Category Archives: Friends with Feathers

Everything’s coming up tulips


(Whenever he’s in baseball mode, he looks like a happy kid)

After that last whine, the only sensible thing was to fix as much as possible and leave the State. We did stay long enough to go to the Half Century League baseball banquet. It’s hard for me to know how people can talk about nothing but baseball but that’s what they do, endlessly re-living home runs, injuries, won and lost games, bad plays that someone else made. Still, it was fun, mostly because Rich just loves playing baseball with these guys and it’s good to see him so happy. He was so happy he almost cried when they surprised him with the biggest trophy of the evening: the Sportsmanship Award. He gets to have the trophy on our mantel for a year and then it gets passed on but he has a little one, also with his name engraved on it, that he gets to keep. Rich really is a good sport about just about everything and I know that is especially true on the baseball field. I watched his team play the Pennsylvania Amish All-Stars a couple of months ago and as he’s the catcher he made it a point to welcome everyone personally as they came up to bat and wished them all a good game. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.

The next morning I couldn’t get in the car fast enough to drive north and at the Florida/Georgia border, when the car told me it was 96 degrees outside, I felt like I was fleeing that unbearable heat and humidity. We do love our neighbors there and I miss them terribly and I love my felt classes and the birds at Boyd Hill but that harsh sun is just too hard on this pale complexion. Also I have discovered that I really crave, need, long for Spring and autumn. Without living with the clear demarcation of seasons I’m just not right. We drove as a caravan and I got the best of that deal; Rich was missing the Masters and I’m fairly certain he would have found a sports bar and stopped to watch if not for McCloud who was fussing and panting. Sophie settled down right in my lap and spent all but the last 18 miles there. She’s a great driver, tensing and relaxing in tune with the traffic and digging her claws into my thigh if I go above 79 mph or change lanes too quickly. Mostly she purrs, bathes and naps. We exit hwy 26 at Mountain Home. I kid you not, that’s the name of our exit and at that point Sophie is up, on high alert and at the windows. She goes to whichever window is in the direction of the house so for 18 miles there is a lot of dashing back and forth across the front seat. Watching her is like tuning in to a little satellite or GPS system and I don’t wonder a bit at tales of animals finding their way home across vast distances.

Here, it is beautiful. Sunny mild afternoons and cool nights. We are seeing this home for the first time in Spring and it is more beautiful than I had hoped or imagined. The mountains are all shades of light and brilliant greens with the mountain tops still bare in places. At the foot of our long drive there are a dozen mature white dogwoods in full bloom and all around the house there are pink and red dogwood, azaleas and all manner of bulbs. Clearly, a lot of the daffodils that have lived in the woods for years had already come and gone but all of the 1000 bulbs I planted last fall are up and in various stages of bloom. (okay. The 1000 bulbs Rosario planted last fall)  The daylilies that were given as a gift from a stranger mid-summer last year have emerged strong and thick and I’m excited to see them flower.

The first day back I went with friends over to Madison County for a book club meeting. Talk about Appalachian Spring! Many of the houses look as old as the hills and show generations of character, with silvered wood and mud for grout between the logs. It’s hard to know how things like the economy affect people who have been living, literally off of and with the land for their entire lives.

The second day back I was giddy at the prospect of putting leafy greens in the garden, perhaps a bit too giddy because I wrenched my ankle flat sideways in the mud and heard a dreadful noise. My first thought was that I had cracked the same ankle I broke 24 years ago but after a couple of minutes of gasping and deep breathing I decided that it was the sound of ligaments giving way rather than a break. I did exactly as the doctor would have ordered, if I’d gone to a doctor- iced it and bound it and kept it up. It was miserable for about 48 hours, both because I couldn’t be up and down the hill, plus it hurt like the dickens but it is much better now, on day four. Still colorful, still braced but mending.

The bears are here- we see evidence of them in our woods and the neighbors report that their feeders are being raided and destroyed. We have ours filled and it is covered all day long with all manner of birds but we take it down at dusk. I had just downloaded iBird Pro in anticipation of the trip to the New River Birding Festival the first of May and now I find myself ticking off bird after bird right here at home. Sophie is not so fond of the audio feature on the application, especially when I try out raptor calls.The hummingbirds are back and all the feeder birds are busy nest building. (A good use for odds and ends of wool and silk. I stuff them in empty produce bags and hang them from the trees. They are a big hit right now; sometimes there is a bit of a set-to over who will get the scrap of sari silk. Luxury living for baby birds, yes?)

All day long they are flitting about with construction materials; the goofy Carolina Wrens have built a nest in the eave near the downspout where I fear it will wash out with the next hard rain. I put up this little felt house this afternoon and within an hour the chickadees started flitting in and out. I’m fairly cautious at the moment and not quick enough to snatch the camera and focus fast so I’ve been missing some great shots. Yesterday in the late afternoon a very playful red fox was in the yard pouncing on things- bugs?- and then chewing them up. (S)he took time to roll around and at one point made a great leap at a butterfly. The shots I did get were pretty blurry. I was hoping the fox would be back today but I got busy hammering a project together so that was a deterrent I think.(Our lawn would be good as a  “before” shot for a Chemlawn advertisement. With the acreage we are content to let the meadow portion run to violets and dandelions and grubs for this lovely (blurry) creature.)

So, we are happy and the cats are happy and it’s both peaceful and humming with life here at the mountain house.

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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.

My new best excuse

(This photo was taken by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and is not copyrighted. He is one of my all time favorite photographers and I also think he is an incredible steward of the earth, maybe the best. If you haven’t seen his work or you are not familiar with his GoodPlanet.org, I highly recommend you check him out.)

Made up my mind. I am definitely going to keep up this blog, if for no other reason than to get Bonnie’s comments. And really, FC is right: FaceBook is sort of sucking the life blood out of some good blogs but there’s something lacking over there. It’s sort of promiscuous, a kind of cheap intimacy. (It ain’t pretty being easy, but sometimes I love it.) Also, it encourages those of us already challenged around editorial boundaries to just cut loose, not that I would ever do anything like recount my adventures with Bank of America, ala some bizarre impersonation of Robin Williams negotiating a mortgage.

Anyway, today I am coming clean and I have this new link for you: TANGLEDUPINWOOL.COM

I have been a busy feltmaker and I’m happy the site is up and launched, if not completely written, stocked, or padded out with all the bells and whistles I would like. I do hope you all will come visit me there. And for those of you chickens willing to cross the road? The first three to add a note at TUIW with your address will get a lovely surprise in the mail. (I promise not to share it with anyone, not even B of A)

And just to show you that I am, indeed, keeping up this blog that will no longer be all about things wool, guess who is back in the ‘hood? We thought he might have finally moved on, but two days ago I heard his call, went out and looked and there he was: Hannibal! Our old friend is back, perched next to his nest but I haven’t seen the missus yet this year. She usually arrives about a week later. That’s how Coopers stay mated for life, you know. She takes a separate vacation for a few months each year. I’ll keep you updated on their progress this season. Promise.

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?

Word for the day: Enlightenment

Verb. Def: The act of stuffing random strings of cheap Christmas lights into the belly and down the limbs of defective, tacky, holiday animals in an effort to resurrect them.

If I could have shot this moose, ala Palin, I would have. But we don’t have guns.

I barely deserve your attention, given my total lack of attention to either my blog or yours. Sorry about that. I’m busy with the holidays just like you, traveling back and forth between snowy mountain house and Florida, getting ready for a visit from our first grandchild, teaching felt classes, getting out holiday orders and trying to launch my website. (If the “webmaster” finds out I’m doing this post instead of uploading descriptions, blog posts related to felt and inventory photos, I’m in trouble…). On top of all of that, I have something on my mind. (Ha! A Pun. Fill you in later.)

Anyway, I’m in Florida this weekend but the whole reason I chose to stay in Asheville for this season was so I could see a beautiful fresh snow all the way to Tennessee. Rich is down here, working and playing ball with his “Boys of Winter” league and I’ve been missing some perfectly good nooky companionship in order to watch the seasons change. No sooner did I get on the plane on Friday than did it start snowing. Now, my neighbors report they are snowed in on the mountain with a beautiful blanket of fresh wet white stuff. They are all good people and have been busy checking in on the Sophie Cat and watering the tree. It looks as though I’ll have trouble flying home tomorrow afternoon and if I do get into Asheville I’ll have to play find-ur-car among the other snow-covered vehicles in the long-term parking lot. Then, because the temps are dropping I’ll have to scrape forever, in inadequate clothing and then I won’t be able to make it up to the house. Ah, me.

So, several things on the agenda for this weekend. Misha graduated. Amazing. Abby marries this Russian immigrant, much to my shock and horror and he turns out to be the world’s most admirable fellow and they continue to be madly (I mean giggly, laughing, supportively, affectionately, hotly, madly) in love. He’s studied hard, with English as his second language and worked 40 plus hours a week outside of school and finished his degree in business. We’ve grown to love him, too and we are very proud of him. Today-Sunday-is the day he would have attended graduation ceremonies but instead they packed up the car and headed back to Durham where Abby has finished her first semester as a doctoral student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. They were very excited to get back under one roof, with their Chicago rescue cat, Grey. 

(Abby and Misha, literally on top of the world on Mt. Elbrus in Russia one year ago. They continue on so.)

I also wanted to get the token tacky holiday yard art up for the season, because this is, after all, Florida. Damn those Chinese! Not only are they plotting to be  the smartest people on the planet; they also wreak havoc with this nation’s emotional stability by fuckin’ up the cheap Christmas lights we buy by the bazillions. And you know, there are two types of people: those who, when confronted with half a dead string of lights, throw them out and run to Walmart and those who sit on the ground poking and pulling at every single damned light bulb trying to fix the fuckin’ mess. And then move on to the effin fuses. Guess which group I fall into? I also do poorly on standardized tests. Dammit. Okay, enough profanity about the lights and I kept it all in one paragraph.

So the moose was a mess and the polar bears need to be in rehab as paraplegics and the penguin keeps blowing over, but the menagerie is up. This involved, as noted above, a lot of cursing, two people and a furious stuffing of surplus lights into various body cavities that had necrosis from previous years. One moose, two polar bears, 3 geese, a penguin, a frog, an alligator, and a partridge in a palm tree. And a couple of random Charlie Brown strings of lights never pulled off the Norfolk Pine for the past three years, blown every which way. Looks positively festive and bright. If I win the lottery before Dec. 26 I’m going to buy every wonderful 3-D holiday light creature on sale anywhere, the day after Christmas. Then I’ll be ready for next year.

(Everything looks better in the morning. Rich took this with his cell phone, no less. My camera is acting up. I want Julie Zickefoose’s camera for Christmas.)

Last night Rich and I went to the movies so we could spend some time holding hands in the dark. We watched Unstoppable. What stupid fun. I loved it. Afterward, we were walking across the Baywalk shopping area and came upon two of St. Petersburg’s finest. Splendid, splendid gorgeous black Percheron horses who came from the Boston police department, we were most impressed with their uniforms. They get their own special detailing including reflective gear, shiny badges in the middle of their broad chests and special protective shoes that allow them to walk on crushed glass without harm. I pet one and I’m telling you, his coat was SO soft. The officer riding him said he had his “winter coat” and I believed that because so does Sophie and they feel equally luxurious. All about the animal fiber, you know.

(Ridiculous, I know. But I just had my cell phone and I was trying to capture how incredibly black they were with bright shiny regalia. Shoes! They wear shoes that come up to their shins!)

What else? Oh! I needed to visit Boyd Hill and say hello to our new juvenile Bald Eagle, Abiaka. What a handsome fellow! He was born late 2009 and fell out of his nest as a baby last March. Sadly, he was injured to the point that he can’t live free so he will live with out this life with us, educating others and getting a great daily diet, alway a whole red snapper on Fridays (bet you didn’t know Eagles were Catholic.). Rumor has it that Abi has the spunky disposition of a teenager and he loves nothing more than to pull the plug on his bathing pool. Which, of course, leaves him high and dry until someone checks in on him some hours later. Fine now, while it’s cool but he might want to leave well enough alone once things heat up here next Spring. Eagles do love their water. As soon as I got to the park there was a fierce down-pouring of rain and Abi seemed positively delighted, prancing about with wings spread and calling out.

(Abi, enjoying the rain. He has a partial bamboo screen so he can decide how much time he wants to spend in the public eye as he gets acclimated to life as a program raptor.)

Anyway, with all this traveling back and forth, I ought to have my head examined. Guess I’ll tell you about that next time. Also, it IS the Third Sunday of Advent and yes, Bonnie, I have my purple candles, this year beeswax from our local farm market, and that means it’s about time for Buckminster Fuller to put in an appearance. I’m working on a second chapter. Cheers!

The Ultimate Demise of Minky

Last week our contractor called me to say “thanks a lot” for warning him about the stuffed fox hidden under the basement stairs of the mountain house. They were pulling things out in preparation for laying tile down there and I guess a couple of the builders screamed like girls.(Foxy never did like the neo-industrial architecture of the Chicago condo. He jumped at the chance to go to North Carolina.)

Those few of you who have known me for a while know that I had a brief fling with taxidermy. Back in Michigan I could sometimes be found haunting antique stores, not in search of a Roseville vase or a Chippewa basket but rather some hapless stuffed critter. I admit that I was fascinated with these specimens that, in life, I couldn’t get close to but as taxidermy, I could admire them to my heart’s content. Small mammals were my favorite. And although I would never be involved with the killing or commissioning of such an item I did really enjoy my little collection, much to the amusement of BCMA. In retrospect it was probably much to the horror and bewilderment of some of my patients. Ah, me.

Anyway, I’ve been busy organizing life and this household in Florida for my move north to Asheville. Rich is coming along in about a month and a bit, after everything is done and our possessions have been pulled out of storage and brought down from the Midwest. It makes the most sense to have everything as settled as possible before he and the cats arrive. A slight digression: Curious thing about marriage. The past couple weeks as I’ve been really very busy, with many details in my head, I have gotten a bit short with Rich’s apparent inability to find a fork or open mail. But as I was thinking about it, I realized that we each have gone helpless in certain areas, deferring to the other for assistance. Really, we’re more capable than we each act. So when I considered the possibilities I realized that if Rich is at the mountain house when the van first arrives and dumps everything off, he’ll be distressed because he can’t work in peace and I’ll be distressed because he’s not helping me lift boxes and move heavy things. And we’ll give vent to our distress because that’s who we are and then there will be that negative pall over something new and special and happy. It is far better for him to stay here and work and mind the kitties. I’ll be there, managing just fine (remind me I wrote this in a couple of weeks) getting everything arranged and put away. When Rich isn’t around I surprise myself with my own physical strength and if that isn’t sufficient I’ll just work around what I can’t do until I can snag trusty Rosario. (he has no idea he’s becoming a fixture in my plans and in my blog, poor fellow.)

As far as the cats go, they like routine and they do not like change. They would prefer to stay put whether we go or not. It would be fine with them if the Roomba put out their food as long as it was at 7am and 7pm. Not really. They like us and besides, the Roomba wouldn’t do the litter box.

They not only like us, they bring us food. Much in the same way that Rich and I are in some ways helpless to care for ourselves but care for each other, so it is with the cats. McCloud can’t open a can and although he surely could, he hasn’t gone out and caught any sustenance for himself lately. But he reliably brings us bunnies. And Sophie brings birds. Every morning when we get up the bedroom floor is littered with delicacies for us to eat. I think Sophie is a tad brighter because she at least brings things that vaguely resemble birds while McCloud just brings large balls of yarn. He would move dozens every night from the living room to the foot of the bed if I didn’t intervene but since he also enthusiastically kills each and every skein, I’ve got him down to his own basket of 6 balls, all tangled and in shreds. Every morning we round them all up and put them back, Cloudy’s bunnies in his basket and Sophie’s birdies in hers. Then we thank the cats effusively and give them breakfast.

The two of them are in for a rude awakening when they get piled into the car and driven north.I plan to have their baskets of yarn and toys in a convenient place near our new bedroom but still…When I worked at Lincoln Park Zoo we would often change up the habitats of the animals just to keep them on their toes. It’s called “enrichment.” By giving them a whole new environment to explore they stayed alert and curious and didn’t get complacent. So, Cloudy and Sophie- brace yourselves for a little enrichment.

(Okay. As I was writing that I had deja vu for this delightful Monty Python skit. I have tried to describe it before and no one seems to have seen it but me-except now I find it on YouTube. Go here and laugh with Confuse-a-Cat.)

Where was I? Oh, right, moving in circular fashion back to taxidermy. Working at the zoo pretty much cured me of my interest in taxidermy. I had lots of opportunities to get up close and personal with all sorts of furry creatures and besides, I began to feel fairly guilty on behalf of all us ignorant folk for lording it over animals in the first place when really, we should try at all costs to leave them to themselves when we can. That includes not being party to enjoying stuffed ones, thereby denying them the privilege of the whole dust-to-dust scenario. Who knows? A dung beetle might come back as a meerkat, left to decompose in peace. But here I was, stuck with the responsibility of a half-dozen taxidermied animals. Hence the fox under the stairs at the mountain house.(Minky, minus an ear and two moth-eaten feet, finds herself unceremoniously dumped in the trash today. Life moves on.)

Minky made the move here to Florida a few years ago when (God forgive me) I dressed her up with Christmas bows and posed her under the tree- back when the house was on the Old Northeast Christmas home tour. (Now that I think of it, it’s possible that this had something to do with my lack of acceptance in the neighborhood garden club. Then again, I might be imagining that.) Yesterday, in the process of packing up some things that will go north I discovered that Minky has acclimated to Florida’s pestilence and high humid temperatures about as well as I have: not at all. And now I feel badly because while I was having my own encounters with the dermatologist and tending to the cats flea allergies, I ignored Minky who was just sitting in an old fishing creel in the corner, coming apart at the seams.

The moral of this round about tale (yet another one) is that, as noted in Ecclesiastes,  there is a time and a place for everything. My skin tells me that much of the time, Florida is not a place for me. The cats’ constant struggle with flea allergies and the subsequent itching and fur loss suggest this place is rough on them during the really hot times.  Many of my plants, nurtured over years, including begonias from my mother, have struggled with the Florida heat and sun.(These plants will hopefully survive the trip and thrive in North Carolina)

On the other hand, plants that I could never grow before flourish here,  in a fashion I never imagined possible. Orchids and ferns go wild. Rich thrives here in Florida, especially since he’s found a renewed love for playing baseball and a group of swell teammates. He does a much better job of growing where he is planted, in any case. Me? I need the seasons. I need the contrast between full vibrant green and dormant cold ground. Basically, I need that deciduous thing, the starting and the stopping and then all over again. That’s more my nature.

For a fair part of the year, I will miss my friends here, especially my good neighbors Marion and Other Vicki and Ken and south of the bridge Cathy. I will miss the art people here in St. Petersburg and classes at the Morean Arts Center. I will really miss Shadow and Wheezer and Phantom and Hoo2 and Mystic, my feathered raptor friends and all of my fellow caretakers at Boyd Hill. I’m not sure yet what my schedule will look like; I’m going to let the weather move me so we’ll see. These next couple days I’ll be loading up my car and heading to the mountain house- the first house that I have ever really designed with me and my life with Rich in mind. A house to fit my life. Imagine that. What will the reality be, for me and for Rich and those flea-bitten cats? Imagine that!  I’ll see you there.(Okay, I admit it. There are things about Florida that are simply beautiful.)