Seven random things

I’ve been tagged by Endment with a meme to list seven random things. I’ve done some variation on this meme a few times, but they seem well-buried in the archives in case I repeat myself.

Here are the rules:

Link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
Share 7 random or weird things about yourself.
Tag 7 people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So here goes:

1. I have a newly-minted relative. Here’s his pic. Can you tell he’s not from my side of the family with that dark hair! His name is Giovanni.

2. The only magazine I subscribe to and read regularly is Vanity Fair. At the moment, I carry three issues to and from work with me every day, but clearly don’t find the time to read them.

3. Speaking of work, my cubicle-buddy Linda came back today after being out on maternity leave since early September. Linda is Dominican and it’s so nice to have someone to share *bochinche* with and chat in Spanish again.

4. I still haven’t really started my Xmas shopping. Can you say denial?

5. My favorite place to bird in Cape May is Hidden Valley Ranch. We never even got there when the flock was here in October, but the habitat is similar to Higbee’s (pictured here on a very birdy morning) except that there’s also a nice bit of wet woods and oftentimes Barred Owls (and horses)!

6. I finally had to buy Luka a new collar because he’s outgrown the old one. Of course he wouldn’t cooperate for his picture and insisted on sitting on me while I tried to take it, but the collar is a pretty shade of blue with neon green alligators on it and reminds me of the preppy ties I like to buy for my brothers from
Vineyard Vines.

7. Ever wonder what brings the most visitors to this blog from Google searches? This post and its pic of bunny poop. Go figure!

I’ll tag:

Susan, of course, at Susan Gets Native
Rabbit’s Guy at A Houseful of Rabbits
Dave at Bird TLC and Around Anchorage
Trixie at Trixie’s View
Ruthie J. at
Nature Knitter
Jennifer at
A Passion for Nature
Larry at
The Brownstone Birding Blog

Wildlife tree

Ever thought to decorate a tree for the birds and other wildlife in your garden? As if you need something else to have to decorate?


It might be something as simple as strings of popcorn and peanuts, cranberries and grapes, or something as elaborate (and pretty) as this wildlife tree at Longwood Gardens. The NWF suggests thin apple and orange slices, as well as pinecones coated with a mix of peanut butter and cornmeal then dipped in birdseed. Zick dough might be yummy too, I’d bet. And remember that your discarded xmas tree makes a great sheltering spot for birds and can be used as the base of a brush pile to attact other wildlife.

I took this pic last Christmas at Longwood and swore I’d make it back this past summer – didn’t happen. I wonder if anyone is going this Christmas? Heather in Pa. – is this tree a staple of the display? Do you know if the decorations are handmade?

Something else to add to the holiday to-do list.

Nameless things

As children, we were unaware of so many things that we lived in a strange paradise of invented names and things that, in our eyes, were full of mystery. Birds, insects and flowers that had no names other than those we chose to give them. In this way, each of us possessed our own beautiful and magical kingdom made up things as ephemeral as the baptism of a tree, or a creek, or a particular path through the woods. We used to say, “I swam in your creek”; “Look at your birds”; “This is my flower.”

I had a special love for certain animals that in the opinion of many were quite disgusting. I remember a toad. It lived under the rocks near a little creek that was close to where I grew up. I called him Sam the Mindreader, and although I can’t seem to remember why, the reasons behind any of these names for plants and animals were vague and intangible to begin with. And if we loved some of these, we also hated others, such as the thistles, pastel purple flowers born among the weedy fields that signaled the coming end of our summer vacation. When the purple flowers appeared we would squash them furiously with our heels or cut them from their roots.

One day someone killed Sam the Mindreader. I found him squashed and dried up. I stayed there for a long time just looking and listening to the creek running across the rocks. Suddenly I was left with a name in the emptiness, a name I didn’t know what to do with. A strange feeling came over me then. I remember that I went away slowly; it wasn’t sadness that I felt, but the emptiness of something that had fled, like a bird or a memory. I felt this loss to the point that for days I went around repeating to myself now and again “Sam the Mindreader” without understanding it well any longer.

Many times since I have felt the hollowness of a word that, in reality, never existed. But then, for the first time, I became aware of certain words or echoes that leave a hollow in our thoughts that neither hope nor memory can overcome.

Of white elephants and yankee swaps…

or what my favorite sister-in-law likes to call a chinese polyanna – ever done one? With the family or at work? Maybe with all the neighbors? The idea of this gift exchange is that everyone brings a wrapped gift of similar value. It’s all anonymous and everyone who is participating draws a number. The person with #1 selects a gift and opens it so all can see what it is. The person with #2 can either “steal” #1’s gift or choose a wrapped gift from the remainder. The game continues for each subsequent player so that higher numbers are more desirable (because you have more open gifts to steal) – and that’s the fun of the game – the stealing!

I’ve only ever done these where you have to go out and buy a gift to participate, but at our holiday party at work tomorrow we’re doing a white elephant with *unwanted or gently used* items from home. Ought to be interesting, I bet. Of course, I throw anything like that away (can’t stand the clutter!) – so I wrapped up a little box of Godiva chocolates received as a freebie for spending a bit too much there of late.


I’d love to hear of any wacky gifts you may have received (or gotten rid of) in a similar gift exchange. Stories, please!

Flock movements

Okay girls… where are we going next? It’s been a month or so since Susan last tried to tempt us to Ohio and Magee Marsh (which sounds pretty neat), but that second weekend in May is something of a sticking point for any of us in NJ as it’s World Series weekend.

Lynne is still quietly floating the idea of the flock visiting frozen Minnesota and Sax Zim Bog (which sounds really, really neat – Great Grey Owls!), but the frozen part is a little scary.

Mary in North Carolina? Delia in Pa.? Susan at Lake Life in North Carolina or is it Florida now? Pam in New York? Want to tempt us your way? Anyone else have ideas?

The public’s business

I remember fifteen years or so ago when first offered a job with social services being asked, rather snidely, “You don’t intend to stay there very long, do you? Who wants to work with those people?” I really had no clue what I was getting myself into and was just interested in a paycheck and the chance to put all those years of studying Spanish to good use.

I remember being bothered, to begin with, mostly by the lack of any similarity of values with my clients. It seemed like everyone was having kids with just anyone with no concern for how they were to be supported. Fourteen-year-olds having babies really bothered me. Women staying with the same abusive guy for years. Teenagers having abortion after abortion.

For most of these fifteen years, it’s all been stories on paper or over the phone, with very little direct face-to-face contact. Other than an occasional visit to a little old ladies’ home to complete paperwork, it’s all remained very abstract and I’ve been able to pretend a certain distance from the people I work with.

Not so anymore.

If anything, in all these years, I’ve learned that there’s really very little that separates me from my clients; us from them. Values and chance are what I think it comes down to. Big factors, but easy to explain away by circumstance or luck.

Something else I’ve discovered recently is that nothing shocks me anymore. This hasn’t been a sudden thing, I don’t think, but the accumulated weight of years of sad and twisted stories. I do wonder that I’ve not become cynical or jaded. Maybe my own values have just slipped along the way; who knows.

Two days a week now I’m out there snooping around in people’s homes and poking into their private lives, all in the guise of making sure that their living situations are safe and sanitary because you and I are paying a portion of their living expenses each month. Most live just like you and I do; others, well… it’s not anything that is really polite to discuss in mixed company.


But discuss it we do; usually late in the afternoon when any sort of productive work is well beyond possible. It’s a good sort of release and a good time to laugh at ourselves, mostly, and the things that still bother us. Not shock us, just bother us, or make us afraid. Child abuse, bed bugs, gang shootings, cockroaches, sex offenders.

This afternoon after I sent a letter along to notify a client that I would be visitng in the next two weeks, I took a minute to look through the case file. Oh boy! Do I really mean to go there alone? Safe-enough neighborhood, but the client has a history of drug use (not just that, really, more like a history of running crack houses) oh and look there! – a police report about prostitution and confining women in the home against their will, and just last month an arrest for crack possession (again) and buying alcohol for minors.

So I went to the big boss and asked if we shouldn’t just terminate any sort of assistance to this guy and do I really need to go into his house… please? Well, the fact is, he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, so I need to make the visit.

I think I must have sat at my desk for an hour trying to come up with a way to sell this visit to any one of my more experienced coworkers – a trade maybe? Fresh-baked muffins everyday for a month, perhaps? In the end I just asked if anyone had the time to accompany me on a visit to a crack house and dear sweet Susan, who sits across the way and is totally overburdered with her own work, volunteered to go along with me. How two blonde German-Irish girls are to make each other feel safe I’m not sure, but she assured me she’s not fazed by it. She’s sat across the kitchen table with the mothers of murderers and knows that these people, our clients, the ones we mean to help on their way to self-sufficiency, really like us and mean us no harm and are glad for the intrusion into their lives.

I’m not convinced of that yet, but wonder if I shouldn’t have offered fresh-baked muffins everday for two months instead, or just taken that job on Wall Street so many years ago.



NJ is small and especially full of rude people, but we’ve got great birds, particularly in winter along the coast. You have to be the hardy type and enjoy the frigid wind in your face, but it’s worth the frostbite for the variety of waterfowl, gulls, raptors, and other goodies.

It’s still too early in the season for there to be great numbers of waterfowl, but I enjoy keeping up with whoever’s arrived in the neighborhood. On my days in the field, I plan my lunch hour around visiting a few of the coastal ponds that dot the north shore of the state. For whatever reason, the local ponds don’t attract the variety of the more southern ponds, but last week there was this nice group of hooded mergansers, a canvasback or two, some coot, and I think I may have imagined a ring-necked duck. Of course, the good ducks never get close enough for a decent photo, but there’s plenty of canada geese and mute swans to practice photography with.

There’s a lake along the ocean at the base of one of the senior citizen buildings that I visit that always has lots of gulls. I’m not often of a mind to sort through the ring-bills, herrings, and great black-backs but when the lake is frozen there may be bonaparte’s or a lesser. Mostly I have to be really bored to give gulls that much attention, but some birders are into that sort of mind-numbing exercise. I prefer the pretty ducks.

The ocean and bay have their own treasures; loons, grebes, oldsquaw, ruddies, bufflehead, harlequins. The marshes have harriers and short-ears, and rough-leggeds – the list goes on and on. But I’m getting cold just thinking of it.

So.. what birds get you outside in the winter? Or is it just the ones that wait beside the empty feeder?


Trout lilies

“It happened I couldn’t find in all my books
more than a picture and a few words concerning
the trout lily,

so I shut my eyes.
And let the darkness come in
and roll me back.
The old creek

began to sing in my ears
as it rolled along, like the hair of spring,
and the young girl I used to be
heard it also,

as she came swinging into the woods,
truant from everything as usual
except the clear globe of the day, and its
beautiful details.

Then she stopped,
where the first trout lilies of the year
had sprung from the ground
with their spotted bodies
and their six-antlered bright faces,
and their many red tongues.

If she spoke to them, I don’t remember what she said,
and if they kindly answered, it’s a gift that can’t be broken
by giving it away.
All I know is, there was a light that lingered, for hours,
under her eyelids — that made a difference
when she went back to a difficult house, at the end of the day.”
–Mary Oliver

Some cold and gray snowy days it’s nice to be reminded of spring and trout lilies.