Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

We’re all in our comfort zones right now–our homes. But don’t forget to step outside and see what’s happening. As abnormal as the rest of our world seems right now, some beautiful sights are just outside your front door.

The neighbors have a new cat who has taken over the neighborhood. He is a handsome yellow creature who sits atop my fenceposts to hunt and patrols my high deck railing. A coyote ran through my yard over the weekend, and for the first time in some 50 years, a heron stood surveying my yard from the top of the pumphouse. The camellia bush is almost done blossoming and those bright pink blossoms of the peach tree are just opening.

This is not a month for words. Here are some of my favorite photos of outside attractions:

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The quince bush is just now beginning to blossom.

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Moon snail shell and part of a moon snail egg case on the beach at low tide.

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Lisa’s amazing photo from a caterpillar infestation of several years ago. They can de-leaf a whole tree!

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We will soon be seeing rhododendron blossoms like these.

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Tulip fields in Mt. Vernon won’t be open this year, but I heard that they will be posting photos!

Step outside, take a walk, enjoy the sights in your neighborhood, and stay safe.

The Writing’s on the Wall

February is a month of hope. We can see the days getting longer. We often see just a few more days of sunshine. I start browsing the seed catalog and planning my veggie garden on paper.

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I’m not sure how many of you read the business section of your newspaper, but if you don’t, you might need to. Whether we like it or not (and I don’t), money shapes much (most?) of our world. However, even if we see dirty footprints wandering through those pages, sometimes we get a glimpse of humanity and even hope.

The Sunday Seattle Times on January 26, 2020, carried a story in its business section, “The Climate Crisis Is Reshaping the World of Finance.” Granted, it’s written by three environmentalists, but the facts they were reporting were enough to cause two of us in my house to rustle the newspaper, sit up and take notice.

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, a company that holds an 8 to 11% stake of every company in the Fortune 500, has announced in his annual letter to CEO’s that they now expect to see business plans for “operating under a scenario where the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is fully realized,” as well as “hold accountable” present board members who don’t make significant progress toward that goal. The climate crisis has become so severe, he had said, that it has become a force that will “fundamentally reshape” the world of finance.

Goldman Sachs, the powerful bank on Wall Street? It has recently prohibited funding of coal mines, power plants and Arctic oil drilling projects, the authors report.

I think most of us are aware of the major moves in Europe by the financial sector, especially the big banks. The authors cite other major changes here in our country among insurance companies, and also fossil fuel disinvestment among religious institutions, pension funds, university endowments, and charitable foundations.

As we witness worse storms, more unpredictable weather, devastating wildfires, life-threatening heat in the southern hemisphere and other areas of the world, and a federal government that stands idly on the sidelines–or worse yet, unravels previous legislation that might have helped, our spirits need to see some positive, hopeful action. It’s not a perfect picture, the authors point out, but these are some signs that the financial world is changing as our Earth changes. Time will tell if it’s changing fast enough.

“Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” — Arundhati Roy

Angelic Flocks or Foul Fowl

Some things are just plain hard to live without. Toilet paper. For some of us, a cup of coffee in the morning. A warm bed at night. Chocolate. A hug now and then.

I would add to those necessities a flock of chickens. We had a flock of chickens while our kids were growing up, and I swear those chickens kept our house running smoothly. We almost always had enough eggs. They gobbled up all our kitchen garbage. Chickens, I assure you, will eat anything, including egg shells.

But they also gave us the ultimate gift. They fertilized our garden. We had two large chicken pens that ran side by side, and each pen had a separate entrance door into the small chicken house. One year the chickens wandered and scratched and pooped on one side while the vegetables grew on the other side. The next year, we switched them around. My mother always claimed that chicken manure was the absolute best for a garden. After those years of gardening in a chicken pen, I know she was right. Since the chickens also packed down the earth in a year, it took some rototilling each spring, but we had terrific crops year after year without any other fertilizing.

If you drive north this time of year to the Skagit Valley, up near Mt. Vernon, you will likely see a field covered with flocks of snow geese. If you’re lucky you’ll see a smaller group of white trumpeter swans. Those fields of beautiful, elegant birds are one of the valley’s main tourist attractions–along with the tulips, of course.

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Snow geese in a field near Mt. Vernon, Washington

“Heads up, start watching–we’ll see some soon!” Once we start descending into the valley on the interstate, we start scanning the fields and horizon. If we’re really lucky, one will fly low, just above the car.

These rich farmlands are a favorite spot for geese and swans that stop off on their long migration routes. They’re heading south from their nesting grounds in Alaska and Siberia. They hang out between November and early spring and feed on marsh plants in the intertidal area, but they also spend a lot of time on the farmlands.

I had always believed (with my background of keeping chickens) that these birds must be a terrific boon for the farmers. Not so, according to an article published in the Everett Herald in 2007. Farmers do admit that the fertilizer is one of the only good things these birds leave behind. They also eat any crops that might be planted, moving inland from swamp grass to their new favorite diet–pasture grass. The farmers do not love them nearly as much as we sightseers do. It’s estimated that more than 50,000 birds stop and winter over in the Skagit Valley.

I still can’t help but believe that fields like this one later in the spring owe some of their beauty to the snow geese and swans!

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The tulip fields in Mt. Vernon, WA

“When we come upon beautiful things….they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space.” –Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just.

 

Small Mercies

On Christmas Day I saw about 22 bald eagles in a big tree on the farmlands  just south of Chuckanut Drive. That was a big thing for me! But today in these waning days of the year, I’m thinking about all the much smaller things that enrich our lives.

We will soon begin to notice those few extra blessed minutes of light each day. The days are getting longer! Life is good!

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On our walk down the road from my house last week, my son called my attention to two black turnstones hard at work at the water’s edge. I would have missed these small shorebirds otherwise. Yes, they do turn over the stones to find invertebrate snacks beneath them. These are rare birds for us. Small gifts!

A tall, older man walks once or twice a day down our road and often carries a hand clippers to snip off any tendrils or twigs that even think about stretching out into the narrow walking path beside the busy road. He does this week after week, all year long. I try to remember to thank him often for keeping us all safe.

Right around the time that our president was mocking and demeaning the young Swedish girl when she received Time’s Person of the Year Award for her activism (for which he had also been nominated), I saw a woman in the grocery store with a sweatshirt with this message, “Make America Love Again!” I smiled at her, but if I see her again, I will thank her. I might even hug her.

An unusually beautiful sunrise, a chattering Stellar’s jay, a stranger holding the door for you, my neighbor offering to prune my grape vines. All small mercies that can turn your day around.

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It’s easy to be grateful for the big things, like having a roof over our heads and food in the refrigerator and seeing 22 eagles at once. But these little things sometimes escape our notice. I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, but this might be a good one.

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A Squabble of Angels

The Potter brought me half a crab yesterday for dinner, one of the kinder things he’s done for me lately, so this afternoon I headed down to the beach with the leftover shells and scraps. Down the driveway, across the road, and onto the small deck where I opened the bag and tossed the scraps over the railing. They made a small clatter on the gravel beach. Almost instantly a flock of about a dozen sea gulls materialized, circling and shrieking above me. Where had they come from? I saw others heading our way. My head spun as I looked up at them, circling around and around, so close. From that angle their wings are enormous. I waited for them to land, but not one did. I stepped farther back between some bushes, but they never descended and after a few minutes, one by one, they flew away. Disappointed by the menu? Perhaps scraps from half a crab isn’t worth the bother of a landing? One hopeful gull floated just offshore.

Or perhaps they have some collective, inherited memory of the old man in our neighborhood who every day tossed bread from a day old bakery to the gulls, way more enticing than a few crab shells. That was some 50 years ago in this same spot. He always attracted a big gull group, too.

“What good are they to me,” he’d grumble, “they don’t even lay eggs.” Our family had chickens in a pen nearby.

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Gulls feeding on a Salish Sea mudflat at low tide

Looking up at them today, their big white angel wings were beautiful, hardly an image for the scrappy bird they are. They’ll eat almost anything and are found in huge swarms (bigger than flocks!) at landfills and garbage dumps. I wrote a small booklet once about Pacific Northwest gulls, but I still enjoyed Sandi Doughton’s article about gulls last month in the Sunday Seattle Times magazine section. She reported some of their less than angelic nicknames, “Flying Rats,” and “Dump Ducks.” A flock of gulls, she reports, is called a “squabble.” They do fight a lot, but almost never kill another, she wrote.

Gulls are gifted at “riding” air currents. These air currents can be produced by big ships, or even by ferries. If you’ve watched gulls gliding beside the ferry you’re riding,, they’re simply catching a ride. They have been known to follow ships across the Atlantic, free-loading scraps–and air currents–all the way.

Today as we realize how fragile our lives on Earth are, the words below are probably even truer than when I wrote them some 40 years ago.

FERRY RIDE
I catch my breath
as I glance up from my newspaper.
You’re a pearl drifting,
suspended beside my window.
Boat and air move us together
as one. We share
one destination.

The Stories We Tell

When I tell people I once had shingles in my mouth, they almost always take a step backward, away from me. That’s even before I mention that it’s the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I take pity on them at that point and quickly assure them that as soon as the doctor started me on the anti-viral, it cleared up. Then the look of horror on their faces fades and they relax. It’s one of my best stories and I seldom miss an opportunity to tll it, a (painfully) true story.

I told it two different times to strangers in the waiting room of the Safeway Pharmacy as I was waiting to get my second shingles shot plus a flu shot (one in each arm). I discovered that it is a fantastic place to tell this particular story. It’s the ideal setting. People are unusually receptive and shocked. I think the first woman who heard it actually backed up two steps. The second couple I told it to were sitting down, which was fortunate–they were unusually horrified.

It’s such a shame I can’t use it in more social situations when the conversation lags. Unfortuanately, it’s seldom as appropriate as it is in the Safeway Pharmacy Waiting Room.

I toyed briefly with the idea of going back to that waiting room the next day with a thermos of hot tea and maybe a doughnut and sitting for the whole morning. It’s flu shot season and I could tell that story over and over and over and then monitor the reactions I get. My life has been fairly uneventful. I don’t have a a lot of story-working material.

Is that true? Am I out of stories?

When I glanced out the front window this morning, the snowball bush was quivering–all the leaves looked like they were dancing, and without a breath of wind. What was happening? Finally I caught sight of a tiny brown bird, barely bigger than a hummingbird. That flock of bushtits had set the whole bush quivering!

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The last few blueberry leaves

And I complained last week that the blueberry bushes out the kitchen window had shown no signs of changing color. Today they are a flaming red. How do they manage that so quickly?

Last night I read an essay about mountain lions, those beasts that are as long as the jungle lions, when measured nose to tail because their tails are so long. They’re curious, like the coyote that will sit up on the hill behind my house and watch me. At the time the essay was printed (1988), the author reported that only one person in this country had ever been killed by a mountain lion, a 14-year-old boy. Previous owners of my house used to watch mountain lions pad by the house at night, make their way down to the beach, and then come back up their trail and disappear into the woods behind the house.

So perhaps I still have a few other stories to share, although few of them rise to the drama of the shingles experience.

This is my 100th blog (I write one almost every month), and I had wondered if I was running low on stories. Maybe I can come up with just a few more yet.

Pet Walk 2019

It would be great fun to start by listing off all the different breeds I saw that day this summer, but like breeds of cars, I can’t identify dog breeds either. But let me tell you, there were dozens of different kinds. I swear I saw one woman leading a big brown bear on a leash!

I was at first impressed by how many people had brought babies in strollers and then suddenly realized that most of those strollers cradled small dogs. I watched as one woman stopped, took the little terrier (or what I thought to be a terrier) out of the stroller and let him walk, joining another larger terrier. Maybe mom?

Pet Walk happens every so often down along my road and even though I am not a dog person, I always take my walk then so I can see them. It is one of the most entertaining events during the summer in my neighborhood. Theoretically a “pet walk,” I have only been aware of dogs in this annual event. This year, like others, people were convivial, pleasant, unhurried, visiting among themselves. Some walked in groups or couples, others were alone. Everyone was smiling.

But the dogs were even happier. Among all those dozens of dogs I saw, I heard only one quick bark. All the different sizes and breeds and colors and textures and I saw not one dog fight. On the contrary–they were having the times of their lives–mixing, sniffing, scampering, dancing, prancing, plodding, and pulling their owners by their leashes (yes, just who were the ones on leashes?). Some were obviously exotic, expensive breeds, freshly groomed, and others looked like they had come from a back alley, but they all got along. It was enough to make me just a little embarrassed to be human.

It would have been great to get a photo to show you–they were so photogenic, and I did have my camera. But I felt like a stranger taking a photo of someone’s child, way too intrusive. I would have felt like I would need to ask for a release to use the photo.

The comedian Gilda Radner once said, “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.” I know every human creature in that walk would have agreed.

What Tracks Will We Leave?

Can you imagine walking through a beautiful wilderness area and not seeing any wildlife? No birds, no insects, no small animals? My friend April, a college science professor, just returned with her family from a trip to Europe. They hiked and rode horses through beautiful mountainous areas. She was stunned to see so few animals. She said the forested areas they hiked through “felt like shells or facades.” She called them “monocultures, empty inside.” The birds they saw were common birds we see in parks. She said it felt like “an ecosystem in collapse.”

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Last night as I went to close the back door I saw five large raccoons come down the hill behind my house and meander toward the back door. No, they weren’t about to knock–they were going to head between the house and the garage to get on their trail down to the orchard.

This morning as I picked the pole beans at the top of their support poles, a hummingbird stopped at a blossom right above me. I didn’t move and it worked its way closer and closer down the vine, stopping at each red blossom. It was a few inches from my hand and a foot or two from my face before it spun off.

I often see either a bald eagle or an osprey circle the bay in front of my house. We never saw eagles 45 years ago! What a successful return!

I will try to never take these encounters for granted again. I will greet the big bumble bees, and admire an unusual beetle. And I will not sit quietly when endangered species laws are trampled.

“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”–a Dakota proverb

“Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.” — His Holiness the Dalai Lama

 

Blessing Our Socks Off!

When a neighbor suggested I join an online neighborhood group, I thought it was a great idea. I’m for anything that brings people together and facilitates connections. And it’s been that–the offer of a free pile of firewoood, a notice of a little terrier that’s wandered away, the announcement of the garden club’s plant sale, a request for a reliable plumber.

Occasionally it becomes very personal and some of those are the best. This and a photo from a new grandparent of twins: “Born seven weeks early one month ago, are finally heading home. This was their first time together after being kept separate at Swedish Hospital their first four weeks. See them holding each other’s hands while lying on their dad’s chest–so sweet….”

Some of them make me laugh out loud, like this one: “Amazon mistakenly sent me a digital ovulation kit and given that I am awaiting the arrival of my first grandchild, I’m pretty sure that someone else can make better use of it….”

Some of them have astounded me. I had no idea so many lost and found cats and dogs are out there! It makes me wonder about some kind of elaborate canine/feline conspiracy. Also earrings and cellphones. One of the first notices I read was someone asking us to watch for a lost earring on one of our mud and gravel beaches. This notice appeared just a few weeks ago:  “My HS senior daughter is desperately needing to borrow a metal detector this week to locate her phone lost in the footing of a riding arena. Alternatively, she would be happy to have you join her on this treasure hunt. She would be forever grateful!”

Only occasionally do I jump into the action. Last month a woman asked about her lost keys and mentioned the site where she thought she’d dropped them. I’d noticed keys on top of a fence post while on my walk that morning. A phonecall or two and she had them back. Maybe a lost earring on a beach isn’t such a long shot?

I did not know what “trolls” were until I joined this site. None appeared at first, but as more and more people have joined, they’ve started to crawl out from their muddy ditches. I’ve never experienced trolls on my FaceBook page–people so kindly put up with my posts about children held in cages and my rantings about attacks on scientists who are working on climate change.

But the trolls have come out on this neighborhood site. Recently we had a lengthy but interesting discussion about drones operating in neighborhoods and invading private spaces. Then a troll or two entered and attacked. They use inflammatory words and are super skilled at name-calling and putdowns. One or two people reacted to that, but many simply ignored them and went right on with the discussion. Impressive!

In spite of wading through multiple warnings about strange cars, wandering bears (and endless speculation on whether there’s more than one or not), car prowlers, coyote sightings, mail thefts, break-ins, and lost earrings, I continue to read it. The ones that keep me reading are ones like this one from last week: “Yesterday a neighbor fell and hit her head as she wrestled with her compost bin while she mowed her lawn…..The wonderful crew from the 10th Avenue Station responded and felt it was a good idea to take her to the ER, just to make sure she was okay….I noticed the engine was still there after the aid car left, so I went into her yard to make sure everything was ok. What I found blessed my socks off! Two of the firemen stayed behind and finished mowing her lawn! How blessed are we here in Poulsbo to have such wonderful people caring for our community! Way to go NKFD! We love you!”

This is social media at its best.

Happy Be Thy Course

I didn’t know until recently that you could call me a deltiologist. I collect postcards, although I usually collect only those from around 1900-1915, the “Golden Age” for postcards. Phone service was still limited then, especially in rural areas, and postcards were easier and speedier than writing letters. Germany, with their gifted lithographers, was producing most of our postcards before World War I. This is one reason I enjoy them–they are so beautiful! Look at this elegant one, postmarked 1919. If you look carefully, you might see the sender has written her initials down on the bottom righthand side.

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The other reason I enjoy collecting them is for the written messages on the back sides. They often give me just a little glimpse into what life was like then. Sometimes when I read them I feel like a mouse sitting in the corner of the parlor and listening in on the conversations. I’ve seen more than one writer mention going for a ride in a car, oviously a big deal. I can often sense concern and love in these quick notes.

What’s on the backside of this beautiful one? “Happy be thy course” transformed into a stern lecture that made me squirm. It was mailed from Indiana to a woman in Iowa, “Dear Cousin: What in the world is the matter with you? Have you forgotten your Indiana cousins? We haven’t heard from you for months! I have sent you a card and a letter and you never answered and Aunt Lizzie said she hadn’t heard. Have you left the country? We are all well. Now answer right away for I’m anxious to hear from you. Ethel.” In Ethel’s defense, people had good reason for concern. So many cards I’ve collected mention diseases and illnesses, like boils, typhoid, grippe, jaundice, German measles, and mumps. Even a toothache could be life-threatening during those years.

Another postcard mailed in 1910 had a more playful message. It’s addressed to a woman in Washington State from a man in Oregon. I’m guessing he might be a brother? He writes, “If it takes a second and a half for a 2 year old ostrich with a neck three feet long to swallow a quart can of salt mackerel, How many false teeth could you make out of an elephant’s trunk if the ostrich choked? We had the baby’s picture taken we will send you one. We are all well fine and dandy. Geo”

After World War I, phone lines were extended out into rural areas, we no longer had the production from the skilled German lithographers, and postcards fell out of fashion.

What didn’t fall out of fashion is the love and caring that shines through so many of these messages, as well as a spirit of strength and endurance in the face of adversity. These remain our legacy. Watch for them in our electronic messages today!