Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Weekend Sunday was Largely for the Birds

Memorial Day Weekend has been memorable for work in the yard or, more accurately, the patio, and yesterday's bike/canoe outing. Metro was also involved but I prefer to gloss over that and concentrate on the quite excellent bike ride from Ballard to the Waterfront Activity Center and then on our time on the Lake Washington itself. It was a fine day to be out on the water; whether because of the long weekend or because the weather was somewhat marginal, there weren't many big boats in the ship canal, and there was no wait to get a canoe for our own expedition. Work on 520 has made some parts of the water off-limits but the nice woman at the canoe rental window made a point of telling us (and everyone before us and, presumably, everyone after us) that though there were some "canoes not allowed" signs elsewhere, we were to ignore those as they were public waterways. I sensed some sort of power struggle which always amuses when one isn't directly involved.

And such a very fine day it turned out to be. The bird list was not particularly long but I added a new species to my life list (which is to say that I marked the relevant page in Sibley's and also annotated my lab book): a spotted sandpiper. An argument could be made that I consider every bird I see as one of the most attractive but in this case there really is no question: the spotted sandpiper is a damned good-looking bird (if not the most obliging photo subject I've ever encountered).

 But there was more than just the sandpiper. Mallards, gadwalls, and pied-billed grebes have all been busy in recent weeks making new mallards, gadwalls, and pied-billed grebes and much adoreableness has resulted. I learned, as I clicked through the hundreds of photos I took yesterday from a not-entirely-steady canoe, that I am physically incapable of deleting a photo that contains a pied-billed grebe and doubly incapable of deleting a file that contains a pied-billed grebe chick/fledgling. I endeavor to limit myself to one snap here.

But, seriously, why would one attempt to delete such creatures? Just look at how adorable they are! She looks so proud and he (or she) looks so damned preposterous. How can that feline-face turn into something that looks like a grebe? It's unfathomable, it is.

Aside from the cute chick action, we also encountered the most bizarre pileated woodpecker shortly after we drew the canoe out on Foster Island for a few minutes. At first it was all about draining a little water out of the boat and admiring some chicks, but then a pileated woodpecker swooped in to demand that its photo be taken. Many times. He gave us such looks. There were times that it seemed likely he (or, okay,  equally possibly "she") was going to hop over and see if Scott's leg might not contain a few bugs. He should, really, have been giving me that look since I'd earlier found a young dragonfly resting on my hand and, later, a honey bee convinced that my knee must contain some nectar somewhere.

Hey, what about those cute duckling sorts? The photo below is out of focus but, well, focus may be overrated. This little fellow was momentarily separated from his flock and, when he realized it he became quite alarmed--and also confused, as he seemed to be making a beeline for me, rather than his mother. It all ended happily with the family reunited.

The low light, possibly, resulted in a lot of lovely reflective water--something I rarely bother to resist. In addition to taking a million snaps of birds, I insisted we pause the canoe for a few minutes while I took some shots of a particularly nice waterlily and its perfect reflection. The greenish bit at the bottom is Scott's paddle, I think--or more likely my own. It's tricky photographing from a canoe, I tell you.

And then there is the pure horror that one sometimes encounters in the sweet old natural world where, it turns out, things aren't always so sweet for all participants after all. Some of nature smiles while other parts bleed. There is, undoubtedly, a profound lesson to be learned, but I just post a perhaps gruesome photo (consider yourself warned!) and note that great blue herons have to eat too, (Me, I'm happy that what Scott is busy preparing out in the kitchen while I do battle with Photoshop, Blogger, and Comcast, is a nice tofu and vegetable stirfry. I may be off fish for a bit.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Slice o' life email cut and paste post for a Friday morning

The powers move in mysterious ways, their doughnuts for Jill's last day to provide. Which is to say: THERE ARE TOP POT DOUGHNUTS IN THE COPIER/KITCHEN AREA—GET THEM WHILE THEY LAST!

A story to accompany your doughnut: 

 I had a blowout on my front tire on the way home last night which, I am here to tell you, is sort of exciting. A flash of blue-white light, a loud shot-like noise, and suddenly your tire is coming-off-the-rim flat. Naturally, my first thoughts were about the bike-to-month challenge for I am determined to be 100%. Could I find a bike shop open in West Seattle at 7:00 on a Thursday night? Could I swap tires with Scott's bike? Could I ride Scott's bike? 

 Those answers turned out to be no, no, and not safely, no. 

 But I did find that the aptly named Bicycle Repair Shop would open at 8:00 am and they're just few blocks from the Rapid-Ride C stop downtown. I applied some duct tape to the damaged tire, inserted my last pristine inner tube, and put the wheel back together enough to allow it to be clamped on the front of the bus—all before having my evening cocktail. This morning, it all went just as planned, and, luckily, the helmet I'd forgotten to take out of my bike's basket didn't bounce out on 99.

 MIchael at BRS very helpfully advised me on my tire options and, though they were booked solid, offered to put it on right then and there, thus saving me an embarrassing and messy 45 minutes of swapping things out myself. 

But what is the point of this story, you may ask, and where do the doughnuts come into it? Well, it happens that there's a Top Pot shop a block from the bicycle repair shop so while Michael quickly and efficiently made some money for his store, I purchased a gaggle of doughnuts. And since everything happens for a reason I can only surmise that my front tire blew out not because it's twenty years old and I rode over something sharp, but rather so that I would be able to bring doughnuts for this, Jill's last day.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Memento Mori (It's not just an excellent book by Muriel Spark, you know)

It's been a weekend heavy on the death so what is there to do but write a blogger update, featuring photos of happier things.

My father died back in August, but his house hasn't yet been cleared out. Yesterday a couple of my brothers, my grand-niece, and I spent some hours sorting through some things, photographing things people might conceivably want, and--in my case--doing some cleaning in the kitchen. Being me, I berated myself for not having been better about cleaning things there while he was alive and also wondering what he was thinking when he bought packages of a thousand coffee filters or put cold cuts into the freezer. One of the Chick-tract-like items I treasure is a little card featuring a hearse with the words, "You may tie your shoes in the morning, but the undertaker may untie them at night." So, looking at a free 2014 calendar from the Veterans of Foreign Wars my father had taped to the wall makes me wonder what sort of thoughts my father, not a young man nor in the finest of health, may have been thinking when he put it up some fifteen months ago.
A few hours ago I learned on Facebook that climber Dean Potter died this weekend. Katie Ives had a lovely tribute to a man whom she'd known as a friend. His is a name I've known for years but I've not had any firsthand experience of Dean; from Katie's post it seems like he was a very nice person. That he died doing illegal BASE climbing in Yosemite will, I am sure, lead to many people observing he died doing what he loved and similar things. I'm not sure that will make it any easier for those who loved him. He didn't die alone: another jumper, by the name of Graham Hunt, also smashed into the rocks. That the New York Times article refers to Mr Hunt as "the other man" somehow seems significant to me. "His name was Robert Paulson," I somehow want to say, or at least "His name was Graham Hunt." Deaths of princes and of nobodies, I might free-associate to add. I don't know.

 The most immediate death to prompt this self-indulgent little bit of blahdeblahblah was that of a tiny male American goldfinch. I imagine he had no name and I'm not sure of his age but the most likely cause of death was salmonellosis, to which goldfinches and pine siskins are particularly prone. I'd like to think it was old age, but it probably wasn't. I'd like to think he didn't pick it up in my yard, and it's possible enough that he didn't, but I have once more dutifully taken down the feeder to soak it in a bleach solution and to leave it down for a number of days. There are a lot of young fledges about this week which means that it's important that I remove a potential source of infection, but also that there are a lot of confused and unhappy birds flitting around the apricot tree, scratching their little bird heads and twittering, "But I know there were a bunch of sunflower chips here not half an hour ago!" The question of whether one is actually doing the birds a favor by putting out feeders is a vexing one, and I know I do it more for my own pleasure than for their convenience. How much the benefits balance with witnessing the slow unhappy death of little goldfinch, for they are so damned small in death, I don't know.

How much the joy of jumping off cliffs balances with the horror of sudden death is, I find, less perplexing. Immediate death, violent though it might be, for a human doing what he wants to do, is going to trouble me less than that of a small bird who can't grasp what is happening at all. The death of an old man who had good innings and who happened to be responsible for my existence is, possibly, again harder to analyze. Maybe death is more difficult for those who have to witness or clean up after it or maybe that's just my self-absorbed attitude this evening. Peace to you. Dean Potter, Graham Hunt, Ed Proudfoot, tiny goldfinch, and all the other "other beings" who didn't realize that this was their day.

 But hey! First cherries of the year at the market and surprise first raspberries of the year in the backyard. Because somehow the world keeps going. Don't look to me to decide whether that's a good or bad thing. Today, I'm thinking, it's just a thing.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Not all baby birds are so adorable

Indeed, a few of them have a certain Rosemary's Baby thing going:

Ground Plan of Hell and subservient adult wren

Some younger birds are quite sweet however:

Pre-adolescent mallard chick

This savannah sparrow (I think) looks fairly adult but behaved like a youngster.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A few of my favorite things

I take a lot of photos and I'm pretty good about clearing them off my camera and putting them onto my computer, and I sometimes fuss with a few of them briefly, cropping, sizing, and naming them. And then, possibly, I get around to shifting them to an external hard drive or, if I'm really ambitious, I'll sort through them to make a calendar some time a week or two before Christmas. 

 It's a foolish way of being. On reflection, I'm pretty sure it doesn't make a lot more sense to throw a handful of snaps up here tonight but, by gum, that's what I'm doing. Without further adieu I present half a dozen photos that represent nothing but daily life in the last three or four days. Not shown here, because I didn't photograph it, is the mass of wet cycling gear spread about the house. It was a wet commute home during this third weekday of "bike to work" month. 

A darned handsome Bewick's wren giving me the business from near the grape.

View of the garden after the evening rain in early May 

I did imply random, right? Still life/portrait during the painting of the bathroom this weekend
Book / Bike Day cocktail-in-progress
Tulips that have survived until early May
Bewick's wren fledgling in the cherry tree this evening

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Of books, bikes,and goats

Today was "Independent Bookstore Day" across the country as, I suspect, not all that many people knew. I don't know how brilliant a job bookstores did about advertising the event beyond the book industry and, possibly, those who regularly visit their local bookstores. The few people to whom I mentioned it, fairly literate and locally aware types, hadn't heard about it. But then, the bookstores we visited were relatively busy so perhaps I malign their publicity. Hard to say.

This passport of a man made it to all
17 participating stores in the Seattle area.

 Regardless, Scott and I made an effort to visit some plucky independents on this, their big day. There's a price to be paid for a) not leaving the house until after 11:00 a.m., b) traveling via bicycle and Metro, and c) scheduling a goat visit for mid-afternoon and that's not having a passport that looks like the one to the right. This guy collected his final stamp at Elliott Bay around 6:00 p.m. What is truly staggering is that he was the *fourth* person to have done so. Sterner stuff and better planners; that's some people.

Quite honestly, I don't think Scott or I had the fortitude to handle so many bookstores; certainly our carrying capacity was pretty much stretched to the max with our paltry four stores. Between us we purchased thirteen books, I think, at four stores. The real wonder is that we did not also come home with an adorable baby goat because Eloise's daughter Mary (I blush) is as sweet as they come and clearly suited to travel by bicycle:
Mary the Goat in Bessie the Bike's basket
I've yet to figure our mileage for the day [[updated to add: just shy of 13 miles. We really should have gone to Third Place]]; we took the C from West Seattle to Ballard and then rode up to Phinney for Phinney Books,
Phinney Books
 back down into Ballard for Secret Garden Books,

Secret Garden Books
and, via the Burke Gilman Trail, across to the U district, for University Bookstore.

University Book Store
 We then caught a 48 to the Central district from which we biked (and pushed our bikes up a few hills) to visit the goats, and then bussed back to the vicinity of Elliott Bay Book Company
Elliott Bay Book Company

before biking downtown to catch a C back home. Where, happily, there were cocktails. And ibuprofen.

The biggest financial hit of the day was at Four Corners Art and Frame Shop. Gosh that little sora Virginia rail and chick were just too irresistible. I think, however, we also bolstered the figures for some local plucky independents:

Friday, May 1, 2015

If Pinkie Brown were in real estate

This is the sort of letter that he'd send out:

Seriously, "Even pretty houses that you live in"? I want a restraining order.