“A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of” – Ogden Nash
So far, we have not been able to outwit the Pudelpointer puppy.
When Gypsy decides she is tired of exploring her three-acre fenced yard, nothing short of a locked door seems to stop her from getting inside the house.
For three months Bruce has tried a variety of unsuccessful solutions addressing Gypsy’s amazing ability to open all four exterior doors. He’s built a cage to cover the door handle, attached bungee straps to make the door difficult to open, and he even installed a new doorknob style, but Gypsy has overcome every obstacle and continues to open the doors.
The problem with some of these designs, such as the double bungee cord, is that children and older people simply don’t have the strength to open the door. And, I have to use two hands, which often means setting down whatever I am carrying. And even with both hands, it takes many moments to slowly press down the handle and move open the door while the handle is pushing against my hands to go right back up again.
As Bruce produces a solution, Gypsy creates a new problem, and, so, when I return from town these days, I never know what sort of door handle awaits me.
And, it’s not just exterior door handles that grab Gypsy’s attention. In the past week she has successfully opened a catch latch on a swinging gate between the mudroom and the main house. Now Bruce may need to change the gate latch.
Though it’s clear the eleven-month old puppy is better at solving problems than we are, Bruce and I are not giving up; the quest for a Gypsy-proof door handle and now a gate latch continues.
“This day gives us a great opportunity to all unite behind the cause of birds and bird conservation” – eBird.org
During a break in our old time fiddle music jam, I reminded my husband I needed to be home by midnight, so I could get up the next day to participate “Big Day.” My fellow musicians looked at me with blank faces, and I realized saying I needed to leave, so I’d be fresh for my “Big Day” tomorrow sounded rather silly. I wasn’t even sure Bruce would take my request seriously, but as the clock passed 11 p.m. he, thankfully, called for one more tune.
“Big Day” is really Global Big Day a worldwide birding event sponsored by eBird and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. eBird is “a real-time, online checklist program” that allows you to keep track of all the birds you see (eBird). I have been documenting birds at Mule Springs Farm since 2011, and eBird lets me archive my sightings and then print out “visual data” such as charts and graphs, so I can compare bird populations on the farm from year to year (eBird).
The goal, of the ninth annual Global Big Day held on May 9th is “to go out and count birds in support of global bird conservation, . . . to record more than 4,000 species of birds through eBird in a single calendar day, and to raise 500,000 for bird conservation” (eBird).
I completed two counts on May 9th. The first began at 830 a.m. and ran 90 minutes, and my second count began at 3:45 p.m. and lasted for a little over an hour. I saw 28 species, and the highlight of my “Big Day” at Mule Springs Farm was seeing an Ash-throated Flycatcher. I’ve never seen this bird here before, so I got pretty excited when I spied it sitting perched on the fence that surrounds the farmhouse. Because I could look at what other birders were counting in my area by checking in at eBird, I discovered not one but three Ash-throated Flycatchers had surprised someone else. This birder documented the behavior of these three birds, and he surmised two of the flycatchers might be a breeding pair. I enjoyed knowing a birder not far from my farm had seen a special bird – in fact my special bird–and like me had been participating in Global Big Day.
After my morning count, I went online and looked at what other birders around the world were doing for “Big Day.” Elliot Leach from Queensland, Australia entered the first checklist consisting of one bird—the Bush Thick-knee (eBird).
I scanned other entries, and checklists had come in from Taiwan, Israel, India, Tanzania, Iceland, Argentina, and Brazil.
The checklists of birders from regions outside the United States revealed names of birds I didn’t recognize. Bird watching, for me, has always been a provincial activity. And, indeed, almost all of my 293 checklists submitted in the past three years were made from bird watching on our two hundred acre farm along the Columbia River Basin in Oregon.
So, for fun I looked up some of the birds listed on the checklists and found images online for the Speckled Pigeon (Africa), Rufous Babbler (India), Eurasian Eagle-owl (Portugal), and the Crimson Chat (Australia). These birds are all unknown to birders in North America, and what whimsical names they have in comparison to our familiar species such as the American Robin, House Finch, and White-crowned Sparrow.
I’m not sure how much money was raised for avian conservation, but by the morning of May 12th the eBird website reported 5,794 species had been counted, 38,561 checklists entered, and 12,418 people had participated in Global Big Day.
Author Note: Photos from Wikimedia Collective Commons
“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair…” Susan Polis Schutz
My greenhouse shelters and nourishes six miniature roses. A hardy pink specimen is from my stepdaughter who was given the rose by one of her fourth grade students. Another rose produces splashy white and red blossoms; It’s a bold show-stopper and one of my favorites.
I also have a fragrant cream-colored rose; its bloom imparts the faintest hint of apricot. This elegant rose fills the greenhouse with sweet perfume, and I imagine it planted in a British country garden, but for its plague of powdery mildew that appears on the pine-green leaves when the air is still.
The other three roses are new and unproven, but their tight buds spell promise despite the clinging pale green aphids. As I make my rounds through the greenhouse my fingers close upon aphid-laden stems and slide up toward the rosebud; as I do this, the aphids unceremoniously fall away.
The blossom of rose in its prime is plump and firm and radiates rich color. In comparison, the older blooms’ tint has leached from the petals and the petals curl randomly underneath themselves, as the center of each bloom becomes dried and stiff and no longer heavy with attractant for the curious pollinator.
One recognizes the tremulous cycle of life –of our own lives in the season of a solitary rose blossom. Nascent beginnings transform into vibrant completion then move through a gentle, yet persistent fade. Until petal upon petal dislodges, floats, and falls to the soil or the cedar plank flooring inside the sun-house. What remains is a bloom-bereft spiky-skeleton.
And so when my neighbor phoned and told me her old horse was dying today, I thought of the rose—the roses in my greenhouse and how each process of the plant represents a season of life –for even the time of death is an inevitable crossroad all living beings must traverse as they journey.
Revision! Lorie was so kind to send me the pictures of Whisper below after she read this posting:
It was 7 a.m., and I walked into the kitchen to make some hot tea. I looked down toward the barn, and I saw a large, fuzzy red brown figure near the tack room. I didn’t have my glasses on, so I grabbed the binoculars sitting on the counter, and sure enough, it was a mule. And, then two more moved into view.
I said in the direction of the bedroom, “Bruce we’ve got three mules at the barn again.”
Seems to be a yearly occurrence; the neighbors’ gate gets left open or pushed down, and some of the mules come onto our property. Except this time something was very different about two of these mules.
I went back into the bedroom and changed into my barn clothes, and then went into the kitchen to pick up my mug of brewed tea. Just then I saw the donkeys running across the lower pasture. How did they get out of their paddock?
Normally I bray to my donkeys to get them to come, but this time I yelled their names, because I was afraid a bray might excite the mules in some way. The donkeys came running up to the house. I screamed for Bruce when I saw Chippo’s eye. Blood was pouring fast over his right eye. It seemed the eye was gone. Then I realized he had bites all over both sides of his neck, his right flank, and his rump. Somehow just minutes before he had engaged one of those mules in a fight.
Although Ziggy is the dominant donkey and a social extrovert and often Chippo is reticent and less socially confident, Chippo, inexplicably, is the herd and property protector. He’s the donkey that will challenge a dog or a coyote if it approaches whereas Ziggy just watches and lags behind.
I threw a rope around Ziggy’s neck, and led him into the fenced pasture around the house. And, as is often the way of a subordinate donkey, Chippo followed.
I ran over to an open window and called again for Bruce. I wanted him to see Chippo’s injuries.
Just then one of the mules came trotting out from the back of the barn, and he began running along the fence where we were standing. He was intent on the donkeys. The mule was acting strangely; I kept yelling and waving a cloth, and all three dogs were barking at the mule, but the huge animal paid no heed. I could see the other two mules were inside the donkeys’ paddock. I thought this mule is going to jump the fence and try to attack the donkeys again. The creepiest aspect of those few minutes was the mule- he was simply not put off by anything we were doing. Though Gypsy seemed to think it was a game, and Ouzel was afraid, Skookum my male dog was completely on-step. He was barking full tilt and matching the mule pace for pace along the fence, which impressed me, because Skookum had just been neutered, he wore a big floppy cone on his head, and he had stitches along his groin.
I was also running along the fence line yelling at the mule while the donkeys stood watching from the middle of the field.
Eventually the mule moved back toward the barn and the other mules. Bruce went down to the barn and found the gate to the donkeys’ paddock collapsed inward, and the gate had been pushed in the wrong direction about 7 seven feet. The John mule (male) was apparently defending a Molly mule (female) that was in heat, and the John decided the donkeys were a threat, so he put all his weight and determination into breaching the gate. Then the fight began. Somehow Ziggy and Chippo escaped without being killed.
I later found deep mule sized hoof marks in the back of the paddock. We think it is remarkable the donkeys had enough presence of mind to run out the small opening provided by the breached gate, when they so easily could have been trapped in the paddock or their stall.
Soon after the mule retreated to the barn and “his females,” I was able to inspect Chippo’s eye. It seemed it was not the eye, but the eyebrow had been lacerated. He seemed to have vision. The bleeding had slowed, but I was still uncertain about the extent of the damage to his body overall.
Bruce got on the phone and eventually contacted the mules’ owner. He came once again to get his mules. He has over twenty and about half of those mules live on property that abuts a small section of our farm. He promised to take them today to another farm, and he agreed the John Mule “is a problem.”
“They are being sold to a person in Montana, so they won’t be back.”
Of course he was very sorry and worried about Chippo. He said while on his way over he imagined a broken neck or broken leg, and I guessed this is often the injury for an attack like this.
Apparently an unneutered John Mule has testosterone even though he does not produce sperm, but he will act like a stallion. Stallions will use everything they have – front feet, back feet, and their mouths to “defend” their females. Once I realized what we were dealing with, I understood, and so did Bruce it was very fortunate Chippo, our little donkey, was alive.
Our vet was unable to come, and although we had an appointment at a vet about 30 minutes away, we decided not to try putting Chippo in the trailer, because he was so stressed already. Bruce examined his wounds closely, and determined the eye was probably not affected, and that the other wounds would heal as long as they remained uninfected.
Bruce and his hired hand spent the rest of the day bending the gate back together and reinforcing both gates into the donkeys’ paddock with steel rods and heavy chains and bolts. Plus, they raised the gates, so they would prove more formidable to such a tall animal.
We’ve thought about coyote and cougar attacks, but it never occurred to us that an animal as powerful and big as a Kodiak bear would want to get in and threaten the donkeys. Bruce said Chippo was a “hero,” because he kept Ziggy from being injured, and because both donkeys were able to leave the paddock with their lives.
Note: Day Two – we think Chippo’s wounds are healing. We will know more in a few days. Both my son- in- law and a best friend from Alaska wondered if we thought about shooting the John Mule. The idea of shooting the animal never crossed my mind; I guess things happened too fast.
Our guest bathroom has two rooms. One houses the toilet and shower and the other the washing basin, mirror, and cabinets. Bruce was just coming from the toilet and he saw Gypsy standing up in front of the washing basin. She was admiring herself in the mirror. Her back legs were planted wide, and her tail swished back and forth. Fixated on her image, she didn’t even turn to see Bruce.
He laughed and thought of when Ouzel first saw herself in a mirror. Ouzel peered some seconds at her own reflection, and suddenly broke into frantic barks. She wasn’t comfortable with what she saw.
Gypsy, on the other hand, was pleasantly entranced.
Magic Mirror on the wall who is the fairest one of all?
Bruce went quickly to his desk and picked up his camera. Gypsy was still looking at herself, and Bruce got the shot. Mirror “mirror, on the wall who is the fairest one of all?”
“You my dearest are the fairest, fairest of them all.”
It’s New Year’s Eve and time for the Christmas Bird Count at Mule Springs Farm. It was hard getting outside today, because I’ve been feeling a bit under- the- weather. It’s twenty degrees and sunny. I’m wearing a black face mask to tone down the bitter air’s assault on my nasal passages, and a hat, and layers of clothes beneath my down work coat. And, because I’ve lost some weight I am comfortably wearing long johns under my work pants.
The donkeys are out munching on frozen grass. Chippo lifts and shakes his burnt red head; he snorts steam, and his thick chestnut coat glints rich auburn spikes into the lustrous winter sun.
Brewer’s Blackbirds dominate the Count this year. Across the farm—sprinkled on the pastures, plastered in the trees, sipping from the ponds, and clinging to the bird feeders. The blackbirds make a clicking and snapping sound that’s heard farm-wide. Though the females are rather drab brown, the males are best appreciated on a sunny day like this where their color could be described as an “almost liquid combination of black, midnight blue, and metallic green.” And, their blazing, raptor-wild, yellow eyes distinguish them from other blackbirds.
My favorite poem to read on New Year’s Eve is Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush.” The past three years it’s been easy to see and feel “The Darkling Thrush” on New Year’s Eve, because the farm has been entangled in ice fog. The poem tells of a murky winter ramble where only “tangled bine-stems” outline the sky. The close of the old year weighs heavily on the gloomy English landscape, and all normal folks are inside around the hearth. Yet a lone walker is about. And later the frail thrush that stands up and sings through the fog to herald in the New Year.
But the activity of this New Year’s Eve is full of bluster. Juncos, blackbirds, White Crowned Sparrows, and House Finch bustle about in an eating frenzy so they may get enough nourishment to last the long, cold night ahead. Blue Western Scrub Jay shoot straight and powerfully across pastures. Nothing is lazy or subdued. Everyone exudes vigor –as though the New Year is already here.