Before we head back to the mountain house…

“In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself.” (Albert Einstein)

In the past few days, I’ve mumbled “Just shoot me now.” more than once. Probably at least three times. In a good week I only have to deal with one of the following: Direct TV, BrightHouse, Anthem Blue Cross, Sprint or Citizens Insurance. In a bad week I have an encounter with Pudgy Fingers at Bank of America. (If you don’t know that rant, you’re not on my FB and it’s just as well. That was both an all time high and an all time low in rants, applauded by many.) This week I have had to deal with ALL of the above, plus a plumber, a rodent control person, a wind mitigation insurance inspection, an appraiser and a new bank. This last group, to a one, have been quite nice and professional but still. The contractor who did the improvements on the house didn’t have his crew reattach the screening that covers the cinder block vents that are common to Florida houses where you have crawl spaces rather than basements. Rats got in and ate through the main house drain. Really? I know. Really. Most likely they came to call after a major rousting from construction on the house next door. Rats are endemic to places with citrus trees. Anyway, they got thirsty enough that they ate through the drain. We called pest control. Crawl spaces are not nice and the access is a little 3 x 2 hole in the closet floor of the guest room. About the third time someone squeezed out of that crawl space covered in mud and filth with a giant dead rat, I said “Just shoot me now.”

(The plumber noted that sometimes, here in Florida, rats come up into the toilets through the pipes. WTH? This is the stuff of nightmares.)

Then the plumber went down and came up and looked like he might be having a heart attack so I invited him to sit his filthy self down and have some ice tea. He recovered, left and once again I cleaned up the mess and shoved some of the detritus that doesn’t fit in this tiny house back in the closet before the appraiser came. But before he could get here, the screen repair guy came and everything was dumped out and down he went with bales of screen and tools and then he came up wheezing and sweaty and I cleaned again and refilled the closet.  Not 24 hours passed and the mitigation guy came to inspect the house for homeowners insurance. This is because, although Florida is notorious for gouging people on their homeowners insurance, I have long felt as though we are being especially gouged. Singled out, you might say. This house is a piece of sh historic property which means we get to pay 3500.00 a year to insure 1200 sq ft for 200,000 which it is probably not worth and definitely wouldn’t be enough to replace it. We also haven’t been getting any credit for new hurricane shutters, new roof, new heating/cooling, etc. And we’ve been charged for being in a flood zone, which we are not, according to the city. We are on relatively high ground. The solution is you hire a mitigation inspector to come and certify that you have certain protections and then hopefully your insurance rate is reduced.

The mitigation inspector came and I sort of whimpered, “You don’t have to go in the crawl space do you?” and mercifully he said, “No.” Instead he pulled down the ceiling ladder and crawled up into the attic to look at the inside construction of the roof. Insulation rained out of the attic and I sighed. When he came down about 10 minutes later he said the new roof was up to snuff but it appeared there was a possum living in the attic. Just shoot me now.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (St Matthew 7:15)

In my never ending effort to put as much distance as possible between those criminals Bank of America and ourselves, we’ve applied for a new mortgage with a bank that seems, up to this point, helpful and courteous. They’ve offered us a good rate compared to Bank of America, where they are braced to raise our already outrageously high adjustable rate through the heavens when it comes up for change in 10 months. The fine print of the contract that was signed 6 years and 3 banks back notes that, in lieu of attaching our rate to some reasonably low federal index plus some, they can attach it to any old index- oil futures, gold, intergalactic exploration, whatever- and then add a whole lot more for their trouble. How does 10.75 percent sound? Funny, the stuff you’ll sign without considering all the possibilities of the fine print. So, early this morning a very kind, round appraiser shows up to figure out how much our house is worth. We already know that what seemed like a lot of down payment equity a few years ago is now a drop in the bucket of a dead housing market, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed. We spent the past little while stripping and refinishing 600 feet of deck, power washing the house, cleaning (and re-cleaning) from top to bottom in preparation. The house now, on the eve of our return to North Carolina for the year, is so spit-spot that it sparkles in that way that houses do only when they are up for sale, not when people are actually living in them. This gentleman measured, photographed, scrutinized the premises and admired it greatly. And then he spent half an hour telling me horror stories of every single upside-down house he’s appraised in the last six months. Just shoot me now.

(It’s a cute little house.)

The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same. (Stendal)

Meanwhile, back in the world of health insurance, Anthem Blue Cross is trying to kill us. There are many details and hours of heated exchange about how they quoted us, in correspondence which we signed, copied for our records and returned, the wrong rate. I won’t go into all that because it would get your blood pressure up, too. Although we’ve been, all these months, dutifully paying that quoted and already prohibitive rate that makes us seriously consider living uninsured, we fell behind by a couple hundred dollars, unbeknownst to us. (what kind of sentence is that?) I guess the real rate was a secret, kept only unto Anthem Blue Cross. We didn’t know any of this until we showed up for Rich’s middle-aged person’s routine colonoscopy (which means he’s already having fun, right?) and the little clerk informs us that that will be a deposit of 1700.00 please, because our health insurance was cancelled. The total cost will be determined after the fact, depending on the state of his colon.(It’s good. In the end, no pun intended, we are always grateful.)  The one and only thing that is covered short of the Mack truck scenario under our policy is now not, because we have been cancelled. Seriously. the ONLY thing they cover is a routine colonoscopy and it’s so exciting to have something, anything covered by insurance that it seemed like a great idea to drink a gallon of Go-Litely and toddle on over to have it done. So I said to Rich, “Hey! This is great! You go first!” except after he did, endlessly, we find our insurance has been cancelled. Just shoot me now.

Wait. I’ll do it myself. The idea seems even more attractive because THIS HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION. Click on the link to see this 3000 year old innovation. Right when I despair that the whole world has gone mad AND is against us a friend sends me this. In an age when so many old fashioned common sense ideas have  fallen by the wayside, when all sense and sensibility seems out of reach and values have thinned to translucency HERE is an old idea whose time has come. Debby, a savvy woman of great good Midwestern sense,  passed this on to me and by God, it makes death look down right attractive. I mean this is everything I have been trying to explain to people for the past two years. Cozy, soft, warm, no artificial colors, ecologically sound. I am about to re-write “cremation, please” to “wool coffin, please.”

Wool: The Perfect Fiber

Sheep : The Perfect Animal

CLOUDS GRAZE THE SKY;

BELOW, SHEEP DRIFT GENTLE

OVER FIELDS, SOFT MIRRORS,

WARM WHITE SNOW.

SNOW CLOUDS THE SKY,
GENTLE SHEEP GRAZE;

SOFT WHITE MIRRORS BELOW
DRIFT WARM.

WARM DRIFT, GRAZE GENTLE,
WHITE BELOW THE SKY;
SOFT SHEEP, MIRRORS,
SNOW CLOUDS.

SHEEP BELOW DRIFT,
SOFT SNOW CLOUDS;
WARM MIRRORS GRAZE
WHITE,THE SKY GENTLE.

These sheep which belong to Donald Slater of Whitehouse Farm Centre, Morpeth, Northumberland, were sprayed, using the paint with which farmers traditionally mark their flocks, with the words of a “haik-ewe.” They were then left to graze, and the poems formed as they wandered into different patterns were noted down.

And for Bonnie, who always leaves perfectly poetic comments :


Si quelqu’un veut un mouton, c’est la preuve qu’il en existe un.”

 

 


 

 


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.

a nearly perfect day