Category Archives: Birds of a feather

I was going batty, now I’m going birding

The transition to life in Asheville has kept me going full tilt. The cats made it with ease: Sophie helped me drive by sitting in my lap and digging in her claws if I went over 79 mph or changed lanes too quickly and now they are both happy to be here watching the constant cluster of hummingbirds who appeared the moment I hung their feeder. We unpacked two cars worth of stuff, mostly wool, before I sprained my ankle running up and down the mountain ala “Sound of Music.”  I love it here and the view from every window is of native azaleas, dogwoods, daffodils, poison ivy…I’m thinking there’s a market for felted bars of Fels Naptha. I could call it Felt Naptha, yes?

The first week I rushed to finish some birdhouses for the Grove Park Inn Annual  Bird House Competition. First place went to a master wood carver and his bird house was absolutely fantastic. I was pleased with my entry other than one minor issue that arose the night before during assembly. I had done a series of four barn swallow nests and Rich and I went off in search of a suitable piece of barn siding on which to mount them. It was all completed and just before going to bed I went out to photograph my entry sitting on the dining room table. I was at first annoyed and then alarmed to see ants crawling about and it took less than two minutes to figure out that we had constructed the support base with a termite-infested 4 x 4. Midnight found me in the garage spraying the backside of my artwork with “Mountain Fresh Scent Raid” and gnashing my teeth as an entire colony of winged insects staggered out of a crack in the board. I was thinking that no matter what, Raid smells like Raid but when we delivered it the next day to the competition the woman at the desk exclaimed, “Beautiful! And it smells so nice!” Since then I’ve had a couple of recurring nightmares that the historic arts and crafts era Grove Park Inn is being consumed by termites and it’s all my fault.

(This was the first place winner. Well deserved, I think. I would like to live in this house!)

The next big project was to get some felting batts ready to market at Friends and Fiberworks and Asheville Homecrafts. I’m excited that these two great shops are going to be carrying my fibers. I’ve dropped off one big batch and another is being delivered today before I leave for a week to go birding. Rich and the cats will stay here in a house full of wool bunnies; that much drum carding makes a lot of tumblin’ tumblewool and there’s no time to clean before I head out.

(Do I still think of my Ann Arbor peeps? You betcha. Every day.)

Birding, you ask? Yes, I am one of those lucky ducks heading for New River, West Virginia for the Birding and Nature Festival. There I will tsay in a farmhouse with some of the best birding bloggers (The Flock) and go on daily birding hikes with some of the nation’s leading ornithologists and biologists. I’ll send a post, with photos of some bird I think you’ve never likely seen. The camera, binocs, knitting, iPad with iBird application downloaded, and rain suit are all packed. New waterproof hiking shoes have been broken in. Today is pack, oil change and plant all the herbs purchased yesterday at the Asheville Herb Festival.

If I posted more routinely you would see some interesting things here because most of my days on the mountain I encounter new and beautiful things and make great discoveries. Like last night in bed, when I went to fondle affectionately pat Rich goodnight and he squealed, “Don’t give me that poison ivy!” we had a eureka! moment and realized out is was that we are both getting it in exactly the same places, on the bases of our thumbs, near our wrists. This despite constant hand washing, wearing gloves and long sleeves and so forth. It’s those damn cats! They hang out under the deck where there is a lot of the stuff, walking around in it and rolling about and then they come in and nuzzle our wrists for attention and feed, especially as we work on the computers. Sophie, especially, is one to plop down and grab your hand at the wrist and start rubbing and treading. Arghhh. I never thought RoundUp would be in my life but lately I wouldn’t mind winning a enough to clear a football field.

Instead of photographing my poison ivy which looks pretty gross, I leave you this image (which some of you have seen on my Facebook page already.

We went into Asheville and these two were “doing it in the street” as my grandmother used to say (referring to hippies, not turkeys) and stopping traffic. We watched for about 3 minutes until someone honked and ruined our fun. But he was determined and chased her down the sidewalk.

I’ll put up bird photos and see you on the other side of a week of birds, nature, interesting and learned folks and a whole new adventure. Have a great week at your place.

Birds of a feather

(you talking about us?)
This is really embarrassing. No, no, not the part about not updating- that’s old news. No, the embarrassing thing is this: for all the time I spend with birds, feeding birds, handling birds, watching birds and teaching others about birds, I am afraid of birders. I am intimidated by them and I feel foolish around them. Seriously, birders terrify me. My stereotype of them is that they are a peculiarly obsessive, competitive, geeky type. They tend to be know-it-alls and in the race to lengthen their precious (and often fictitious) life lists, they’ll either hallucinate or outright fabricate the sighting of a Green Violetear or an Eared Quetzal. “Right there! It’s there, on the third branch from the left fork of that Quercus, between 2 and 3 o’clock! There! I don’t know why you don’t see it!”  all in the loud, excited and yet simultaneously hushed tones of golf announcers. And, to be honest, then I think, “you’re Quercus!” and make a plan of escape. It’s particularly scary that there are now so damned many of us them. Reports are that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 bird watchers in North America, all clomping about in meadow and wood with way too much expensive gear. In addition to making up stories about birds they haven’t really seen, birders like to argue about the best binoculars, the best camera equipment and the best bird guides. Peterson is obsolete, Sibley is yesterday’s news; the field guide du jour is The Crossley ID. It’s mostly written in code, which suits birders just fine.

So why is it so embarrassing that I embrace such a, shall we say, catty view of birders? It’s because I’ve invested considerable effort and self-promotion in joining this particular group of odd ducks. Not just a flock of birders, no, it’s THE FLOCK of birders. A collective of bird watchers with members the likes of  Julie Zickafoose, Murr Brewster, Laura Hardy and Susan Kailholz-Williams and my friend, Jane Blumenthal, aka Wren. This flock of birders heads off each year to the best birding convocations and migrations to be led by prominent ornithologists such as Rudy Gelis, Bill Thompson, the Hershbergers (imagine a marriage of professional birders!) and Jeffrey Gordon. The Flock spends a week doing all those birdy things and then they write about it until the next get together. For the first six months they post photos and reports about the wonder of it all and for the next six months they write about how desperate they are to get together to do it again. And, if you follow any of them in their blogs or on Facebook, soon all you want out of your remaining years is to be one of them. A member of The Flock.(friend, Cathy, took these photos on Wildlife Weekend when I was giving a little owl talk.)

Say hello to the newest member. Blind in one eye, I line up the edge of my binoculars against the bridge of my nose and look through one eyepiece. Slightly dyslexic, I’m usually looking at the other left tree branch. As I try to focus my camera shot I end up losing the whole tree, let alone the bird. I’m allergic to the sun. And the greatest aberration? Brace yourselves. I don’t carry a life list. It’s true. I have one but I no longer carry it or even keep it current. Oh, I have Audubon Society pins for 100, 200, 300, 400 birds. I gave a Nene some water from my bottle on the peak of Mt Haleakala and I really saw a Forked Tailed Canivet Emerald Hummingbird on Roatan. But somewhere along the way I lost interest in all that competition, in the paraphernalia, the gear, the strained neck at the end of the day and I decided I was just going to watch what comes my way. What flutters into my field of vision, narrow as it is. Now, when I want to look at birds, I wear my big sun hat, take my modestly good point and shoot camera, sans tripod and extra lens and my adequate not-too-heavy binoculars. I’m happy if I get to see a good-looking or interesting bird but I’m equally happy seeing snakes and lizards and wildflowers and fish- hey! that reminds me! I need to pack my fly rod!

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird . . . So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. Richard P. Feynman

If the physicist who pioneered quantum mechanics can get off the bird naming thing, then so can I. Ha!

Here’s the thing. As a member of The Flock I have a moral obligation to post blog updates about the next great birding adventure: The New River Birding and Nature Festival. This is coming up soon, the first week of May, in New River (naturally), West Virginia.

So. All kidding aside? I can barely wait for this trip. I am so anxious to shed my winter lethargy and be one with Spring I can’t contain myself. For 5 days I get to wander and hike this fantastically beautiful part of the country, around the gorge, along the river and on the front porch. I keep reading my daily trip descriptions; they have names like Kanawha Falls to Burnwood, Birding By Boat, Muddlety Strips and yes! Birding By Butt! (I believe that is the one that fits into my philosophy of letting the birds come to me.) I smile every time I think about meeting this new gaggle of geese who will be my bunkmates and as we exchange notes, phone numbers, suggested snack lists-well, I realize that I’m probably guilty of wildly stereotyping birders. I’ll definitely keep you posted on that, promise, cross my heart, with blurry photos of unidentifiable birds.

For now, just click and look at the photos and read all about it. You’ll want to go, too. I think you still can, you know. I think there are still a few spaces available. I mean, you can’t be a member of The Flock or anything- too late for that this year. That requires some maneuvering but who’s to say that if you come this year you might not graduate to The Flock by next year? Just be sure to have the Crossley ID visible in your pack at all times.

Here’s a little video I took today of a youngster I’ve been watching. 

Down by the dock of the bay

Our company left today- not really company, more like family. They didn’t want to go and we didn’t want them to leave but it’s back to snow, doctors and work for them. The week was wonderful. Much as I dislike the expression, I would say that some parts of it were down right magical.

(I get up every day and throw on whatever is close at hand and brush my teeth. Juanita, on the premise of “look good, feel better” looks lovely no matter how crummy she feels. Lexi says she is the most beautiful mommy in the world.)

(Lexi had an appointment at the Bibbidy Boppity Boutique. Being transformed into a princess is serious business.)

(Okay. It’s magical.)

For the rest, it was time spent relaxing, having some heart-to-hearts, sharing the love and living in the moment. Bittersweet time. At night, after it was quiet and dark, Rich and I would talk about what wonderful parents Chris and Juanita are, how delightfully charming and smart and quick Alexis is. She certainly is the center of their universe, rightly so, and impossibly easy to spoil because she is so polite, well-disciplined and exceptionally adaptive and well behaved. Always the conversation ended with big sighs and sadness that Juanita has to go through this. Chris wears a bracelet that says, “Save the ta-tas” and I want one. I want Juanita’s ta-tas to be saved more than anything.


Coming off the visit, Rich and I have been sort of listlessly spending the day working at business, laundry, things set aside for a few days. We took a break a bit ago to wander down to the bayou to see if the manatee were at the wall but they were still out a ways; we could see them breaching the surface but the tide was still a bit low. While we were looking for them I spotted this: the sad demise of my regular friend. For four years, this little green heron has been perched, without fail, on a dock rail close to the water, picking off the little minnows for dinner.  It looked as though he had been fish hooked with some line dragging around his neck. Very very irksome. I was ready to go at that point, all grumpy and sad, but then Rich spotted another familiar feathered friend, this Yellow Crowned Night Heron. Closer inspection says he may not be the same one I saw last year because I think this is a youngster, but I’m not sure.

Thinking about birds reminds me of my most recent felting folly. For whatever reason I thought I might felt some bird houses. Laugh. It’s okay. Rich says it looks like a Jimmy Durante muppet. I’m going to cheer myself up by working on a magpie palace tonight.

Who are you? Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo?

Yes, I really want to know, too. That deaf, dumb and blind blogger, all over the map but unlike the pinball wizard, way too many distractions and far too little time. I’ve been considering giving up this blog altogether because I’m just too inconsistent about it, hell weeks go by and the other thing is that sometimes I write things in jest and people take them too seriously. It’s safe to assume that most of the time I’m either biting my tongue or it’s in my cheek.

I’m now firmly in Florida for the duration of winter but not before I had my fair share of it. Post-Christmas was spectacularly beautiful although we couldn’t get off the mountain. We have a 28 degree grade the last half mile up so if there’s any snow, ice or combination, that’s it for us and all of our neighbors living on the shoulders of Little Mount Pisgah. Rich gave up shaving somewhere about day 3 and  I fully expected him to yell out, “Heeerre’s Johnny!” and pop around a door. He had a little cabin fever thing going but it WAS beautiful and we took advantage of our mountain and the new flying saucer Santa brought us for Christmas.

We drove down here to St .Petersburg on the 30th, each in a car, each with a cat. Sophie sat on my lap and braked every single time I did. Both cats are happy to be here as they are free to go out and porch sit whenever they please. McCloud is slowing down noticeably and we are at that point where we are thinking he may not be long for this world but it’s normal old cat behavior. Occasionally we think about taking him to the vet and then ask ourselves why. Maybe that sounds negligent but I’m of the school that believes at some point intervening with vet trips and steroids and shots and fluids just adds stress on top of achy joints and overworked kidneys. We take excellent care of our animal companions but I just don’t know about starting down that path. We love him so much and he’s a wonderful cat and companion, nearly perfect except for his table manners. It’s hard to imagine life without him. For now, he doesn’t complain, sleeps more and more and somehow has given us the message that we shouldn’t be schlepping him around in our arms as we have in the past. Pet me, but don’t manhandle. I took a great photo of him and had it made into a postage stamp. Sometime in the future I’ll send Rich a nice card with a postage stamp of his cat.

Then I went back to Asheville for a fiber workshop weekend and discovered that the electric heat, the propane back up and the water pump had all failed. Three freezing days in the house and melting snow to flush toilets as repairs were made- that was a thrill and since I went on and on about how cold I was on FaceBook I’m not going to redo that drama here.

(now that I’m back to taking photos with my new camera I should probably figure out how to get one of those watermark things.)

Florida is for the birds and I’m loving it. We bike ride down to the bay. As of today, I’ve started back at Boyd Hill. I wondered about the avian pea-brain and what kind of memory they have as I walked along the enclosures saying my usual hellos. It’s been about 7 months (as I type that, I’m amazed. I guess it took most of a year to rebuild the mountain house, get settled in, grow a garden, discover the bears and find a routine.) so I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had acted as if I was a total stranger. But no. (Wheezer and the familiar evil eye she always gives me. She detests going out for education programs and although she doesn’t fight it, she’s never been thrilled with the person who takes hold of her jesses.)

The little screech owls clearly recognized me as did the two red-shouldered hawks that I handle, Shadow and Thinman. Turk and Pugsley, the turkey vultures, not so much. The other owls seemed vaguely attenuated to my voice and our new eagle, Abiaka, responded to me like the stranger that I am.

(Mystic, one of two barred owls, is sort of the program whack job. She’s very curious and always disheveled and frequently, for no apparent reason, just flings herself off the glove and hangs upside down.)

(Shadow is a favorite of mine. She really gave me a good once over when I first came into the enclosure.)

(She didn’t hesitate about hopping on the glove but she spent dinner time listening to me talk to her instead of eating.)

(Thinman, on the other hand, had no problem eating his mice and then moving on to Shadow’s)

Mostly these days I am seriously focused on getting my feltmaking to a level that feels satisfactory in all respects- teaching, marketing and most of all, creating. To that end I’ve been getting ready to launch that website, getting my winter classes and workshops going (nicely!) and trying to block out time to do my own work on projects. Today I made a stunning piece of felt that I laid out over a year ago. The layout entailed dyeing 4 different types of wool, 3 forms of silk, fussing over the design endlessly- and then I was afraid to felt it for fear of ruining the components. I finally tackled that this morning and the colors are fantastic and it has a nice dense heft to it. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I’ll show it to you once it dries and take suggestions. Yesterday I made this lovely shawl of merino wool felted to hand-woven silk. I’ve got a great vintage French celluloid button that I’m going to attach and then I’ll probably turn it over to Florida Craftsmen Gallery for sale. It’s nice and airy, soft with a little warmth,perfect for Florida winter nights.

Kids are fine, Rich is fine and we have the full contingent of friends who struggle with illness, friends who are coming to visit, possible termites and mildewed porch columns. Life, mostly good.  How’s by you?