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Not the Portland I’m used to.

I just returned from a two-week trip to New England. Since I had never been to Maine before, Will and I started there and moved slowly south during my visit. I thought it would be fun to go to the other Portland. After spending some time in New Hampshire at America’s Stonehenge, that I talked about in my last post, we went on up north. Portland, Oregon is named after Portland, Maine by the way.

Will had found something online about fairy houses in some park in Falmouth, near Portland. We began searching for it, but all we had was the name of the island on which they were supposedly located. Google maps drew us a route directly to the center of the tiny island, accessible by a bridge, and we obediantly followed. On the island we passed through some open gates and looked around at a parking area, with buildings in the distance, but no signs helping us find fairies. Will pulled to a stop to look at the map again, and I noticed a man outside that had been staring at our vehicle and walking toward us. He came from the direction of a building with a sign on it that said SECURITY.

“Will, I think this guy wants to talk to us,” I said, as I noticed that we were in a parking lot for Baxter School for the Deaf. “Maybe he can give us directions.” As the man approached, Will rolled down the window of the car.

“Can I help you?” the man asked, in a state-your-business kind of way.

Will says in the most sincere and earnest sort of way, “We’re looking for the fairies.”

The man was perfectly still with a face devoid of any expression. He blinked. After a pause he said, “You can’t be here on campus.”

Telling the story later, Will said it was as though the security guard heard the words, decided to ignore them, and chose to state what he had intended to state in the first place. In retrospect, it is hilarious! “We’re looking for the fairies!” We must have seemed like crazy people. Ha ha!

View of Casco Bay from Mackworth Island.

We turned around and noticed what we missed at first: a parking lot to be entered immediately after crossing the bridge. There is a state public area that encompasses the beach and shore of the island, but not the center. From the lot we could access a lovely 1.25 mile trail that runs in a ring around the circular island. For a chilly evening, there were a surprising number of people there to use the trail for fitness, walking the dogs, or just to enjoy the views of Casco Bay.

With or without fairy houses, it was a nice evening to take a walk, so off we went. There are multiple places to access the beach, and we did. I was mesmerized by the rock formations we found. Will and I wished for Tara (studying geology) to help us understand what we were looking at. We chatted and enjoyed the wildlife, and waved cheerily at people who passed us multiple times going the other direction and clearly moving at a pace faster than ours.

This 1 1/4 mile trail wraps in a ring around the small island, with non-stop beach views.

We liked this old tree.

We clambered around on the beach, with its fabulous rocks.

Will in the distance. Wonderful rock formations in the foreground.

Suddenly we spotted one: a small tipi stack of sticks against the base of a tree.

Once we knew what to look for, we saw more. And more. Farther along the trail the little forest debris creations were everywhere! Some very simple, some elaborate. They were right beside the trail, but as we plunged deeper into the forest off the trail, we found more.

Fairy homes built against the bases of the trees.

Since we had visited America’s Stonehenge earlier in the day, I named this Stickhenge.

This one was so big that I fit into it! I’ve never been in a fairy house before.

Eventually we spotted a sign that explained what we were looking at, and the rules for participating. I experienced a bit of glee that something official as a State of Maine, Bureau of Parks sign acknowledged the faeries who visit the forest. I’m not religious, and find it hard to have faith in anything that can’t be scientifically explained, but I do believe in faeries. And while most of my life is practical and analytic, there is this one thing about me that doesn’t fit at all, and I’m usually too shy to mention it. But on Mackworth Island, clearly there are others who believe with me.

Officially sanctioned fairy homes.

Some fairy homes were made of simple construction.

As we hunted through the forest, we found more and more elaborate houses, often adorned with shells collected from the beach.

This one looks two stories high, with a stone patio.

While the sign cautions not to use living materials, it is likely these were collected from the ground and not picked.

This one rolls out the green carpet, between columns of pine cones.

This home has exceptional landscaping and an artistic flourish of oak leaves on top.

We had fun for nearly an hour as we explored the fairy homes. Possibly there were hundreds of them; it’s truly a sight to see. That humorless security guard should take a walk over here on his lunch break.

Leah Stetson, whose LinkedIn page says she did a senior college thesis project on island fairy houses, said in 2011 in a comment on another blog: “In Maine, there are over 60 islands with active “fairy house” villages tended by children and adults alike. Monhegan is most famously known for its Cathedral Forest (and the 50-year controversy on whether to ban fairy houses–still ongoing among island officials) but islands like Squirrel Island (Boothbay Harbor) and Bear Island (Buckminster Fuller’s island, where he built the famous geodome) in the Penobscot Bay, as well as several of the less-inhabited Cranberry Isles (e.g. Baker) have fairy houses.” Stetson may have been the author of an article in a no-longer-available post from The Compleat Wetlander, which stated fairy houses are “a 100+ year tradition in Maine, especially along the coast and on the islands, when many island communities had working farms. Traveling schoolteachers brought folk tales involving fairies that inspired islanders—children and adults alike—to build gnome homes to attract fairies in order to watch over the livestock and children during Maine winters. A fairy house traditionally included a tiny altar with a small offering, such as a coin, to pay the fairies to help the farmers…”

{This one’s for Brian, who asked for it.}

A month ago I lost Phil, one of my Hussies. I went into the chicken house and there she was on the floor, with only a few gouges from either whatever predator killed her, or from the other chickens. I couldn’t tell what had happened. Obviously not something hungry, because no part of her appeared to be eaten. I disposed of her body. I am sad and the death remains a mystery.

Down to two hens, it was time to get new ones. Last year I wanted new hens and waited in the season till hens would be grown up, and went to the feed store to be told, “Good heavens, there are never adult hens left! They are all claimed as chicks!” So this year I knew I needed to be one of the chick-claimers, and to figure out how to make it happen.

I went to the feed store to ask questions and think it through, but accidentally purchased four Ameraucanas. Ooops.

They lay greenish/blueish eggs. I think it will be fun to mix up my light brown and dark brown eggs with the others. I put them in a cat carrier the first two days, because I had no other ideas. Finally I transferred them to a cardboard box. When the weather got nicer, I made a tiny temporary pen outside and let them play in the sun and eat grass during the afternoons, and then caught them all and put them back into the box when it got chilly in the evenings. Most of the time, and on rainy days, they lived on the hearth next to the woodstove so they could keep warm.

Brand new babies thier first night.

Tara came to visit me and the chicks.

I suspect that my cat, Racecar, is both insulted that the chicks are soiling her cat carrier, and wishing she could bite them.

Tara sitting with the babies (and Racecar) outside in the sun. You can see the window screen I used for a top, when there was no one to supervise.

They liked to stand inside their food and water dishes while they used them. Yes, the dishes got filled with grossness very quickly. I cleaned them about three times a day.

Here’s more of a birds eye view of their tiny pen.

Will named them the Lil’ Hussies, which I think is adorable.

Cuties in their tiny temporary pen.

More baby photos.

And more.

And more. Honestly, I tried to pick one and ditch the rest, but they are all SO CUTE.

I’m leaving on vacation soon, and I wanted to get some kind of better setup for the chicks, for when the housesitter (Tara’s dad) comes. Also, after two weeks, the chicks were stinking up the house. Chickens don’t do much more than eat, drink, and poop. And finally, they are growing fast and getting stronger. One day when I reached into the temporary pen outside to grab them and put them back into their cardboard box for the night, one got away from me.

Chickens can’t stand being apart from a chicken who has gone somewhere else because they are just certain that the far away chicken is doing something amazing and they are missing out on amazingness. So they run, fly, shriek and do whatever necessary to get to that other chicken. Such was the case this time. Docile as a group, when they spotted their fuzzy friend two feet away in the grass, outside the pen, they all went crazy and soon there were four fuzzy babies cheeping and fluttering and jumping and scaring each other in circles around the yard. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course Racecar, who is always nearby because she is such a protective Aunt Cat, (heh heh) wanted to show them how dangerous it was to be out, so she pounced at them! Not on them of course, because I was there and she suspected it would not be approved of. She was right. I gave Racecar my mom voice and said, “Hey!” and she went away. Luckily, the chicks came back to their familiar temporary pen and food and water dish that they recognized, as I thought they would. I caught them all and got them into their box.

Whew! Definitely time for a better plan.

I reviewed images on Pinterest, and found one that I liked. It’s an A-frame, with the nesting area in the top, and yard area in the bottom. It seemed like it could be made small, and light so that it could be mobile, and just might work for chicks. I have very little construction knowledge, but a truckload of confidence and determination, plus a few tools scattered around, so that was enough to get started!

First I went to Home Depot and purchased a pile of lumber in their rejects pile in the back. All kinds of warped and broken boards for 70% off. I did have to buy one sheet of plywood at full price, and I had an employee cut it in half for me (for free!) so I could fit it into the Jeep. Yes, I hauled all the lumber and hardware home in my Jeep, and it only cost me $39. I’m so proud. Then I went to a tractor supply store that also functions as a feed store, and bought poultry mesh (otherwise known as chicken wire).

When I’m used to gossip and fashion magazines in the checkout line, this sight was a welcome change.

I went home and used my hand me down tablesaw for the first time, and borrowed a skill saw, and dug round the shop, and the garage, and the wood shed, and collected things I would need.  I made one more trip to the Rainier hardware store to buy staples for the staple gun. I mean, seriously I do not know what the heck I am doing, and I’m not set up for this. But why should that stop me!!

I began building my A-frame chicken pen. And guess what? I finished it. And it’s cool.

This is about 1/3 of the way through my project. I moved slowly and thought through next steps as I saw what I had in front of me. Totally winging it the whole way through. ha ha!

I built an area for a nesting box, but also installed a board endwise so they could roost on it. Then I installed a ramp so they can climb up. Take a good look now at all this wood and no poop in sight. It’ll be the last time that’s true.

Ok, I think this is good to go. The side is on hinges, so I can access the stuff I need to get to. I moved their familiar box of straw to that platform when the chicks moved in…with a little opening cut into the cardboard box for them to find their way out.

Main problem: the plywood warped. I still don’t know how to fix this problem.

Food installed, water installed. Now all we need is chicks!

I worked on it three different days and finished in the evening, as you see in the photo above by the long shadows that completely shade the lawn. I cannot reach down to the grass from the open door, so once the babies went in, they were going to have to stay in. No more cozy nights beside the fire. Because I am a nice momma, I waited till the next day when it got warm again.

Babies in their new home!

They only took an hour to figure out how the water works. There is a ball inside a tube, and they have to push the ball up with their beaks to get water to drip out.

I had checked the weather forecast in case the worst happened and they did not go up top for the night. It was not going to freeze, but it would be around 40 degrees (5 C) which is much colder than what they’re used to beside the woodstove. Still no idea how to fix the warped plywood, I had thrown an old inflatable mattress over the top which blocked the hole but also trapped the heat from the sun up there. If only the babies would go upstairs for the night. However, I checked on them all day long and for most of the day, only one baby went onto the ramp. As it got darker and colder, a second chick got onto the ramp and began to follow the brave chick up. But they constantly looked down below and the other two chicks were having none of it. They began to settle into the grass for the night. So the two on the ramp jumped down and joined them. “No, babies!!”

I fretted all night, worried that they would freeze to death, or get the chicken flu, or be put out with me.

I went out as soon as I woke up, while it was still cold and foggy and damp, with fingers crossed that they would have found their way to the top, and climbed into their warm box in the night. But no, a tiny huddle of chicks was there on the ground, pressed into a corner of the pen, tiny feathers all fluffed up. It made me sad.

During their second day in the pen, all four of them got comfortable climbing up the ramp to the rafters and roosting. In the three days since, no one has gone all the way back to the cardboard box though, so they don’t have that warm straw to curl up in. I’ve always said chickens are dumb. And, even though I want to forgive these darlings and give them the benefit of the doubt, I admit that baby chickens are dumb too. That evening, as they all began to form their huddle on the grass for the second night, I went out and got them stirred up again and coaxed and coaxed till I got them to climb the ramp. It was chilly in the evening and the wind had picked up, and as soon as they got to the top, they were visibly more comfortable. They stayed up there. Yay!!!

Upstairs/downstairs view of two babies in the grass, two in the rafters. And Racecar, as you see, is never far away.

It’s evening, so will you little ones please stay up here for the night?

I went out to check them the second morning, and they were up and about…pecking food and grass and cheeping vivaciously.

My friend Curt over at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to his friend Bone, the bone, last year. He was telling Bone about my place, and when Bone talked to Curt about a visit, a plan was quickly put into action. He put on his favourite leather vest and came up to northern Oregon for a few weeks last year, and at the time I posted a photo of Bone with my bees, and a little later, Bone in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I intended to do a Bone-centric post and it slipped through the cracks. So, without additional delay, here is the full story of Bone’s visit.

As I mentioned, we visited the bees on my property first.

Here, a bee tells Bone something that I didn’t hear.

Bone really liked my back yard and thanked me for my hospitality. I said I was happy to have such a pleasant guest.

Next, Tara and I took Bone to the coastal town of Astoria. Sometimes people are reluctant to climb the Astoria Column that overlooks the mouth of the Columbia River as it empties into the Pacific Ocean, but Bone didn’t hesitate at all! He was on vacation and wanted to do it all. So I helped him climb the 164 steps to the top.

Bone told me a joke right as Tara took the photo. Lucky I didn’t fall off!

We had sushi for dinner. Bone was fascinated by watching the chefs prepare our meal, but was not interested in tasting any of it.

He never did get tired that day. Bone was hopping around, trying to look out the windows, so Tara let him sit on the dashboard to watch the road as we drove home.

The next week I was in Oklahoma, at the invitation of the Cherokee Nation. The week started off with a three-day conference in Tulsa. Of course, Bone came along.

Inside the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, we Cherokees spent the whole time viewing the Cherokee art throughout the facility. Bone and I liked this one by Jane Osti best.

To the bottom left, you can see Bone trying to decide if he feels lucky.

When the conference was over, my group of visiting Cherokees went out to Cherokee country and were treated to up close visits at some important historical sites. At the Saline Courthouse, we walked around till we found an old cemetery. I had not done my research prior to this trip, and inspected gravestones at random, based on how interesting their appearance from a distance. Thus I missed the one that says, “A. J. Colvard. Born April 12, 1858.” and it then lists the date Andrew Jackson Colvard was murdered. It actually says “murdered” on the gravestone! I am so sad I didn’t see that in person. Interestingly, I did get this gravestone, which is linked to Mr. Colvard’s:

Bone likes exploring cemeteries.

Another place we visited was the Cherokee Heritage Center. This center for Cherokee culture, history, and the arts is located where the first Cherokee female seminary used to be. In the 19th century, Cherokee prided themselves on exceptional schools. In the traditionally matriarchal society, girls’ education was as important as boys.’ The first Cherokee Female Seminary was a boarding school opened by the Cherokee Nation in 1851. A fire burned the building in 1887 and all that remains are three columns.

First Cherokee Female Seminary, courtesy Wikipedia.

Bone quietly contemplated Cherokee history as he gazed at the columns.

The heart of Cherokee country is the city of Tahlequah, where the Chief and his administration are based.

Can you see him sitting on the bricks?

While waiting for the speakers to get organized, Bone gasped and pointed. There was Chief Bill John Baker!

We both learned quickly that when Cherokees get together, there will be food.

And before we knew it, our trip to Cherokee land was over and we had to go home. Bone wanted to stay longer with the Cherokees, and so did I, and he was pretty sad while we sat in the airport waiting for our flight.

Sad as he was to go, Bone couldn’t resist watching the planes load and unload.

Bone slept almost the whole flight back. I had finally managed to tire him out. His emotions are hard to read and I’m never quite sure if I can catch a facial expression, but it seemed like he was smiling while he slept. When we arrived back in Portland, I asked him about it. Bone said he was dreaming about Cherokees, and imagined that he got to meet Sky Wildcat, Miss Cherokee 2016-2017 and Lauryn Skye McCoy, Junior Miss Cherokee. He described the two young women so well, it almost seemed like it wasn’t a dream after all.

Bone with Sky Wildcat and Lauryn Skye McCoy.

bat+open door = oops

So. Much. Stuff. Happened. Last night.

Except sleep. Sleep did not happen much.

The evening was fine until I got a text from someone who pissed me off. And I could not stop thinking about it. I was mad, mad, mad. I went to bed and stared fiercely at the shadowy ceiling while I tried not to worry about the 6:30 am alarm that would be coming soon.

My cat Racecar likes to sleep on my neck. It’s hard to breathe, but she’s soft and warm and she’s my comfort blanket. Except last night it was 87 degrees and neither one of us could get comfortable. I had opened the deck-side sliding glass door a little, and the window, but there was no cross breeze. Racecar walked across my throat, stepping on a boob now and then, back and forth, back and forth, but could not pick a satisfactory place to curl up on my neck. Too hot. She finally found a place at the foot of the bed and it suited us both fine.

Even with my comfort blanket down at the foot of the bed, the damp sheets, and no cross breeze, I finally fell asleep, who knows when. But I do know it was 11:47 when I heard a “mrrroowr! meeeooowww!” from a strange cat that woke me out of a dead sleep. It had managed to squeeze through the opening in the sliding glass door and got all the way to the kitchen to eat my cat’s food, and then couldn’t find it’s way out. I started yelling and it found the door and skeedaddled. Racecar, worthless cat, was still curled up at the foot of the bed, clearly not defending me from foes.

Then I was awake again.

Ugh. It was so hot. Against my better judgement, I went to the other side of the room and opened the door to the back yard. And opened the glass door wider, trying to bring the outside air in. I figured the strange cat probably wouldn’t come back. I tossed and turned for at least another hour. I was hot and mad, trying to sleep. You know how you silently yell at yourself, “go to sleep NOW!” and it doesn’t work?

Then I started wondering what that fluttering sound was. Such a soft, pretty sound. Probably a moth. Fluttering around and around the room. Racecar got up and started following it around the room. “Good girl,” I thought in my fogginess. “Eat the moth so I can sleep.” Flutter flutter. Moth wings have a sort of fur on them, which must be making that lovely sound. Then there was a quiet “eeeek” on one of its passes over my head. Funny, it reminded me of a bat. Racecar started jumping as the moth swooped close.

Actually the flutter was pretty loud. That must be a damned big moth. I picked up my phone and turned on the flashlight app and shined it up to the ceiling so that I could see into the blackness…and saw a BAT swooping around my bedroom! Shadows cast by my phone covered half the room. Wing shadows, probably teeth shadows, but I didn’t hang around to look. Obviously it came in through one of the wide open doors and now couldn’t find it’s way out.

A bat! A Bat! In my bedroom!  I slunk off the bed, crouched, arms over my head, and duck-walked to the door to the living room. Once out, I closed the door behind me. The bat could find it’s way out of my bedroom eventually, but I needed to sleep in a bat-free zone.

I checked to make sure kitty had come out of the bedroom with me, then padded down the hall in bare feet to Tara’s room (unoccupied while T is at college), and climbed into bed, pretty much awake.

I took deep, slow breaths, calming myself, thinking some more about the 6:30 am alarm. Still mad about that text message, planning all the clever mean things I would text back in the morning. Tara’s room was a little cooler, and the bed is comfortable. My eyes began to close and I began to drift off.

thump I hear from the living room. Thump thump…bump. CRASH! What the?? I sat up and listened. Whack-bump! thud.

Jeeze Louise.

I got up and walked into the living room in the dark and found Racecar leaping from the furniture into the air, trying to get the BAT that had followed us out of the bedroom! I ducked.

I wouldn’t even walk through the living room. I went out the front door of the house, outside in my bare feet, around the house to the deck, opened the living room sliding door so the bat could get out, then through the sliding door into my bedroom again, and dropped to the still-damp sheets. Is this for real?

Fully, fully awake. I checked my phone. 2:12 am. I went to the bathroom and swallowed a sleeping pill. I had to work in the morning. Sleep was critical. It worked after another 45 minutes, and I finally fell asleep after composing a perfect text response in my mind.

There was a time warp and in four minutes, the alarm went off. “Like hell,” I mumbled. Turned off the alarm and went promptly back to sleep, only to be awakened immediately by cluck, cluck, cluck…brrrrr cluck? Clearly chicken sounds, and clearly too close. “Arrrggghhh!” I said to no one, looked at my phone, which said 6:33. I heard it again, cluck cluck?

I got up and opened the door to the living room, and crept in while crouched, eyes at the ceiling. No bat. But there, in the living room, was one of the Hussies. Of course this would be the morning Tawny got loose, and of course she came up on the deck and found all the doors open, and came on in. Because, she’s a chicken. Chickens are dumb, and annoying. I love them, but it’s an honest relationship.

“Come on, chick! chick!” I called, and dumb, happy Tawny followed me out the door, across the porch, down the steps, across the grass, and to the chicken pen. I’m Momma Chicken to her.

Back in the house, I checked for poop (none! yay!), and resigned myself to starting up the work day.

As I settled in at the computer in my home office, I heard CCCRRRREEEERRRR….CCRAAAACCKK! BOOM!

Pretty little elderberry tree by the creek.

Exactly 24 hours later. Can you see the massive tree that has fallen across the creek?

I ran outside, and saw that a huge Alder in my back yard had just fallen. No wind. No storm. It just…gave up and fell. An enormous tree that now lies in the creek. Just last night I had stood there, captivated by glowing evening light on the elderberry bush beside it. That must have been an omen, the light on the bush. Earth was saying to me, “Pay attention and enjoy this moment of peace. Because… well… you know.”

It was pitch black through my nighttime adventures, and I couldn’t get a photo, not that I was even thinking of it. I told a few people today, I’m gonna write a blog post about it, and Allie Brosh will do the illustration. Sadly, I don’t know Allie personally. So I had to do the illustration myself a-la-Hyperbole and A Half.  This is me, crouching behind my bed, arm up as protection against the bat:

In lieu of Allie Brosh.

Here’s another photo of the downed tree. You still can’t get sense of how big the tree is by looking at the photo, but it’s a little better.

All those sideways branches=one tree

 

Man holding a fish.

Man holding a fish.

EIGHT TIPS for men uploading photos for your online dating profile:

  1. Do not make the one where you’re holding the fish your main profile photo. Or the other one where you’re holding a fish.
  2. It is obvious which photos were taken in the 1990s. We don’t need those.
  3. Please upload photos of yourself. The photos of your bicycle, your car, your boat, your Harley, your grill, and all those photos of the fish you catch are missing the point, which is that we want to know what you look like.
  4. Smile. None of your buddies can see you here so you don’t have to pretend you’re a baddass thug. Well, if any of your buddies do see you here, then they probably think you are more attractive when you smile, too.
  5. Multiple photos of places that you have seen and/or like, including images you took from the web (yes that was obvious too)…particularly when there is no caption…do not enhance a viewer’s knowledge of who you are.
  6. Selfies in the bathroom are gross. And not just because you haven’t cleaned the glass for 18 months.
  7. All six of your photos are you mugging for yourself in front of your computer screen. I can tell because your face is lit up with blue light and you have the same exact expression. There must be a photo of you somewhere. Ask someone to take your photo. Do you have friends? Co-workers? Anyone? Hell, I will meet you for coffee and take your photo.
  8. I see that you love your dogs, but do not upload more photos of them than of you. No, not even the ones when they were puppies, or the one when they were fetching sticks in the lake, or even all the adorable photos of when they are napping on the couch. No really. Just one photo of the dogs is sufficient. Just. One.
{photo by Emmet McCusker}

fish

I’m single and busy with work and all my extra-curricular activities, and in years past I spent a lot of time parenting. A schedule like that means I do not meet eligible men. I am comfortable with a computer, which leads me to blog, but it also leads me to online dating sites. I’ve used online sites for over 10 years now, whenever I’m in a drought of meeting people. I’ve had great luck with the sites, and meet mostly genuine people who are in real life the person they projected on their dating profile. In a decade, I’ve only found one man to date long term, but better than that: I’ve made several great friends out of it that still keep in touch. And I have gone on very fun dates. One was a day learning stand up paddle, and I had a blast. The number of people I meet online is exponentially greater than the number I meet in person. Overall, it’s worth the effort to me.

{photo by Stephen Trulove}

fish

Last week, after spending an hour or so reading profiles and looking at photos, I stopped shaking my head and laughing long enough to realize I had been composing a letter in my mind to these guys about Do’s and Don’t’s of online photos. In a moment of inspiration I posted my tips on facebook, and the response was great! My step-dad added his own tip: “To the women, please include a photo of your boat.”

What I did not expect was that in response to my facebook post, my friends (men and women) started replying with pictures of fish. I’ve included a few of them here. Obviously, I had asked for it.

DSC_0069

Lacey wants me to hold still so she can find out whether the large black round thing on my face is edible.

The Chicken Hussies, I’ve been calling them. They are saucy and misbehaved. They are rarely home, running around the neighborhood bringing dishonor upon this house. They don’t come when I call them and I dont know where they are half the time. When they do show up, they run to me at first with joy of recognition. That turns into clucking complaints, demands, unceasing inquiries about the availability of grain. They peck my hands and my shoes, and mutter that the feed I give them is tiresome and they would prefer leftover oatmeal. “Remember that time when you fed us oatmeal?”

These hens leave their, shall we say, “fertilizer” all over the deck and the front porch, and in the equipment shed on the side of the house where they sleep. It’s a sure sign that they know where they belong. And yet do they stay here like proper ladies? Never.

I fear their reputations are ruined.

DSC_0068

“Oh, it’s a camera? Well, here, I think this side of my head is more photogenic.”

DSC_0018 (2)

In back, left to right, Lacey, Jamie, Phil. The red one is Tawny.

The once sensitive topic of reciprocity has become more of a common theme. Admittedly, I am the one who brings it up. I explain about the cost of hay, feed, fencing. I explain about having a full time job and getting phone calls from irritated neighbors who wish for me to spend my off time collecting chickens from their properties. I tell the Hussies I’ve resorted to forcing my evening visitors into chicken-wrangling, in which I throw a tarp over the sleeping group and together we haul them down the hill and put them back into their perfectly darling chicken house filled with dry fluffy hay. They reply, “We were wondering what that was all about.”

Then I cautiously bring up the topic of eggs. THE POINT OF ALL THIS.

They pretend not to understand. “What are these ‘eggs’ of which you speak? Forgive us, we are dumb chickens. Ooh! Over there, is that a spider?”

One morning after a successful chicken wrangling, I was out on my deck with a cup of coffee. I looked with satisfaction and pleasure, down the hill at my lovely ladies: Tawny, Lacey, and the twins Jamie and Phil. They were safely inside their fence, clucking contentedly, eating grass, scratching for spiders. I was filled with such love for them, I called down “Good morning my chickies!!”

All four froze and turned to see me for the first time, squawking “Mom!” in unison. As you would expect if there were four Harrier jets ready for a mission, the ladies rose into the air and shot toward me. One after another, they lifted straight up and over their four-foot fence, then rocketed through the air up the hill in military formation, directly to me standing on the deck. I’ve never seen chickens fly like that. I thought the appropriate response would have been to scold them to teach a lesson, but instead I was flattered.

Still no eggs. I looked up “hussy” in Urban Dictionary and one of the definitions was “chicken.” So I had to look up chicken, and one of the definitions is a female with attractive breasts and thighs. Do you think it’s time to remind them of what happens to chickens who don’t lay?

This morning a new kind of fowl caught my attention.

Something pure white in the pond caught my eye from the kitchen window. I stared and had mostly convinced myself it was a duck. Multiple ducks, from the appearance of movement. I got out the camera and used the zoom lens to confirm. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen ducks on the pond.

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Male and female Hooded Merganser moved to the far side of the pond when they saw me sneaking down the hill toward them.

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The group of six female mergansers also decided to scoot away when I showed up. Here I captured only one straggler.

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I think it looks like a proper pond for the first time. Ducks are an excellent accessory.

In the past I have accidentally startled a lone goose, who exploded skyward as soon as I was spotted. I would love to have some long term pond-dwellers. I crept slowly down the hill, hoping not to frighten them, I hid behind trees, and crept as close as I dared. I watched them dive for goodies underwater, then pop back up onto the surface.

If they decide to stay, I hope they don’t talk to the Hussies, or I’ll likely find myself building another ineffective pen and buying more pellets for ungrateful birds.

I’m not sure this pole is as squirrel-proof as the company who sold it to me believes it to be. However, I added some olive oil, and that was more effective.

P.S. Don’t you just love the symphony of bird voices I get to hear while I work from home?

This is Peanut. He was sort of freaked out about the Nikon, but not so freaked out that he was going to pass up a peanut.

This is Peanut. He was sort of freaked out about the Nikon, but not so freaked out that he was going to pass up a peanut.

Quick note today. I just managed to snap this photo and wanted to show it to you.

The squirrels and I have a complex relationship of both attraction and conflict. I’ve trained two of them to eat from my hand: Peanut, the fat red one. And Mushroom, the silver and white one. They are both males, which proves I haven’t lost my appeal at 45. Yes, if I am handing out food, the boys will still be putty in my hands! Peanut is so greedy, he will put his tiny squirrel fingers on my fingers to pull my hand to him and get that peanut faster.

The problem with our relationship is that they also believe that the bird feeders are for them too. Peanut will pull the lid off the larger feeder and curl up inside it, and munch seeds. Mushroom has a sweet tooth, and prefers the hummingbird feeder. He will put one of the plastic flower tubes in his mouth, tip the feeder, and gulp, gulp, gulp.

I can see them from my work desk at home, and I come busting out of the house, yelling, “Get off the hummingbird feeder you brat! And you! Quit spilling cracked corn all over the grass!”

They hop a couple feet away and look at me, “Did you bring peanuts?”

My cousin called me the Squirrel Whisperer. I’ve been asked if I have taught them to pick up lentils and fold laundry yet, like in a Disney film. Not YET.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it's being watched.

Western Scrub-Jay checking the area to see if it’s being watched.

I should have been focusing on my work, I know. But sometimes it’s much more interesting to gaze through the window at the backyard.

One of the ubiquitous Western Scrub-Jays was digging with its beak. He must have been hitting a small rock in the soil, because it went “tink, tink, tink,” as the bird gouged its beak repeatedly down. It seemed curious to me that the jay was going to so much trouble to peck a hole. If it was after insects, they surely would have scurried away by now, but the bird focused on one spot.

Tink, tink, tink, tink.

Then it picked up something that looked like a peanut, dropped it into the hole, and scratched dirt over it. What?! As I watched, the jay looked around, picked up a leaf, and dropped it onto the top of the place it had just been digging. I told myself it was coincidence. I would never have guessed a bird would be savvy about camouflage.

A little later, I watched the same scenario again, with another peanut, and a leaf. (That morning I had emptied the last of the contents from my peanut bag, that I keep to feed the squirrels.) I looked it up online, and sure enough, Western Scrub-Jays will cache food. I learned something new today!

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay up on his tip-toes looking for a good spot to cache.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

Jay about to drop some food into a hole.

I am so impressed with what I learned that I am going to share some of the fascinating facts with you. Scrub-Jays will also collect and bury treasure, and they actually remember their caches and can go right to them when they need to, remembering not only where they are but also what’s in them. Squirrels can’t be that smart. I’ll bet squirrels just wander around and hope they get lucky. Western Scrub-Jays are not necessarily honorable, but they are clever, and will spy on another jay burying its cache, so that they can go steal it. And, get this, Western Scrub-Jays will remember if they were being watched while they cached something, and will come back later in privacy, and dig it up and move it.

i saw my first Stellar's Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren't they gorgeous?

i saw my first Steller’s Jay in the yard today! I see these all over the forest, but now finally, in my yard too. Aren’t they gorgeous?

She says, "Um, excuse me? it isn't polite to stare."

She says, “Um, excuse me? It isn’t polite to stare.”

The fabulous Disneyland castle, mini-sized to be more fun for kids, but still pretty darn immense and impressive.

The fabulous Disneyland castle, mini-sized to be more fun for kids, but still pretty darn immense and impressive.

Look at that castle! I think it’s stunning in the morning sunshine. We were in Anaheim for six days, and the first four of them were cold, grey, cloudy, and even a little wet. But on our last morning to go into the park, there was blue sky everywhere and the sun came out and made everything sparkle. We could see the mountains around the city of L.A. from our hotel room, it was so clear.

Wandering around the two parks (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure), I marveled again and again at how drastically our landscape changed. We were in jungles and cities and deserts and on spaceships and underground.

Where do you think Disneyland is? Looking at the photo of the castle above, a reasonable person might guess it’s in the forest.

And if you guessed forest, you would be right. Disneyland is in the forest, with rivers and geysers.

And if you guessed forest, you would be right. Disneyland is in the forest, with rivers and geysers.

But… a reasonable person is not familiar with the forests of Anaheim.

Disneyland is in a desert! Everyone knows LA is in the desert.

That’s because Disneyland is in a desert! Everyone knows Anaheim is in the desert.

It's a beautiful desert, with live cacti, Route 66, and red cliffs.

It’s a beautiful wide-open, empty desert, with live cacti, Route 66, and red cliffs.

But wait… weren’t we in the middle of a gigantic city in southern California?

Yes, a city packed with buildings and people is where one finds Disneyland.

Yes, a city packed with buildings and people is where one finds Disneyland.

It's a large city, with industry, a town hall, a pagoda, a fire house, and more!

It’s a large city, with industry, a town hall, a pagoda, a fire house, and more!

That’s not a real city.

Are you thinking of a city like this?

Are you thinking of a city like this?

With a grand City Hall instead of a Toon City Hall?

With a grand City Hall instead of a Toon City Hall?

And a stately entrance like this?

And a stately entrance like this?

Yes, yes, that looks like a city to hold Disneyland. So, where did those trees come from?

Disneyland is in the snowy Alps, with crashing waterfalls, birch trees, and granite peaks.

The trees are in the snowy Alps, with crashing waterfalls, birch trees, and granite peaks.

Don't forget the Bavarian ski lodge.

Don’t forget the Bavarian ski lodge.

Let Olaf assure you: Disneyland is in the snow, for certain.

Let Olaf assure you: Disneyland is in the snow and trees, for certain.

I thought California was known more for….

Vineyards? Yes! California is where one finds grapes.

Vineyards? Yes! California is where one finds grapes.

Well I was thinking more along the lines of….

Jungle? With bamboo and cicadas screeching all day while we walked beneath dripping vines.

Jungle? With bamboo and cicadas screeching all day while we walked beneath dripping vines.

Wait a minute, things are not normal in that jungle! Since when do fireflies provide nighttime lighting?

If you see a jungle you want it to look like this.

If you see a jungle you want it to look like this.

With temple ruins and Bengal tigers and fat lazy rivers?

With temple ruins and Bengal tigers and fat lazy rivers?

Yes! Now that’s a real jungle! Now wait, you tricked me. We were trying to figure out where Disneyland is.

It's in a jungle, I'm telling you. And all the people live in treehouses.

It’s in a jungle, I’m telling you. And all the people live in treehouses.

Stop messing with me.

In a manicured garden beside a pond, you will find the park.

In a manicured garden beside a pond, you will find the park.

Or you may find it in a crazy Small World castle.

Or you may find it in a crazy Small World castle.

Again, I must protest. That is no castle.

Ah, but you see, the park is in a castle.

Ah, but you see, the park is in a castle.

The park is contained in high stone walls with turrets and towers and royalty.

The park is contained in high stone walls with turrets and towers and royalty.

It's a truly beautiful place.

It’s a truly beautiful place.

You are not being direct. You haven’t given me a clear sense of what kind of place I’ll find it in.

A Moroccan marketplace

A Moroccan marketplace

It's in an Old West frontier town.

It’s in an Old West frontier town.

Or possibly you'll find it in Hollywood of days past.

Or possibly you’ll find it in Hollywood of days past.

Here's a lovely place. Why don't we put Disneyland in this area of gardens and hills and foliage with mountains in the background. Hm, that peak looks a bit ominous.

Here’s a lovely place. Why don’t we put Disneyland in this area of gardens and hills and foliage with mountains in the background. Hm, that peak looks a bit ominous.

Ok, now that is a threatening mountain. Maybe Disney shouldn't be here after all.

Yikes! That is a threatening mountain. Maybe Disney shouldn’t be here after all.

Alright, stop it. You’re messing with me. Where is the park?

You'll find your park at an enormous carnival at the beach.

You’ll find your park at an enormous carnival at the beach.

See? Mickey Mouse logo and all; the park is here.

See? Mickey Mouse logo and all; the park is here.

Or, maybe it's in this wild world of futuristic science and space travel.

Or, maybe it’s in this wild world of futuristic science and space travel.

Possibly you'll find it in the deep South, with huge plantation houses and dripping Spanish moss.

Possibly you’ll find it in the deep South, with huge plantation houses and dripping Spanish moss.

Or in a regular California town in the warm and sunny coast lands.

Or in a regular California town in the warm and sunny coast lands.

Enough! I’m tired of playing at this. In order for everything you’ve shown me to be true, Disneyland must be in an entirely different kind of place, where the world changes completely around every corner. A place where every new sight is even more surprising than the last. If all of this exists, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks must be awfully big.

Indeed. So big that we used this to go from place to place.

Indeed. So immense that we could use this to go from place to place.

One of my many guises

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