Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jumping Back In

I dedicate this post to Jo Ann, who just by the simple act of commenting on my blog, asking about growing Simpson Lettuce, got me jump started again. (She left her comment on the previous post. Jo Ann, check this link.)

Amazing how little it takes. Of course my friend Francis has been sending me his special brand of healing energy too, which is called The Reconnection. So thanks, once again to
friends I know and ones I don't know yet.. I thought my alley grazing and blogging were history. Turned out I was wrong

There is no way to calculate the way my Mom's death gut punched me into paralysis. I kept going to work but I didn't really care what happened. When a key person ceases to be in the familiar house, by the familiar phone where you can see her, call her... trade stories, annoy and amuse each other, it is like somebody moved the furniture around in my brain. I keep bumping into things. So now that my Mom is not in her house doing her thing, she seems to zoom around, showing up here, not where I can see her, just bringing the joy and deeply familiar feeling of connection. My friend Barb thinks she is living vicariously through me, getting to do things she would never do.

I even started alley grazing again. Some yellow chrysanthemums for a bouquet, ground picked plums from the alley behind my house. Some great apples along the bike path behind Super 1. Yum. Do you realize this town is covered with walnut trees, two different kinds? I never notice until fall, when the fruit looks like a deviant avocado. Not quite ready yet.

Of course this time of year is also a feast for the eyes with show stopping colors. And rainbows. I hope you all caught the rainbows last week during the peek a boo rain and sun.

Speaking of the leaf colors, my friends and I went to Hot Springs to soak at Rose's outdoor pool on two consecutive weekends. There is a mid size ornamental cherry tree (possibly a purple leaf sand cherry) that guards the pool. I have the exact tree in my front yard though mine looks like a dwarf next to Rose's. The leaves were vibrant, several shades from crimson to mauve in a dense canopy. Enough were sailing into the pool that I could scoop them out in handfuls.

A week later, that dense foliage had thinned to half. The remaining leaves like a transparent shirt, were revealing the tree's winter silouette of branches and twigs.
In six days, the Purple Leaf Sand Plum's juicy leaves were transformed into paper shreds the color of leather, hanging on for dear life.

Two mornings ago, in Riverside Park, the wind had whipped up the waves on the river so that they appeared to be dashing along the concrete wall like writhing snakes, or a whiplash that exploded
into the shore wall.

My dog Sam went totally bananas (technical term) when he saw that. He raced the uncoiling wave as it barreled along the lip of the wall. When the wave unloaded, like crack the whip, froth roiled up over the wall, and he got a faceful, which just made him redouble his efforts. I wish you could have seen it; in the predawn stillness, a blasting north wind, standing waves, and my dog zinging along the river edge, barking his head off.

I doubt if he has ever had the opportunity to chase sheep or cattle as his breeding dictates, but he can put the fear of God in seagulls, cats, cabbage moths, yellow jackets, elk, deer, squirrels, and the occasional cargo van or tractor trailer. There is also a terrible story about his previous owner, before I got him, adopting him out to a ranch. The ranch wife was doing dishes, looking out the kitchen window when she saw their horse galloping along with Sam at the end of his tail like a flag. Needless to say, he was returned to his former owner that day. Lucky for me. He was kind of a maniac until Karen Duty's doggie manners class tuned him up, or I should say, tuned up the dog owner.

But this 'wave runner' frenzy might have been his most inspired, Australian Shepherd/Blue Heeler moment, barreling along the shoreline at Riverside Park, herding waves.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Alley Grazer Farewell

To my friends and friends of friends who have encouraged me with your comments, and harangued me to keep on blogging, I thank you and salute you. Many of you are stellar writers in your own right and I am honored to be among you.

This summer I have not tasted a single lambs quarters stem or chickweed leaf. I did not wander the byways of my town in search of dinner or trundle through alleys to the lake. This year, my alley grazing was confined to my imagination. This year everything changed.

A visit to see my Mom in June turned quickly into a bedside vigil and then hospice at home, as the health problems that had plagued her for a couple years turned into the knock out punch.

I grazed in the land of the dying as I sat by my mother's bedside to watch that gradual withdrawal from this sphere to another. The day I told her she was dying, she seemed more surprised than anything. "Huh," she said like I was telling her that someone had moved or gotten a dog. But once she got the word, she moved into her pro-active mode and asked, "So what's can we speed this up?" Even though she seemed too lively to be heading to the tunnel of light, she hadn't eaten for weeks, except a bite of yoghurt here and there. Because of the pain.

In a situation that most people would find terrifying-bedridden, drugged, in pain, in diapers that need changing, with legs that didn't move, and strangers heaving her around like a sack of taters-she summoned an uncanny sense of the absurd and made sure that we all got to laugh with her about it. Her comedic tendencies reached full flower on this unlikely stage. Because she could barely talk and her hand and facial gestures were in slow motion, and because she was fully aware that she was entertaining us, her comments were funnier than anything I'd ever seen or heard.

At one point, discouraged at her inability to communicate with us, she reached for the Kleenex box and started talking into that. She got so much mileage out of that box as a prop that all she had to do was start reaching and we were falling down, almost crying with laughter. When communication shifts from verbal to visual, to charade like gestures and the subtlest facial expressions, you enter an entirely different world of possibilities. Mom seemed to plumb this mother lode for every nuance of expression. To say we were blessed by this unexpected bounty doesn't even begin to cover it.

She was open, vulnerable and sublime as I had never seen her in her able bodied life. Her grace under fire was breathtaking and reassuring. She showed me that going out in style could be done with diapers on. It could be accomplished with words falling from the tongue like little chunks of wood. It could happen when she was wrapped in drug induced delusions and the fragrance of death and decay. What a gift my mother handed me on her way out the door.

The extra large gift for me was getting to know my two brothers all over again, to know them in the face of what none of us wanted, and to be able to receive their abundant caring for me and to realize how important they are to me every day of my life. Our cousins got in on the act too, showing up just when we needed them. Leaving the cocoon of that family connection was really hard...for all of us.

In closing, I ask that you check in to stay posted on my next project. My novel is getting some attention from me again and I will certainly be writing about this last adventure with Mom. Again, thank you for your comments and your beautiful presence in this world. All of you!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rescue Unlimited

No one blogs without a reason, right? Three years ago, my reason was to have an outlet for my excessive enthusiasms other than my friends, who could grow weary of my love of alley forage, or the epiphanies from my nighttime wandering. It seemed downright miraculous what I was seeing a year or two ago on my rambling journeys around town.

So we're back to my favorite topic of, ‘It’s amazing what you see out there’ when you cruise the byways of your little town or countryside. Ten days ago today I was heading east on 7th Ave, driving the few blocks between Polson Animal Clinic and my house. Up ahead, I spied a procession of four or five vehicles barely moving westbound. What I couldn’t see until I got closer was the leader of the parade, a pint-sized "Benji' proudly dashing up the middle of the lane like he was getting a prize for it.

I pulled over and jumped out and did the excited puppy speak which got him close enough to grab. We drove around trying to find a vet who recognized him. After leaving my number with veterinarians, Polson’s Animal Control Officer, Lake County Dispatch, KERR Radio and both newspapers, I did a photo shoot and put up some wanted posters, I waited for the inevitable phone call: a harried mom or dad of heartbroken children crying with relief. Or an older dog owner telling me how the collar broke. Nine days of silence, folks.

Then yesterday a call that resulted in a visit today; a young man who slumped against the fence when he saw this one wasn't his. Benji junior was the fourth dog in a month I encountered in the middle of a busy road. One was too fast to catch, and the other two were galloping Main Street in Ronan on consecutive days. I carried the puppy into the Ronan Police Station and tippy toed out while everyone was petting him. The Rottweiler cross I had to unleash as Ronan has no dog catcher. As I was talking to the officers, I said, "I'm letting him go now. He might cause and accident..." As far as I know he just wandered home again after chasing a few cars down the road.

Last week, a barely weaned Shar-Pei puppy ran under the tires of a young woman’s car. She loaded him just like I did and took off marveling, “I guess I’m the owner of a Shar-Pei now.” Of course, she will do the same thing I’m doing, which is go to heroic lengths to find the original owner.

I even came across a velvet black, domestic rabbit in my neighborhood, so tame it started to approach my dog. That was so far from a good idea, I can’t tell you. But it told me that the bunny had been gently treated so far, and maybe had signed a truce with the legions of local cats.

Speaking of coots, which of course we weren’t, I see the north end of Sacajewea Park looks like the aftermath of a giant pillow fight. Bald eagles have returned to Polson for their favorite winter and spring delicacy. Most of that bird ended up being dinner. Only the fluff (and a head) remained.Like I said, you're really missing a show if you sit inside morning and evening and don’t allow yourself to be part of the silent pagaent being played out each moment. Eugene and I were dining in Ronan City Park a couple weeks ago and spied a seagull who had a stout 3-4 inches of string coming out of his mouth with a red clump of something attached to it. This made eating corn chips or anything virtually impossible as the string kept getting caught and winding around his beak. When he flew, it whipped around and nearly drove him to ground.

We explored the possibility of capturing him and at least cutting the tiny ‘ball and chain’ from his beak, but we couldn’t find any equipment nearby. Obviously humans have to be careful what we leave laying around outside. Birds are curious and attracted to odd things that can ultimately kill them. Depending on what was on the other end of the string, that one’s chances of becoming a lasting part of the gene pool had probably become almost nil.

Back to mini-Benji who has taken up residence here and shows no sign of missing his former digs...As each caller who has lost a dog calls, I try out the name they give me and get no response. It made me realize that there are a heck of a lot of dogs roaming far from home-from Post Creek to Clarice Paul to Polson Town. Lucky for this one, everyone who sees him wants to take him home. Right now it looks like a showdown for ownership between two families.

My life time best rescue however, was a loon trapped on Skiff Lake, New Brunswick by faulty oil glands. She got waterlogged and couldn't get airborne. That yarn will have to wait for my next post wherein you learn of the ill-advised trek onto a newly frozen lake in December that ended much better than anticipated. As I recall there was a good deal of hand wringing on the shore. My reputation among locals as a risk taking wacko dates from that time.

Alley grazers, don't forget to check out those dandelions. Great eating. The roots, boiled or roasted, taste like asparagus, sort of.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Ides of March

Apparently, before Julius Caesar was slain, March 15th was just an ordinary day, sometimes mid month being the time that debts came due. Before our current calendar, the 'ides' just meant the middle.

I'm not normally a superstitious person, but there have been some rather harrowing Ides of March(es). The most memorable was a freak late snowstorm that churned itself into a blizzard as the mercury plunged below zero. That Saturday night, snuggled into our cozy cabin with city friends visiting, we had no idea two drunken snowmobilers were racing past our driveway. One of them plowed into our visiting friend's car in the blinding snowstorm. We took turns staying with the body until the Mounties arrived. Since that night, I've never felt a wind that brutal. I began to not take March for granted.

My morning epiphany let me in on a secret about mid-March. Each year, when the sap starts rising, I come unhinged for a couple weeks. I only noticed because it eased off today with this nice skiff of new snow. All my thoughts get let out of their cages or leave their comfy contrails and mix it up. For two weeks I have shit for brains. It is impossible to focus on the simplest most elementary motion. I have to walk myself through brushing my teeth.

I binge read, which is the only thing, other than anesthetic, or driving too fast, that helps. At work, it feels like bees buzzing inside my noggin. My 'hard drive' freezes up and there's no restart button. Simple tasks like answering email or making a list become impossible and I lose whole hours in a stoned haze. It feels like witnessing a bar fight but muted as though my head was stuffed with novocaine soaked cotton.

Lucky for me, I have perfected the look of normalcy even when I'm having a stellar meltdown. Now that I'm through it for another year, I can look back at the past two weeks with (almost) nostalgia. And, I've never been able to get any sympathy when I moan about my discomfort. Friends nod and murmer the right words, but really they think, how bad could it be? One friend even said, "I think you're exaggerating".

Even if I'm miffed at the time, they actually help me keep the 'crazies' compartmentalized. Now that I'm working on a novel, I see that I'm eventually going to make money off this drama that roils in my thought bubble 24/7 but only gets revved up during the sap rising, Ides of March. I decided those conversations and characters are all just scrambling around in there trying to get out. No problem dudes. You'll get your own page one day.

It's great in a way. My friends have always helped me to not compound the interest by wallowing. Because I look so good doing it, my angst doesn't register on the Richter scale for me or my friends. I mean, how bad could it be?

I only know that when the storm passes for another year, I feel so good it should be illegal!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You Have to Start Somewhere

I guess you could say my grazing career began shortly after we moved to California. It was a rough start, but luckily didn't do permanent damage. I was nine years old and felt sort of like Dorothy scratching her head and saying to Toto, "I guess we aren't in Kansas anymore." We most definitely weren't in Michigan anymore. Our post war, brick bungalow neighborhood with one inch diameter crabapple trees was a thing of the past. Our new house had an old weathered shed with spiders and biting insects hiding in the corners. We looked up at pine trees so tall they blocked out the sunlight.
BoldMy grazing started innocently enough one summer day in the woods behind my house where Monterey pines, live oaks and tick bushes created a child's paradise.

That summer, before I had found kids to play with, I wandered in the woods pretending I was a wild animal, or an Indian warrior, or person who lived outdoors. While sneaking behind trees and outrunning imaginary enemies, I spied a wild iris in a shrubby copse under the pines. It was divine. It shone with an inner light. It erased all memory of the game I had just been playing. Never had I seen that color...indigo, before. Time stood still as the color seeped into me. Indigo. Hell, I wouldn't even hear the word indigo for another decade or so.
In that moment, under the damp mist that blanketed the Monterey Peninsula for two thirds of the year, I was transfixed by a beauty I had never imagined to exist. Of course I had to eat it. I had to have it inside me. So I picked the flower and chewed it up, noticing that it didn't taste that good. That was the first shock. That color should have tasted like heaven. The second shock was the pain. Almost immediately my throat began to burn. It was a fire that kept getting hotter, but not a normal hot like burning your mouth, and the pain was loud like a noise.

I stomped away from the house, heading purposefully toward relief, I hoped. I clutched my throat and moaned, so focused on the pain like you do when you're a kid, that I was too tied up in it to be scared. The thought briefly crossed my mind, "Go in the house. Tell Mom."

However, that scenario was instantly discarded as too risky. Kid logic has it that death might be preferable to letting your Mom see what an idiot you are. So I didn't have much perspective on my viable options. I was dizzy, disoriented and at certain points couldn't have told you where I was.

Hours later I went in the house and said hi to Mom. The pain had eased down enough that I could pretend like I dreamed the whole thing. In my family, we pretty much handled all our problems like that and it seemed to work pretty well when I was little. Not so great later, but that's another story!

I never ate another flower until was 30- something and I saw it in a cookbook. Now, I eat calendulas, violas and of course my favorite, dandelions, just the leaves, though.

I learned my lesson that day. It certainly didn't cure me of roaming the woods, alleys, city streets or country lanes where I've lived or from appreciating the treasures I found there. That lesson all us wild kids have to learn eventually, is what goes in which hole. No food in the ears. No jelly beans or peas in the nose. And keep those irises away from your lips!

Happy Hunting Out There
Alley Grazers, Forest Foragers
and all you Country Mice
Trapped in
Town Mouse Bodies!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Gymnastics

My day of skiing yesterday came complete with a memorable last run: a couple of aerial cartwheels followed by a back of the head bonk and minor whiplash. I decided to stop by the First Aid room at Blacktail and had the first aid tech, Emma, check my pupil size before I left.

You haven't lived until someone half your age asks you what day it is, what year it is (!) and what your name is. Anyway, I passed the test and drove on home, feeling a little beat up. But it was worth it. Sun warmed the ski lift chairs so the ride up the mountain felt like a benediction. And the miniature mogul hogs in their dayglow ski outfits were putting me to shame, as usual. One tiny tot had a pair of bunny ears on her helmet. At the end of the day, stowing my skis, I watched a giant red-haired poodle harnessed to a plastic sled whiz by, giving his little passenger the ride of her life. That was the happiest, goofiest looking sled dog I ever saw. A day on the mountain to be remembered and probably my last until next year.

It did seem strange yesterday morning, leaving the springtime ambiance of the valley for 10 degrees F and several inches of fresh snow on the mountain. Back to my previous post, this is the delicious fact of Montana in March. Crocuses are showing off, daffodils are barely breaking ground, robins serenade at dawn, and there's still nine feet of snow mid-mountain.

Today, my Easter service will take place in the Missions, only ten minutes away, which yield both snow free and snow covered paths to traverse. At 4,000 feet you can wear regular boots or Crocs and at 5,000 put on cross country skis or snow shoes.

I suspect our bear friends will be showing their groggy faces soon. There is certainly plenty of elk and deer sign where I go, rabbits and turkeys are finding lots to eat. A couple of white tails scattered last time I drove up there and they look almost too fat to run! I guess it's been a good winter up the hill and they'll be having their babies soon. These three does are so used to humans, they let me take their picture today, though they were quite a distance away, and me with no telephoto.

After I came down off the hill, I noticed crocuses fully operational and looking fresh and full of mischief. They also let me take their picture up close. What a treat for the winter weary that crocuses come when they do, long before anything else rears up out of the winter soil.

These ones seem to be dancing under the Mission Bay sign on Highway 35.

I see it's snowing on the mountain right now. I can watch from my dining room window which is where I write. Usually, Easter brings with it images of springtime. Because it's so early this year, we can probably expect another couple weeks of snow on the mountain, maybe a snowfall or two more in the valley. That's the fun of living here, I tell you. You never know what's going to happen next. Or as my friend Bill says, "If you don't like the weather here, just wait an hour, you still won't like it."

Me, I like weather whatever the flavor, especially if it's cool or coldish.

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter, celebrating in the fashion that is closest to your heart. I certainly did. Letting my feet lap up the dirt trail, mud puddles, and snow pack included, while I harvested thoughts from my thought bubble and felt thanks for every tree and shrub. That was my Easter blessing.

The only wildlife I came across besides the deer was a bicyclist, who seemed as happy to be up there as I was. It's so rare to run across another human up there this time of year that I had to stop and chat. This one was riding a mountain bike along the trail and though he was headed for mud and snow, seemed to have the perfect rig for it. He said, "So you're the one who drives the other red Honda." It turns out that we drive identical cars, blood red Honda CRVs.

Is that odd or is that God?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Season of Firsts

Every year, at this time, something happens to me. Maybe when the sap begins to rise in the trees, there is an answering rise of sap in human bodies as well. This human body feels it acutely and so the counting begins. What do I count? The appearance of each new, fresh as dew, phenomenon. First Crocus. First Robin. First Dandelion. First Picnic Tables in front of Ace hardware. First sound of a lawnmower.

You psychologists out there will be having a field day with my OC symptom of counting. I've been doing it so long, it's worn a deer trail of neural pathways into my grey spongy stuff. So let the counting begin.

Today marks the first whiff of my personal favorite 'first', the dreamy, aromatic scent of cottonwood trees. More specifically, within the woody terminal buds, the inner bud scales are saturated in an ambrosial resin.

This resin exudes a scent that is beyond description. Usually, I have no problem describing things...slathering a sizzling string of adjectives in front of some hapless noun. Not this. Nope. No can do. But you want to take a shot at fitting a handle on cottonwood scent, check out this wonderful resource for perfume descriptives.

When these
buds first open, this perfume spreads like an invisible mist over the whole town. Up in the woods, it is positively intoxicating. Every time I open my front door, my nose smiles. It feels like an oceanic blessing. Yet, strangely enough, every year when I rhapsodize about this experience, I'm usually greeted with a cavernous yawn of indifference. Aside from the precious few, who like me, fall helplessly under the spell, it seems the rest of my compatriots are immune to the dreamy rapture wafting from Populus deltoids occidentalis.

So today I noticed the first whisper of a scent that I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to describe for 20 years.

What a tree! In the spring, a harvest of perfume . A few weeks later, bud scales cascade to earth like a mahogany snowfall. A while after that, the male flower catkins finish blooming (see above) and rain down like a plague of dead caterpillars, spackling cars, sidewalks, bicycles, garden boots, lawn furniture, garden tools, and especially pets.

Then comes the cotton, great rolling whisps like angel tumbleweed auguering sidewise along pavement in little spirals. We wear it in our hair.

I remember one day last spring, frisky breezes started unloading the cottonwoods like teamsters. Then the roiling spirals of fluff started filling First St. by Riverside Park. Like a low flying cloud layer it hovered, drifting indecisively this way and that. Albino cotton candy taking a leisurely romp through town. Surreal as an alien life form.

We won't even talk about the leaves that eventually make their way earthward. In sheer tonnage, cottonwoods put all other trees to shame. But that's too far in the future to worry about. I think the prodigious output of cotton, catkins and especially leaves, is what causes some folks to curse cottonwoods like they do burdocks and dandelions.

Two weeks ago, the cottonwood buds began to swell. They're still pretty tight, but as of today, they're just starting to leak their woody incense. In another week, I'm betting on them popping open, maybe a week after that they fall...and so on.
I'll let you know the day when our town gets hosed with that melifluous, resiny sweetness, so if you live where cottonwoods grow, you can run outside and take great snorts of this heady treat and be glad, oh so glad, you're alive in your cottonwoody city, burrough, or mountainside retreat.

Look for other firsts that will be appearing daily in this springtime extravaganza of sensory exuberance.

I can hardly wait!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spring is Sprung

What is amazing about this time of year is this overlap of seasons, like two seasons for the price of one. It makes me feel like I have a lot more recreational choices. Within a few mile radius, I can either bask in the sun, rake leaves, or cross-country ski . If I want to venture further, Blacktail Mountain offers downhill skiing. I'm a couple miles from bowling, and two blocks from the skateboarding park. Wow!! Winter and spring seem to play peek-a-boo for several weeks here. The crocuses came up last week, did you notice? They are so picturesque, sometimes coming right out of the snow.

Today, I was gliding along the glassy surface of 'cornmeal' snow, three miles up Hellroaring Canyon. Meanwhile, my friend Eugene was capturing Stellar Jays east of St. Ignatius, on his mountain. His strategies for schmoozing birds are as irresistible to them as his photos are to us. His quest for suet to entice the birds is another story altogether. I had never seen blue jays looking so photogenic.

My friend Mary said that last weekend when she was over by Mission Dam, she heard (but didn't see) a bear on the slope, as some scree came tumbling down ahead of him (or her).

No bears today where I was. Just a couple feet of snow, sun pierced clouds, a stray snowflake or two, and chickadees ghosting through the branches. My dog, Sam has used up all his free passes chasing the wee, furry creatures in the woods. So he and I are tethered together for any woods roaming. That didn't work out so well on skis, I can tell you. That dog had me wrapped up like a bundle of newspapers.

Reminds me of roller blading with him a few summers ago. Yes, I had a helmet, elbow and knee pads on. I looked like the Michelin Man. He played sled dog and got me rocketing along the sidewalk until my life started flashing in front of my eyes.

Like his owner, he's an old dog learning new tricks. In any case, we survived that experiment, as we did again today. But Sam had to park by the stream while I went on without him and his leash. That snow was too heavy and deep for any creature without skis or snowshoes. He was still heavy breathing from the exertion when I got back from skiing without him for twenty minutes.

When I lived in Canada, we spent whole days behind Skiff Lake on snowshoes one winter, building a snowmobile trail. It was great fun. At noon, we started a fire and cooked lunch. But the long days in the woods, with 6-7 hours of silence, except for the shush of snowshoes was both exhausting and rapturous. Breathing fresh air all day changes you in ways you wouldn't expect. Spending all day on the ski slope does that for sure. All that oxygen!

This is the first Saturday in a while that I haven't hit the slopes at Blacktail Mountain for a day of skiing. Today they got four inches of fresh powder. Can't beat that. Watching the tiny tots fly down the mountain in long lines like colorful beads, is one of the high points of skiing there. Then there are views and more views.

My biggest problem these days is to decide what to do next. Even when I didn't have the money for a ski pass or a car to get up the mountain, I had these three magnificent parks, all situated on the water, which felt like country right in the middle of town.
What an incredible place to live!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dead Coots

Over the past few weeks, as I cruise the streets, alleys, and parks in my lake hugging Northwestern Montana town, I notice an occasional large dead bird. They turn out to be coots.
American Coots, white beaked, black water fowl that I rarely notice the rest of the year. Yet in winter, they create massive flotillas on this end of the winter lake that seem to stretch for miles.

One year when the lake froze over during a sudden mercury plummet, hundreds of hapless coots became trapped in the ice. Later that day, a convention of
bald eagles converged on the spot right on Highway 93, near KwaTaqNuk. They settled on the ice to eat coots, leaving a good distance between themselves and neighboring diners. Also converging on the site of this quiet massacre were bird watchers with the longest telephoto lenses you've ever seen.

So back to the dead coots. This year word has gone out on the eagle telegraph and these massive birds of prey, symbol of our great land, have been spotted in treetops around the lake and river. Apparently, they are back to supplement their diet with more American Coot. My friend and avid bird photographer, Eugene says that the dead birds on the ground are the ones that the eagles couldn't manage to carry all the way to the treetops.

Think about the logistics of this. An American Bald Eagle weighs ten to fourteen pounds and a coot weighs in at about one pound. Add some ice and water clinging to feathers, a hundred pounds of survival instinct, and some disproportionately large, dragon-ugly feet aiming for your eyes, and coots suddenly don't look like such an easy lunch. Add to that an aerial, 'water pluck' with major eagle competition on your flight path and making it to a high branch still in possession of edibles becomes a real long shot. So much easier when they are stuck in the ice.

My other photographer friend, Janice Myers, took this photo a few Saturdays ago looking downriver from Riverside Park. Jan pursues photo ops from one end of the valley to the other, in her lemon meringue VW Bug. This magnificent American Bald Eagle might have just finished off an unlucky coot or be about to go find one.

When you venture outside into the byways of your little town, you just never know what you might run across. Who knew this high drama was taking place right under our noses.

Just this morning in Riverside Park, three or four plastic sled carcasses appeared. They could have been under the snow that just melted off, or were flung there when they couldn't cut the mustard any more. I imagine they gave their last polypropylene gasp on a heart bouncing race to the bottom. Now sliding days will be at a premium since the hard packed base coat has given way to greening grass blades and warmer weather. We're not fooled, though. We have lots of winter left for slip sliding down alleys and watching those clouds of waxwings and starlings that have been ravaging winter wild cherry and mountain ash trees.

If you happen to notice one of those dead coots on the ground near the river or lake, check out their legs and feet. Talk about weird!

Photo credit for American Coot: Peter S. Weber copywright

Happy Hunting, whatever it is you're after!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

SlipSliding down Winter Alleys

I was going to title this, Beware Winter Alleys, but what is there to say? Fall down, go boom...end of conversation. I was one of those youths who had a legion of well meaning folks ever cautioning me to avoid his or that. The conversation started with "Don't you dare... as I recall. I always did, dare that is. I snuck out my window and roamed at night as a pre-teen. From the same window, I hopped into friend's cars as a teeny bopper, which we then had to roll down the street with lights out to avoid detection. Later on, when the DO NOT list started with boys, I knew if I ignored that advice, there was something great awaiting me, and I was right. I biked 2500 miles alone across Canada one time, which was the topic of much advice. So now I'm more sensible and the temptation list is really short.

However, even I know I should heed my own advice and avoid winter alleys buffed to a high gloss. Alleys in spring are a salad buffet, in summer, the miniature countryside of fragrant foliage and good eating, in fall a comforting, quiet get away (mind the garbage bins, stray cats and back yard mechanics).

Winter is another story. It can be either a skating rink or a geography of icy ridges, lightly covered mounds of dog poo, light powder on glass, like sawdust on a dance floor. I have lucked out so far in that all my spills have been benign and I do keep meaning to buy those ice traction get ups for boots. I see the tracks in my neighborhood of the sensible walkers who stick to the main streets and wear metal cleats.

Speaking of tracks, one clear January day, I saw a distinctive running shoe track in the snow way over by the city dock and as my course took me back several blocks to my neighborhood, I picked up the exact track along 5th Ave. W, followed it through this alley and then let it go, since it was just curiosity pure and simple. I had figured out it was a woman based on shoe size and stride. When I lived on the edge of 10 miles of mixed deciduous, conifer forest in Canada, tracking was our winter fun! What creatures we 'spotted'-bobcat, mountain lion, bear, deer, rabbit, porcupine, moose, weasel, ferret- if only by their footprints.
As these photos show, there is not a bleaker landscape than a
winter alley, and yet because this is only one aspect, albeit an ugly one, I know better things are in store. Like your beloved in winter, who is a decent sort of guy or gal, but who is cranky and out of sorts at this season, the winter alley is just biding its time, seeds snoring softly under the frozen earth, thousands of buds lining the bowed branches, poised to bust open, just awaiting the wake up kiss of spring.

Happy Alley Sliding!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

February Under the Big Sky

Winter in Montana is not the time you would associate with alley grazing, though as you may have read in earlier posts, my friend Mary and I did dig collards out of the snow a couple winters ago. My morning and evening jaunt is more like alley crawling, stomping, slip/sliding or even skiing. Most winters, Polson doesn't have enough new powder to do anything except...sledding. That most ancient of winter pastimes happens with a vengance at our own Riverside Park, only four blocks (and one alley) from my home.
And that my friends, is a sight to behold. Grab your little red sled, toboggan, or old fashioned Red Flyer (remember, the one with runners) and the thickest coat you have, and head to the park. Riverside Park overlooks the swift running Flathead River, Polson Bridge clicking under a steady stream of cars, and in the water, Canada geese, coots ganged up in flotillas, maybe even a Bald Eagle or two. My friend Jan took this at the park last Saturday with an extremely long lens.

The slope from 1st Street down to the playground is steep enough that, with some new powder, and a little push to start your sled, you go like a blue streak, pushing your heart rate into triple digit arythmia. Little bumps engineered into the hill give your tail bone a thrill as well. However, the local snowboard set has upped the ante with a rock hard snow ramp ending in a picnic table that launches the erstwhile snowboarder into a free fall of about 8-10 feet. Yowza.
So from the bucolic peacefulness of early morning and late
evening alley strolling, I am but a few blocks from the break neck wildness and hilarity of Riverside Park. The few times my dog, Sam ever escaped during the summertime, I found him at Riverside, chest deep in the river, where he was invisible under a couple dozen hands caressing his waterlogged body. If a dog could purr, he would have. His favorite companions are the sun baked kids who swim away their days like otters. Even the dogs in town know where the fun lives.

photocredits: winter copywright

Fun is always just around the corner!