Friday, December 23, 2011

"If you give up, it's all over."

Nature's drive to persist despite disaster seems, to me, a more truthful and powerful inspiration for our own perseverance than any imaginary divine purpose could ever be.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mob warnings?

Obviously, I was going to. But then I didn't. I even threw away the evidence. But then, later, I started picking it out of the trash. Then I stopped. What was wrong with me? I was conflicted. But, for you, dear readers (all 3 of you) I asked myself: what, in your heart of hearts, would you really want me to do? So,  I donned a pair of rubber gloves, pawed through the small amount of trash and pulled out what I'd thrown away this morning.

This morning Chip commented on how annoying the cat was being last night. I asked why he didn't shut her in the other room (her food/litter box/water place) which is what we normally do late at night when she's being irritating. She usually follows us happily into the other room and then we close the door and she hangs out in there until morning. Chip said, "She wouldn't follow me into the other room." 
 I replied: "Huh, I couldn't get her to follow me either when I got up to pee. Not even when I rattled her food bowl." 
To which Chip said, "Huh. Weird. Maybe she was busy waiting for a mouse or something." 
She gets obsessed with guarding certain spots if she's had a hint of mouse activity. I nodded and said, half-jokingly, "Yeah, in the middle of the night I thought I felt her pouncing around on the bed like she was chasing something. I had a brief thought that maybe she'd brought a mouse up on the bed, hahaha. I just pushed her off the bed with my feet and she went away." [fyi, she has done this very thing in the past. Live mice. Running around. On the bed.]

As I flipped the covers open to swing my legs out of bed, something odd on top of the extra blanket caught my eye. I had to grope for my glasses so I could verify my suspicion. 

You're probably familiar with the phrase "sleeping with the fishes", a classic mob-movie line that means - you're a deadguy. And even if you've never seen it, you at least know about the scene in the Godfather where the guy wakes up to the severed head of his prized horse in bed with him. So, what's it mean when you wake up in the morning and discover that your cat has left this for you in the folds of the extra blanket; that all night long you've been sleeping with a severed mouse head? 

Picture artfully cropped to protect those of a more delicate constitution.

It's been quite the season for severed animal heads around here. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Something to watch. To make you think.

The first term paper I ever wrote, in 10th grade A.P English class was on assisted suicide. That was 21 years ago. In most of the world we don't seem to be any closer to providing healthy, safe, compassionate spaces and protocols for dignified, self-determined deaths. Talking about death - real, personal, individual death - is still a great taboo, even between loved ones. Perhaps most especially between loved ones, for where else are stronger emotions and greater attachments generated? We need more conversations about death, we need better options for dignified, compassionate, self-directed deaths.

This documentary is worth your time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kangaroo briefs, rocks and eggs: A day in the life of me.

1. Public radio likes to talk about those "driveway moments" when their stories are so compelling that you delay getting out of your car upon reaching your destination in order to keep listening. This happened to me recently. The last sentence of a Vermont Public Radio on-air job opportunity ad for a producer/announcer at the station:
Announcer: "Excellent creative writing skills, a must." 

Wouldn't you expect the ad to say: "Strong journalism background a must"?  Creative News Writing. I kind of like the idea. I think I could be really good at that job. We could have a whole network dedicated to this kind of stuff. ImagiNews. I wanted to call it Creative News Network, but obviously....already taken - CNN. 

2. Also on VPR, a local announcer was reading one of the "underwriter" bits between segments (i.e. a donationally paid advertisement): 

"With underwriting support from so-and-so [I don't remember the company name, which I guess makes this a terrible ad ]. Now featuring men's kangaroo pouch briefs." 

Public radio underwritten by underwear? Weird, but times are tough. What the heck are kangaroo pouch briefs and are they really so much better than regular ones that they need a special ad? And yes, of course I googled "kangaroo pouch briefs" (and now you are too, you weirdo looking at underwear pictures. I sure hope you're not at work).  And besides, aren't kangaroo pouches only for females who need to carry baby kangaroos?  Ha! They are.  I just looked that up too. 

3. Being that this is New England, our soil is chock full of rocks. When I dig in my garden I hit a lot of them and it's pretty tedious really. So sometimes I find my mind slipping into "entertain Jen" mode and it starts imagining that my shovel might be hitting buried skulls or giant femurs from who knows what (but usually a human because that would be the most freaky). I finally get the spade wedged under an edge so I can pop the obstruction out of the soil. I feel a tiny moment of panic when something grayish white and rounded breaks the surface and then a brief moment of disappointment that it's just another damn rock. 

4. Cracking eggs never ceases to be fun. Every time I do it there's the possibility that I'll mess it up -  break the shell too hard so that the yolk gets punctured, not hit it hard enough so you have to go in for a second crack and then shell bits are guaranteed to get into what you're making. Or maybe I'll hit it perfectly.  I can tell by the sound it makes and the way it feels in my hand. I split it open and the perfectly formed insides slide out. Satisfaction. Cracking eggs, a small moment of wonder from something that seems so ordinary. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bird Brainless: An Update

First the earwigs came. Then the worms crawled in, the worms crawled out. The eyes bulged from their sockets. There was even some fuzzy mold after that.  There might have been a slight odor of decomposition, but let's not dwell on that unpleasantness.  I sprayed the skull a little with the "Jet" setting on the hose and unexpectedly excised the lens of the eye. At least, I think that's what it was. But the hose is not a precision instrument and bird skulls are pretty delicate, so I gave up the hose surgery endeavor. Still, much of the skull was covered with bits of dried skin and tiny feathers as well as the cartilaginous bits that had supported the eye (on the side I hadn't blasted with the hose).

 I decided to boil it. When you boil a chicken carcass it eventually comes pretty clean, right? And also - true story - when I told my neighbor about my cardinal head treasure, she told me about how she boiled a penguin head (super envious) she'd found on a beach years ago; that's how she got it clean. (You see why I like living in Vermont?) 

So I took my camping stove and an old camping pot that's too small to be useful and I made rotten cardinal-head soup. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the two pictures I took of that. I did it outside so that any smells would dissipate on the wind. I boiled the skull for about an hour, maybe occasionally picking bits of skin and feathers off as I could (I wore gloves, but again, let's not discuss such unpleasantness) and then just left it in the garage for another week while I was away visiting my family near Buffalo. 

This is what it looks like now. Skulls are so cool. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another dead thing and a Down East sunrise

We took a roadtrip to Maine. First to the AMC Knubble Bay Cabin with some friends and then way the eff Down East so I could fill my backpack with rocks and bring them back to Vermont. Like we don't have enough rocks here.

The Trip. In Photos.

 I saw a metallic glint in the sand. "Oo! A pretty shell!" I said to myself and 
picked up the shiny thing. But it wasn't a shell. It was a very recently dead
tropical-looking fish! After oogling it by myself for a minute, I showed it to Chip and then said,
"I'm going to go share this cool dead thing with the new people."
 It's my litmus test for judging people I've just met.  Doug and Sam passed the test. 

 Skinny fish. And I know you're all wondering if I did the same thing with this fish
that I did with that cardinal head from last month. No. Gross.
 Dead fish in my pocket for 4 days until I get back to VT?
Even I have limits. 

Chip commanding over Morse Beach

I just can't seem to leave the wildlife alone. 

And then we drove. A long way, until we got to the end of the earth. Okay, really, just one particular, arbitrary end point on a map of the USA. Lubec, ME. Where there is a gift shop near the Quoddy Lighthouse that boasts: "The easternmost gift shop in the USA!"

 West Quoddy Head lighthouse. A quick stop before heading
out on the Bold Coast Trail for an overnight. 

 I'm pointing to the bluff in the distance where we'll be setting up camp. 
I was here, by myself, three years ago. But this time I get to share it with Chip!

 Teeny, tiny Chip. Great big sea and rocks.

 It's cold, dark and 7:30pm. What to do? Go to bed fully and even doubly clothed. 
No. I'm not kidding. 7:30, sleeping. But that means I'm fully rested to see the sunrise!!!!

The Sunrise Series

 I'm up and out of the tent at 6:05 a.m. 
This is the first shot of sun coming up over the ocean.

 Sunrise 2.

 Sunrise 3

 Sunrise 4

 Sunrise 5

 Sunrise 6

 Sunrise 7 - really. This is for real. 

 Sunrise 8 - I wish I could taste this. 
Does that make sense? I don't care. A-mazing!

 Sunrise 9

 Sunrise 10

 Day two of the hike. We went about a mile until we got to Jennifer Cove (I took the liberty of renaming it). 
Since 12 hours of sleep wasn't quite enough, Chip took a nap.
while I worked hard harvesting the most beautiful rocks in the world. 

 I took this picture so that I wouldn't have to carry all these home with me. But, in the end,
my will was weak and I carried 4 pounds of rocks (almost all you see here) 
 four miles back to the car. Chip thought it was particularly amusing
 that I packed them into my "Go-Lite" stuff sack! 

 Me experiencing beach combing bliss on Jennifer Cove.

 Chip looking out over the ocean.

 1.5 miles to go. Powered by green peppers!!!! 

 Where we stayed pre- and post backpacking. 
Great burger. Great beer. Great views. Great local people.

Down town Lubec, ME.  
A hot-bed of activity on Wednesday morning.

Dear Way the Heck Down East Maine, 
You are pretty darn awesome. Especially because of signs like the one we saw on a small shed-like store that advertised: RED POTATOES, WOOD PELLETS, PIGLETS.
What more could you need? Thanks for another great visit.  

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bird Brain

 This past Wednesday was a long day working at the doctor's office and in the evening I wanted to do something to distract myself from feeling bombarded by personalities. So I took out the watercolor paints. Now, before you go thinking, "Hey, I didn't know Jen could paint!"  I can't. I took a class up in Bangor, ME in 1998. I painted some lemons and limes artfully resting near a blue aluminum can and it looked like a 3rd grader did it. But I still have all the brushes, paper and paints and what's not to love about making colors appear on paper. I tried to paint a sunflower.  Fail.  I tried to paint some trees. Fail.

So, I decided I'd paint some letters because that seemed fail-safe. I did Chip's name. Then I felt like changing it to "CHIRP".  That made me want to paint a little bird. Fail. Then I painted "CHOP" and the same orange bird (Fail) with it's head chopped off. The major success was flicking droplets of red paint from my brush to simulate blood. That's a satisfying watercolor "technique". So, anyway... I randomly painted a weird picture of a decapitated bird. 

Apropos of nothing above: I follow a blog by a writer named Vivian Swift. She did a great art journal book called When Wanderers Cease to Roam. She likes to find blue jay feathers. Sometimes when she's down-in the-dumps she talks about asking the universe to help her pay attention to the small, beautiful things in unexpected places. Sometimes she asks the universe to put a blue jay feather in her path and then often she finds one. She likes to write about that. And I am a sucker for those kind of stories because I have a feather finding feature. Some might call it a flaw. I'm obsessed with them. I find them all the time when we hike. People are amazed at how I can spot them and how they seem to find me. I've had them literally float down from the sky into my waiting hand. There have been times when I'll think, "it's been a while since I've found a feather...I hope I see one today on this hike." and then 5 steps down the path...there will be a feather. I know it's just coincidence, but secretly I imagine it's my special "gift". Wow...what a rockin' super power. 

Also seemingly apropos of nothing above: Today I really wanted to go for a big hike someplace exciting. Like in the Whites or the Greens, up a big mountain with big views and big wow factor. But for a bunch of reasons it didn't happen. (up too late, slept in, roads to all the places I love are closed, entire forests still closed). So I went to Springweather Nature Area.  An elderly man and his dog were heading out for a walk at the same as I was and we talked for a few minutes. He suggested I turn left on the path down below and walk to the bench for a really stunning view of the reservoir.  I was walking along enjoying the beautiful breeze and temperature, enjoying time alone. Thinking meandering thoughts. Thinking about Vivian Swift and her blue jay feathers. I jokingly, in my head, "asked the universe" if it might be able to put some feathers in my path today. In a few minutes I arrived at the bench the old man had told me about. I was going there to see the view of Irene's flood water line. The North Springfield dam saved my town from Irene's flooding destruction.  Thank you, North Springfield dam and reservoir.

 I sat in the warmth of the sun and gawked in amazement until I decided it was time to head in the other direction.  And that's when it happened. Walking back on the opposite edge of the woodsy road, something in the weeds and twigs to my left caught my eye. Instantly I knew - male cardinal feathers and lots of them! This was clearly the site of a bird murder. 

So, I did what any feather-loving, crime scene investigator would do, I took pictures, collected samples and generally studied the scene in great detail. This kill was very fresh; some of the quills were still dark and wet inside. The piles of downy feathers, flight feathers, tail feathers hadn't yet blown apart from each other. I picked through them, examining their beauty and variation. I put a few into my coat pocket. I was pretty sure I could even identify feathers that would have been part of the bird's crest. I moved around to the other side of the scene for a different look and there it was....jackpot! 

Anyone who knows me knows my fascination with dead things. Anyone who knows me will easily guess what I did next. Yep, you got it!  I picked it up by the beak. The eyes were closed, of course, but not yet sunken in. There was still weight of  bird brains inside. The back of the head was clean of feathers, exposing a hemisphere of yellowish white skull-orb. When I woke up this day I never imagined that by noon I'd be holding the head of a recently dead male cardinal. I wanted to keep it. Yes, you read that right. I wanted to wait for the feathers and flesh to decay and then to have a bird skull. So I started walking with it down the path toward my car where I was going to leave it while I continued on my walk. But then I saw the elderly gentleman I'd met on my way in. Our trajectories would coincide shortly and he'd see me holding a bird head by the beak. Also, I was afraid his dog might want to eat it. Awkward, to say the least. So, I did what had to be done. I unzipped the upper chest pocket on my windbreaker and dropped the cardinal's head inside. 

With my treasure safely stowed, I decided to continue on my walk without stopping at my car. For another hour I walked, took pictures and had a lovely afternoon. I chuckled to myself once in a while but felt occasional bits of nervousness about the mental health of someone going for a walk with dead bird parts in her chest pocket. 

So, the lessons for today are obvious. You don't need to go far away or to mountains to find fascinating things to spark your wonder. The routine nature walk place right down the street has wonder and beauty to spare if you're willing to look for it. Second lesson, be careful what you ask for from the universe. You just might get it tenfold. Third lesson, stuff that seems apropos of nothing can sometimes end up making a curiously serendipitous story. 

Two photos to cleanse the mental palate from all that dead bird head talk:

This is not a Oz. This is not a photoshop trick. It really looks like this. 

I peeled up a leaf to see its imprint. I love that it looks like a black and white photos except for the the rusty, pink hue of the real leaf in the upper left edge

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Ninja

I know what you're thinking: "It looks like Jen's lifting her leg to pee; like a dog. Hahaha."  You're hysterical, you know that? Really you are.

But you're wrong. 

No, this is Summer Ninja out stalking fodder for personal amazement and perpetually renewed wonder. Did you know that one of the easiest ways to make new discoveries on a daily basis is to have a love affair with nature? Honestly, I can go out every day into the woods, into my yard, along the road and with just a little bit of patience and observation I can see things I didn't see the day before, or ever before, for that matter. One of the best nature-y subjects for this kind of never-ending love affair....insects. 

Now before you go getting all sissy on me, stop for a second.. It's terribly irrational, your fear of (most) insects in New England. You're missing out on so much potential for learning. The insect world holds unending examples of beautiful, functional adaptations for evolutionary success. Shapes, colors, textures, habits that amaze the eye and make for great photographic explorations.

Look what I found in just a few meadow-y acres at Springweather Nature Area over the past two days:

 Red Milkweed Beetles (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus) getting all sexy.

Summer Ninja stalking grounds.

 Okay, if you really hate are some pretty Black Eyed Susan. Do you feel safe now?

My new favorite insect creature. Viceroy Butterfly Larva (Limenitis archippus). I mean, look how COOL that is! It's like a caterpillar, horse, sea horse thing with antlers!

 Viceroy butterfly larva at an earlier instar (stage of larval development before sexual maturity). And if you look carefully, you'll see the tiny blue leafhopper also on the stem. 

Limenitis archippus Viceroy Butterfly larva. Viceroy's have some fantastic adaptations. During early instars  the caterpillar looks like a bird dropping.

 Dragonfly wings never cease to wow me with their delicate beauty. It takes serious Ninja skills to stalk members of the order Odonata.
 Look at this black and iridescent beauty!

 Oh, Nature! Your miners leaf marks upon my heart! 

So, tonight, after the rain, in the gloaming, I had to go back to my field and see what everyone was up to.

 During early instars, the viceroy larvae have evolved to look like bird droppings as a camouflage technique. "Wow, Roy, you really look like shit today."  "Thanks!"

 This is a more advanced instar of the Viceroy larva where it's not only much bigger, but also turns greenish.

Summer Ninja tools and disguises:

Lepidoptera boots and trippy 60's umbrella. 

 Thank you, Springweather Nature Area for being my clandestine Nature love-affair meeting place.