Just ducky

I’ll let you all in on a little secret, so long as you promise not to take too great an advantage from it:

Ducks are the way to my heart.

Stand with me beside the bay on a freezing winter day, face streaked with tears from the biting wind, ducks bobbing in the distance and you’ll have found a friend for life.

If it’s June and there are no ducks to be had in NJ, find an excuse to be in ND and coast with me along deserted roads, bordered by great puddles filled with all manner of breeding ducks and I’ll think you the best birding-buddy a person could find.

And if it’s late September, when only the earliest of Northern Pintails can be found on some secret shallow marsh, go with me to the decoy show and let me anticipate the arrival of my most favorite class of birds.

Humor me as I agonize over which decoy I’ll bring home.

Try not to be too impatient with me as my questions elicit yet another story about how an ex-insurance broker came to carve shorebirds and paint lighthouses in his retirement. Or how another came to copy the great carvers who made their living from decoys in the days of market-gunning.

Don’t be embarrassed when I (too loudly) compare the antique animal traps at the taxidermist’s “display” to barbarian torture devices. Be proud, in fact, that I don’t back down from his smart-ass response to overhearing my comment.

This is a decoy and gunning show, remember.

And I’m a duck-watching, tree-hugging, dirt-loving fool.

For all that pains me about it, there is almost nothing that I don’t love about the heritage this show represents. Historically an impoverished area of the state, the baymen who made their living there did so in cycles, commercial fishermen in season and boat builders or electricians or decoy carvers in winter. Cranberry and blueberry harvesters or chicken farmers on the side.

Collectible decoys are an artifact of tools that have outlived their usefulness. The draw for me is the workmanship; the finest of floating sculpture that was designed to be tossed in salt water and into the line of fire. Gone, mostly, are the days when decoys were used to lure ducks and shorebirds to the hunter’s gun and then on to restaurants or the millinery trade.

The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act put an end to the commercial hunting of wild birds and so we’re left with a piece of history. A piece of that heritage remains in the decoy, more sophisticated now than the early carvings meant just to evoke the likeness of a bird and thereby bring the real thing into the sights of a hunter’s gun.

Of course it’s those primitive-style decoys that I prefer. I think it must be partly because they remind me of the way I experience ducks as a birder; old style decoys are all about field marks: cheek patches and tail shape and bill color. There’s no time to see the fine-feather detail on the flanks of a Bufflehead as they bob like little rubber ducks in the frozen bay, anyway. Too much detail distracts my eye, makes me keenly aware that what I’m seeing is, after all, a decoy.

The Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show continues tomorrow in Tuckerton.


I can not:
match shoes to bag
make small talk
say goodbye
show interest
at baby showers

I can not stop:
looking back
pushing away
keeping secrets
being late
trying too hard
it doesn’t matter

I can:
laugh in spite of myself
(most often at myself)
be honest
be happy
be vulnerable
see love and loss
without fear

– – – – – – – – – – –

There are days when I feel like I’m writing the same blog post, over and over, but with different words. And I wonder if you all notice?


(Blogging as free therapy)

There’s some tangential relationship here to this post, I think.

What has me thinking about my mom tonight, some thirty years later, I’m not sure. Probably it has to do with this lady I work with; there’s something about her and the way she carries herself in the hallway at the office. There’s times when I catch sight of her; really, it’s the sound of her shoes that reminds me of my mother – something inexplicable and familiar.


A tree of your own

A favorite to share from Hal Borland:

Everybody should own a tree at this time of year. Or a valley full of trees, or a whole hillside. Not legally, in the formal way of “Know all men…” and “heirs and assigns” written on a paper, but in the way that one comes to own a tree by seeing it at the turn of the road, or down the street, or in a park, and watching it day after day, and seeing color come to its leaves. That way it is your tree whenever you choose to pass that way, and neither fence nor title can take it away from you. And it will be yours as long as you remember.

Red maples are beautiful trees to own that way. They color early and the color steadily deepens. Find one that turns mingled gold and crimson and you have a tree of wonders, for you never know whether another day will bring more gold or more rubies. It will be a great treasure in any case. And a sour gum is a thrilling tree to own, for its reds and oranges are like those of no other tree that grows. A dogwood, too, is one to consider, for it not only rouges itself with some of the warmest reds in the woodland; it decks itself with berry clusters that outstay the leaves, if the squirrels are not too industrious. Or you may choose the sassafras, and cherish the choice until all the leaves are fallen. For the sassafras is like a golden flame with all the warmth of orange and red and even purple mingled in. No fire that ever leaped on a hearth had the warmth of color that glows in a sassafras on an October hilltop.

Take your choice among these and many others. Make one your own, and know Autumn in a tree that not even the birds can possess more fully. It’s yours for the finding, and the keeping in your memory.

The pic is of a tree that I like to think of as my own, one I keep track of. I’m not sure what kind it is, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with leaves; I’ll have to pay a visit this weekend before it disrobes itself again for the winter.

Jayne’s meme

1. How many songs are on your iPod?
1348 and lots of those are bird songs (frog calls will be added soon!)

2. What music would you want played at your funeral?
I don’t think I want a funeral.

3. What magazines do you have subscriptions to?
Vanity Fair and that’s just piling up lately.

4. What is your favorite scent?
Fracas by Piguet

5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it?
It would take me a long time to spend that much money on myself; it would be wasted on me and just sit in the bank.

6. What is your theme song?
Lately it feels like Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic

7. Do you trust easily?
Probably not, but I’m one of those people who likes just about everyone.

8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think?
Definitely a thinker, but I’m trying to get out of the habit of that so much.

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?

10. Do you have a good body-image?
(Laugh) Yeah, it’s great.


11. Is being tagged fun?
It is usually, yeah.

12. If you had more hours in the day, how would you spend that time?
I’m up half the night as is, I really couldn’t handle any more hours in the day!

13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately?
Mindlessly staring at the ocean.

14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?
No one tagged me, but I stole this from Jayne and she’s really sweet and kind.

15. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?
Ray LaMontagne’s “Hannah“; that fiddle just grabs my ear and sticks.

16. What’s your favorite item of clothing?
Jeans, jeans, jeans.

17. Do you think Rice Crispies are yummy?
Ick, no.

18. If you had $100 to give away, who would you give it to?
I know lots of people who need way more than $100. Off the top of my head, there’s a disabled vet who needs money for a security deposit on a new place. I’d really like to find that money for him.

19. What items could you not go without during the day?
Coffee. Music. Carmex. A window to look out.

20. What should you be doing right now?
I should be at the Y or at least thinking about going…

And yes, you’re tagged!


One more look

I don’t have a name yet and I’m not saying where I came from.

If only they could talk, right?

The DH covers for animal control nights and weekends and generally is smart enough to not ever mention anything about stray bunnies to me. Someone had called about this white bunny that was in their yard for a couple days…

You know how the rest went, but at least try to picture me resisting those blue eyes.

I’m guessing someone dumped her outside because that’s what mean people do.

Isn’t she pretty?

And a plain white bunny…

… makes five. Again. Five is my limit. Somehow I can’t ever seem to be without five bunnies for very long.

Anyway so, she’s pretty dirty as she’s been roaming the neighborhood for a while, but she’s eating and thumping up a storm.

I’ve always wanted a red-eyed white bunny, but I had visions of a big ‘ole Harvey-type bunny. Her eyes are the palest of blue and her ears remind me of the inside of a seashell…


More pics on a day I won’t need to use a flash on those sensitive eyes.

The blink of an eye

While I was up in North Jersey on Friday to visit the hawkwatch site, I took a stroll around the campus of the college where I did my undergraduate degree.

When I was a student there it was still just a college and not a university like it is today. That change is mostly superficial, I guess, yet I went there fully expecting that I wouldn’t recognize the place for all the new buildings that have been constructed since I graduated. I was happy to find that the core of the campus was unchanged and that the feel of the place was the same to me. It does feel much more grown-up somehow, though, with a cafe attached to the library, a diner right on campus and its very own train station.

I spent an hour or so sitting on the familiar benches outside Partridge Hall, which used to house the Department of Spanish and Italian, where I spent the majority of my days for those four years. It was only twenty years ago this month that I started there as a freshman, after all.

Cripes! Where did twenty years go?

In the blink of an eye…

I’d started college as a Political Science major, of all things, but mostly C’s and a D or two (plus the riot act from my dad) convinced me that Poly Sci most probably wasn’t where my talents were.

How exactly I ended up as a Spanish Translation major is less clear in my memory, but I suppose I might have been influenced by the mission-style architecture of the campus, or my Spanish-born uncle, or more probably that I mostly always got A’s in Spanish without very much difficulty.


Anyway… Spanish was a good fit for me. Not as easy one, as Montclair State is blessed with a diverse population and an excellent faculty that hardly ever cut me any slack as the only non-native speaker in most of my classes. One of my professors often ‘complimented’ me on my ‘creative’ use of the language, in fact.


I never was able to make a living doing the type of translation work I love – literary translation – nor was the year spent doing legal and medical translations very lucrative, but I think I’ve been lucky since then to be able to make use of my undergraduate degree in most all of the jobs I’ve held over the years. That’s probably more than can be said for my friends who stuck with Political Science.

Of course I’m denying the fact that I had to get a graduate degree to be able to make any real money (as if!) but that’s another story, anyway.

It was nice to spend a couple hours there and see myself 18 again with the whole world for my imagining.

Fields of gold

The open fields glowing with goldenrod and the wooded trails of Tatum Park were the backdrop to Monmouth County Audubon’s first field trip of the season this morning. This late summer flower, together with the asters, keeps the honeybees in business now and the sight of it will be a welcome memory to anyone walking these same fields come the dark days of December.

Our group of twelve enjoyed the restless voices of Robins and Catbirds in the woods, had a nice look at a Cooper’s Hawk gliding through a swarm of Tree Swallows high overhead and had a demonstration from our field trip leader of the explosive seed dispersal technique of jewelweed after a brief glimpse at a hummingbird feeding among its flowers.

We ended our walk puzzling over the identity of a quickly departing flycatcher while a fawn of the year emerged from the jewelweed and goldenrod at our feet. Two Common Yellowthroats and a Downy Woodpecker were found feeding in the same area. While there didn’t seem to be many birds present today, the warm sun and all that goldenrod made up for the lack of migrants.