Harlequin Duck

And now for something completely different.

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First a new greeting.  While I hope my readers are indeed blessed and it is always my intention to be a blessing, I have come to feel we travel this path together and so a new greeting for the trails ahead.

So fellow travelers, in times of better weather I am an amateur bird nerd.  Now I know the creative group administrators prohibition on the use of self deprecating terms such as “amateur,”  but trust me I am no expert.  I could go the route of calling myself a would-be birder, but birding is not something I would do, it is something I actually do, albeit with less precision than those who post the Bird Alerts which I subscribe to.  Hence the title of this post.

“Harlequin Duck…still at lock 6 Oswego”  6:55am  Oneida Birds.

This is the cryptic message that pops up on my email alerts. Cryptic unless one birds, which I do although generally in better weather. Another reason why I consider myself an “amateur”  because had the sender been the recipient of this alert, the Birdman of Bville, as he is known, would never let a silly thing like sub zero windchills and slick Lake Effect covered roads prevent him from dashing out to Lock 6 Oswego  to locate the harlequin duck.

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This began innocently enough about a decade ago when I made a spontaneous decision to go on a guided walk at a nearby nature center.  It was a chilly spring morning, a small but eager group had gathered in the community room where a naturalist gave us some simple guidelines and helpful tips for the trails we would be walking.  As we set out it was clear from the quiet conversation that most of the group were fairly knowledgeable about the birds we might encounter.  One friendly grey haired woman seemed startled at my revelation this was my first birding expedition.

Conditions were nearly perfect for birding.  It was a windless, sunny morning, the trees not yet leafed out, allowing easy viewing of any feathered denizens.  While it was easily a month before peak migration, our guide and many group members were keenly focused on searching out any FOS sightings.  (Like many pursuits, birding has its own set of acronyms;  FOS  stands for first of season.)  At various points along the trail, the group would stop and listen intently, training their binoculars in the direct of each call.  “Tree sparrows in the birch tree, about 2’oclock,” someone would whisper quietly and one by one others would quietly chime in “Got it,  about a third of the branch out from the trunk,”  “Yes, oh,  just hopped one branch down.”

I managed to sight about half of the birds before they retreated out of range. At one point we were treated to the graceful swoop of a Great Blue Heron as it arced directly overhead towards a dead tree in the nearby bog.  ” Sometimes they nest here,” my greyhaired friend  spoke so reverently,  I simply nodded respectfully.

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As we headed back towards the main trail,  a clear but distant call stopped everyone in their tracks.  Binoculars scanned the trees.  The call came again and from the murmured comments it was evident this was one too tough to claim without an actual sighting. “Anyone have it yet?” our naturalist asked.  I had managed to sight a bird  in a tree although it appeared closer than the call seemed to be coming from. Having only a handful of birds I knew by sight, all I knew was it did not match any of the birds I knew and it was not one we had seen yet that morning.  “Is it the brown one in the small tree next to the birch?”  After some redirecting, several other people sighted the bird. “That’s a Northern Waterthrush!”  “You sure?”  “That’s not what we heard, but this is closer than…” and the call came again from a further distance.  No matter, the bird at hand was worth two of the distant callers.  No one turned their scopes away from my finding. A brief discussion and the team confirmed the identity.  “Great spotting,” the naturalist complimented me.  I nodded and smiled a little.  Pure chance I thought, I had never even heard of the Northern Waterthrush.

Back at the center we encountered a group of birders coming in from another trail.  As everyone exchanged notes, the other birders were clearly excited at the news of the Waterthrush sighting.  Taking careful note of its location they headed out, one of them asked “Who had the eagle eye this morning?”  ” Our new birder did,” the naturalist pointed me out. “Nice find for a first trip, keep it up.”  Suddenly I knew this first sighting would not be my last.  Far from it, within a few years I would find myself on a 24 hour adventure I had never even known was possible.  But that is the making of another post.

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Travel well my friends and remember “if you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Peter Lawrence Berra.

Of Jamaican dogsled runs

So blessed readers, a little change of pace for this post, prompted by an Olympic moment and 12 days of Lake Effect snow.

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Out of sheer desperation, a few weeks ago I spent the better part of the day shoveling a path through our back yard, along our neighbor’s fence to get to the street behind us where I walk our dogs. My neighbors kindly let me “cut through” their yard as my house is on a busy thoroughfare with a 45 MPH speed limit.  By this time of year its made more dangerous by snowbanks that completely obscure the shoulder.  We have a good sized  fenced area in our backyard where the dogs can run but it doesn’t replace the physical and mental stimulation of a good walk. Most days we fit in a good mile or more. Even the “short” walk around the quieter street behind us is a good half mile.

Our last snowstorm, which gave us an unprecedented third snow day of the school year, was followed by 12 straight days of on and off Lake Effect. The back yard became impassable, especially for the small foster buddy residing with us.  Bone chilling wind chills and paw freezing single digit temps made trips to the local dog park impractical.  When a stubby little beagle leaps on top of a German Shepard sized dog house to get closer to those pesky squirrels, things have reached a point of desperation.

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Then I saw an interview with Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon of the Jamaican Bobsled team.  I love the Olympics and while I often sit chanting ( like a few of my fellow Bedlam Farm Creative Group members) “Don’t fall, please don’t fall” through most of the figure skating routines, I find snowboarding and ski jumping thrilling to watch.   Trust me I don’t actually ski;  I tried and all I did was fall down hill.  Even curling is mesmerizing, calming the nerves after a intense hockey battle.  I owe my devotion to bobsledding directly to the Jamaicans.  Just the idea of a Jamaican bobsled team is magical, as proven by the “Cool Runnins” phenomenon of 1993  ( wow has it really been a decade?  Indeed it has.  I looked it up.)

So when Winston replied to the interviewers question about the obstacles his team faced in getting to Sochi  ( years of qualifying attempts,  on going funding problems and yes the lack of snow in his home country)  by stating ” Ya man, dat is life ya know.  Obstacles dey are dere and ya jest gonna go over dem and through dem because ya got an eye on da horizon and when ya got somethin to accomplish man ya dont let obstacles get in da way.” His words spoke directly to me.  I knew what obstacle I needed conquer. If  two guys from Jamaica can show up and compete against the odds of lost luggage, scarce funds and no snow,  then a couple feet of packed Lake Effect wasn’t keeping me from walking my dogs, dont ya know man.

I grabbed a shovel and headed out.  After about a half dozen carefully paced bouts,

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lasting about  15 to 20 minute apiece,

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I managed to clear a run from my pond patio to my neighbor’s driveway.

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I ate lunch, bundled up the dogs in their coats and harnesses, loaded my pockets with necessary poop bags and we headed out to the run.  I wish I could have captured the excitement of my little pack when they saw those walking harnesses come out.  Even better, the looks of almost disbelief when we veered to the right of the fenced yard and headed for the newly shoveled path along pond patio. Both of them turned to look at me as if to say ” Really?  we’re going OUT THERE?”  and like a bobsled out of the starting gate they were off , barreling down the run as if they could smell the gold medal squirrels at the other end.

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Photo note:  Squirrel’s best “Bring It!” pose courtesy of Emma Rahalski’s 2008 Beaver Lake Nature Center photography contest portfolio.

Happy trails readers and remember “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  Peter Lawrence Berra.

The Dead of Winter

So blessed readers (and I call you that with true intention as blessings you may need if you dare continue reading)

This is Jack.

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Jack, as you may have noticed is no ordinary snowman.  Jack is in fact a ZOMBIE snowman.  I owe his presence in my life to the muse of a fellow Bedlam Farm Creative group member.  Meet Zombie Pig

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ZP’s story can be found in Lisa Dingle’s highly entertaining blog ( justponderin.com/2014/01/14/on-the-tale-of-zombie-pig )  He’s a frequent flyer on the OGFBF wall.  Making the impossible, possible….pretty darn awesome.  So I thought I’d check out the creative source of his awesomeness  ( www.etsy.com/shop/mirandascritters ) and I found Jack. Serendipity because my current sentiments towards winter run something like this meme floating around on Facebook.

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Normally I am a fairly nonviolent person. Stories of my temper are, I can assure you, greatly embellished. I am a bossy big sister, the eldest  and after all someone had to keep order from spiraling into chaos. I would no more stab an innocent snowman with kitchen implements than I would kick over a cardboard box containing my hidden youngest brother or slam anyone’s fingers accidentally in a car door.  Besides, years of t’ai chi, yoga and meditation have mellowed my reactions.  I generally seek the path of least resistance these days.

Still, winter is beginning to get to me this year.  The dead snowman meme prompted a series of nightmares enhanced perhaps by my daughter’s The Walking Dead viewing marathon which began during our most recent snowday.  Key words here: most recent, because prior to January, our school district had not closed for snow or cold in over two years. Bear in mind, I live just outside Syracuse holder of the Golden Snowball Award for every year but one since it’s inception. Lake Effect is our cultural icon.  The running joke was that hell would have to freeze over before our district would call a snowday. So at least for believers in Central New York, yes, hell froze over on January 7th. ( It could have happened a few days earlier, but our school district was still on Christmas Break during the first round of closings the week before.)

So hell freezes over on January 7th, then again on January 22nd  and then AGAIN on February 5th.  Never mind that the first two closings were due to sub zero wind chills; closed is not an hour delay, closed is not a two hour delay, closed is CLOSED.  Three snow days in less than one month might just signify the beginning of Armageddon.  Hence the apocalyptic nightmares in which banks of snow covered even the second story windows, blocking all doorways and yes, neighborhood snowmen became zombies….and then I found Jack.

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There is something cathartic in discovering someone else’s creativity has given life to your own visions, as nightmarish as those visions might be. It is a reason I have always been drawn to certain poets, authors and musicians.  Their words give voice to things I felt which, when expressed so beautifully, became less painful.  Perhaps the pain is greatly dispersed when shared. Certainly it is eased when laughter is added.  Laughed right out loud I did when I found Jack.  He was the perfect embodiment of my fear this winter would swallow me whole, burying my spirit in a cold, joyless mound of depression.

Now he sits on my desk reminding me to look fear in the eye, laugh and say “bring it on,”  I haven’t gone under just yet.

And remember  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Lawrence Peter Berra.

The Rules

To fully appreciate the context of this post, you might want to reference fellow blogger Lisa Dingle’s recent entry  at justponderin.com/2013/11/10/on-freakin-bisquick/

I do foster care for rescue dogs and our current house gust is a little fella that goes by “The Dude”   (yes, as in the Coen Brothers  “I’m the Dude. so thats what you call me.”)  Although he resembles a bowling ball more than he is likely to use one I would not put it past his  Dudeness to push one down the alley to knock over a few pins.

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  He’s got “tude.”  He’s also smart; smart enough to realize that when you are a guest in our house  “there are rules.”  Our own rescue girl Miss Delilah read him those rules when he arrived and periodically she reminds him of said rules when she deems it necessary.  Dude listens respectfully, licks his butt and moves on. It’s a Dude thing.

Rules are what keep most households from pitching over the edge into the abyss of domestic chaos.  Abyss ( what’s the plural ?  Abysses?  Abyssi?  )  anyways in general, an  abyss  is not a place one wants to go ( yes Lisa Dingle  I too have seen the movie…I too did not care for the ending and to be honest the whole breathing water concept complete freaked me out.)  so we have rules, some written but mostly unwritten.

The Bisquick post from my Bedlam Group friend and fellow blogger ( I am totally riding on coattails of the talented writers in The Group to even call myself a “fellow blogger”  with my fledgling posts, but I have been encouraged by their support so I’ll claim fellowship, no rings needed)  struck a chord.  Bisquick is a staple in our pantry because believe it or not it is vegan which makes baking for my vegan daughter and son-in-law much easier.  I have endeavored over the years to move away from packaged foods, but Bisquick is staying, kept fresh in it’s air tight supesized container which holds the “family” box I purchase at our nearest bulk foods warehouse.  Hey, it’s a nice balance to the organic local veggies we receive every week in our CSA Farm share box. Nothing says healthy more than a beet, brussel sprout and parsnip potpie topped with a flaky Bisquick Crust. Yum!

I am kidding.  While I do make Bisquick Crusted pot pies ( both veggie and chicken as our younger daughter is not a vegetarian) I have not, nor do I intend to put beets in them.  I stand alone in my enjoyment of the earthy, red root crop that were such a generous portion of this years farm harvest.  I have a refrigerator drawer full of beets. Unlike the kale we received in shrub like quantity each week,which can be frozen, the beets pose a dilemma for me.  Yes they can be pickled, but as much as I like fresh beets I simply dont care for pickled beets.  In fact I didn’t know I like beets because the only way they were served when I was a kid was in the pickled form.  Imagine my surprise when I had them fresh and lightly steamed!  My beet dilemma stems from a rule I grew up with. “Don’t waste food,” a rule reinforced by the years we spent in Southeast Asia where we saw firsthand those starving people parents reference when quoting that rule. ( To their credit my own parents never did that, even before we moved overseas.)  Receiving the CSA share boxes this year really pushed me to cook both spontaneously and creatively,  which was for the most part a good thing (hence the five bags of frozen kale in the freezer, waiting for their moments of glory in the winter soups to come)  Thankfully, beets keep a good long time.

Lisa’s “freakin’ Bisquick ” story brought to mind my important kitchen rule.  While we do have our kitchen cabinets somewhat sorted by category ( and refrigerator shelves too I might add)  I can function with the occasional ingredient shuffle.  For me it’s “The List” rule that matters most.  When one uses the last of something, one should write it on “The List”  posted on the kitchen fridge.  It is important enough to require a small magnetic pen/pencil sleeve stationed right next to “The List” to ensure writing implements are always available!  Nothing raises the ire of Mom quicker than the discovery that someone has used up the peanut butter, last egg or brewed the last tea bag right after the weekly grocery pilgrimage.

These oddities of life, the Rules we use to stave off insanity and chaos  require humor because if we didn’t laugh we would cry.  That humor is what I love so much in Lisa’s blog, why I have referenced it here several times and likely will again.  In the meantime I just want to know  “Who used the last of the freakin’ Bisquick without putting it on The List!”

Now off to google Beet recipes.  Happy Trails good readers.

Messages from the IGA

Life has been pretty hectic since my pilgrimage to the Bedlam Farm Open House. A new school year began the day after I returned home and with it came seven new faces in the program where I am  a special education assistant. That alone has kept the teaching team on our toes. I have also become a Marching Band Mom, as my daughter now plays in the percussion pit. Add in her violin and piano lessons on alternating weeks, yeah the Mom Taxi had to hit the ground running from day one.  It took longer than I wanted to complete my blog entries about the trip, but that was an essential piece of this process for me.  Something in my consciousness shifted, connections were made and  I felt a need to document that shift. The creative spark fired by the Open Group this summer has become a reliable ember I can draw from day after day. I am taking a digital photography class to become more familiar with my new camera’s features. Homework week one?  Use the manual to find a whole list of specs and features. Week two? Shoot using only manual settings.  Hit the ground running.

So, I am building a small portfolio of photos and blogs post ideas. Oh, I’ll throw in a few of those bad haikus from time to time too. Meanwhile there was a whole garden and a little fish pond to tend to over this long weekend.  I am facing a small dilemma regarding a bullfrog, but that’s the background for another post. Unseasonably warm weather has kept things in bloom far longer than usual. Without a killing frost, the weeds have held on longer too.  It was quite a jungle out there. We lost a few trees in the big thunderstorms this summer,  so I had quite a bonfire going last night. It was the first time since the Open House that I have had more than a few minutes to sit and just be.   What a beautiful night, even though clouds prevented any stargazing. I found it surprisingly easy to get lost in the flames and just watch the sparks shoot like fireworks into the night sky.  I found myself sending a few prayers of gratitude soaring with them.  Life is balancing out nicely right now.

So this afternoon when I looked at my grocery receipt I was confused. “Turn your groceries into towels!” it proclaimed in large print across the bottom.  Why on earth would I want to do that? While my family is pretty adventurous when it comes to cuisine I doubt they would consider eating towels. I was not wearing my prescription sunglasses so I could not read the smaller print that might enlighten me to the advantages of converting groceries into towels.  It was a mystery that had to wait.  I ran several errands, came home, made dinner and forgot all about it, until I sat down at my computer. There on my desk was the receipt with the mysterious offer. So I read the details.  Apparently grocery purchases at this store earn points towards  featured items, which this month happen to be towels. Bear in mind this is one of the last IGA (independant grocer alliance) markets in our area, a midsized Upstate New York city.  Like the small family run farms Jon Katz blogs about, IGA are a vanishing breed. Granted, I (like Alec Baldwin’s now famous Mom, Carol) cannot imagine living beyond driving distance of Wegmans. Still something about this offer made me feel a little guilty.  I realized I don’t shop at the IGA very often, even though it is closer for quick trips where I only need a few things ( which happens every other day it seems)  Maybe my life is not as balanced as it seemed. I should (no, not should  I made a vow not to “should” on myself a few decades ago) I will stop there more often…after all who doesn’t need a new towel or two once in a while.

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Cloud Nine : on blissful ignorance

IMG_0022Recently I found myself wondering just how much do we really “need” to know? The system for naming clouds, based on their characteristics  was created in the 1800’s by Luke Howard,  an English chemist whose hobby was meteorology. The system is so logical and descriptive it is still in use today and remains relatively unchanged. I read about this in A Short History of Nearly Everything  by Bill Bryson, one of my summer reading projects. The system has nine categories of clouds. At first I was disappointed to discover the  phrase “Cloud Nine”  had such mundane origin. Suddenly “Cloud Nine” seemed less blissful. I didn’t even want to know which cloud formation was the ninth!  I mean what if it wasn’t the cumulus “puff balls” that look like heaven to rest upon (never mind that unless you actually are an angel, you’d fall right through any cloud regardless of it’s name) Then again, it began to make sense, because why would a state of bliss be called Cloud Nine?  Why not Cloud Seven or Ten?  If Nine was as high as one could go, then that must be heaven right?  It’s really what we tell ourselves that gives everything its meaning.  You know one persons trash is another persons treasure. A mentor I admire a great deal said “There will be no magic in your work, if there is no magic in your heart.”  It made my blood run cold for a second, but then I realized no one can tell me what is or is not in my heart. Someone else may not see the magic but if I feel it in my heart, it’s real.  And so is Cloud Nine