in the shade beneath a hemlock tree.

Salmonberry is past flowering stage. I haven’t seen one ripe yet because as soon as they get close, the birds eat them.

Vinca also likes the poor soil beneath the hemlock tree.

I don’t remember what this is called, but the deer don’t eat it. That makes it a favourite plant.

While deer won’t eat rhododendrons, they are happy to eat their cousins the azaleas. Thankfully, these are close to the house and escape the teeth.

These lavender flowers remind me of badminton shuttle cock. Gosh, I don’t think I’ve played that game since high school. Ah, I digress…

This rose is a surprise and a joy. I bought it last year, mostly dead, at a 75% off plant sale at Fred Meyer. It was so cheap it was worth the gamble. Look what happened.

Another plant I bought because it was on sale for being mostly dead. It came to life too, but I don’t know what it is. This is the third year it has come back. I just love those rich red trumpets.

Well, that’s most of the big news. Small news is: no, I have not even started weeding. One of my gardens is so buried I’m not even sure where the actual plants are anymore. I need a warm day, a good audio book, and some sturdy jeans so I can sit my butt down and weed for an entire day and give my pretty plants a new life. Oh, there’s some bad news too: I went to check on my oak tree down by the creek and I can’t find it. That means those bratty deer ate it again. I had the thought before my trip that I should cover it, since they ate it last year too and it had some nice strong stems and lots of big healthy leaves in May. Well, a good idea is wasted if I don’t act on it. Drat. Now I need to find the tree and hope they left enough of the stem so it can try again next year. Grrr. Deer!

Monday morning before sunup I looked out to see that a doe had slept in my yard for the night. I love the idea that they feel safe here, beneath the “Fairy Crossing” sign.

Panoramic view of my pretty yard, with the pond on the left and house on the right.

Another panorama, of just the pond.

Some days it’s just another day. And some days everything happens at once. They say when it rains it pours, but while in early May that rainy idiom is typically applicable in my town of Rainier, Oregon, Monday was unseasonably sunny and warm.

After I took photos of the deer on Monday morning, I put on some boots and clogged out to the chicken house. I saw a pile of red feathers inside the pen and gasped “No!” But it was true. I lost my favourite chicken, Tawny. Ugh. I cannot figure out what’s happening. I thought it was a raccoon, because I’ve known them to attack and kill ducks before. But I had circled the pen and blocked every entrance point big enough for a raccoon. Now I think it’s rats. Rats come into the chicken house all the time to eat their food. Periodically I have to poison them to reduce their population. Before moving here I did not know that so many rats live in the forest. I never had to deal with rats in any city I ever lived in, but out here in the woods, rats are as common as mosquitos. Do rats kill without eating their prey? Why? Why does something keep killing my hens and just leaving their bodies? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

I frequently spotted Tawny under the birdfeeder in front of my office window, as she is here last weekend.

There’s my girls on Sunday. Tawny and Jamie, the only two I had left until Monday, because something is killing them.

See that gap under the door into the chicken pen? I thought raccoons were getting in, so I blocked it with large rocks.

I am so sad to lose Tawny. She was my sassiest Hussy, a Rhode Island Red. She was bold and pecked me without reserve, but not maliciously, just to get attention, or to tell me they’re out of food. She would always come running to me when she spotted me, and hovered inches from my legs at all times, and would let me pick her up, or just pet her soft feathers. She’s the one that always broke out of her pen to go directly to my flower beds and begin tearing them up. It would have been more of a problem except that the way to catch her was merely to call “Hey pretty girl!” and she’d come running right to me and I’d scoop her up and take her back to the pen. She laid ginormous dark brown eggs.

Ohh, my girl. I am so sorry I couldn’t protect you.

I’m also worried that I won’t be able to protect my Lil’ Hussies when they grow up and move into that pen, until I can solve the mystery of what is killing them. I am so frustrated.

Just as I finished disposing of Tawny’s body, the bee people showed up. It’s time for bees again! I host them on my property every summer and fall, and get paid in honey.

Bees moved this year to a different place on my property so that they get more hours of sunlight.

Foklift moves hives from the truck to the grass.

The new bee colony at the very back of my property.

Ooooh! Look at them all buzzing around and getting their new home in order. Click the image for a larger version and you can see them.

I went back into the house to my office to do some computer work planning for my upcoming trip to New England, and spotted two more visitors. Hello? Were you two invited?

Squirrel discovered the bird seed. I am used to a tiny grey squirrel and a tiny black squirrel I call the Squirrel Ninja. This one is big and has probably been eating the bird seed at someone else’s house too.

And then right before my eyes, the neighbor cat came hurtling into the garden and up the tree, after the hummingbirds. You could film an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom at my house. (Ooops, did I just expose my age again?)

Then it was time to clean all the rat caches out of the chicken house, and block all their nasty holes and entrances. The caches are cubby holes they pack full of stuff they want to keep. This time it was pineapple tops I had thrown in there, straw, chicken food, and naturally, rat poop. Then I fed them poison because I needed to do something for my broken heart.

For good measure, I then grabbed my poisoned worms that had recently arrived in the mail, and baited 20 mole holes, those little bastards.

Moles were tearing up my yard all winter.

And that reminded me to poison fleas. So I grabbed Racecar and dosed her in flea killing oil. Once a month I dab it on the back of her neck to keep the fleas away. She hunts chipmunks and birds and mice so she collects new fleas from her prey. In answer to your question: No, no she does not hunt forest rats.

It makes me shudder to think of all those toxic chemicals I just put into the world on Monday, but I was mad. And also….I haven’t found anything effective that eliminates these pests without toxic chemicals.

Raccoon paw prints on the cat carrier.

Done with my office work I went back outside and spotted another pest. The cat carrier no longer hosts chickens, but was still sitting on the porch because I hadn’t put it away. A raccoon’s paw prints show that a raccoon was on my porch last night, investigating. Grrrrr! Luckily I can’t prove the raccoon is getting my hens, or I’d find a way to poison it too.

I was mad again and a good way to deal with that is to go to work, so I hauled out the weed whacker and filled the tank and checked the string and harnessed myself up and off I went. I went at it for four hours. It definitely helped. By then I was exhausted and my back was killing me.

I took down the tall grass all the way around the pond, and around all the trees on the far side of the pond.

Me getting dirty. I think it’s so hilarious how splattered I get with what I call “weed guts.” Green glop gets sprayed from top to bottom, coating my glasses, sticking in my hair and onto my face. I guess a person can’t expect to be glamorous when she’s working on the farm.

I went to check on the Lil’ Hussies to make sure at least someone in my realm was ok. They were ok.

Babies had a great day and they are doing fine over there beside the horseshoe pit and the apple tree in bloom. But what is that in the distance by the pond?

Great Blue Heron is hunting the frogs in my pond. I’m cool with that. You do you, beautiful bird.

This is one of the rare times I’ve ever had a chance to photograph this bird properly.

Enough for one day!! It was time for dinner and some pomegranate cider. I have to make my salads look amazing to trick myself into eating them, ha ha.

Wish with me that Jamie stays safe now and that the Lil’ Hussies grow up safe and strong and do not ever have to battle rats.

Photo a few days later from the same place I was standing when I took the above video.

Like I mentioned in my last post, my delight with the unusual snowfall was wiped out quickly by tons of rain that flooded my property.

I ran around this morning taking photos of the same spots that were flooded on the 12th. Scroll through and compare. Wow! That was a lot of water!

Now that the water has receded somewhat, you can see what my property is supposed to look like. You can also see logs and other debris (and some trash) that the flood waters dragged up onto the grass. I have some cleanup work ahead of me, but I still need to wait for the land to dry out because it’s still pretty soggy out there.

Also…anyone notice all the mole holes? Grrr…. those annoying little beasts. I hope some of them died in the floods.

The high water closer to the house was more amazing to me, simply because I spend more time in those spots. Anyone who has seen photos of my place before may recognize this scene with the fence posts on the left. You can also see my boot tracks from earlier in the day when I walked through before the water got higher!


The water never got high enough to threaten my house, but it threatened critter houses. I noticed some raccoon tracks in the snow. The tracks went all along the creek on my side, and I could tell someone was trying to get across to their home on the other side. I went out multiple times in the day, and saw new raccoon tracks each time, as the critter tried and tried to find a way across. I never did see the raccoon itself.

Also, I worried about the Hussies in their pen. From my deck it seemed like the water was very close, but when I went down to their pen to check on them, I saw that their chicken house stayed about 5 feet above the water line. In flood levels, five feet is a lot, and I was pretty sure they would be safe. But I didn’t know what would happen in the night. When I got up the next morning, the first thing I checked on was my chickens. Those lucky Hussies did not have to learn to swim overnight. Whew!

Raccoon tracks in the snow.

Someone wants to cross the creek.

View of high water behind the chicken pen, from my house.

 

 

My pond in the winter, and a sign alerting visitors to faerie activity.

I grew up in Idaho. Winters could be brutal, with weeks of temperatures below zero, and heaps of snow that never melted. Then I left home and spent winters in Illinois, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

So. Many. Brutal. Winters.

Now I live in Rainier, Oregon! Winters are grey and wet. People ask me, “Doesn’t all that rain bother you?” My answer: “I don’t have to shovel rain!” Sometimes winters get cold enough here where the snow will stick on the ground, but usually you can still see the grass growing up through the snow because the layer is too thin. In 2016/17 we got a good snow. Last winter, I recall one day in which flakes fell from the sky, but the ground stayed too warm for snow to collect and make a layer of white. That was our snowiest day of the year.

I miss the snow in years like that. Not that I want another Idaho winter, but there are things about snow to love. This year, winter lasted for a week!

Looking up the hill at the house.

My little creek in the snow. You can see it off to the right.

I think it’s so beautiful when snow is heaped on trees.

For a few days the snow fell, and then melted a little in daytime warmth, then snowed again at night. For my area, this was a massive major snowfall and I was having a blast. I built a snowman and made a snow angel and giggled at the Hussies in the snow.

snow angel

Fern for hair

I followed the Hussies around, giggling at them trying to make sense of the snow. They pecked at it…scratched in it…and then in a group decided to go back into their purple chicken house where there is no snow.

Hussies in the snow.

Some of the deepest snow was in the early morning or at night, when the temperatures stayed cold enough for it not to melt.

Early morning snow on the deck.

Nighttime snow on the deck. Who made those tracks?

When you have to shovel snow for only one snowstorm all winter, it’s fun!

I think this photo captures the snow at the deepest point. It had been snowing and then melting a little, off and on for a few days.

All good snow storms come to an end, especially if you live where I do. Soon it got warm. And then more upper level moisture moved in. From what I hear, it dumped another foot of snow on Seattle, but it was warmer here, and dumped rain. And rain. And rain.

My snow buddy valiantly stood in the rain for as long as he could, but like so many of us, succumed to the winter blahs.

{Stay tuned. Guess what happens when tons of rain falls onto a thick blanket of snow? Yup. Flooding.}

Frogs are ubiquitous around here, but rarely hold still enough for me to get a good photo.

I continue to spot new critters at my place. July 4th this year was my second anniversary at this home, and even after two years I am pretty sure I haven’t seen them all. Last year my favourite animal sightings included vultures outside my office window, a coyote circling the chicken pen, and a small herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Here are some of my photo captures from year two.

I spotted this handsome boy sitting in my driveway one morning.

Who me? Yes you. I watched him several mornings in a row, hopping around, tasting things from my garden.

It occurred to me that this rabbit probably looked like a tasty morsel to someone in the forest, and I began making plans to trap it and keep it. I was too late and never saw him again.

In early summer I spotted a flash of colour in my new peach tree.

It is difficult to focus on an object on the far side of a bunch of branches. But I got a photo clear enough to identify him as a Western Tanager. I’ve seen one before, but not this close.

If my quick internet search is right, this is a male praying mantis, making his way up the side of my house.

This photo was taken through rippling water with my phone camera, but I hope you can still make out the crawdad. Yes! There are crawdads in my creek!

The hooded mergansers have returned to my pond. They must be winter visitors, since I haven’t seen them all summer.

I love their goofy-shaped heads and red eyes. These ducks are a delight to me.

This chestnut-backed chickadee had no choice but to hold still for a photo, after flying headfirst into my window. I carried the little dude to a sheltered spot under a fern so he could wait for the stars to clear from his head and fly off.

I’ve been watching these tiny bark-loving birds for a long time but didn’t get a photo till now.

In this photo I was finally able to capture enough detail to identify a Brown Creeper as it whips around and around the tree, gouging the bark and looking for tasty things.

While mowing the lawn I spotted a turtle on the tiny island in my pond. I snapped a quick, blurry shot with my phone.

A couple days later I spotted it again, and brought my real camera. But the turtle was wise to me and hopped right into the water. And you thought YOU didn’t like photos taken of you…look at this grumpy face!

This hummer is coppery rust-coloured, just like the feeder.

Hummingbirds have discovered my feeder. It’s clear they migrated in, because one day there were none, and the next day there were dozens.

I am fascinated when these speedy little rockets perch and hold still.

I watch them from my home office window and marvel at their antics. Part of the appeal is that they are so remarkably tiny, as if being small should make it harder to perform their tricks. I watch them zoom in so quickly it’s a wonder they don’t bonk into something. In fact, I hung up a stained glass dragon (yes, I have dragons of all kinds in my house) right in the middle of the big window, to help them see the glass barrier. I’ve seen one hummer bump the glass so far, but no stunned birds yet this season.

They barrel around the big trunk of the tree that holds their feeder, always avoiding collision with each other, though sometimes only by millimeters. They perch on small branches nearby and guard the feeder, chasing off any other hummingbirds that try to sip. But sometimes I’ve seen three at a time, resting on the wire ring and taking leisurely sips every so often. One of their favourite places to sit is upon the Japanese maple that you see above. They sit there for a minute at a time, looking around, occasionally buzzing their wings.

This one’s a bit chubby. Is she a new momma? Or has he had too much at the feeder?

They certainly find the Japanese Maple a satisfactory perch.

Then zoom! Off they go! First up, then around, then hovering in place without a waver or drift. Two blast through, chasing each other, while two aim for the same spot on the feeder and explode in a burst of angry cheeps when they arrive at the same place at the same time. I have to tell you, angry hummingbird cheeps are the cutest thing ever.  They spiral all around my office garden (the garden I tend specifically so that I have something beautiful to look at while I work), hovering near the seed feeder, to see if cracked corn and sunflower seeds are of any interest, then they methodically check each of the other colorful plants, just in case.

I like this hummingbird feeder because it is metal and glass instead of plastic. It’s supposed to have an ocean theme, and instead of flowers, the birds suck from holes in seashells and starfish.

My rusted hummingbird feeder seems to get prettier every year. It’s topped with a beach umbrella that was a bit obnoxiously red and white when it was new, but is faded to perfection now. And the rusted metal doesn’t touch any of the sugar-water inside, so I don’t mind it a bit. And the birds don’t seem to mind.

Can you believe they’re birds? So very very tiny.

Evening sunshine makes the green feathers gorgeous.

Don’t bother me, I’m eating.

A chipmunk feeding on the seeds I leave about for them.

Life springs forth in Spring. It’s irresistible.

I have chosen my home office location well, and have the welcome distractions of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks outside my window. This time of year I am also finding delight in Springtime blossoms.

Daffodil or narcissus?

Pacific Bleeding Heart.

I love the deep purple of the vinca.

Tulips live a short life but give such pleasure during that time. I don’t think there is such a thing as too many tulips.

Friday (yesterday) I worked a typical 10-hour workday (I work a compressed schedule), and the weather was spectacular! It reached 69 degrees here, and for much of the day there was not a cloud in the sky. I work at home most days, including yesterday, and racked my brain all day long for reasons to leave my desk and go outside. I really wanted to develop some kind of mild sickness that prevented me from working, but I couldn’t dredge up a sufficient illness. Sadly, I was well enough to stick it out all day long at my desk with my computer screens.

But I did grab my camera and run around during breaks and capture some of the blossoms in sunlight.

Oregon grape bursting with yellow flowers.

Narcissus along the driveway.

A closer shot of the narcissus.

Research shows me that all of the blossoms I call both narcissus and daffodil are under the category of narcissus. I grew up calling the flowers with a large trumpet daffodil. Those bloomed and passed already. The daffodils on my property are all a deep, sunshine yellow. Now I have new blossoms of white petals with yellow or orange trumpets that are very short. I call these narcissus.

I mentioned recently to fellow blogger Derrick J Knight that the deer ate my camellias over the winter. I included a photo below. Luckily they only ate the leaves off, and left the plant to try and recover. I see small buds of regeneration already, and I have learned the important lesson that some plants need to be covered in the winter. At my place, this includes camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, honeysuckle, and hellebore. I believe all of them are still alive, but rather decimated. I will be a better steward from now on.

Volunteer grape hyacinths add colour along the path.

Pitiful camellia after the deer ate it this winter.

Peony looks very healthy.

This morning, chilly and wet, the scenes from the same window were still captivating, as I caught hummingbirds and a chipmunk going about their days, much less concerned about the rain than this fair-weather human.

In my last post I commented concern that sugar water would not be enough to provide a balanced diet for hummingbirds. So I looked it up and discovered that sugar water is a supplement to a hummingbird’s diet that includes small insects and spiders. Multiple organizations that profess to have a hummingbird’s best interests in mind assure me that the sugar water is a good thing for them. Just no food coloring.

Sugar-loving hummingbird, returned from her winter playground.

The chipmunk seems unconcerned that I loom at the window with an enormous lens pointed at her.

I did glance out the back window and spot another heron. I have poor eyesight, so I spotted only a great grey blur out in the grass. It is rather exciting to train the camera out there, focus, and see this enormous, elegant bird, on his way to eat some of my fish or frogs from the pond. They move quickly, and I am slow with the manual focus, so… I apologize that the image is blurry.

You may recall that I can never get a great shot of the Great Blue Herons who fish in my pond. This photo proves nothing has changed.

One of the pieces of my character is that a sense of beauty always gets through the static and fog of whatever else is going on. If I am consumed by a particular veteran’s case at work, if I am worried about my Tara making their way through the world  away from home at college, if I can’t make a reassuring plan for how to pay all the bills, if I remember that I am lonely, or that I miss my mother, or that refugees are suffering, or women still do not have their rights protected… no matter how powerful the dark thoughts, beauty pierces the cloud and makes me smile. How grateful I am to be human and to be able to comprehend beauty.

Looking toward Portland along the Columbia River on a typical April day.

Ok, to be honest, it’s mostly still raining. But that’s what the weather does around here: it rains. The trick is to look at the other details.

The sun actually does peek out every so often, and it’s a warm, invigorating sun this time of year. A sun that means business.

One trick to avoid letting the rain get you down: take photos when the sun comes out, however briefly.

The temperatures average in the 50s now, instead of the 30s or 40s. Warmer temperatures bring calm to me. (Maybe it’s simply because I’ve stopped shivering!)

Things are sprouting. Buds are opening. Daffodils are blooming. I thought for sure I’d have a photo of some of the exciting new growth, but alas. I dug through all my recent photos and I see nothing. But the growth is there and it fills me with smiles.

Hummingbirds are back! They are sucking through the sugar water like they’re starving to death! It got me to thinking the other day: how can that be good for them? I’ve always made hummingbird juice by boiling sugar water into a light syrup. But…is that truly what they survive on? There’s no vitamin value in it. I think I will do some research. The hummingbirds have so far been too hard for me to catch with my camera, so have some ducks instead.

Ducks in the pond. This was only a few weeks ago, but already it is much much greener on the banks.

Reflections

I’ve been lucky enough to catch a couple of videos of the critters around here. I hope it isn’t boring to you that I always post new photos of the animals I see. I find unending joy in them. These big beautiful animals so wild and different…and so close to me!

I had been seeing elk sign out there, but finally got to see the magnificent beasts themselves one morning.

Tara came home over Spring Break. It’s always fun and calming to have my kiddo home again. That side of the house gets opened up, and the heaters come on and there is music blasting and the shower running, and ahhh…. all is right in the world.

My college sophomore. Tara has dyed their hair dark green this time (can you tell?). I can never predict what will happen next with that hair!

They kicked my butt at Scrabble, due in part to their word skills, but maybe possibly also due to these rotten tiles? And yes, I posted this photo on facebook and got a dozen great suggestions for what to do with my hand. But it is TOO LATE you people!

I took my friend Vlad into the Gorge and we played in waterfalls in the rain. And why not? Since viewing waterfalls, one tends to get wet anyway. A rainy day is a perfect day to go the Gorge.

Bridal Veil Falls is just one of many astounding waterfalls along the Old Columbia Gorge Highway.

I liked this crooked old mossy tree branch as much as the arched bridge behind it.

The dramatic cliffs around here are, of course, the reason for the amazing waterfalls.

One of my favouritest, most beautiful, inspiring friends was diagnosed with cancer in January. She is another mom with a huge heart and an open mind and an honest gaze upon the world, that I put effort into keeping in my life because she’s the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. Susie has been through chemo and radiation and is right now waiting to see what the next step is. She lives in Boston and I am so very far away when I want to be there to drive the kids to practice, and pick up some groceries, and mop the floor for her. I can’t do any of that. But I can send her messages of love and messages that don’t say anything about cancer, so maybe for 2 minutes, there will be no cancer on her mind. But I can be a forgetful, scatterbrained friend, no matter how much I love her. So I got the idea to dye my hair pink to remind me to send a note to Suz. It’s temporary dye, so I have to re-dye once a week, and I’ve been doing it since January. And I am proud to report that I have, indeed, remembered to send cards and notes.

Pink! And green! Look at that springtime hue behind me: woo hoo!

One of my many fires on the back of the property.

I’ve been cleaning up the land. Branches down everywhere, accumulated during the winter snows and rains and wind. I’ve been hauling them into piles and setting them alight. It’s a tricky thing to slog through the mud to a pile of wet wood in the rain and set it all ablaze, and I have gradually begun to perfect the art. And…very little chance of wildfire… so there’s that! 🙂

I hope you are enjoying the change in the season, finding your sources of joy, and making a way to connect to the people you love.

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