He says, “It’s been in this jar for days, and we can see it getting smaller, but now I don’t know what to do with it.”
“You can’t release it here,” she says.
I say, “I’ll take it.”
Still in the jar, I transport it home in my car and place the container on an outside shelf near the front door for the night. In the early morning before the sun has risen over the ridge, I ride side by side with the jar along the gravel way. Hair blowing; four-wheeler roaring; I consider where I’m going to release this animal.
So, I carry the creature through the main gate– leaving the farm.
I set it atop a wooden post to photograph the scorpion in a jar.
Thru the prism of Ball brand glass, backlit by sun, the scorpion’s pincers wave and stretch toward the ceiling of its cell.
I look about—where and how shall I release it. Will it swing and sting or rush and pinch me? Scorpions have such a scary reputation, but its true nature is unknown to me, so I have no idea how it will react when I let it go.
I lay the jar on its side across the lichen spotted boulder. The precise, minuscule second the lid comes off the scorpion scuttles quickly forward and pops out of the jar and crosses the rock and descends into a dark crevasse beyond me. Freedom it knows.
I wasn’t of any interest. How silly to think that I would matter.
Ouzel trots down to the barn after finishing her morning meal, which she eats from a stainless steel bowl outside our front door. It’s the sixth day she has gone visiting our visitor who is staying in the barn apartment. But, this time she won’t find her old friend Heidi, because Heidi has flown back to Alaska.
A Few Highlights from Heidi’s Visit
Heidi’s silver rental car creeps down our long gravel driveway toward the farmhouse. I rush outside and give her a hug as soon as she gets out of the car; it’s so good to have her here. Leaving this friendship behind me when I moved from Southeast Alaska to Oregon, three years ago, was not easy.
As soon as Heidi walks into the mudroom, Gypsy engulfs her with a flood of full-body wagging. She even lifts up her lips and shows her glowing white teeth – Gypsy grins big and Heidi laughs. But, it’s Ouzel, our old griffon, and Skookum my male griffon who Heidi greets with familiarity, because these dogs she’s spent years around when we lived in Southeast Alaska. Ouzel, Skookum, Heidi, her dog Jade, and I have traipsed through wet Southeastern rainforests and picked our way through spongy muskeg since Ouzel was a pup.
Bruce comes in through the swinging gate and hugs Heidi too, and the three of us stand in the mudroom and talk about dogs.
“How’s Jade, Heidi; is she staying with Bob?”
“Ouzel’s had a great hunting season; She’s eleven now and despite having had surgery two years ago to remove part of her jaw- she’s amazing. Hunts with a passion; picks up dummies (when she can), loves to train, and in Bruce’s words Ouzel is still the best dog ever born.”
Laughter- we’ve all heard that line before—“The Great and Powerful Oz–the best dog ever born.” Ouzel’s almost super-natural gift for field and retrieving skills has earned her a variety of hunt test titles.
“Yeah, we had Skookum neutered (finally), and the breeder said he might show interest in females up to six months after the procedure, but Gypsy just finished her first heat, and Skookum never even sniffed the air.”
“Did you hear Rod won another retriever title with Harper?”
Heidi went on to tell us a bit about her dog-walking group that she participates in with Jade, and she mentions another mutual friend who she hikes with on occasion, and I wonder how Jade gets along with that friend’s high-strung husky.
“Keta is getting older now, and not much of a problem to keep up with anymore. “
This is so familiar- the three of us standing in a mudroom talking about our dogs. It’s just what we did many times in Southeast Alaska after a retriever or bird dog training session in the muskeg, after a long hike in the rainforest or a Sunday afternoon romp on the beach.
Heidi is here for five days. We will bird-watch, hike with the donkeys and dogs, train the donkeys on this month’s agility course down at the pole barn, and discuss whether we want to go on a bird survey trip to Cuba in 2016.
Deschutes River State Park
We’ve taken a short excursion away from the farm to one of Bruce’s favorite rivers for steelhead and trout fishing. The Deschutes is also known as a wonderful wild and scenic river for rafting II and III class rapids.
Heidi and I walk a path that snakes along the river just outside the campground. The desert hills flanking the water are dotted with sagebrush, clumps of native grasses, and rocks. It’s really late in the afternoon and the thermals are just beginning to recede. Turkey vultures circle above us, and their v-like wing shapes remind me of huge bats. I thought we might see more in the way of bird-life, but so far the main characters are the vultures and a few Common Merganser floating on the river.
The light begins to fade, and we decide to watch the final rounds of turkey vulture.
Heidi says, “Watching them soar, especially through the binoculars, hypnotizes.”
We had planned to camp out while Heidi was here. My first choice for a campsite was across Kickin’ Mule Creek, under a huge white oak where we’d feel far from people. Like we were in Alaska when out on adventures. But, the weather has been cool and rainy all week – much like weather in Southeast Alaska. So, our second choice is bunking on army cots beneath the tin roof of the pole barn. But, it turns out we had a long day. I took Heidi to visit my friend’s goat farm, and we took a long hike with the donkeys, and it’s almost cold. The idea of sleeping outside is no longer so appealing. We decide instead to sit out in the red Adirondack chairs at dusk in back of the greenhouse and take in the coming of night.
Listening for the night symphony, and the first player begins.
Hoo-hoo. … Hoo-hoo. …
“The Great Horned Owl.”
“I think that’s the pit-pit alert of a California Quail; it might be because of the owl, but might be another reason,” I say in a whisper as bats flit and swoop just over our heads.
Silence. We’re both wrapped in a fleece and slouched down in our plastic chairs. Silence stretches, trails, and meanders for quite some time.
Oh how good these no words feel.
It’s the rim of day when daylight fades and darkness gathers and day gives sway –when everything ordinary transforms.
Suddenly a great sound explodes from Razorback Ridge. A cow bellows again and again in rapid succession.
We don’t have cows on Mule Springs Farm. Sometimes they graze at the top of the ridge along our property line. This cry is so loud, hollow, and insistent; then it’s gone for a few seconds before another sound follows.
“What was that?” Heidi asks.
“I don’t know, but if a cougar screams, it would sound like that.”
We’ve both sat up a little straighter in our chairs, and we are listening hard for what might come next. But, nothing comes next but more stillness of no wind.
Eventually in the distance the sound of an engine starts up. Hum fills Three-Mile canyon. It’s the farm workers taking advantage of the stillness to spray fertilizer or pesticide throughout the cherry orchards. This will continue all night, so we pick up our fleece wrapped bodies and move toward the barn.
And now Heidi’s version….
A Trip to Mule Springs — The Accommodations:
The loft room in the barn probably isn’t suited for every visitor. The outhouse is spidery-webby, though surprisingly odor free (Sher says Bruce valiantly mucks it out). You shower in the greenhouse from the hose that looks like a wriggling snake. Before stripping in the greenhouse for the shower you check to make sure no farm workers or Bruce are working in the meadow. But in mid-shower you have a beautiful view through the greenhouse windows of the meadow, the thick trees of the creek bed and the big ridge across the way.
And my favorite – on my first day Sher instructs me to check for frogs under the greenhouse shower drain screen before turning on the water. I do, and herd one little guy the size of my thumbnail out of danger of hot water and soap.
My rating: Five stars.
Forget Horse Whispering, Sher has perfected Donkey Bellering. I will try, but cannot describe it, and we couldn’t have scripted it. You just have to watch the video that I hope we can post here. We walk the upper field to the south of the house, the donkeys are a ways behind us and Sher starts calling them to bring them along. Donkey calling them. In their own language. And they come! I have the presence of mind to find my phone, the video starts pointed down to the field at my feet, complete with Eastern Oregon wind whiffling past, then swings up to Sher. “Do it again” I whisper to Sher. And she does. With her bird list and binoculars in hand, she brays like a donkey! She honks a few times and brays again. Honks a few EE-HOO’s. Some screechingly monstrous EE-HOOO’s! She points — “Look at Ziggy, he’s running, he’s galloping! It’s Black Beauty! There he is…..”
She gives a couple of final quiet EE-HOOS and we watch as Ziggy slows near us and stops to graze again.
This is just a typical walk with Sher.
Sher and the Animals:
Sher has a slow and quiet way about her with her animals. One of my favorite photos of her is from a previous trip to the property when we walked with the donkeys and dogs. All are stopped in mid-step, the donkeys grazing, Sher head down examining a wildflower. Only Skookum has his head raised, paused, wondering when things will get under way again so he can take off at breakneck speed?
Walking with Sher and donkeys — walk a little, stop a little, wait for the donkeys to walk on ahead or catch up. No rush, as if there was nothing more important in the day than to graze, or study the pattern of a wildflower underfoot.
With their fenced acres, the donkeys are free to find their way on their own on a big hike up the ridge. They wander off, wander back, sometimes come and go at a gallop. I recognize a little tree on the narrow ridge trail where I leaped behind it for protection last year when the donkeys came barreling down to catch up with us. I keep an eye out for these “exit” points along the trail. Sher keeps a steady, slow pace and an eye on their whereabouts. Sometimes I worry they’ve wandered away, but Sher is unconcerned and reassuring. They’ll be fine! And they always are. They meander back and come along.
The quarters are tighter in the little tack room where Sher clips on the donkeys’ halters for the day’s walk, or brings hay from the barn, or fills the big water pail. The donkeys are impatient for feeding and dogs are underfoot. Sher lets the dogs in on purpose to get everyone accustomed to each other in close quarters. Skookum has apparently finally been accepted (!) by the donkeys and he wanders underfoot unconcerned. Young Gypsy is still learning some of the boundaries and I see she knows to stay clear of back hooves. She will soon be nonchalantly trotting under the donkeys, too.
In all, Sher moves quiet among her animals, clucking, giving them a scratch behind the ears, a light thump on the rump, a heartfelt “how you doing big boy, hmmm?” A fond, lingering “good boy!” on a dusty afternoon in the barn.
I keep an unorganized list of birds in several pocket notebooks. I grab whichever notebook I can find when I leave for a trip. I’ve got one from the Arctic rafting trip and the Costa Rica birding trip. The one I took with me this time includes listings from Florida 2011 and Gravina Island 2015. And now The Dalles. Flipping through these pages yields an enormous variety and also familiar overlapping images. Just a few from each:
Florida: Pelican, plover, osprey, boat-tailed grackle, royal terns (I love their hairdo!), little and great blue heron, egret, swallow-tailed kite, ibis, sanderling, stingray (oh, scratch that, that’s what I touched in the petting tank at the marine science center.)
Gravina: many scoters, pipit, Bonaparte’s gull, northern harrier, orange-crowned warbler, greater yellowlegs, kingfisher, a Pacific wren so close I could see in the binoculars the orange that was the color inside his mouth as he sang, killdeer, caspian tern, great blue heron.
The Dalles: The song of the meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, kestrel, killdeer, great blue heron, soaring turkey vultures in thermals, osprey, ash-throated flycatcher, western bluebird, mourning dove, California quail, a wild turkey we saw just briefly from a hill looking down on him with his huge and glorious outstretched tail feathers before he banked into the trees by the creek, 53 baby geese picnicking by the Deschutes, red-tailed hawk, baby goats.
Their dirt road in the rear-view mirror reminds me of a red-rock road in Colorado I can picture to this day, a landscape memory, because it is so familiar, traveled and loved, though many years ago.
What best of this trip in the mirror?
I will remember Ouzel coming down every day to take morning coffee with me. I shower, sit with a cup of coffee in the lawn chair in the sun by the barn and pretty soon I hear Ouzel’s bell wandering down from the house. She pokes around and then settles. She gets some pretty good scritches from me. When I’m done with my coffee she escorts me as we walk up the road together to the house for breakfast.
Blistering heat; temperatures have risen almost thirty degrees in one and a half days.
The donkeys stay in their shady stall or stand under the narrow slice of cover caused by the barn’s high walls. Eyes soft focus, ears flick; heat swirls. Too much coarse winter fur remains on their backs. Playing it slow; yet, pretty much at ease in this heat.
The domestic pigeons look fresh. Snow white, muzzle-soft gentle-doves. The first-year birds have big dark eyes.
Three white Fireball roller pigeons lay on the landing platform of their loft; their wings outstretched like basking Turkey Vultures or Cormorants. But, unlike vultures that stand for the sun, pigeons like to lie and tip their bodies over to one side when they sunbathe. Off-kilter these innocent feathered angels soak in heavenly heat.
This heat shatters red daylilies. Their deep color is bled out and the fabric of each petal is tissue thin—almost translucent, and the blooms are dying though it has only been five hours since they opened.
Red daylilies often do best with afternoon shade, so I’m not entirely surprised these are suffering. But, it is pure heat that explains the pitiful, stressed condition of the first pink daylily bloom this season.
Pink, yellow, and white blooms usually hold up so well in heat. But, today’s temperature at the farm is extreme—107.
“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: