About Me

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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Being Where You Belong

This is not a typical wildlife post, but a meditation on amazing good luck. Recently, I had one of those weekends that reconfirmed some of my major life choices.

On Friday, I attended the wedding of a former student. All but one of the bridesmaids had been my students, and the bride and one of the bridesmaids had met in a freshman comp class of mine in 2005. These young women bore out the cliche of being radiantly beautiful at weddings. Then, at the reception, I sat with a colleague, her husband, and more former students and their family members, and got misty-eyed when I realized that most of the people under forty in that room had been in at least one class of mine sometime in the last decade. It was good to be invited to witness this milestone, and to feel part of this community of love.

Saturday afternoon brought commencement, always one of my favorite events despite having to sit for far too long. Watching the success of so many people who had so many struggles reach a major goal is a very good thing.

Then on Sunday afternoon I attended the 25th birthday party of one of  Friday's bridesmaids, who had also been one Saturday's graduates. This young woman has had her struggles, not least among them spina bifida and cancer, and has overcome them. Again, former students, some of whom I hadn't seen in years, were in attendance, and shared with me what they have done since leaving college. Seeing them immersed in work they love is a good thing.

Some days, you just know that you're in the right place.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Born Free, Part Two

This has been a good week in my thoroughly middle-aged life. The spring semester has ended, and summer school hasn't started, so there is time for home projects, visits with friends, gardening, and of course, checking out the wildlife action in the yard.

This afternoon brought the first hummingbird of the season, drawn to the fading blooms of the pink rhododendron off the porch. It hovered only a moment, and then was off to the lonicera sempervirens on the back fence. This week has brought avian adolescents of various species, with today bringing young starlings the size of their parents, still demanding food. At first we didn't recognize them, given how different the juvenile plumage is from that of the adults. 

The first juvenile on the suet feeder

Starling in the clover
Then there is that bossy starling behavior.

Perhaps the most amusing juvenile of the week was a young house finch, the size of an adult but still possessing fuzzy eyebrows. It sat for some time on the arm of the feeder pole, cheeping pitifully, fluttering its feathers, and generally pleading for food. Its parents (or at least a pair of finches) remained on either side of the poor youngster, one on the sunflower feeder and one on the safflower, repeatedly demonstrating how to take a seed and repeatedly being ignored by their starving offspring. We thought we heard the finch version of "There's nothing to eat here" coming from the backyard equivalent of the open refrigerator.

Okay, we may not have lions, wolves, or even wild horses, but there is no shortage of animal life around our house.

The goldfinches are repeat visitors.
The birdbath attracted its first visitor, a grackle.
And of course, everyone's favorite rodent has figured out how to access the supposedly squirrel-resistant sunflower seed feeder.
Watching all the activity off the back porch, listening to the musicians practicing in the living room, it strikes me that I may indeed have lived out a version of my wildlife-and-art-filled childhood fantasy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Born Free

Heading home today, my husband and I saw what looked like a classic Land Rover, circa 1965 or so, pulling onto the street in front of us. The sight made me remember how romantic Land Rovers seemed to me when I was a girl (not that I’d ever seen one in 1960’s Fort Myers Beach, Florida): they were part and Parcel of Born Free (okay, who else is old enough to remember the movie or the book?), lighting out for the bush, and rescuing and bonding with wild animals. The possible downside of encouraging wild creatures to trust humans did not occur to my ten-year-old self, only the wondrousness of such an adventure. Wolves (Mara of the Wilderness), lions (Born Free), wild horses (The Island Stallion)—my future no doubt involved work with such creatures, who would pick me out from other humans and bestow the approval not generally available from my elementary-school classmates.

These forty-plus-year-old fantasies had not entered my consciousness in decades, but the sight of a classic behemoth brought into focus the contrast between the life imagined and the life lived, one probably common to most middle-aged people. Whatever my imaginings might have been in those days (and it becomes harder to remember them, or to remember the child I was), they almost certainly did not involve tenure, retirement planning, and a house in a 1950’s suburban development in a small city in the industrial heartland of West Virginia. Surely I was meant for wild adventure, surrounded by animal companions and the occasional human with whom I would engage in intense conversations that involved extensive quotation of poetry, preferably by firelight. That is not the life I have. Or is it?

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An unexpected visitor

Today's "wow" moment: just before dusk, there was a white-crowned sparrow on the ground below the feeder containing millet seed. He also helped himself to some chickweed that had gone to seed. The light had faced too much for a picture to work, but the markings on the head were unmistakeable. 

How wonderful to be able to be a stopping point for these little guys as they make their way back to the boreal north.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The back yard we won't have

Old-field succession is attempting to occur in our little patch of suburbia. The two white oaks in the back yard had a definite mast year; we've been crunching acorns underfoot since October, and not even the infamous North Parkersburg Deer Herd was able to eat them all. What this means is that there are now several hundred four-to-six-inch oak seedlings spreading out to catch the sun in every appropriate spot in the back yard, which is MUCH too small to hold several hundred fifty-foot white oak trees. I've also noticed a good selection of wild cherry seedlings, a smattering of dogwoods and sugar maples, and one lonely white pine. Obviously, our yard wants to revert to the Great Eastern Forest of which it was once a part.

While I'm tempted to let nature take its course (hey, watching baby trees grow is more fun and less work than mowing grass), I suspect the neighbors would object.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What April showers hath wrought

  • Rapidly-growing turfgrass (and not enough time to mow it)
  • The first spring beauties we've ever had (yay)
  • Several outcroppings of dog-vomit fungus (yuck)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day!

It's been a while, (okay, a long while) since I've been to any sort of wild pagan celebration of the May. At my age, any personal fertility is long gone (and not missed), and I have no desire to cavort around midnight bonfires on hilltops in a celebration of the life force. I also think Robert Herrick's advice to the virgins (to make much of time) is pretty funny; he seems not to have realized that there are plenty of diems left to carpe even for us old folks. But this May is pretty spectacular, so after a long, cold, discontented winter, fertility is worth celebrating.

 Given that I'm a fan of tall grass (and not a fan of mowing any more than absolutely necessary to keep the weed police off my back), our back yard is a favorite place for birds to seek nesting materials. The grackles are particularly funny as they leap up and down with their preferred pieces of whatever before finally deciding to fly off with their choice. With the amount of birdsong I'm hearing and the amount of birdseed going into the feeders, I suspect there is a fair amount of nest-building going on in our trees. The neighbor has already spotted a wren making use of her hanging birdhouse, so we are likely to have lots of activity on our block.

The Oriental poppies are wildly enthusiastic this year. Despite having their original soil  covered up when the regrading was done last June, and despite (or perhaps because of?) the digging done for the foundation repair, they are now officially attempting to take over the entire front planting bed. Their outrageous orange blossoms are visible from the end of the street, and they display their fringed sexual parts in a most flagrant way--no subtlety about them, and they're gorgeous!

And the back yard is turning into a tree nursery. I had always read that any unmown field in these parts would attempt to rejoin the Great Eastern Forest, and I believe it. In the old dog run, in the shade garden where there's not enough grass to mow, in the meadow bed, and in the parts of the yard where mowing has not yet happened, we have quite a tree nursery. Of the species I can identify, we have seedlings of white oak, wild cherry, white pine, ash, sugar maple, sweet gum, crabapple, and LOTS of dogwood. What we'll do with them all, I don't know, but Mother Nature has decided to be profligate with the gift of trees this year.

Despite all the bad news about our planet, there's obviously life in the old girl yet.