Thursday, July 29, 2010


Recently the barn swallows celebrated another Fledge Day.  As I observe these days, suddenly as if out of nowhere, eight or ten adult barn swallows converge on the yard, swooping and hollering.  The young'uns, who have practiced perching and just a bit of gliding, make it outside to watch.  But as the grown-ups demonstrate what fun flying is (and it must be, mustn't it?), the young'uns are gradually overcome with desire to leap into the air and let their wings do their thing.

Then all eight or ten adults fly into formation around the young'uns, giving them the freedom to get the hang of it without worrying about hawks or flying into trees or the side of the barn.

It's a magnificent ritual for a sunny summer day.  And by nightfall, all the swallows will have left the barn.  I do not know where they live once they have fledged.  But they come back every evening to swoop and eat bugs.  And maybe, just maybe, the little ones tell the others "that's where I grew up!"

On another front, I've been observing the local hummingbirds through my living room window.  For about a month there seemed to be just one, but about a week ago I realized three were vying for position.  None has a ruby throat -- perhaps they're all young.  The most interesting behavior I've seen is that one of them will perch in the vine growing up the shepherd's hook.  See it there towards the top?

Then when another comes to drink at the feeder, the hidden one bursts out and chases it.  I've read that hummers are very territorial, so this may well be aggressive behavior, but it appears quite playful.

Of course they fly so fast, I was not able to catch their race in any of my photos.  But they are so involved in this competition that I can sit in a lawn chair not ten feet away and watch the action.  At times all three of them race back and forth, zooming over the roof or around the corner.  Then number one returns to its hiding place, and eventually the game begins again.

Who needs TV?!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Girl Without a Pearl Earring

I like to wear pearl earrings.  In my 20s I bought my first pair.  They were small, and had a beautiful pinkish blush to them.  Eventually I lost one of the pearls and went without for a while.

Then in my 30s, when I had a "career," I bought another pair of pearls.  They were a bit larger, brought a soft glow which I find about the most jewel-y jewelry I can wear day to day.

That pair met an untimely end last winter.  We were at the start of one of the many blizzards to accost our area.  I had a 4:00 hair appointment, and planned to zip straight home after.  As Alaina dried my hair I felt my earring loosen, and quickly I tightened it back to my earlobe.  I advised her to cancel her remaining appointments and get home and off I went.

Not two blocks away I needed to stop to clear the ice off my windshield wipers.  I popped out of the car, cracked the ice, then continued my trip home.  At the gas station I began pumping gas, then realized my earring was gone.  But where did it fall off?  The salon?  The side of the road?  The gas station?

Long story short, I never found it.  But I was determined to have a pair, so I trekked to a mall in South Bend.  I selected the jewelry store formerly owned by people from my former suburb (if you are from the Chicago area, you might remember "jewelry created for now, and forever"!).  I presented the remaining stud and requested a match.  They sent it off into the great unknown.

Weeks passed.  I called for an update.  No news.  Then I was notified that the matching earring was in.  Upon returning to the store, the manager formally opened a jewelry box with the old and the new earring -- glaringly unmatched!  I asked her "does anyone look at these when they come in, because I know nothing about it and I can see that that is NOT a pair."  Honestly!

More weeks passed.  Finally they did, indeed, match the earring.  I paid a small fortune for the privilege of once again having two glowing orbs on my lobes.

By now you are wondering why I am posting this on my Busy Solitude Farm blog, right?  Here is the rest of the story.

Remember Spot?  He likes to jump on my back when I am in the barn.  This evening I was closing their outside door and up he popped.  Egglebert was at my ankles, harassing me, so I was a bit distracted.

And suddenly I felt a little peck at my ear.  And when I reached up, my earring was gone.  It was nowhere to be seen in my clothes or on the bedding.  I think it is inside Spot.  And so I ask you...

Any chance it will pass?

Addendum, Thursday morning.  When I checked in the barn in the cage, nothing.  No, I mean literally nothing.  Spot got out!  So I am now resigned to the fact that if fate wants me to have that earring back, it will present it to me.  I'm not fighting this any more!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Mama Hen

At breakfast today, Mama Hen said to her chickie "let's take a walk."  At least I think that's what happened, because when I opened the door to refresh their water and food, out they strolled.

Now I have to explain that I did not have the camera at hand when this occurred.  And I hung around just to make sure Mama Hen was confident enough to keep the other chickens away from baby.

By the time I got back to the barn a couple of hours later, I discovered Mama Hen finding a place to rest with baby.  And you can watch that part!

It's so clear to me that the baby trusts Mama 100%.  Wherever Mama goes, baby follows.  If they get separated, baby just needs to peep louder and Mama clucks reassuringly and they return to each other.

So once they settled in, they had a little conversation.

And then baby decided she wanted to rest somewhere other than under Mama's warm breast. 

So she found just the right place.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

On the pact we make with dogs

The heat broke today.  The air remains a bit thick, but the breeze is off the lake and holds the promise of a cooler night.

On Facebook I read that a friend's elderly dog died today.  They'd been together fifteen or sixteen years, done obedience and therapy work, comforting the ill and encouraging children to read aloud.  Their partnership was legendary.  Just recently they'd had a health scare, but were given the precious gift of a few more weeks together.

My dogs each got a walk this evening, something we have not done in a week or more.   On returning home I heard that a friend's 7 month old puppy was hit by a car and killed earlier this week.  He'd been such a joy, so full of promise.  Struck in front of their house.  She said she's spent the past two days curled in a ball, apologizing to him.

We take on such responsibility when we bring a dog into our lives.  As domestics they cannot feed themselves, or groom much on their own.  They work to fit into our world.  Truly domestic -- they serve our needs.  And the biggest need they serve is our need to have someone to love.

It's the pact we enter into.  Let me love you and I will feed you.  Let me love you and I will take you to the park, and for car rides.  Let me love you and I will throw the ball.  Tangible gifts.  But we can't say let me love you and I will protect you from all danger and keep you with me forever.  Because that is not possible.  We cannot make that pact with dog, nor man.

And sadly, we are reminded throughout life that this pact may never be entered.  The strongest, healthiest dogs live only fifteen or sixteen years with luck.  But disease or accidents take them much younger.  Despite the love.  The tremendous love we use to envelop them, our beloved dogs, and hold them close.

Oskar had a cancerous growth removed earlier this week.  We did not know it was malignant until after the surgery.  Now we must watch and wait to see if it returns.  He will be twelve in a few weeks.  Each evening now I find myself saying to him, let me love you one more day, and I will brush you gently.  Let me love you one more day, and I will take you for a walk.  Let me love you one more day and we will sing Suppertime.

And for now, he lets me love him.

Addendum.  Click here to see a lovely tribute to Shandy, my friend who lived 16 great years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


As I was hosing off the chickens' waterer in the backyard this afternoon, a beautiful neon-blue butterfly (maybe a moth?) began to dance around my feet.  I ran inside to grab the camera, hoping to record the amazing color.

She whirled and she swirled, never alighting with her wings open.

You can almost understand the glowing periwinkle in this photo, but not quite.

And when she finally held still, I could see...

...that the other side of her wings was not blue at all, but a gorgeous speckled silk.

Every day I am presented with more wonders of the world.  And for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Delicate Balance

Amazing.  This huge, ancient evergreen was uprooted when hurricane force winds blew through our area twice just before Independence Day.  I drive past this cemetery frequently, but until they cleared the branches from the trunk, I had not realized...

...that it was held up by a single tombstone.  Imagine the shock to the old bones below!

Another day or two and they will have cleared the entire thing away.  Soon the only memories of the huge storms of summer 2010 will be newly sunny flower beds, and fresh shingles.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hormonal Hens

Mid-summer means broody hens here at Busy Solitude Farm.  Eartha and the gold hen are excellent nest setters.  They've been stuck for weeks, though they occasionally move over one box, so nothing has been hatchable yet.

This morning I entered the hen pen just as both broodies were taking a break, letting other hens lay in the boxes.

In fact, all three boxes were occupied.  If you think about it, that makes major complications for me!  Each evening I come out with my Sharpie and mark the eggs that are allowed to stay, whisking away any new eggs I'd like to eat.  If a broody hen had her way, she'd set sixteen or twenty eggs.  But even these big "heavy breed" hens can't cover that many effectively.  So I allow about six eggs and take the rest.

It's quite warm today, nearly 90 before lunchtime.  All the hens are panting while inside, then racing outside where they can find some shade.  And everyone is a little edgy.  Poor Spot has dashed right and left trying to escape the wrath of a cranky hen.  Finally he found a quiet place.

Sitting quietly on the roost, he is away from the nest boxes, can watch the comings and going of the coop door, and just take a break for a while.

Which I am going to do now, too.  Hormonal hens wear me out!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Garden cement

In June we had about eight inches of rain.  I could not get near my garden -- the soil (originally heavy clay, now somewhat amended in the five years I've lived here) was slimy.

Now we've had dry weather for a week.  And I have a layer of clay cement on the top of each bed.  These zinnias struggle to expand with the hardscrabble crust.  The one on the left has a single sad blossom -- a last ditch effort by the plant to pass its genetics along to another generation.

This bed was equally crusted, and full of weeds.  I've not yet been able to plant due to all the water.  So this morning I began cracking it with a pitchfork, then laboriously crushing each clod by hand to remove the copious amounts of weed roots.  I throw them on the grass next to the bed, then once they've cooked in the sun for a while, I'll run the mulching mower over them, careful to have the "exhaust" chute pointed away from the raised bed.

This is the second time in my five years gardening here that the weather has caused such a horrible situation.  My plot is not large enough to redirect the water anywhere, so I think I will need to do a major rebuilt with higher raised beds to attempt to avoid a repeat.

Any ideas are welcome!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

Independence Day.  The Fourth of July.  A day for picnics and fireworks, family and friends.

I remember as a youngster that we would take blankets and bug spray to the field at Lakewood School to watch fireworks.  There would be snacks, maybe a transistor radio.  In those days we did not live in that community, so while we might see a friend or two, it was not like a party for us.  We were there for the show.  As the sun's light faded, the "test bombs" would go off.  Bang!  Pow!  We knew the show was close!

And then the first sparkly, abstract explosion of color would burst in the sky.  Oooh!  Aahh!  In those days the color palette was limited; there were no circles or hearts.  It was simply fantastic sparkliness in the sky.  The most excitingly special fireworks were the ones with whistles -- burst up in the sky, then the high pitched "whhooooooooo" as the color trails extended to the ground.  Oooh!  Aahh!

My sister and I hated the cherry bombs -- their sharp report hurt our ears.  But we'd only duck under the blanket for a minute, because then there would be another Oohh!  Aahh! moment.

In our little community, most of the fireworks were small ones, and they were set off one - at - a - time...  You'd hear the fuse, pfffft, see the trail race up into the sky, then bang!  Just a few of the fireworks were what we called chrysanthemums -- filling the entire sky.  Oooh!  Aahh!

Fireworks came but once a year.  Not on New Year's Day, not for weddings.  The show was on the fourth of July.  So as the show progressed from a golden sparkle, to red, and very rarely sort of blue, we felt already the emptiness that would fill the next 364 days.  Oh, don't let the show end!

But the finale -- oh the finale!  As the recorded music played "Stars and Stripes Forever" (and we giggled and sang "Be kind to your web footed friends, for a duck may be somebody's mother..."!), the sky glowed with white, gold, red, green, bang! bang! bang! bang!  The crowd was on its feet, Oooh!  Aahh!  Hooray!

After the show, exhaustion set in.  Some years we might stop at Baskin Robbins on the way home, waiting in line for half an hour to get a chocolate mint chip cake cone, barely keeping our eyes open to the last crunch.  And always in the car was the heated discussion -- what was your favorite firework?

(I took the photo of the American Bald Eagle at an event presented by the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis, and Chikaming Open Lands.)